A full year ago, an idea was presented to the San Antonio Spark team, an idea to spend a year training and then to walk an unofficial half-marathon together. The idea was to bring together people of all ages, sizes, and abilities to accomplish something fantastic, something many people never do. MJ-SHE-BEAST, one of the leaders on the San Antonio Spark page, posted a blog last week with more details about how the idea came about:
I loved the idea right away. At the time we started training, I had lost 70 lbs and just crossed the line from obese to overweight:
I had never walked longer than about 5.5 miles, but I thought I would be up to the training for an eventual 13.1 miles. I was very enthusiastic about the plan, and came to almost every Saturday training, plus I walked my extra training miles throughout the week. In the beginning, there was a lot of enthusiasm from our local Spark team, and throughout the year, that enthusiasm would wax and wane in waves. Many of the people who started training dropped away, but we also picked up many newcomers as the year passed. Sometimes our walking group was huge, sometimes very small.
In June, we chose the location of where we would eventually walk our Half, and began to train there.
Not long after that, I had to stop training for three months due to my stress fracture. I jumped back into training after that, but by the end of September, I realized that the 7-9 mile walks were interfering with my Airrosti therapy and my leg's healing process, and I had to drop from the group. I still walked 5-6 days a week, anywhere from 1-5 miles, but I never went over the 7-mile line, which seemed to be the most I could do without irritating the parts of my leg that were healing. As our chosen date of January 12, 2013 approached, I honestly didn't know if I'd be able to do the full half-marathon. I wasn't willing to go through with it if there was any indication that I might get injured again, but I was definitely planning to go out with the group and cheer on the participants.
Saturday, January 12, 2013 was a very mild, muggy day in San Antonio that kept threatening rain (though thankfully it held off). I hadn't gotten much sleep that night, because I'd gotten this crazy idea the day before:
I didn't know if I could walk the full half-marathon, but what if I succeeded in some other way that day? What if I ran my first 10k?
I had never run longer than 3.5 miles before, and I hadn't run at all since December 19th. Despite that, I mapped out a route for myself: 7.2 miles - allowing for a half-mile walking warm-up and cool-down. Then I mapped out an additional 6-mile route that I could walk afterwards if my legs felt up to doing the entire half-marathon. The 10K idea made me both nervous and excited. I had set a goal for myself, a very high goal, and frankly, I don't like to fail at my goals.
When I arrived at the trailhead where we were to start, I was surprised just how many people had come out to walk, run, ride, or man the volunteer stations along the way with water and food. Here we are:
We had all different sorts of people there: people in their twenties and people in their seventies; people who have lost a lot of weight and people who have lost little; people with disabilities, injuries, or illnesses and people in perfect health; people who have never done anything athletic and people who have completed half-marathons and triathlons. We had family and friends and pets out to participate or support us. We all had SA Spark Half-Sparkathon bibs that MJ made for us. The 8:00 am start time came around and we were ready to go!
I walked my first half-mile with some of the faster walkers, then stopped to stretch for about a minute before starting off on my first ever attempt to run a distance longer than 3.5 miles. My goal was to go out slow and steady, at a pace and heart rate that I felt like I could sustain for a long time. I didn't want to push too hard, especially at the beginning. For the first 2.5 miles, fellow Sparker Terry ran with me before she turned back to walk with a few other Sparkers. She told me she hadn't run in months, but she did a fantastic job and went further than she originally expected. It was great to have her company during those miles. Here we are coming over the largest hill on the course:
After Terry rejoined the walkers, I put on an audiobook and just kept plodding away. I was surprised at how easy the run felt. My heart rate stayed around 177, I never felt out of breath, and I enjoyed myself immensely. My GPS wasn't working very well, so I actually ended up running a bit more than I was supposed to (6.35 miles), but my pace was even all the way through, and so I was able to calculate my 10K time - 82:01, or a 13:14/mi (4.54 mph) pace. I was expecting it to be slower than that, and am very pleased with the result!
Not long after I stopped running, one of our cyclists, Suzanne, brought me a banana and kept me company for awhile as I finished out my first route. I got some food from the volunteer table, and decided to go for the entire half-marathon as my legs weren't at all tired by that point. I took the second route a lot slower, and stopped several times to stretch out my legs. Right around 9-10 miles, I started feeling the strain, but by that point, I had no choice but to walk back to the start, so I knew I was going to finish. I walked a bit more than I was supposed to, and ended at 13.4 miles in 3:53:14 (no idea what the actual half-marathon time was - maybe around 3 hrs 47 mins?). Our photographer got this picture of me right after I finished:
Even though I was done, I waited with the volunteers at the table for the next few hours as different Sparkers crossed the finish line at different times and distances. In the days since, I've seen our team post that they walked anywhere between 12.5 and 13.8 miles. Most of us had never in our lives walked that far before. For all of us, it was a fantastic experience. It was great to see the last of our group cross the finish line triumphant - the originator of this entire plan, MJ, surrounded by friends and family:
I am so glad that I did this. So glad that I stuck with this idea and trained on my own when I could no longer do the larger distances every week. So glad I came out not knowing if I'd make it, just to be with my team. So glad I pushed myself. So glad to learn that I love longer runs much better than shorter ones, when I just pay attention to the way I feel and not to how fast I'm going. So glad to be part of a team that comes together to make amazing, wonderful things happen.
I started this one-year journey at 70 lbs lost, just barely overweight instead of obese. I end this journey at 97 lbs lost, and just a few pounds from being at a healthy weight. In this last comparison picture, it's harder to see the difference these last 27 lbs have made, because many of them are more visible from the side, or are focused on places like my collarbones and the bagginess around my chin. But even if the proof isn't as visible in picture, it's so very visible in achievement. A year ago, I had never run longer than a mile without stopping, or walked longer than 5.5 miles. I have now run longer than a 10K, and walked/run longer than a half-marathon. What an amazing difference a year can make!!