Half marathon musings

I got the crazy idea about a year ago that in 2021 I wanted to run my first half marathon. With Trey working from home during the pandemic, 2020 ended up being the perfect year to train—for the first time ever, I could leave the kids at home during the day while I went out running. When I found out about a month ago that the March 2021 race date had been postponed (not surprising, but disappointing), I decided I couldn’t let all that training go to waste. So I decided to run my own personal half marathon.

On race day, I woke up feeling jittery, wondering if I was really ready. I had only gone ten miles in my training (and ten miles was plenty tough). I thought about the leg pain I’d experienced multiple times throughout my training; I thought about my bad knee and wondered how it would hold up (I tore my ACL years ago and never had it repaired); I thought about the weather and how cold it was and how the chance of rain would increase with each hour that passed; then I thought of all the people who knew I was running a half marathon that day (some of whom would be meeting me at the finish line), and I knew that I would crawl my way to the end if I had to. (Thankfully, that wasn’t necessary.)

Trey and I had mapped out a 13.1 mile out-and-back route ahead of time and identified several waypoints where he and the kids would meet me to offer water or snacks, cheer me along, and scrape me off the trail if needed. They dropped me off at Cook’s Landing by the Arkansas River at 9 AM and I began my run.

A race day is usually full of crowds of people, live music, and fellow runners who keep you motivated (especially if you’re a wee bit competitive like me and get a kick out of passing people). I had resigned myself to doing without any of that. But about two miles in, I was in a for a big surprise: it turns out the River Trail 15k was happening at the same time and in the same place as I had planned my half marathon. For awhile we were running on parallel roads, and then they merged onto the river trail with me, so I found myself surrounded by excited runners and race organizers who were ringing cowbells and offering me Gatorade. I felt a little awkward, but what could I do? I hadn’t purposefully inserted myself into their race (for free), but I wasn’t going to change my route either considering how carefully I had mapped it all out. So I just went along for the ride and enjoyed the race day atmosphere. Every time I passed a group of women, they would clap and say something like “Good job! You go, girl!” I let the excitement carry me along with them for about 4 or 5 miles, and then they reached a point where they were all turning around to head back. I’m sure a few of them were probably a little concerned for me when I took off toward downtown instead of following the arrows.

Although I had enjoyed the motivation of running with the group, I was also looking forward to quiet and solitude again. The river trail is pretty, and I’ve become really familiar with it from running there nearly every weekend. I measured my progress by landmarks (there’s the marina, there’s the tree that was struck by lightning, there’s the ballpark, there’s the creepy underpass where I always imagine a serial killer is lurking in the shadows, almost to the submarine now.) Trey and the kids met me at my halfway point and congratulated me before I turned around and prepared myself to do it all in reverse.

Around mile 7 or 8 I started feeling a little tired. I decided I would grab a few bites of banana from Trey at the next meet-up spot. Until then, I tried to find ways to keep myself motivated. I had reviewed a list of Bible verses for runners that morning and was trying to meditate on some of them. My brain was feely a little mushy and juvenile, apparently, because what kept popping into my head instead was Dory from Finding Nemo singing “Just keep swimming, swimming, swimming.”

At mile 10 I met up with Trey and the kids and invited Brielle to run a mile with me. She happily agreed and was so excited that she was doing flying leaps through the air beside me. I was wishing I had some of her energy right about then! She asked, “Mom, why did you want to do this?” My first thought was, “I don’t know! Why AM I doing this?” But I tried to explain it to her. “Well, I guess I just wanted to do something hard that would challenge me, something that not very many people ever try doing.” I guess she was satisfied with that answer because she went back to leaping through the air and I went back to just surviving, barely.

I dropped her off with Trey again at mile 11 and was excited to see a small cheer team consisting of my sister, two nieces, and a friend waiting alongside the path there to give me a boost of encouragement for the final leg of my journey.

The last two miles were the hardest. I was alone, and things were starting to hurt. But I knew I was almost done, so I just kept picturing the finish line moment. When I was about .4 of a mile away, I could see the end point, just barely. I was tracking my mileage on my phone, so when I got close I kept my phone in my hand so I would know exactly when I had hit a half marathon. To my annoyance, I hit 13.1 miles when I was still a little over a tenth of a mile away from my finish line crew. I was tired and really ready to stop running, but it would be anti-climactic to just walk up to everyone. So I actually ended up covering about 13.25 miles total for the sake of a grand finale, but who’s counting? (Answer: Me. I was counting. Every single blasted step).

I was greeted at the imaginary finish line with cheers and medals and congratulations. If I had planned ahead better, I would have thought of something funny or interesting or meaningful to say at the end, but I think the best I could manage was gems such as “I’m tired” and “that was a long way.” I was glad it was over, but I was also glad I had done it. I walked stiffly to the car and enjoyed the sheer bliss of just sitting. After some celebratory tacos, I stationed myself on the couch for the rest of the day (which probably wasn’t the best idea… once I stopped moving, I experienced major soreness. It wasn’t quite as bad as the soreness I had after being hit by an 18-wheeler, but it was a pretty close second. Not kidding.)

So, would I do it all again? Well, I’ll probably have to! The half marathon I was supposed to run in March got pushed to November. I spent close to $100 on the registration fees, and there are no refunds. So I don’t think my cheapskate nature is going to let me get out of it. But this time I’ll be running it as an experienced half marathoner. I know how far it is. I know how bad it hurts. And I know I can do it.

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