Running My First Half Marathon and Making My Impossible Possible

My impossible was to run a half marathon in 2018. 

I set out to do so starting in November 2017, and the training went so well.  I was getting faster, and my mileage was increasing, and I was having fun on both group and solo runs, and really feeling proud of what I was accomplishing.  I ran in a few smaller races to keep me motivated, and I continued to set my sights on my half marathon for May, the Wallis Sands Half Marathon.

Race weekend came and I piled into the car with my best friend Alex.  She had agreed to sign up and run this race with me too and there was a lot of excitement and a bit of nervousness in the air as we drove toward the seacoast.  Her hubby let us use his hotel points and we got a nice hotel room in Portsmouth to spend the weekend and have another dear friend join us after the race.  We were so excited about how amazing this weekend was going to be!  I baked Shalane Flanagan’s sweet potato cookies from Run Fast Eat Slow, our favorite pre-run fuel.  We had made sure that signs were made for our girls to hold and that our husbands would be there to cheer.  We asked our running friends to be there as well.  My dear friend from graduate school, Saben, and his partner Kate were there as well, as Saben had surprised me by signing up to run the race with me.  I had no idea!  It was the most fantastic and thoughtful surprise.

The weather that day was warm and sunny.  It was so awesome to choose a course that would run along the ocean so you could breathe in that salty air and feel that warm breeze hitting your face.  That was a day the Goodr sunglasses definitely came in handy. The race started early in the morning in the Wallis Sands beach parking lot, and I watched as Alex and Saben took off running when the clock began.

I stood back, wearing jeans and old sneakers, holding my camera to take pictures, standing with the people who had come to rally around us for this race.  I did not go across the starting line that day but took pre-race photos.  I did not cross the finish line that day but captured the emotion of my friends who had finished the race.  Instead, I was a spectator, a cheerleader, a supporter, a photographer, a sign holder, and anything else my friends needed me to be.

A week before the race, my physical therapist Irene told me I would not be running in this race.  I had injured myself and needed time to recover.  As I write this, I don’t even remember what the specific injury is because something always hurts.  But this one was bad enough to bench me.  All of my training for the past 6 months was not going toward this race.  It was not my time. 

Sometimes our impossible definitely feels impossible.  Finding your strength doesn’t always come from putting in the miles and striving toward the finish line.  Sometimes finding your strength means showing up for your friends who are running a race that you thought was going to be yours, and keeping a smile on your face and watching with joy and pride as they cross the finish line.

I ran a total of 15 miles that summer, from June-August.  I was not much interested in moving my body, and was stuck in a funk and wallowing in self-pity.  I let my job and personal events that summer define me and rob me of my happiness.  I did not use running to cope like I normally would, and instead, I didn’t run at all. I couldn’t find that motivation to run even though I had signed up for a second half marathon to aim for. I let June, July, August, and most of September slip away before I finally found it in my soul to get my head in the game and lace up my sneakers and push past the rough patches.  I finally began to soldier on.  I used the loss of my grandmother in September to fuel me.  I was very close to my gramma, and I lost her to cancer.  I thought about what she would say if she knew I was going to run a half marathon.  I thought about what she would say if she knew I wasn’t trying very hard.  And so I laced up my sneakers and with memories of her on my heart I began to run. 

And holy moly was I slow.  I mean, SLOW.  And we talk all the time in our running groups about how speed doesn’t matter, what matters is that you get out there.  But I think that speed is wonderful if it means you go further in less time, and I was super upset to be seeing the pace I was doing compared to where I was in early spring. But I soldiered on. I had six weeks to get ready for a race.

This time, I listened to my physical therapist.  I did what they told me to do in regards to stretching and strengthening, and my body started to recover faster and not hurt as badly.  I planned my runs and made sure they happened.  My best friend Alex was right by my side, pushing me and encouraging me.  She ran my fast with me and for that, I am incredibly grateful.  She pushed me to run 10 miles upon returning from a trip one chilly late afternoon, and we finished in the dark with no headlamps for us to see the ground beneath our feet.  I ran my most horrible race ever in a 4 person marathon relay, stopping to walk when a panic attack set in, pushing through the coughing from my bronchitis.  I was sobbing at the end of that 5.7 miles and I started to worry that there was no way I’d be able to run a half marathon the following weekend.

Race day came and Alex rode with me to the school where the race started.  I was oddly calm.  I kept telling myself that it did not matter what my time was as long as I finished.  That as long as I was feeling okay and did not get injured, it would be okay. My friend Sara and I waited at the starting line and when the race started, we took off on this little incline that turned into a downhill quickly.  I stayed at my intervals and jogged and panted while Sara talked and maintained a steady stream of conversation.  We high-fived the little kids who were cheering us on.  We walked through the water stations and thanked the volunteers for being out there in the cold temps (it was in the 30s).  We stopped and took selfies at the mile markers, and stopped and took a picture for a woman with the ocean in the background.  The first person we ran into that I knew was a former student’s mom.  I hugged her so tight and then kept moving.  We saw my family and supporters at mile 7-8 and I was so excited to see them.  We stopped at a porta potty for a break and then kept on moving.  Somewhere along mile 6 we had picked up the woman we had taken a picture with, Rachel.  She didn’t have anyone to run with and she said she was quite fine with doing my intervals with us. 

The race got hard around mile 11.  I was thirsty and wishing I had had more water in the beginning.  The music had stopped because Sara’s phone had died.  Rachel’s hips were hurting and we were slowing down in a big big way.  We started walking more than running.  The sun was shining down on us.  I would look behind us once in awhile and didn’t see anyone.  I shrugged it off and just figured we were probably last.  Around mile 12.75 I got a call from one of my students.  I answered it and he asked me what street I was on.  A second later he and his brother rolled up in their car and I got hugs through the window—it was exactly what I needed to propel me the last bit of the way.  By then my calves were cramping and I was exhausted.  We hit the top of the hill and then it was downhill toward the finish.  I was afraid to run to fast because I was afraid I’d eat the pavement.  My dear friend Lois was standing on the side SCREAMING at me “You didn’t just believe it, you achieved it!” I felt myself grinning as we ran under the inflatable finish.

It happened.  I made my impossible possible.  It may have taken me 3 hours and 15 minutes, but I earned that medal.  The photographer for the race may have packed it up, the physical therapists may have packed up shop, and there may not have been any food left, but I DID IT.  My impossible happened.  It happened with the help of my tribe.  It happened despite the setbacks.  Wearing my medal proudly, I immediately slapped a tacky 13.1 magnet on my car.

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