You know those moments when you say something and think it really isn’t much but then one day you realize that that one simple conversation or nod of the head actually sets into being a roller-coaster ride that you aren’t sure you can get off? I am quite convinced that this is how most runners get started. Someone, one day suggests that they should go for a run together. And that act of agreeing drags them into the twisted world of 6am jogs and achy muscles. Now, not everyone gets drawn in so easily. I know many a person who entered and exited running completely on their own terms. I admire them. My personality didn’t quite allow me that. I ran as a kid (managed 1st in the 1500m and 2nd in the 800m at the zone track meet during elementary school), and dabbled in Cross Country in High School. I was never a stand out runner, but I have never found running hard, it was easy and mostly enjoyable for me. After putting on the ‘frosh 15’ I again dabbled in running, but it was never a part of my life. I didn’t do races, I just ran around the park every now and then.
The first weekend I met my future in-laws I was trying to make a good impression. I was friendly, out-going and interested. The Bearded One’s youngest brother announced that he was going to sign up for the first ever London Royal Parks Half Marathon in October 2008. I thought this was a great idea, and mentioned that I liked the idea but had never stuck with running. Somehow, by the time I left that weekend, I had agreed to run it with him. I honestly didn’t even know how long a Half Marathon was (it is 21.1 km or 13.1 miles) – and had never run longer than about 35 minutes.
That was the conversation that started it all. Now, simply signing up wasn’t the nail in the coffin for me. My Brother-in-Law showed up, finished the race and to the best of my knowledge has yet to ever run again. No, the kiss of death for me was the fact that I trained for it, set out to complete it and finished in 2:00:28. I missed the sub-two hour mark by 29 seconds! 29 silly little tiny seconds! Had I finished in 2:05 I would have patted myself on the back and walked away. But no, instead I had those 28 seconds staring at me reminding me that I was almost awesome (for the record, finishing a half marathon is awesome – one only thinks it’s not if you miss some mythical, rather arbitrary roll over of a number by 29 seconds).
So, the following winter I signed up for the Ottawa Half Marathon to be run in May 2008. I was determined that this would allow me to run sub- two hours AND help me get super fit for my upcoming wedding in October that year. I then embarked on a regimented training regime of….sitting on my butt and eating a lot of chocolate. That year ended up being very manic and frankly I just didn’t make time for running – which was silly. Needless to say, rather than decreasing my time by 29 seconds, I increased it by about 18 minutes. It was a lovely weekend though and Ottawa is quite nice!
So, I got married and moved overseas. I met some wonderful new friends who decided a trip to Scotland to run a half-marathon at the Mull of Kintyre was a great idea! I hadn’t run in months, but we set about a very structured 8 week training regime that didn’t involve sitting on butts or chocolate! It was fantastic having training partners – even if they were both so much more fit than I was (one was a former professional athlete who hated running but still kicked my butt every run!). So, I thought maybe this would be it – the moment of truth. I didn’t train for long, but I trained hard – so hard in fact that I managed to injure my foot. But I ran through the burning pain, I ran down the beach, I stared longingly at Islay and Jura wishing for a dram, I ran around the bagpipers in kilts, I ran past the hairy coo’s, I ran through the heather…and finished in 2:02:08. Shit.
The next year my training partners and I decided to run something a bit closer to home. So we signed up for the Liverpool Half Marathon in March 2011. For good measure I also signed up for the Leeds Half Marathon a few weeks later in May. I hadn’t run since the debacle of the Mull of Kintyre (in theory because my foot was healing but mostly because I was lazy). So, we embarked on our 8 week intensive training plan, and I worked my little butt off (literally – managed to drop a size!) and I was set and I was ready. And I ran with my friend’s little French father who was so encouraging and kept an amazingly steady pace. I felt great during the run, I had energy at the end – I was happy and proud and I finished in……..2:04:00. Sigh.
It was alright, because Leeds would be it. It would be the event that took me over the edge, put me in place. I had trained, I had tapered and trained and tapered and I was ready. Except that Leeds isn’t actually a PB kind of course. And maybe I wasn’t actually in quite as amazing shape as I thought I was because I finished in 2:04:13. At this point I decided that maybe I wasn’t actually meant to run a sub-2 hour race. Maybe the running gods were telling me that it was absolutely alright to consistently finishing within 5 minutes of it, but never under the 2 hour mark. Maybe I should have just listened.
About that time we packed up and moved to Walnut Creek. It was fun, it was exciting, it was stressful. I ate a lot. This is what I do. When I realized that my largest clothes from the UK were getting tight, I decided that the only rational solution was to revive the pipe dream and get my butt out running again. So I picked a race – San Leandro Summer Breeze Half Marathon set to run August 2012. It was a flat, fast out and back along the bay. It sounded ideal. I signed up in February. I dusted off the old training plan, but realized that the 8 week plan would probably be more effective if I did a bit of running before embarking on it. So I signed up for a local 5k in April and Bay to Breakers in SF in May to get me in the running kind of mood (full account here). I started to enjoy running again. We have great trails around our place and I enjoyed the fact that my largest clothes were suddenly too big, and my smallest clothes were starting to feel a bit baggy too. I trained well, long and properly. I built a base and then pushed the training plan. I was going to do this. I was going to conquer the 2 hour mark!
The day of the race came. My training notes told me I was golden. Officially my goal was sub-2 hour. I told the bearded wonder that I really wanted a 1:55, but secretly what I wanted was sub 1:50. I felt strong, and fit and confident. I ran the first half of the race and felt good. I thought that maybe I my pace was even a bit too easy, but wasn’t going to check my watch until the turn around point. I could adjust then if needed. I hit the turn around, feeling fantastic. I looked at my watch and it said 53 minutes. Normal people would look at that, do some quick maths and go “holy crap – I’m on track for 1:46!!!” and then would have just carried on feeling good and cruised through an amazing race and fantastic finish. I am apparently not normal. I looked at it and went “oh crap – I’m only on track for 1:56” and proceeded to speed up (note: please don’t ask me to explain how I thought that….I don’t know). I didn’t sprint, I am not that foolish. But I began pushing the pace, running harder…passing people I had no business passing. I started to slow and feel tired, my stomach became a rock hard mass of hurting, I had stitches in my sides, I felt ill. I kept pushing but became more and more distressed. I was convinced I had messed it up. I was upset and in pain. Now, you may say “but you had a watch, why didn’t you just look to assure yourself that you were alright with time?”. But I couldn’t because I was convinced I would look down and it would say 2 hours and I would just stop running and cry. I pushed through all this mental and physical stress out of sheer bloody stubbornness but I honestly thought I had messed it up and that I had failed. I was miserable. I crossed the line in 1:49:37.
Not only had I achieved my goal (despite my best efforts), I had smashed my PB and even managed my private secret goal! It felt disappointing in some way though because if I had been better at running and doing grade 2 arithmetic at the same time I could have finished stronger, happier and faster. But, that being said I was bloody proud of that moment. I even signed up to run the Base Borden Half Marathon in my hometown a few months later just to make sure it wasn’t a fluke. My parents got to see me run for the first time, which was really special and I decided to take the race easy and just run for the fun of it. I managed a very respectable 1:53:08 and was very proud and pleased.
So, where does that leave me now? I had this pipe dream for years. I tried, failed, tried again. I achieved that goal. So where does one go from there?! How does one top that? I could try to run faster or….I could do a FULL MARATHON! So, that, my friends, is where the madness lies. I have now signed up to run the Santa Rosa Marathon in August of this year. There is a free bottle of wine involved and free beer at the finish. I may be foolish and misguided, but I know a good deal when I see one!