As many readers know, I am in the process of training for my first marathon – the New York City event on November 5th 2017. I’ve been following a standard marathon training schedule for my appropriate goal time and, despite the busyness of daily life, I’ve been very structured about not missing my workouts.
When I looked ahead on my running schedule two weeks ago and saw “half marathon race” on October 1, I shrugged it off. I figured I could just run my 13.1 miles that morning extra quick. That said, my mind began to wander: it would be fun to race.
I signed up for a half marathon race in White Plains, New York a week prior to October 1st and thought next to nothing of it. I’d been running 16, 18, 19 mile days on Sunday mornings for weeks. A half marathon race with free water and gels at the aid stations would be a breeze.
In a way, I viewed it as a throw away race, a unique training day but not much else. I had my goal time and I did want to run well, but my eyes have been locked on November 5th for months. Anything else seemed to pale in comparison. Regardless, despite having run the 13.1 mile distance countless times over the past 10 years of distance running, I still hadn’t formally raced a half marathon – and that was certainly something to be excited about.
The week leading up to any race is typically an “all health on deck” situation. I try to be extra mindful of my sleep schedule, my healthy food consumption, and my general well-being. That wasn’t necessarily the case leading up to this race. I knew I hadn’t been eating well or stretching as much as I should have. All week my workouts had felt more trying than usual.
The night before the race, I tossed and turned, trying fruitlessly to find sleep before my 4 am alarm found me. As I waited for my train, I fell into easy conversation with a fellow traveler. I told him I was headed to White Plains to run a half marathon to which he responded in surprise with the standard “I’m impressed its 5 am and you’re going to run 13.1 miles right now because I don’t run at all” kind of thing that non-runners do when you tell them you live for hours of distance running.
I quickly brushed off his encouraging words with the belittling language of “it’s just a half marathon” and “it’s really just a workout day” and “it should be pretty chill.” I had never been less concerned about a race. My arrogance level was hovering at dangerous and as we said farewell, I made my way to the event.
I arrived at the race and followed my proper warm up routine. Again, I wasn’t worried in the slightest. It was “just a half marathon.”
This race slapped me back to my senses. The small rolling hills were more daunting than I expected, but nevertheless, I took off running. My first 8 miles were some of the strongest and fluid miles I had ever raced. I was keeping a great pace and knew I would fall in far under my 2 hour goal. Then things started to shift in mile nine and nearing mile 10, I could feel myself falling back to the groups I had charged past in the beginning.
My legs felt heavy and for the first time in a very long time, a wondered if I could finish my workout. The hills grew steeper on the return journey and no matter what I tried, I could not tap back into the feeling of my first 8 miles. I hit the wall in every sense.
As we approached the 10 mile marker, a woman in front of me yelled to no one in particular: Just a 5k from here. Let’s do this! and I was reminded of how amazing the running community is. I thought of all the 5k trails and courses I run in my week to week training. I had a 5k left in me.
I hit my stride again and finished standing tall and running strong. Upon crossing the finish line, I downed a bottle of water, swung my arms back and forth, and took off for my cooldown run. With the cheering of the crowd and the loud pop music far behind me, I found a quiet trail for my last bit of mileage.
I stopped at a bridge to stretch and in that moment, I felt incredibly silly. This Bronx River Parkway Half Marathon hadn’t just humbled me, it had properly put me in my place. I had hit my goal time, coming in at 1 hour, 57 minutes, and 18 seconds. But I hadn’t run well and I knew it. Training for the marathon has given me an amazing faith in my body and what it can do. It’s made me feel strong and unstoppable and that’s all fine and well, but it had also stopped me from respecting the distance. A half marathon is still a quite far jaunt.
Returning to the festival grounds for an apple and my jacket, I fell back to the arms of my favorite community – congratulating people I had seen on the course and talking to others as we stretched and smiled and traced the engraving on our medals.
Regardless as to whether you’re a runner or a painter or something in between, keep a healthy dose of confidence – you’ll need that to be successful. Hold even closer, though, those moments where you have been completely toppled by your own ego and remind yourself what it feels like to be knocked to the ground.
Work hard. Stay humble. Run fast.