(Half) Marathon Man

The runners about to head to the starting line. It was just a little chilly.

This spring, Matt signed me up for the Peachtree Road Race. The day after I found out I'd been lottery-issued a race number, I laced up my sneakers and hit the road to start training. Remember? Then there was the actual running of the World's Largest 10k back in July. Well, the oddest thing happened after that race. I just... kept running. Turns out, I kind of like it. It's really good exercise.

But I'm the kind of person that always does better with a goal. I thrive on New Year's Resolutions. I enjoy a good to-do list. So after upping my mileage to seven miles, eight... I started thinking. Would a half marathon be in the realm of possibility for me? Matt signed up for the Atlanta Thanksgiving Day Half Marathon and I casually mentioned to my brother that he should run it too. Then he upped the ante by throwing the challenge right back at me. The idea was already in the back of my mind, but once again, I knew I would need someone next to me pounding the pavement. It's all well and good to say Lukas, Matt and I would run the Half together, but "together" would pretty much only go as far as the starting line, then those two would leave me in the dust.

So I took a leap and put it out on Facebook... anyone want to run a half marathon with me? Lo and behold, I quickly got a reply. It turns out my friend Kelly was looking for a reason to kick up her training. Suddenly it was game on! The long runs slowly increased - nine miles, ten... I got myself some fancy new award-winning running shoes, Matt ordered me some running gloves. The morning I ran 10 miles in 42-degree weather and still felt able to function afterwards, that's when I finally figured this might all actually happen! That week Kelly finished her 10-mile training run and our pace was only five seconds apart. I was hopeful that I wouldn't slow her down too much!

My running buddy. (Thanks for the official photo, Atlanta Track Club!)
Thanksgiving morning, we were up at 4:30. We picked up Kelly and Lukas and headed downtown. It was dark. And cold. Although the cool thing about this race is that as you heat up and discard layers, the race officials collect the old clothing, clean it and donate it all to the Atlanta Mission for the homeless. Anyway, we hung around the portable heaters, waiting for the race to start, trying to keep from freezing. Finally it was time to take our places. Matt headed up front to Wave A. Lukas was just a few steps behind him. And I had taken a leap of faith and signed up for the two hour pace team to get myself into Wave B with Kelly. The music blared, the announcers were pumping us up, the sky was brightening with every minute. I had this crazy moment of anxiety as we started walking towards the starting line. This was it. My knees had been acting up the last two weeks, I hadn't gotten in the runs I'd wanted to, I didn't want to let Kelly down. I had less fear of not finishing (I figured I could make it to the end) and more fear of how I would make it there. It was almost exactly eight months since I first laced up my running shoes back in March.

Moving towards the starting line!
And then we started running. And my muscle memory took over. The familiar songs came through my earbuds, my legs started pumping without me telling them what to do. The miles just started ticking away and my brain just ignored the fact that I'd repeating this motion for two hours. Now and then we'd pass the cheering spectators, little kids holding inspiring signs like "you can do this!" that made me tear up a little - I was oddly emotional during the run. Part of me couldn't believe this was happening while my body just kind of did its thing like it was no big deal. Kelly and I were step in step the whole way, taking on the hills (which were nothing compared the roads I've been training on) and keeping the two hour pace team in sight. When I crossed the 10 mile marker and took one more step I turned to Kelly and announced that I was now officially running more than I ever had before. The familiar music kept pounding in my ears and my legs just kept going.

It was key having a running buddy by my side. Kelly definitely kept up the pace for me and since she showed no inclination of wanting to slow down or take a walk break, I didn't either, something I probably would have done had I been by myself. Using the same music that I'd been training with for the last few months also helped - my legs had a Pavlovian reaction to the tunes. By mile 11 and a half, my knees were starting to hurt and I was just ready to get to the finish line. We hit a patch of dull pavement sparsely populated by spectators and it was time to put down down my head, watch my feet churning over the pavement, and just grit my teeth and go. By mile 12 I was getting texts from people at the finish line. Finally we rounded a corner and saw the end in sight. Kelly took off, determined to get ahead of the two hour pace team. I started drifting left when I got a text from Virginia saying she and Chitra had formed a cheering section for us just across the finish line.

We did it!

And just like that, it was done! Goal accomplished! It was an amazing feeling, coupled with a sweet medal and bragging rights, made all the sweeter for being greeted by so much family at the end. Who would had thought I'd one day run a half marathon. Who would have thought I'd even want to! The official time came in - 13.1 miles in two hours and two seconds. I'll be honest, that was way better than I thought it would be! I'd been telling people my goal was just to get to the finish line. But to do it in two hours... I must really be a runner!

When I showed my students, they were all "You won?!" and I did nothing to change that impression. I DID win!

The cheering squad!
So now that I have my half marathon bling, what do I do now? Keep running? Take a break? Sign up for another race? Kelly wants to train for a full marathon but I'm not sure I'm quite there yet. Perhaps the Triple Peach (10k, 10-Mile, Half-Marathon) next year? Who knows... All I know is, I just keep lacing up those running shoes.

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