Less than a year ago, I ran my first 5K. Six months ago, I ran my first 10K. On Sunday I ran my first half marathon, the Flying Pig in Cincinnati.
It wasn't my best run.
It wasn't my worst either.
It was a lesson in strength, determination, and patience.
The weather reports were dismal. 70% chance of rain, scattered thunderstorms, with a low of 59°F.
I started to panic a bit on Thursday and Friday.
Despite a cold and snowy February, our spring had been mild and dry. I had managed to avoid bad weather for all but one of my training runs.
I had overcome a sore calf muscle (injured from running on ice and snow)--twice. I had given up weeks of Friday night activities with my friends, headed to bed early, and risen at the crack of dawn to run.
I was not giving up. This would be my race, rain or no rain.
After spending all day Saturday at a yoga workshop, I was eagerly anticipating an 8 p.m. bedtime. Sound asleep before the sun went down, I awoke with a jolt at 2 a.m.. Lightning illuminated my bedroom, and thunder shook the walls. The rain on the roof seemed deafening. I would be getting up in just two hours.
I fell back to sleep, hoping that the worst of the weather was behind me.
At 4, as I ate breakfast, it poured.
At 5, as I headed to the starting line with friends, it slowed to a drizzle.
At 6, as we lined up, lightning punctuated the sky.
At 6:30, as we took off, my shoes were soaked and my confidence was shaken.
We took off, slowly at first. With each step, my shoes made a loud slurping sound. My shorts clung to my body, and the garbage bag I wore over my clothes did little to ward off the rain.
A mile later, the rain slowly slightly, and I was warming up.
I peeled off the garbage bag, tied it to my Camelbak, and wished my baseball cap covered my ears.
At Mile 2, as we navigated the second of three bridges in northern Kentucky, my iPod's volume suddenly decreased. By Mile 3, it was completely dead.
I started to panic but took comfort in the rhythm of running.
Slurp, slurp, slurp as my feet sloshed in my shoes. Whoosh, whoosh, whoosh as my shorts, wet and stuck to my legs, rubbed together.
I focused on my breath, I lifted my chest, and I kept running.
No music, no heart rate monitor (left it in the car at the last minute because of the rain), and no distractions.
By mile five, I was nervous. How would I make it through eight more miles with just my thoughts for company?
Then the route took us into downtown Cincinnati. Spectators lined the streets, and my spirits lifted. My music returned at faint levels.
A huge hill lay before us, and halfway up, my friend needed to make a pitstop. Ten minutes later, we were back on our way. Due to the rain and soggy shoes, we knew we wouldn't hit our goal of 2 hours, 10 minutes, but we would finish. On a morning like this one, that was all we could count on.
I felt great until mile 10. My hip flexors seized up, and my knees felt stiff. We walked for two minutes, then recommenced running.
We never looked back. My friend Sarah was running her second and--in her words--last-ever half marathon. I was running my first. We trained together for months, through aches and pains, touchy stomachs and side stitches, shin splints and chafed arms.
As we started mile 12, we looked at each other and smiled. We had this. We felt great. The rain, which had started back up around mile 11--the same time my iPod started working again--had tapered off. Just 10 minutes lay before us and victory.
We picked up the pace and went for it, crossing the line with legs that felt better than expected.
2:32:32 wasn't our fastest race. Under normal conditions, we were capable of more. Under those conditions, that was A-OK with us.
If you had asked me a year ago if I would ever run a half-marathon in the pouring rain, I would have said absolutely not. I will admit that for a split second, I hoped they would just cancel the race. It didn't seem prudent to run in such conditions.
Life isn't easy, and neither is running.
When I started running, I told people I didn't have a goal in mind, just that I would run until it wasn't fun anymore.
Crazy as it sounds, even running in the rain can be fun. I've learned that once you start running, your definition of "fun" changes. I've also learned:
1. The importance of a healthy support system. Coach Jen and Coach Nancy were HUGE helps when I had questions about running. From clothing to injuries, they were happy to share their expertise. Coach Nicole was a great cheerleader, and fellow SparkPeople runners (HALLELUL, KGIRL29, and BLAZEGRRL) provided wonderful moral support.
2. How crucial rest is when you're in training. I tweaked my calf muscle during the second month of training. Worried about falling too far behind, I restarted my workouts after a week of rest. I should have waited longer. Two months later, I reinjured that area and took a second week off. It's no fun to take a break, but being sidelined for a long time would be even less fun.
3. I'm stronger than I thought. I can run with blisters, a touchy stomach, and side stitches. These aren't "dealbreakers" when it comes to running. Take care of yourself, run smart, and you'll be able to work through any discomfort you encounter.
4. Don't stress over that which you can't control. It rained on Sunday. It also rained on Saturday. Instead of stressing out about the weather and compulsively checking the weather report, I just asked for advice on what to wear, then stopped thinking about the weather. There's no use wasting time worrying about things you can't control.
5. How much fun running with friends can be. One of my very best friends has been a runner since we met. She has run several half and full marathons. When I started running, we started meeting up with another friend for runs during the week, sometimes even before work. Instead of scheduling a workout around our social calendar, we made our workouts a part of our social calendars. We're three very busy young professional women, so multitasking makes life much easier!
Last night at the dinner table, my boyfriend asked me what my next goal was. He knows me well. I take inventory of my life every year.
With this half marathon behind me, I plan to spend the month of May focusing on yoga. I will keep running this summer (I will probably run a few slow miles tonight), and I want to work on strength training.
As for major fitness goals, I know I want to run the Flying Pig half marathon next year. I also want to run a full marathon at some point in my life. I've had running goals in mind since last fall. For now, I'm going to enjoy running for fun. I also want to take a long trail ride with friends.
What is your fitness goal? Do you always have to have one?
Ready to run!
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