I could probably write several different posts about my first attempt to run a half marathon. I could talk about listening to your body, I could talk about fight and determination, I could talk about disappointment, and I could talk about learning to be kind to yourself.
When I signed up for this race a couple of days ago I knew it was risky. I knew 1) my IT band was not in good shape and 2) that I had not been logging the miles I should have to run a half marathon. But I really wanted to run it and had for months. I told myself that a small amount of IT band discomfort was a surmountable problem in the face of my goal. I tried not to ask myself, “how bad could the pain get?” because I had experienced an exruciating 5 mile attempt a couple weeks before and I had a sense of the answer.
This was also, for me, a special race – my brother and my dad were going to run this race too. I had loved sharing the Psycho Psummer race with my brother, and was excited to have my dad join us for this experience. So I signed up, and happily rode along to the race.
I knew by the time I hit the quarter mile mark that this was going to be a tough run, I could already “feel” my IT band. The first mile and a half or so I ran with my dad, but when he was ready to pass a pair of people, I told him to go on without me – I knew I couldn’t push my pace any further. Around mile three I was reduced to running the flat sections and up the hills, and gingerly making my way downhill. I could hear Kristi in my head telling me to work the runnable sections.
I ran with an older guy about my dad’s age until the aid station around mile 4.5, and then was on my own. Somewhere after that my ability to run failed me. Every running step sent a jarringly sharp pain up the outside of my left leg and around my knee. My right leg was getting increasingly sore from trying to compensate. So I walked, and I told myself that would be okay, and maybe I would be able to run again soon. At first the walking managed the pain fine, and I was hopeful, but this did not last long and I realized I was limping. My only relief was when I would roll an ankle (which was frequently on that rocky trail) – it offered a welcome distraction.
I found myself holding my breath against the pain, and getting light headed. I set aside my attempts to distract myself so I could focus on breathing. I thought about how almost three years ago I was giving birth to Aubrey, and how similar to labor this was – the focusing on the breath to make it through and the pain. I realized it hurt just as bad as labor (not to be confused with delivery, which is a whole other experience). This realization was oddly comforting. Clearly I was in a lot of pain, but I knew I had made it through labor, and that I would make it through this.
I did NOT want to quit.
I thought about it; I played it out in my mind, but it never appealed to me. First, there was no easy way off of the trail except to keep placing one foot in front of the other. Second, I just knew I was stronger than that. I reflected on my teenage years and how weak I felt back then. I had these “truths” back then that I had picked up through the years – that I hated hard work, was afraid to sweat, gave up too easily, and was generarlly not tough. Back then, with those laying on me, I would have given up. However, with age (if we’re lucky) comes wisdom, and I knew those things were NOT true of me. I am tough, and I do not give up.
So on I went, going sideways down the hills more or less dragging my left leg with me. At first when I would hit a rock with my bad leg I would wimper (and yeah there were some curse words), but eventually I would just laugh – it had all become a little silly. Me, gimpy trying to just get through, looking ridiculous.
With about a mile left the who I assume was the first place 50k finisher came past me on his way to the finish line. He encouraged me on, telling me I was getting very close. This kindness from someone I didn’t know who had completed a feat much greater than mine caused a lump in my throat. I looked up to see my little brother coming down the trail for me. He bent down and gave me a big hug, and I cried, but then I stopped and we soldiered on. He walked behind me, providing the moral support I needed to get through, the first feeling of hope I had felt in miles.
When we broke the clearing to go up the hill I did my best to run, but it didn’t last more than 30 seconds, so I switched to power walking – soaking up the encouragement from the people at the end of the course. I hit the very last stretch, the short flat area, heard my dad cheering me on, and managed to shuffle-jog myself across the finish line.
The clock read 4:03:23 and at that moment, even though I knew I had given everything I had, I was disappointed, REALLY disappointed. The volunteers were awesome and someone immediately made me an ice pack. When I turned around there was my brother with an ibuprofen, a cup of water, and a cup of Succeed.
I can’t really say that I ran my first half marathon, but I did finish my first half marathon and that’s something. And I learned a lot that will help me through my next half marathon – and there will be another one – and I will crush it.