Sunday, November 8, 2009

And Let the Celebration Begin...

I did it! I ran the half marathon this morning and it was one of the most holistic experiences I can recall - and by holistic, I mean that it impacted me mentally, physically, spiritually, and emotionally. I don't know of many experiences that can have that effect - certainly not in 2:42:36.

I drove through Atlanta yesterday, and while I wasn't where the race was, I was near it, and I remember thinking, "Geez, these places that I know are on the course are far apart." I started experiencing doubt and fear, and really questioned what I was thinking doing a half marathon.
Prior to this race, I don't remember ever having doubt or fear. I think it comes from the fact that I typically run 5Ks or 10Ks. 3.1 or 6.2 miles just aren't the same as 13.1 miles.

I stayed with some good friends last night, and it wasn't until about 8:30PM that I finally committed to doing the race, even though I had packed my bag and left home much earlier in the day. My knee wasn't bothering me all that much, and I figured, what the heck. So this morning the alarm goes off at 5:20, and while I was "awake," I remember thinking that I was also nutty for getting up so early to go run. I left their house a little after 6, and was at Atlantic Station by 6:40.

My running partner bailed on me earlier in the week, so I was at this event by myself. There are good and bad points to that - good that I am willing to do these things on my own; bad in that I'd really like someone to do these things with, and a sense that I'm not all alone in the process. Running the races around where I live there are usually a few people I know to talk to before and after the race - with this one, not so much. I did take a group's picture, and they returned the favor with me, as you can see above. I'll make the comment that it is 6:50 or so in the morning in 45 degree weather.

The race started promptly at 7:30, and here are the folks moving to the start. This race was a combination 5K and Half Marathon, so we're all starting together here:

Between miles 2 and 3, the 5K folks got to turn around and go back to the start/finish line, and the rest of us kept going straight. For a split second it was tempting to turn and go with them, but I kept going ahead, and headed over the 17th street bridge towards Spring Street:

The view from the bridge

I have to say that this is the point that I started really enjoying myself, which makes sense. It usually kicks in somewhere around mile 3, as I find the first 3 miles to be rather hard. It is also at this point that I begin to think, "I can do this."

Here are a few more pictures from the race:

Just past mile 4 - The Varsity

Somewhere close to mile 5 - The World of Coke at our entrance to Centennial Olympic Park

Centennial Olympic Park and the CNN Center - between miles 5 and 6

The Georgia Dome

Headed toward the Olympic Rings - the one stretch of the race where runners going both directions are together. I'm somewhere between miles 6 and 7; the runners coming toward me are between miles 8 and 9.

The turn towards Turner Field

After going around Turner Field - just past mile 8 and about to go under the Olympic Rings

The Georgia Capitol Building - Near Mile 9. Last of the pictures, because I was at a point where I needed to keep putting one foot in front of the other.

I maintained right at a 12 minute mile through mile 8. Seriously - I would hit the mile marker and look at my watch and it was dead on the 12 minute mark several times. I slowed down to a 13 minute mile between miles 8 and 9 partly because they gave us energy chews and I didn't feel right eating and running. I managed another 12 minute mile between 9 and 10, but then things slowed a little after that. The hill that was in the middle of miles 10 and 11 was brutal, and with my tired legs I didn't dare run it. After that, I just focused on running 2 minutes and walking 1, and didn't worry about the pace. I knew I'd finish under 2:45, and if I couldn't get 2:36, that was still pretty darn good for my first half marathon.

Physically, I was very close to ready for this race. I missed out on a few weeks of training due to plantar fasciitis, and I do think that impacted me. I was worried about my knee, and it really didn't start bothering me until about mile 9.

Spiritually, just being out on the streets of Atlanta with my music going - I just smiled. My running playlist hit just right today. The Prayer of St. Francis - with "Make me an Instrument of Peace..."; Natalie Merchant's Wonder - "I must be one of the wonders - God's own creation... Fate smiled and Destiny laughed as she came to my cradle - know this child will be able; laughed as my body she lifted - know this child will be gifted;" Sugarland's Settlin' - "I ain't settlin' - for anything less than everything;" REM's It's the End of the World As We Know It - "and I feel fine;" Melissa Etheridge's I Run For Life; Indigo Girls' Prince of Darkness - "My place is of the sun... and I will not be a pawn for the Prince of Darkness any longer"... Today is Sunday after all, and I had my own little church service going on as I ran that fed me.

While a lot of choosing to run long distances is a mental thing, the songs playing fed into the cognitive piece of the run. Also, my thoughts centered frequently on how much had changed for me in my life that led to this run. At times, I compared it to my doctoral process - which is also a marathon in many ways - you can't skip any part of the process - you just have to keep going one step at a time.

But emotionally - I wasn't expecting all that went into the experience. I expected to feel a sense of pride, and I expected to be tired, and I expected to feel that same sense of joy and communion that I wrote about here, but I didn't expect to begin to feel tears well at mile 12. I remember thinking, "what? you're kidding me. No, don't start crying." I kept it in until I crossed the finish line, at which point I burst into tears.

The tears came from deep within. I wept with joy, exhaustion, exhilaration, pride. Not only had I conquered my own doubt and fear, I had conquered 13.1 miles, which prior to this year, was not even in the realm of possibility for me. As I was running, I had a number of moments where I basked in the fact that I was doing something I never would have dreamed of doing prior to this year. Never. I didn't believe that I could do anything like this before. Not at 20. Not at 35. No - this was not even on my radar. And the fact that I was doing it for the first time - at nearly 40 years old - is empowering. Not that 40 is old, but that I could feel so young and capable when previously I felt and looked so much older, and that for all practical purposes I have re-envisioned my life - that's worth crying about. It's worth celebrating.

I will turn 40 in 12 days. When I set the goal of a half marathon for myself, I knew I wanted to run it in November because of my birthday, but the thought was nothing more than "How cool would it be to say that the month I turned 40 I ran a half marathon?" While running today, one of my most recurring thoughts wasn't "how cool it would be" but instead had to do with the fact that this run marks the beginning of that celebration.

The finisher's necklace... Zooma Atlanta 13.1 - 11/8/09

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