13.1 Freezy, Breezy, and Uneasy miles

This morning I joined a club I never thought I would join. It’s a fellowship I’m proud to be a part of, even if I’ll never feel like I really belong. It’s a group of people who are among the most welcoming and encouraging people on the planet.

I’m referring, of course, to the percentage of the population that has run (and finished) a race with the term “marathon” in the title. Sure, it was “Just” a 1/2 marathon…but propelling yourself 13.1 miles with no power besides your own legs is still a feat (yes, I notice and appreciate the pun) worth being proud of.

So this was my first “half” (as the committed members of this club refer to it). I’ve trained since August, slowly building my mileage until I woke up this morning knowing that I’ve gone 12…so adding one mile is just adding a drop to the bucket, right? And I know that you’re interested in hearing how it went.

If you’re interested in more information than what I’m going to give you, you can read more about it at http://www.runinamishcountry.com But first finish reading what i have to say!

One of the first things to know is that it was a combined race, meaning there was a 5k (which is 3.1 miles) at the same time. We started in a big group all together (just over 500 of us last I heard), and our racing ‘bibs’ had an electronic strip embedded in them so that when we passed a certain point, a computer would register our start time and (hours later) the finish time.

So for the first 2 miles, we ran in a big pack. There were two little boys that I passed early on. “Aw man, you can’t pass us!” they quipped after I did it. They picked up their pace until they were about 20 yards ahead of me, and then started walking again. When I passed them a second time, one of them let loose a mock-disbelieving “Really?” and the episode repeated. Run, Walk, Run, Walk, and all the while I was trying to keep my pace without laughing too much.

Eventually (I think it was around mile 2), those of us running the ‘half’ turned right while the 5k turned left. And actually, those early miles went by pretty quickly. When I passed the mile 6 marker, I was feeling good. Spunky, even. I wasn’t out to break any records, but I was going to show this course a thing or two!

I made some new friends at the back of the pack between miles 7 and 9. They helped get me through until about mile 9.

By mile 9 I was still doing OK, but starting to slow down. My new friends had gone ahead and I couldn’t really see anyone behind me. Not to mention the wind was picking up (yet again), I was actually under-dressed for a nice change, and my hands were starting to physically hurt from the cold. I was cold, lonely, and starting to get hungry (I had skipped breakfast because of my fears about the runner’s trots). (TMI, I know).

Mile 10 I finally let myself walk, and I wonder about the wisdom of that decision. I had stashed a granola bar in a pocket because I had gotten pretty hungry on training runs over 10 miles, so I ate that as I walked. Granola never tasted so good. It was a work of art.

I ran a little bit after that, but miles 11 and 12 I pretty much walked (all the while fearing frostbite on my insubstantially gloved hands, they hurt so bad). I used the time to constructively contemplate the deeper mysteries of life. I reflected upon such questions as “why am I so stupid?” “Would I ever be stupid enough to do something like this again?” and “If there is a God, please make this stop!”

We had trained on the actual course, but we had never covered these final miles in particular. I was prepared for hills, and I actually did pretty good on most of them. But those last 3 miles were absolutely…miserable.

We were running against the cold and biting wind, wet with sweat, going up hills better left to vehicles and mountain goats; the only thing that would have made those miles more emotionally, physically, and even spiritually challenging would have been a nice, cold rain on top of everything else.

But then the finish area came into distant view, and that made it easier to want to run again. The last mile found me thinking about the shelter and warmth that awaited at the high school that hosted the event. And as I turned onto that final road, it was lined with vehicles heading out from the race (I’m pretty slow, so by now the awards had been given and the other runners were heading out). Most of them were full of people who had run much faster than I had, who had been running for much longer than I have, and who were in much better shape than I am.

At the same time, most every car was full of a mini-cheer squad for yours truly. They were pumping fists in the air. They were rolling down windows and heaping encouragement on me. They were flashing thumbs-up signs and/or simply waving with big, ridiculous smiles on their faces. They’re encouragement propelled me to the finish.

It was awesome.

That’s the kind of club I want to join. Because even though I was one of the slowest guys out there, I felt like I found my people. And at the end of the day, that’s why I just might do another one sometime. After all, one of my running buddies tells me I just have to try a ‘regular’ half sometime. Now that I’ve killed myself on this beast, I should treat myself to a warm, flat 13.1 sometime in the spring or summer. That’s what he says.

And in the thick of mile 12 there was no way I would even think about it. Absolutely not.

But…we’ll see. Encouragement at mile 13 goes a long, long way.

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