This post is rather lengthy. My heart and mind are full to bubbling over, so you might want to go grab a drink, a snack and maybe put your feet up.
On Monday, August 15, 2011 I began the Couch 2 5K program. I struggled and wheezed my way through intervals of 60 seconds of jogging and 90 seconds of walking. I prayed during each of those 60 seconds of jogging that the time would go by fast. My heart felt like it was going to pump right out of my chest. My legs were screaming at me to stop. I literally held my phone in my hand and watched the countdown during each jogging interval. “Half way. Only 30 more seconds,” I would tell myself.
As the assigned days and weeks during the program began to click by, I looked toward that first 20 minute run. I dreamed about it during the night. I daydreamed about it during the day. How could I possibly run for 20 minutes straight? I couldn’t fathom it. The day came and I laced up my shoes with trepidation. I was afraid of failure. Why? I was convinced if I didn’t do this and see it to its completion, then I would never try it again and I didn’t want that to happen. I wanted to see it through to the end. I had something to prove to myself.
Somehow I propelled my body forward for those 20 minutes. I’m sure any neighbors who happened to look out and see me were wondering if they should cheer for me or just call 911. It wasn’t pretty, but I did it. My eyes filled up and tears spilled over. They expressed for me what I couldn’t put into words at the time.
In the weeks that followed that initial 20 minute run, I was bitten by the running bug. The feeling I would get after each run was addicting. I felt strong and empowered. I felt that if I could run, then I could tackle anything. The feeling of strength and empowerment began to bleed over into other areas of my life that had nothing to do with running. I began to ask myself questions like, “What else is there you’ve always wanted to do, but doubt and fear of failure have held you back?”
There is a great quote in Dean Karnaze’s book, 50/50: Secrets I Learned Running 50 Marathons in 50 Days:
After all, running is a microcosm of life. The lessons you learn and the breakthroughs you make as a runner have a way of affecting your whole person. By challenging yourself to overcome your limitations as a runner, you will cultivate inner qualities of determination, focus, and perseverance that will help you overcome limitations in every part of your life.
As the months have flown by since last August, I’ve learned a lot.
I’ve learned that comparison is a thief. If you constantly compare yourself as a runner to other runners, it has the potential to rob you of that same strength and empowerment that running gives you. You’ll no longer feel joy and elation after running three miles. You’ll only see how long it took you to run it versus how long it took her. On the flip side, all comparison isn’t bad. It can be a powerful motivator. It can give you the extra push you’ve been searching for to up your game. The key is in finding the balance.
I’ve also learned a few things about my body. How far can I push myself before I break? How much can my body endure before it gives in? What is my body telling me and how well am I listening?
I’ve learned about inner resolve. Determining to finish what you start, despite the obstacles, is hard. Things happen, plans change, injuries occur, setbacks arise and on and on and on. Not giving into the inner voice that says, “Just quit. It’s not worth it,” requires an insane amount of resolve. Sometimes I listen to that voice and other times I tell it to, “Shut it!”
I’ve learned about people. About y’all. I’ve learned that people will rise up alongside you as you pursue a dream. They will encourage you, cheer for you, pray for you, and laugh with you. As y’all have written to me and told me about how I’ve inspired you, I have, in turn, been inspired to push further, farther and harder.
I could go on about the lessons I’ve learned, but I’ll stop there. For now.
And I’ll move on to the race recap.
Friday afternoon, we loaded up the family van and started on the road. The race was about 3 1/2 hours away and we wanted to get to the expo in time to pick up our race packets before it closed. It was smooth sailing as far as checking into the hotel, picking up our packets and activating our chip timers.
I really wanted to drive the race route, so we loaded back up in the van and headed out. An hour later, after getting confused and turned around a few times, we had driven most of the route. The last 3-ish miles were on a trail, so we couldn’t drive those.
At this point, the entire family was one big grouchy hungry monster. We were all snapping at each other and I was a ball of nerves. In retrospect, I wish we hadn’t driven the route. After seeing how far I had to go the next day, I was scared senseless. I already didn’t feel good because of my cold, but now my stomach started hurting. And I was hungry. Did I mention that already? Ha!
We stopped at a local IHOP to enjoy some carb loading and tame the grouchy hungry beast that had overtaken all of us.
By the time we made it back to the hotel, it was time to get settled in. We tried to get some sleep. Double emphasis on tried. By 4:30 Saturday morning, my man and I were both happy to get up. We had tossed and turned all night. We enjoyed some coffee and quiet time before it was time to get dressed and fuel up.
At 7:00, we were in the car headed to the race start. We wanted to give ourselves plenty of time to park, stretch, and take multiple trips to the porta potties before the race started at 8:00.
Around 7:40, we headed to the start. I had planned on starting out with the 2:30 pace group, but I couldn’t see any signs of any sort for pace groups. My heart began to beat just a tad faster than it already was. I asked a lady close by if they had pace groups and she confirmed my fear. No pace groups.
Alright, time for Plan B. We decided to start out in the middle of the pack. Or what we thought was the middle of the pack. It was a little hard to tell.
I set my Garmin for 13.1 miles, adjusted my handheld water bottle, took a few deep breaths and then we were off.
We were surrounded by something like two thousand people (I think), but it wasn’t overwhelming. It was exhilarating.
Miles 1 through 4 went by without a hitch. I had set a pretty steady pace and wasn’t having any issues keeping it. The first half mile we were passed up over and over and over again, but I just kept my pace. My man could have gone off and smoked me anytime, but he just kept plugging along and chatting away.
Just after mile 4, we hit the porta potties and I downed my first GU.
Throughout the race, there were volunteers and cheerleaders alongside the road. Some were holding poster board, some were playing music and others had gotten really creative. One family had painted a huge sign that said, “You’re no couch potato!” They had carried two couches out into their front yard and each couch had a huge painted potato head. There were empty coke cans spread all around and the ladies who were cheering us on were dressed in bathrobes, slippers and had rollers in their hair. It was awesome!
One lady we passed yelled, “Smile! You paid for this. You love it!” I got a good laugh out of that one.
Someone else we passed was holding a poster board that said, “Run faster! My arms are getting tired of holding this sign.” ::snort::
Everyone was so encouraging. Constantly yelling out things like, “You can do it! Don’t stop believing! You’re my hero!”
We started thanking everyone we passed for coming out and being there. It was a huge blessing.
Somewhere after the half way point, my man gave my parents a call to update them on our status. My mom told us they were waiting for us between miles 9 and 10.
I had started lagging a bit, so knowing they were out there and I was going to see them gave me an extra push.
As we neared the mile 9 marker, I heard a man behind us talking about the upcoming downhill.
Sweet! Or so I thought.
All at once, the elevation dropped 139 feet in 0.32 of a mile. Basically, straight down. My knees were screaming at me. Every time my feet hit the ground I wanted to cry out. I slowed my pace. And I slowed it even more. It was ridiculous.
I had never been so happy to see a downhill portion end. ::snort::
Just as we entered the trail portion of the race, I heard my man say, “There they are!”
And I saw them.
They were lined up on both sides of the sidewalk, holding posters and screaming. Here is a little video my Mom took with her phone. Just ignore my jiggly behind as I’m jogging away. Mmkay?
I had needed to see them so bad.
I was actually able to pick up my pace for about a quarter of a mile after I passed them, but then I just started to fall apart. I was so tired and hot. My right hip was sore, my left knee wasn’t too happy with me and I was already on my third water bottle.
This was the point in the race that it became a back and forth between us and the run/walkers. They would pass me (because I was going so s l o w) and then I would pass them during their walking. Then, they would pass me when they started running again. Over and over again. It was actually kind of funny. Somehow I knew they would beat me across the finish line.
This was also the point in the race that I started asking my man what time it was. I had my Garmin set to display our mileage and pace, so I really didn’t know how long we had been running.
The first time I asked he told me and I knew I wasn’t going to make it in 2:30. I was so disappointed. After that, he wouldn’t tell me the time each time I asked. He would just say, “It doesn’t matter. You’re setting a PR today no matter what.”
The closer to the finish line we got the slower my pace became.
And then, we came to mile marker 12 and headed straight up hill for 3/4 of a mile. It was absolutely brutal.
When we would pass the people cheering on the sidelines and they would say, “You’re almost to the top!” I just knew they were lying to me. ::snort::
As we crested the top of the hill, there were people lined up yelling, “Finish strong! You’re almost there!”
We only had 1/4 of a mile left.
I drew on every last bit of strength and energy my body had left and tried to increase my pace. I wanted to finish strong. I wanted to leave everything out on that race course.
Just before we crossed the finish line, I saw the children and ran over to give them each a high-five. My mom captured another video with her phone.
Again. Ignore the jiggly goin’ on.
As the medal was placed on my neck and I gave my husband a fierce hug, I thought about another quote I read in Dean Karnazes’s book:
While I can’t say I like the suffering, per se, I do like its intensity, because it fills me with an extraordinary sense of being alive that is truly unforgettable. These intense experiences never lose their immediacy; they become timeless memories.
Yes, I felt alive.
And yes, I will remember this.
P. S. Here are my splits for those of you who are interested. You can see how I slowly faded toward the end.
P. P. S. Thank you to my husband for running at my pace even though he could have finished in half the time. Thank you to my parents for taking care of the children and being out there to cheer for us. Thank you to all of you for following me on this journey.