Thursday, June 28, 2007

A First Half-Marathon Experience

So you want to run a half-marathon. Maybe you've already signed up. Maybe you've never gone further than eight or ten miles at this point and you're a little worried. Or maybe you're not worried, and you just want to know more about the experience. If this is you, then read on because two years ago, I never would have dreamed I could run a half-marathon.

Up until that point it had been a fantasy. But not really. I knew I couldn't really do it. I didn't have a trainer. I didn't belong to a running group. I didn't even subscribe to a running magazine. I was just running for myself probably three to five miles a few days a week.

Then one day, while chatting with my son's teacher, I told him I wanted to run this half-marathon, but there was no way I'd be ready for it.

Mr. French squinted in the sun, raising his arm to shield his face. "Nah, you're ready," he said. "If you can run ten, what's three more?"

And I had run ten miles--once in my entire life and that was two full months prior, my biggest running achievement ever. I tried to back out gracefully, but he said he'd been thinking about running that race himself, and that he'd take me with him to register. I couldn't back out now.

That's how it came to be that I would run a half-marathon with my son's teacher. I expected that he would go ahead because I'd be slow, but Mr. French said he was going to run the race with me.

"I'm not running this race for speed. I need the mileage," he said.

I could tell we were at two different spectrums when it comes to physical fitness. Mr. Ironman tri-athlete approached this thing the same way I considered walking to the mailbox. But none of that mattered. I was thrilled that he was willing to run it with me.

"Okay, so my goal is just to finish even if I have to walk a while."

"That's right," he said. "But you're going to make it."

"Yeah, but in case I don't, I want you to keep running."

He didn't answer, and I was relieved because I figured he agreed with me. Then he me gave some pre-race advice.

"The night before, eat carbs for dinner, spaghetti, bread, something like that. Eat light in the morning, and don't run anymore between now and the race."

Was I crazy? What am I doing, I thought. I'm just going to slow him down, and possibly irritate him, make him give my kid bad grades. But it didn't happen that way. Not at all.

It seemed like a million people were there, waiting in the early morning fog, stretching, jogging in place, doing runner-type things and wearing runner-type clothing, eating running nutrition bars. I felt out of place, like I'd come to a costume party and I'd forgotten my costume. Lines flowed a mile long from rows and rows of Port-o-Potties. I'm not going in there, I thought. Think again, I found out.

We walked toward the end of the line because he said the faster runners go first. He also said it was best to start out slow to save energy for later. We stayed slow for a couple of miles. At mile three, we took a drink and increased our speed a little. He suggested we take a drink at every aid station.

I started to feel tired at mile five, but I knew part of that was in my own head which was confirmed when Mr. French looked at me and said, "You're not even sweating. Let's pick up the pace." He glanced at his watch. "Plus, you look way too happy."

I was happy. Running a half-marathon is FUN. We talked like we were just hanging out, and there were so many interesting and nice people. All walks of life were represented!

He said something about our split time. That's running lingo. My brain dismissed it immediately. Who cares about time? I was having fun.

"We'll see a little hill in a bit." He warned. "It's going to last until the end of the race."

Not long after that we ascended this "little hill." Yeah, it seemed to go straight up. Around the middle of it, I thought I was going to throw up.

Mr. French said that was normal. We only needed to slow down and "Here, take a piece of hard candy."

Sometime, around forever, I saw banners in the distance.

"Okay now, you go, if you have anything left. Go!" He said.

I found out I did have something left. I picked up and ran hard right through the finish for a time of 2:14. Mr. French followed. It struck me even at that moment. He had let me go ahead, had pushed for me to finish for time. Generous to the end.

Me. I did it. I couldn't believe that I had it in me all along. All I needed was a little encouragement, a little company, and someone to believe in me.

Even though, when we got to the car, Mr. French said, "I can't believe you ran the whole way. I thought we were going to have to walk for sure."

Amazing. He had never let on before.

"You know, you did so well," he added, "you could run a full marathon, no problem."

Yeah, and I could be President too, I thought. But guess what? It's been two years since that first race, the San Diego AFC. And I have run a couple of marathons. I also signed up with a running club and I subscribe to a running magazine. I guess I'm one of those "runner-types" now. Thank you, Mr. French, wherever you are, for making that a wonderful first half-marathon experience!

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