Archive for March, 2013

I ran my first half marathon in February 2006. It had been a goal for a while; I started running 2001-ish – slow, steady jogs around the reflecting pool in DC, a few blocks down from my apartment. 

I got sick in 2002, and then stepped up my running efforts, doing more and more as a way to both celebrate and punish my bum heart. In December 2005 I had heart surgery that was intended to be fully corrective, and I thought: ok. Ok. I’m ok.

A friend of mine told me about the Gasparilla half in February 2006 and suggested I join her.  Running with a crew of my people and a goal to bounce me back from heart surgery seemed like a great idea. In retrospect, a half marathon two months after heart surgery is stupid, but I was 25, sick of being sick, and two months felt like forever. I was ready to go. Heart surgery, I thought, seemed like a demarcation point, a clear line between Before and After, and the Gasparilla Half Marathon was in the After. I was in. 

I still remember that winter training. Up before work, bundling up, hitting the National Mall in the dark, in the cold. I like running in the mornings, I like running in the winter. Good music, time in my head. It was always always dark and cold, and I would lie there in bed as my alarm pierced through my brain mentally bargaining with myself: 

I can sleep in now if I promise to run later. Self, I’m serious though: you have to run later. 


But, I know me and I never ran after work. There was always late meetings or late happy hours or anything, everything better to do after work, so: up. At ‘em. Shuffle shuffle through the mornings, the sun coming up as I was heading home.

I ran the race in 2 hours and 43 minutes. I had IT band pain from overuse/undertraining (you can run every single run of your scheduled training plan, but if you are only training for two months for a half marathon with no running base, you are undertrained). I walked a lot. It hurt. I was frustrated. But I finished and God I felt so good. I was so happy.


Finish line, Gasparilla Half Marathon, February 2006

My second half marathon was in the fall of 2006, as a part of the training cycle for the 2006 Marine Corps Marathon. I was two years away from my first Ironman race, a year and a half from my first ultra marathon, but I didn’t know that yet. What I knew was that the idea of marathoning had been something Other People could do, and now it was something *I* could do. Again, with the morning training. Most people do long runs on the weekends, but I was always traveling or drinking or doing something, so I did my long runs before work. 10, 12, 16 miles, all before throwing myself in a shower and limping to the office. (Man, not being in my 30s was awesome.) My brother was living with me at the time and would hear me stumble through the living room on the way out the door at 5am: “How many miles are we running today?” he’d call out. “Just 10”, I’d say, and he’d call me a slacker as he went back to sleep.

The Quantico half marathon in the fall of 2006 was just an excuse to get in a long run as part of my marathon training plan. I had already run more than 13 miles by that point in the training cycle, so it wasn’t a goal race or even a race in my mind; I believe my goal that particular weekend was to get in at least 15. I figured I’d head the hour down south to Quantico, run a few miles before race start, pick up the race course, and get in my long run.

My training plan for the marathon was run/walk: run 8 minutes, walk 2. This was the heart doctor mandated deal I struck: I could run, I could run all I wanted, but I had to walk every 8 minutes to keep my heart rate down. I remember this because I was so strict about it; the minute my watch said “XX:X8” I was walking (which means in the first mile of a race, you are getting passed by everyone) and then when my two minutes were up I’d start running (and I’d pass them back.) Rinse/repeat. 

I remember at this particular race a group of young marines – probably 18, 19 – and I remember them saying “That girl who walks keeps passing us.” (I mean, whatever, but also, shut up, right?) Anyway, I kept doing my run/walk thing and I started noticing that my thing was getting faster. Even with a two minute walk break I was clocking about 9 minute miles. This was mind blowing for me, someone who was quite used to shuffling along with 10 minute, 11 minute miles. I was feeling great, and the next time I caught that group of guys, I remember pushing past them and leaving them behind. Even with my walk breaks, I didn’t see them again.

The thing about this race that I really remember was it was the first time a race distance didn’t scare me. I knew I could run 13 miles. I was going to be able to finish, no matter what happened, so it wasn’t scary to try to go faster. With my first half, I had never run 13 miles. My longest run was ten miles, and the challenge of the race was that last three. At the Quantico half, the distance wasn’t the challenge. The speed was the challenge. That was new. At mile 12 I was cruising and someone called out to me “One mile left!” and I thought two things: “I don’t want to run one more mile” and “Just one more? Let’s go.”

I crossed the finish line in 2 hours and 4 minutes, almost exactly 40 minutes quicker than my first half marathon earlier that year.

There was no celebration, like there was at Gasparilla. I hadn’t done this race with a group of friends, I was just down there by myself. I finished the race, grabbed my bagel and water, sat down in the bleachers at the finish line, looked at my watch, and started to cry. 

To this day I can’t quite articulate why I was crying– not tears of joy, certainly not sadness. I think I was just so, so happy, also so, so relieved: the mental exhale of knowing that I could commit to something and do it well. 

I remember the end of that race being a very quiet moment; sitting there on a fall morning, by myself, so fucking proud.

That’s not the end of the story, of course. I did the 2006 Marine Corps marathon (slowly and painfully). I spent the summer of 2007 doing triathlons and then I paced a friend at the end of her 50 miler and she said “hey, next time, you should join us” and I thought “You know, I really should” and before I knew it I was 30 miles into my first ultra, and then more marathons and then omg why not an ironman and it really all just sort of steamrolled down the path.

My last ironman race was in the summer of 2010. I burned out, found crossfit, got excited, did that for a bit. Then last weekend I ran another half marathon. I got it in my head this fall, as I was recovering from yet another surgery: I missed running long. Maybe it’s because long slow running feels like it goes hand in hand with recovery for me, maybe I have a screwy masochistic relationship with my body and feel like I need to punish it in the form of long distance running in return for constantly letting me down on the health front (just spitballing here), but mostly I think I just wanted to feel that feeling again, that way I felt at the end of those two half marathons.

This past weekend’s half wasn’t actually a big deal, one way or another. I ran it in 2:14, slower than I wanted but certainly not as slow as it could have been. I got to that feeling, the one I get around mile 6 of every long run, where I feel like I can run forever and there’s nothing else I want to do.  It was great to feel that again, a nice little spark, a reminder of a part of myself I like a lot, a part that’s been quiet for a bit, a part that I might be ready to let back in.

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