I was inspired to go after another half marathon by two lovely runners, who, side-by-side, trained for and ran their first half marathon this year. Seeing how diligently they prepared and the celebration of completing a challenging goal, I was inspired to commit to running a half, my first in more than three years. Based largely on location and elevation (or lack thereof), I picked the Town’s Half Marathon in Oakland, California.
I learned that it’s a bit more difficult to train for a distance race when you’ve got a significant amount of travel in your schedule. Between personal and professional travel from May through July, I traveled 50% time. That means my training runs happened in multiple cities in California, in Kansas, in Nebraska, in Minnesota, in Canada, and in France. It also meant I had the chance to run with a variety of friends and colleagues who were eager to support me in my training, even when it meant getting up extremely early in the morning to run together.
I’m beyond thankful for the many people who supported me in preparing, but three really stand out: Dan, Laura, and Nick.
My best training supporter was my husband, Dan. He rubbed my shoulders before many a long run to help me get loose, and again the day after a long run to help me work out the knots. He didn’t tease me, despite handing him the material on a silver platter, about my 5:30 am wake up calls to run while the weather was nice and cool (which also corresponded to 9:30 pm bedtimes). And, when my runs started to get into the double digits, he got up early, timed my progress, and met me to run the last several miles, cheering as we went and helping me push through the full distance. I know of perhaps no other running partner who, when I’m at mile 10 and sweat is soaking through my shirt will stop to rub out the cramps in my back and not complain. He also helped plan our weekend activities around my inevitable post-long run nap-crash. Although he had to cheer for me from Massachusetts on the actual race day (due to an academic course on the other side of the country – isn’t he so cool?), I knew he was fully behind my run. And that support, from the time I started talking about doing this to actually doing it, is what gave me the strength to, week after week, push myself mentally and physically toward this goal.
I spent the night before the race with Nick and Laura (yes, the same of the above photo in case I have not made that abundantly clear) where we enjoyed dinner together. As is only to be expected when dining with these two outstanding chefs, we ate a healthy and delectable perfect pre-run meal of kale-avocado-tomato-corn-spinach-almond-other good things I’ve probably forgotten because they blended so well-homemade dressing salad and tofu sausage, vegetable, homemade sweet potato gnocchi. If I have to run another 13.1 miles to get this meal again, I’d say it’s worth it.
And then comes race day.
We used the mile walk to the start line to warm up and acknowledge to each other that those people running there to warm up? Yeah, we didn’t need that to be ready. (In all honesty, I wasn’t ready to run a mile to the start and then run 13.1. This girl was anxious enough about the 13.1.)
On arrival, my first order of business was the bathroom, with it’s lengthy line spanning nearly a full city block. Because of this, I started the race more than 5 minutes late and was immediately stressed out that I wasn’t with my pace group. So what did I do to make up? I played the quickest downbeat song in my playlist and took off to try to catch up to my brother who was, by then, several minutes ahead of me. That meant my first mile was a 7:45. Much too fast for me, considering that’s “sprint” pace and I normally only keep that up for a minute or three at a time.
I caught up with my brother, Nick, around the 2 mile mark, chatted for approximately 17 seconds, and then took off again. As I look back now, I see what a jerk move that was, so here was my oxygen deprived thinking:
- We had talked before and decided I would probably run a bit faster pace, so I might as well keep going.
- I wanted to see if my 30-something self could keep a similar pace to my 20-something self. (Spoiler: not this time, but I’m motivated to train again and give ‘er another go.)
- Just keep running, just keep running. (“Finding Nemo”-style.)
Unsurprisingly, I wasn’t able to keep up a 7:45 pace and slowed down bit by bit, hampered by a lightly cramping upper back and difficulty filling my lungs, until I was back to a more comfortable 9:30 to 10:00 minute/mile pace.
Nick and I were supremely helped along by a most supportive cheerer: Laura. She was up at 5:45 am with us, made us multiple signs that many of the other runners also got a kick out of, and snapped pictures as we ran through. On her bike, Laura navigated the city streets that had been closed for the race to work her way around to four different points along the run and still be at the finish line to snap the “we made it” photo. Her cheering really made me feel special, and gave me a big boost to see someone you knew was encouraging you on throughout the entire race. And not only that, to know you’d see her at multiple spots.
Although my pace slowed, Nick picked his up and caught up to me again around mile 10. And I am thankful he did because I was at the point of really needing someone to keep me going. Nick was encouraging, kept a nice comfortable pace, and even stuck with me when I needed a walking break. Nick greeted everyone who cheered for us, high-fived “Coach,” and gave me previews of what was still left (“See the Bart station? That means we have a straight, a turn, a turn and then the finish line.”) He didn’t have to stick with me, especially since we hadn’t discussed running together and I had shown him what I kind character I am at mile 2 when I ran right on and barely took time to check in with him, but he did. And I am so appreciative. Those last three miles were the most fun part of the race and crossing the finish line together was my absolute favorite part. And that is just one more example of why my brother is one of my heroes: he has an incredible capacity for good.
I keep asking myself, “Really, An? Was trying to keep up with your old times so important?” And I’ve realized that nope, what was way more interesting was to enjoy the race, made infinitely more fun by good company, and to celebrate the strength in our bodies that allowed us to run 13.1 miles.
Although I stand by my immediate post-race reaction of, “Hey, everybody! Let’s do a 10-k next because this was a lot of work. Or maybe the marathon relay as a team,” by the next day I was already searching for possible next half marathons, so I guess we’ll just see which run comes along. Any suggestions and/or volunteers?