I have never liked distance running. In fact one could say I hated running. I did it as much as I had to at the gym so I can stay fit but more than that never has appealed to me. I am just not a runner. Which is why, for those who know me especially, the next sentence is a shocking one.
Today I ran a half marathon. It was never on my bucket list of things to do. In fact, I only signed up because for the past 6 months I have been the workout partner to my good friend Laurel who has been working her tail off (literally). She made the decision then that she wanted to run a half-marathon and has been working to get her body into shape enough to do it since. She inspires me and I signed up thinking I too wanted to run my tail off with her.
Thing is, I didn’t. About a month after I signed up–and after my first few weeks of more intense running training–I remembered, I don’t like running. Never have. I don’t want to do it. I don’t want to go for 8 mile training runs. Or to have to think about chaffing. Or eating Gu. Or losing toenails (as my Mom assures me happens to serious runners.) I shared my feelings with a few friends (including Laurel) and they all agreed. There was no reason I had to run.
Relieved of the burden of running the half, I settled back into my normal workouts with Laurel. The race was still her big goal and a huge milestone so I wanted her to succeed. I knew she needed to do more running outside and not on a treadmill so a month or so ago we started longer runs at the park. These runs were all about her so we ran at her pace and everything we did was to get her better prepared for her race.
Most people will tell you running is a mental game and I can attest to that. After the first run it became clear to me that Laurel could physically make it on her own but the mental challenge would be the harder battle. I was still registered for the race so I told her then that I would consider running it but only if she needed me to do it with her, at her pace, and just be her support. She thought about it and accepted my offer.
So I have known I was going to run for about a month now and frankly, I wasn’t that excited about it. This past week I had moments of “this just might be fun” but overall I thought my hatred of running would overpower the race and I imagined that I would feel a bit like a fraud at the finish line.
One of my favorite memories today was on the bus to the starting line. It was 4AM and the bus was virtually driving the race course. It was long. So long in fact Laurel and I started to giggle. “We are crazy!” “Why did we not drive this race before signing up to see what we were getting into?” “Would running a 10K first have killed you?” (This last one is from me to her.)
The race started about an hour and a half from the time we were dropped off by the bus. It was dark and cold and reminded me of what a post-apocalyptic world would look like. 10 different bonfires were flaming and people were standing around trying to keep their bodies warm. Once the race started I was ready to run just so I didn’t have to stand around anymore.
Laurel was amazing. We have this thing were I will run a bit ahead and then look back and find her. If she is okay she gives me a thumbs up and we keep moving. All I got for the first 6 miles were thumbs up. Perhaps because I didn’t need to focus so much on her in that time I slowly woke up to what was happening to me. Once I hit mile 4 or 5 I had to acknowledge, I was having fun. In fact, I was loving it. I didn’t want to walk and I didn’t have my normal internal dialogue of “I hate this” running through my mind.
Things got a little more dicey for Laurel around mile 7 when she started to get a severe cramp in her calf. We both walked and ran the next few miles which was discouraging for her because of how strong she started. “I don’t want to stop running” she said in frustration. I knew how she felt. Thankfully, the race wasn’t over for either of us and there was no other option but to finish.
I started to feel like there should be a time when I took off at my own pace and finish the race for me. At the same time I didn’t want to leave Laurel in the lurch–I told her I was running this race for her and so I didn’t want to leave her if she needed me. We talked and she was struggling with pain but she wanted me to run too and I think she let me go and worked hard to make me think she was in a better place then she actually was. (She is a good friend like that.)
Around mile 10.5 I left her and proceeded to run the final 3 miles. I don’t know how to accurately describe how I felt except that the feelings I had in the first 6 miles had not gone away. I was loving it–even when my breath started getting heavier and when my body started to hurt. I further picked up my pace during the last mile stretch and then sprinted the last 200 meters to the finish line. I thought I might faint for a minute but some water and chocolate milk made me feel a little more normal.
Laurel ran across the finish line about 15 minutes after I did. And just like that, we were finishers.
I learned several things during the race this morning that I want to record.
1. I am fitter than I think I am.
2. We humans, we can do hard things.
3. Some of the things we think of as hard, are probably easier than we thought.
I realize this is a long and involved post and I am impressed with anyone who has actually has made it this far. I just felt it was important to document what happened to me today. Some have said I was selfless in running the race with my friend’s needs in mind but the reality is she gave me an excuse to finish something I had committed to that I had so easily talked myself out of. I needed Laurel to run this race. If it weren’t for her I would never have attempted or finished it. If I weren’t for her, I wouldn’t be now researching my next race. (Which in and of itself kind of blows my mind.) For this, among so many other things, I am deeply grateful to her.
Looks like I am a runner after all. Who knew?