I’m not going to explain how horrible training for a half marathon was. I won’t tell you all about how I’ve never run much, am completely out of shape, and had no business running 13.1 miles on Thanksgiving morning, in sub-freeing temperatures. I won’t lament, I won’t complain. But to understand, I’m going to have to come clean here. I have a hard time sticking to things. I’m easily distracted. I’m all in, all for it, until a new shiny thing comes along. Sign me up. Let’s do this. Until of course, the next thing. It’s a vicious cycle. So committing to running a half marathon was going to take some diligence.
Five months ago my sister Emmalee, who had a half-marathon under her belt, and my wife Jessica who had a number of races, a triathalon, and some half marathons on her running resume decided the Atlanta Half-Marathon on Thanksgiving Day would be ours. We’d run the 13.1 partly because of the weather of the training season, and mostly because we wanted a plate full of sweet potatoes later without feeling guilty about it. Yeah, that’s it. The date was circled, and we stepped off into the great running yonder. I was apprehensive, and worried I’d fail miserably, being led off the path by that next shiny thing to come along. I realized early on the importance of running with Jessica and Emmalee. At the first signs of slow-down, they’d push me. And push me again.
The early runs weren’t difficult, but it wasn’t lost on me that this was going to get harder. And it got harder quick. 3 miles was relatively mild. 4 miles wasn’t insurmountable, but about the time we started five-mile runs, things were getting difficult. 6 miles turned into 7, 9 turned into 10. The strange thing about running is the evolution. The jog to the stop sign turns into the jog to the mailbox, which becomes the run to the intersection, and then becomes the run to the post office.
Our strategy was simple: don’t speak much during the week, save all your discussion topics for the run. I never said much, I was to busy gasping for breath. But I’d run, listen to them, and before long, our weekly runs became a thing. It completed the weekend. It actually became something I looked forward to. I’d kick and scream about it the entire time, but deep down I had some excitement about it. And soon I realized our runs were a little less about the run, and more about us. It’s one thing to run, but it’s another thing to run together. The miles go by faster, and the pain isn’t as bad when you’re all sore from top to bottom.
Once race day came, and we stood at the starting line, I had some nerves-I’d never actually gone 13 miles. We’d topped out at 12, just like the training schedule said, but I figured hey, 12, 13, at that point, it’s all the same, right? Wrong. Very wrong. But we treated it like any other run, it just so happened there were 14 thousand other people running that morning. Oh, and it was 22 degrees at the start. And I had snot frozen on my face. Totally normal. Until the last two miles.
Passing the 11 mile marker, I was sore. I was tired. And I had blown off my wife’s advice to not chug water. I chugged, and gasped, and paid the price. The water shot through my calves, locking them up like a jail cell door. I should have listened. But I didn’t. And she knew it. You were right, Jessica. You were right.
As we turned the corner, Emmalee ahead and Jessica running shotgun with me, I realized that the finish line wasn’t really what this was all about. It wasn’t the end. The hard part was actually over, and it wasn’t about the race. It was about the 8am morning runs, when it was just the three of us in August and the temps were already in the 90’s . It was about us running, having coffee after, and bestowing our grossness on the customers at Einstein’s. That’s what this was about. And it was about the text messages the night before training runs that said “do we HAVE to run tomorrow?” Yes, you guys, we do. And yes, we did.