This month, I ran my first half marathon and, let me tell you, The Other Half was the perfect race to take my half marathon virginity! Not only was it extremely well organized, but at so many times throughout the race I found myself in absolute awe of my surroundings, thinking what a gift it was to be there on that glorious sunny day, surrounded by tall red cliffs and breathing in that clean Utah air while miles flew by under my feet.
Getting to that point had been a struggle, though. I had expected the physical training to be a challenge but to my great surprise it was the mental training that almost broke me. Just two weeks before race day I wasn’t sure I’d even be able to participate. To be perfectly honest, by then I didn’t even know if I cared anymore. Here’s what happened.
Despite the fact that I’d set out a nice long training period to avoid injury, two months before race day (when I’d hit 18k on long runs) I started to burn out and ultimately ended up with an achilles tendon injury. For a month and a half, I couldn’t run, I was relegated to using the elliptical for all cardio. As I’m sure you can imagine, the elliptical does nothing to increase one’s confidence as a runner! As each runless week went by, I became increasingly frustrated.
A running friend asked me, “What’s the psychological cost to you if you can’t do the race?”
I replied, “Very high. That’s not an option.”
But over time I could feel myself starting to give up. My tendon wasn’t getting better, I could feel all that hard work slipping away, and the thought of causing myself further injury by running a race without adequate training was too disheartening to consider. Psychologically, I started letting go, and every day became a mental battle to try to ‘stay in the game.’
Finally, two weeks before the race, I gave myself an ultimatum: try one more outdoor run and if there’s any pain, then you pull out of the race. That’s it. So, I strapped on my shoes, headed out, and finally had my first pain-free run in months! I tried again a few days later, with a slightly longer run, and again no pain! However, when I tried a longer run , not only did the tendon start to act up again, but my knees weren’t too happy either.
So, when I showed up on race day I did so with much trepidation and a set of revised expectations. Instead of hoping for a sub-2:00:00 finish time, I just hoped to finish – period. I didn’t want to get pulled out with an injury, and I didn’t want to get pulled off by a sweeper car. I just wanted to make it to the finish line within the allotted time, limbs intact.
I started off nervous. After a couple of miles, I started to let myself feel comfortable and settled into a rhythm. It wasn’t until mile 9 that I began to believe that I was actually going to make it. I wanted to laugh, I wanted to cry. I was so overcome with gratitude and joy that after that long training roller coaster, everything had actually come together to allow me to fully experience and enjoy this moment.
I crossed the finish line grinning from ear to ear, and with great pride in my heart I leaned forward to have the medal placed around my neck.
Because of everything it took for me to get to that point, that medal now symbolizes so much more than physical ability. To me, that medal symbolizes the power of perseverance. As Winston Churchill said, “This is the lesson: never give in, never give in, never, never, never, never.” I’m so glad I didn’t. Though the journey to my first half marathon was hard and full of missteps, it just made the reward that much sweeter.