In the week leading up to the Army Run, I kept checking the weather forecast, hoping for the picture-perfect backdrop for my first half-marathon. Sadly, the call for rain seemed consistent throughout the week, right up until the day itself.
Then came the logistics of figuring out where and when to park downtown. Between the 25,000 runners and the crowds lining the routes to cheer the runners on, competition would be fierce even before the cannon was fired to mark the beginning of the race. Ultimately, the goal was to get to the race safely and in a relatively zen state.
Aside from those two wild card factors, I seemed ready for the big race: good nutrition, good sleep, good stretching exercises, no pain and no inflammation. It was time for preparation and training to go into auto-pilot mode and to do their stuff!
What I discovered along the way of the half-marathon journey is that the race is an interesting metaphor for life itself. You learn as much as you can, you manage your time as best you can, you train as best you can, you eat and sleep as best you can and you try to be proactive in addressing obstacles or problems you might face, as best you can. Then on race day, it’s show time, it’s real life… let the chips fall where they may and deal with things in the moment. You just have to trust that your preparation and perseverance will carry you to the finish line and your resourcefulness, experience and adaptability will address any challenges along the way.
With 6 years of training behind me, I went from a gasping 5 kilometre runner to a happy, smiling 21 kilometre runner, hamming it up for the cameras and high-fiving anyone who would stick their hand out. But in between the two milestones was a long line of recurring pains (shin splints, hip flexor, iliotibial band and lower back issues) which were catalysts for learning how my body works, how to run more efficiently and how to prevent pain and injury. Plus there were a couple of years where the workplace needed more time and attention from me, thus not really conducive for committing to a first half-marathon, and that’s okay too. Those summers, my running peaked at 12 or 14 km, still a good step forward from where I was originally and I learned a lot as I experienced my first blisters and lost toenails.
Yesterday, finishing my first half-marathon at a very respectable 2:21:31 was not beginner’s luck. There was a lot of mileage, a lot of bandages, a lot of chiropractic care and thousands of calories burned behind it.
As much as I was prepared for it, mind, body and spirit, things can still go unexpectedly. For example, the training days that I chose to do my long runs were either sunny or overcast. I hadn’t yet experienced running a long distance in the rain. During the half-marathon, the rain started around the 6 km point; around the 10 km point, I could feel my shoes and socks absorbing the rain and getting heavier and heavier by the kilometre. There’s not much you can do in a case like that. It’s not like you can pull over, take off your shoes and socks, wring them out, put them back on and that it will get much better. They will get wet again. You just persevere.
What totally blew me away were the crowds of thousands that came out to cheer on the runners along the race route in the pouring rain. They didn’t have to do that. But their cheers made the run all the more inspiring and energizing. When crowds were cheering hard, I would yell back “thanks for coming out!” out of sheer gratitude for their generosity of spirit.
Also, I extend my big thanks to the organizers and the volunteers who did their very best to keep the runners hydrated and putting their best foot forward throughout the race. You are the best!
I admit that I had a couple of “should I laugh or cry” moments, overwhelmed by the outpouring of support and energy projected toward the runners. Yes, the big mush that I am, I got a little teary-eyed at the 15 km and 20 km marks, but I hope the rain helped mask that from the photographers along the route.
I now understand how and why some folks seem to be running beasts and signing up for race after race. In the Ottawa area, there seem to be races almost every weekend from late spring to early fall. If given the choice, would you rather be training on your own or in the wave of energy of animated spectators? Maybe a bit of both, but I guess one can put that projected energy and adrenaline to good use and make races part of the training, rather than the goal, as long as one doesn’t expect each to be a personal best.
Those times when the stars line up, your body co-operates, you enjoyed the journey and you had fun, does the chip time really matter (unless you are training for an elite level race like Boston or New York City). For a first-timer, if you reached the finish line, you are a winner. If you had fun along the way, you are a big winner!
I went into the race yesterday morning thinking I was happy that my training was over and could finally cross this off my bucket list, likely as a one-time event in my life. However, given the fun I had, a little voice inside me is saying “never say never”!
Have you recently reached a big goal or milestone in your training? How did it go? Have you set a next goal, or just taking a little time out to bask in your achievement?
For part 1 of this post, please check out my blog at andrebegin.net and click on the “running” button on the top menu. From there, you can also click on the “Follow” button to receive future posts directly in your inbox.
Have a great day,