Yesterday — well, I guess it’s two days ago now — I ran my first ever half-marathon! It was truly an amazing experience, although I wasn’t so excited during the race.
Everything started fairly well. My parents, Becca, Nick, and Emily all made the drive to Brownville, NE to see me run (have I mentioned that I have amazing family and friends?). Becca, Nick, Emily, and I all drove up to Omaha on Saturday night so we could visit the zoo on Sunday, which I may or may not post about later this week. Monday morning, race morning, we woke up at 5:00 am so that I could be at the packet pickup when it opened at 6:00 am. Did I mention my friends are amazing? Not many people would get up at 5:00 on a holiday just to drive to another city and sit for a few hours.
At packet pickup, Emily decided she wanted to run in the 10k race, so she registered as well. After that, we stretched and waited for the race to start. More people showed up, and at 7:00 am, we were off!
Emily and I ran together for the entirety of the first 3.1 miles. That was the point at which she turned around for the 10k loop. That was also not long before my troubles really started. At mile 4, my left calf cramped hard, and I started to worry. A few hundred yards later, a volunteer gave me a banana (he’d seen me cramp and was ready for me). At mile 5, I came up on the next aid station and asked if they had any ibuprofen or some other pain reliever… they didn’t. But they sent someone ahead to the turnaround for the half-marathon to check.
At 5.5 miles, my calf was down to a dull throb, and the guy who drove ahead came back to meet me with water and medicine. Shortly after, I came to the turnaround. 6.5 miles and 1:28 in, and I was running the risk of not making either of my time goals. I knew I’d need to push past the pain in my calf if I wanted to finish in under 3:00.
For the next few miles, I walked more than I ran, and my frustration continued to grow as my leg didn’t show any signs of feeling better. More than once I tried to run, only to have the cramp flare up after a few hundred feet. I got angry, upset, and disappointed. But I also strengthened my resolve. More than once a song came up in my playlist that made me think of the people waiting for me at the finish line, and more than once I imagined seeing a specific one of them when I crossed.
Determined to finish, I kept pushing through the pain and frustration. By the time I got to the last aid station, I had 1.3 (ish) miles to go, I had been running for nearly 3 hours, and I was completely exhausted. I had less than 15 minutes to run the last 1.3 miles if I wanted to finish in under 3:00:00, and my typical average pace is 12:30-13:00/mile… not good enough. That was when I asked myself the hard question: “Can I run 1.3 miles in 14:00?” My answer to myself, with as much anger and resolve as optimism (and with apologies to my mother), was “Fuck yes.”
I pushed myself as hard as I could over the last leg of the race, and as I arrived back in the town of Brownville, I saw people lining the street getting ready for the parade. As I came up on where the finish line should be, I discovered something quite discouraging: they had taken it down. Few things match the feeling of seeing that you don’t even have a finish line to cross after that distance… until you see that your mother and your fiancee are standing in the middle of the street, a strip of bathroom tissue stretched between them, screaming their fool heads off for you.
As I broke through that finish line, it could have been the Boston Marathon. And when I looked down at my GPS to see that I crossed the line in 2:58:47, I realized that I actually managed to finish my first half-marathon in under my goal time of 3 hours. Sure, it’s not a fast time (not by a long shot), but I had just run 13.1 miles — I wasn’t about to be picky.
Today, the day after the race, I could barely stand or walk. My left calf is killing me, and both my legs’ quadriceps and hamstrings are making me want to lay down and die. But I have to admit it was worth it. I managed to keep a 13:35 minute pace for more than 13 miles, something I would never have imagined I would be able to do. And the best part of all of it was having some of the people who matter most to me there to witness it.
So that’s it. I can now say that I have run in a half-marathon, and I know that next time my time will be faster. But what really matters is that there will be a next time, and a time after that, and a marathon after that, and eventually, an Ironman. And after that… who knows?