Jogging Writer: First Half Marathon

Bright and early in below freezing temps, we gathered for announcements before the race!

After 6 months of training via Matt Fitzgerald’s 80/20 Running principles, I’m happy to say I met my goal: I finished a Half Marathon. I raced the 5K in October, then a 10K in December, and–last weekend–my first Half Marathon in the Valley of the Lilies annual race at Western Carolina University. The course included a 1/2 mile uphill in Mile 5 and an unforgettably steep 3/4-mile long climb in Mile 11. The rest was rolling up and down along riverside backroad or campus pathways, with a few flat stretches thrown in for mercy.

Although temps were in the high sixties in Cullowhee, NC just a few days prior to the race, the high for race day was a mere 34 degrees. We gathered around 7:30am and the race kicked off at 8:00am, with temps in the twenties. Indeed, by the time the course closed and the awards ceremony began, despite the bright sunlight and clear skies, the temps held steady in the low thirties. There was even a dusting of snow from the night before, flakes still evident on one of the bridges we crossed. Although the wind was biting, I prefer to run on the cold than the heat, and most of my training was in the temps ranging from 30-40 degrees, so it wasn’t the weather that intimidated me.

What did intimidate me? I’m not sure that anything did, actually, though that’s not to say I didn’t have my share of butterflies in my stomach. Inconveniently, I started my period 2 hours before the race. Once that happened, all nervousness left me. I understood immediately that there were going to be physiological forces beyond my control that impacted the race. I let any longing for control over the race results go, and just decided I was going to try my best–whatever “best” looked like for that day, those conditions. While I had hoped to come in around 2hr17min, I didn’t finish until 2h22min. Given my body and the winds, I felt pretty good about that, and here’s where I see writing and running coming together:

Writers are never quite entirely satisfied, even when a piece is finished. They always want more–a different publication or award, a better simile or sentence cadence. Sure, we have our moments where everything clicks into place, but ultimately, just as soon as something gets published and reaches the public domain, we’ve moved on and want something better.

Runners, or at least my experience running these past six months, experience something similar. There’s always the possibility that something could have been improved. We may be happy with our results and celebrate with the best of them, but secretly we also know that, maybe next time, we can do a little better.

I don’t mind this paradox. In fact, I think it’s what draws me to both activities.

At the finish line!

As far as the race itself,  few things proved useful as I ran: First, I used my Heart Q heart rate monitor and watch to help determine pace. The race was simply too long, the crowd simply too confusing, my mind simply too amped, to leave 13.1 miles of pacing up to “feel” alone. I’m glad I made that decision.

Second, I mentally guided myself through the race with the quote, “Run the mile you’re in.” The first time I read that in Runner’s World magazine, I scoffed. Only later, after toying with the mantra in my mind for miles at a time, did I come to see the value in it. This mantra got me through some miles I might have otherwise run slowly, by convincing me that there was no need to slow down. More importantly, it got me through the big hills without sapping my spirit by convincing me that I was doing the best I could for that mile, that hill, that moment.

Third, I ran with my Amphipod 12-ounce handheld sports bottles (drink of choice: Gatorade Lemon-Lime). There were Gatorade and water stations every two miles along the course, but I hadn’t trained with those and was worried about lines and confusion. Once I got past the first few stations, I was thrilled to have my own Gatorade supply at my fingertips. The flurry to grab a cup and consume, the rush to throw it away, and the confusion of which cup had water and which had Gatorade were all concerns I didn’t get caught up in…I just ran on past, sipping from my own supply when needed.

Will I race again? YES. For now, the 5-week countdown to me and Brad’s wedding is on, and my triceps and calf muscles have been neglected for six months. I’m ready for less pounding the trail and more “shredding it” with Jillian Michaels. I’ll run when I want to, at whatever pace I want, for however long. In between, I’ll firm up and count down to the big day!

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