Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Another Half-Marathon Sufferfest, and How I Learned to Love It

There has never been a question that my first half marathon was not what I would have considered a success.  I struggled and suffered my way to the finish.  When I was done I doubted that I would ever do another half again.  But my attitude quickly renewed and I signed up to run another half, in my hometown, in Galesburg.  Sadly, my second half marathon results were about the same.  I struggled and suffered and in some ways the run was not a success.

It didn't start out that way.  I drove myself to the starting area, as my family had a plan to catch me out on the route.  No sooner than locking my car door, I heard someone say, "Brian!"  I turned to find Shawn.  I almost did not recognize him at first.  It had been probably 18 years since I had last seen him.  Shawn and I played baseball together most of our young lives.  He was a year younger than me in school.  I had his father as a teacher, and I knew his now wife, Melissa, very well also.  I caught up quickly with Shawn, his wife, their lives, their 3 sons, and Shawn's Dad, who I got the chance to talk to for a few minutes. I left to go and stretch and found one of my best friends Matt, who was helping to organize the race.  I had seen Matt the day before at the running store, but had not figured on seeing him today.  He asked how I was feeling and I responded, "Good."  The weather was temperate, about 70 degrees, sunny.  I felt rested and ready.  Soon I ran across Mike and his wife Terra, then April, her parents, and her new husband and baby.  We all quickly caught up with our lives, where we were, what we were doing, and how our families were. 

Before I knew it, it was time to line up and run.  I got into the crowd near Mike and asked what he thought he would be running today.  He said about 8 minutes per mile.  I responded that that was my goal as well and settled into the idea of sticking near Mike.  The gun went off and we were going.  The crowd was nice, not too big, and I saw quite a few familiar faces.  As I attempted to stay up with Mike, I felt like I was moving pretty quickly, but the legs felt good and I was having no trouble breathing.  By mile 1, I wondered if I had made a mistake.  I was still feeling pretty good, but I had just run the first mile in 7:20, not at all what my race plan had been.  I watched as Mike continued to push forward, and attempted to reel myself back in order to conserve some energy.  I still crossed mile 2 at exactly 15 minutes, way too fast.  Pretty soon we exited the city and headed out a county highway.  At that point we turned directly into the sun, and what I had thought was temperate weather turned out to be pretty damn hot.  There was no shade to be had and the sun was really starting to heat up the country blacktop.  On the way out the route took you into a small subdivision on the north side of the road. This was the last place that I saw Mike, o the turnaround, and I yelled, "So much for 8 minute miles, Mike!"  To which he responded, "I am feeling good!" Mile 4 went by at 30:15, still too fast, but it did feel good to see that I was definitely in the early part of the pack.  I headed back out to the blacktop and soon came across my family at mile 5.  Katie, the kids, my dad, my cousin, and her boyfriend had all come out to cheer me on.  It felt really good to see all of them, and considering that there was literally no crowd cheering us on this far out of town, they were like a little oasis for me.  I stopped to hug the kids and I took my first official walking break to hydrate and fuel.  The sun was brutally hot and I took my headband off to release some heat and to avoid an embarrassing tan line.

The stretch between 5 and 7 took a lot out of me.  The wind was at our back, headed straight in to the sun and all one could see was road, cones, and runners.  It was a bit demoralizing.  My speed had begun to lag mightily.  I pulled into mile 7 at exactly 56 minutes, so I was on target, but I was deteriorating quickly.  I grabbed a GU gel and shot it into the back of my throat, first to avoid vomiting from the texture and second in the hopes of gaining some much needed energy.  Mile 7 to 9 were on Blaze Road.  We finally had the sun at our backs and there was a gentle breeze in our faces.  there were a few spots of shade, but all of these pros were soon outweighed by the fact that Blaze Road is freaking hilly!  I continued to trudge up and down the hills.  By mile 8 I decided to take an unprescribed walking break.  I was burning up bad and my legs were really beat.  I knew my family would be at mile 9 again so I bucked up and pushed on.  It was in this shirt stretch that I came to a few realizations.

I was sucking at this particular half marathon.  I was already 4 minutes behind my goal time split and my tank was empty.  I considered a few things.  First, should I ever run a half marathon again?  Experience would tell me that I am not very good at them. Second, should I ever consider running a full marathon?  If I have this much trouble with a half, how bad would I be at 26.2 miles?  Third, I am not having very much fun, and I like to enjoy myself especially when venturing into athletics.  If I am not having fun, should I just quit? It was that last thought that stuck with me.  I struggled with the idea quite a bit.  Should I just tell my family that "I quit, take me home!"?  What kind of example would that be to my kids?  So, I hatched a new racing plan.  HAVE FUN!  I went through the plan in my mind.  I would jog when I could and walk when I have to.  I would enjoy the last 4 miles instead of making myself sick with suffering.  And most importantly I would not quit.

So, when I reached my family, I stopped for a minute, talked about how tough the run was, how hot the sun was, and how much I was struggling.  I thanked them for coming out and being there, and I told them how good it felt to have them cheering for me.  I also said, "Take your time getting to the finish because I am."  And with that I was off again. 

Over the next few miles, I walked a lot.  I also jogged some, but very slowly.  I saw an old classmate and runner, Heather, on the side of the road.  I said, "Shouldn't you be out here?"  It took her a second to recognize me, but it was nice to see her smile when she did.  I joked with a few more of the fans as I got back into town.  I told the other runners how well they were doing as they passed me. I saw the funniest sign of the race and told the 2 young kids holding it "Thank you!"  The sign read, "No Candy?  Worst. Parade. Ever."  It still tickles me.

By mile 12 my legs were cramping and I was walking a lot more than I was running, but I kept moving forward.  About a quarter of a mile form the finish line, I saw Matt again.  This time he had his fiance with him.  I had never met her, so I stopped, introduced myself, and gave her a hug.  she was obviously a bit surprised to be getting a sweaty hug from the runner she just met on the street, but I was having fun!  She told me to keep running to the finish, and I told her I would get there eventually.  Finally, I saw the finish line.  Right before I left my family that last time my son said to me "Dad, when you see that finish line, you sprint to the end!"  It was my words to him during many of his training runs and definitely during his first 5K.  It really touched me that he would say the same thing to me today.   So, when I saw the finish line I "sprinted" or at least what I could do to resemble a sprint.  I finally crossed the line at 1:59:56, not even close to any of my race goals.  But you know what?  That is OK because I definitely learned to have some fun!


  1. Hey, under 2 hours for a half is nothing to snub your nose at! Way to enjoy the race!