Two days ago, I ran in Burlington’s Chilly Half Marathon. This was the 20th anniversary for the event, and I’m guessing that I’ve participated in six or seven of those twenty. The Chilly Half is a staple in my life. There have been years when I was fit and fast, years when I struggled just to finish, and years when I ran with friends for fun. Sunday seemed to be a combination of all of the above.
Approaching this race, my mindset was different than ever before. This time I was running for only me, ignoring the self-imposed pressures of race times and previous bests. My dear friend Michaela was set to be at my side, but unfortunately got sick the day before and couldn’t make it. So I ventured to the start line solo, took a picture to offset some nervous starting corral energy, and off I went with the pack.
I started much faster than I’d planned, getting caught up in race-day adrenaline and swept along with the thousands of footsteps around me. Perhaps it was my imagination, but I heard panic in the voice from my running app as it announced my pace per kilometre. In hindsight, that panic was likely my internal dialogue, as I knew I could not hold onto the speed I’d started with. I have lots of racing experience and have probably completed upwards of thirty or forty half marathons; going out too fast is not an error I make often, but one that I know the full ramifications of. And sure enough, I paid for it: my right foot went sporadically numb, my chronic hamstring injury reared its ugly head, and my obliques were screaming from those awful toes-to-bar in my CrossFit Open workout two days prior. Kilometres six through nineteen were a blur of self-talk…..
“Breathe in. Breathe out.” “Keep going.” “Hold this pace.” I read signs and repeated them in my head to the cadence of my footfalls: “App-le-by Line. App-le-by Line. App-le-by Line.” I did the math over and over: “If I slow two seconds per kilometre for eight kilometres and then pick it back up for the last two, what will be my finish time?” “Just get to the turnaround.” “Just get to the next kilometre.” “You can do it.”
But this post isn’t meant to be a race report. To write a race report, you must race, and that’s not how I approached Sunday; I was over-scheduled, under-trained, and certainly not prepared. Instead, this post meant to tell you what happened after the race. I finished in 1:42. My personal best is 1:23 (in 2004). This means I ran nearly one minute per kilometre SLOWER than what I used to run. And yet, it’s hard for me to remember a running moment I’ve been prouder of than I was on Sunday.
You see, this was waiting for me:
My kids. My friend’s kids. The medal, the music, the energy, and they were caught up in it all. My children have been to dozens of finish lines to cheer me on, but this one seemed different. Their excitement and pride shone through their smiles, bigger than ever before, and I could physically see the impression I’d made on them.
The truth is, I talked myself through that entire 21.1km. I finished through sheer will and stubbornness. And that’s why I keep running, keep racing, keep coming back for more: the runner’s high. And really, the runner’s high is just fancy lingo for a sense of accomplishment.
On Sunday, my children got that runner’s high too. So all my struggle was worth it.