“Worry is a misuse of the imagination,” Dan Zadra.
For this week’s blog post, I am sharing with you an essay that I wrote a couple of months before I started my blog in January of 2015. This essay is about a half-marathon that I did last year on October 19th. It was the half-marathon that changed me and made me realize that I am ready to take my running to the next level and go for 26.2. So here is a sample of what I wrote, before becoming a blogger:
Suddenly two hours had already gone by and I had passed the 12-mile mark of the half-marathon. I took the headphones of my iPod out of my ears so that I could just concentrate on the energy and the crowd around me. I wanted to hear the runners, and not J. Lo chanting “throw up your hands if you like a big bootie.” It was the last mile, and I had survived the preceding 12, including the steepest continuous 1 mile hill that I have ever run. A hill that started after I had already run 10 miles of shorter hills; the hill that I nick-named “Presidio Hell” and had been having nightmares about since the course elevation had been released on the Nike website a couple of months before. Katie and I crossed the finish line at exactly the same second. And as I sprinted over the finish line of my 3rd half-marathon, on Sunday October 19th, 2014, I finally accepted that I AM a runner.
I began running 2.5 years ago, in March of 2012. Growing up, I was the girl who got breathless and side stitches trying to do one lap around the high school track in PE, always being one of the last to finish the lap. But at the age of 38, I was at a kid’s birthday party making conversation with a mom that I didn’t know very well. She told me that she had recently completed a half-marathon. There must have been something about that particular day, because I looked at her and thought that if she can do it, then I can too. That night I browsed online for upcoming races, and settled on the Malibu Half Marathon in November 2012. That would give me over 6 months to go from not being able to run a mile to running 13.1. I joined a Sunday 7 am running group in Santa Monica, and was trained by a 75-year-old lifetime runner on how to start running and how to progress. Joining that group was the best thing I did. Everyone can learn to run; it’s just training like anything else.
The high from completing that first half was unlike anything else, and once it was done, I continued to run 4 – 7 miles regularly. Long before then, I started to really enjoy the longer run. Once I get passed the first 3 miles, which are still difficult for me, all the endorphins come in, my muscles are warmed up, and the run becomes meditative. Many problems have been solved and writing topics have been inspired after mile 4.
The next half I did was the Huntington Beach half, on Feb 2nd, 2014. As I stood in line to pick up my bib and looked around me, I felt privileged to be among this group of people who have all worked hard toward a common goal, but that race day was hard. I had stomach cramps through most of it, and by the time the race was done, I was in tears and swore that I was done with races. I was just going to continue running on my own for the meditative and health benefit.
Then a few months ago Katie called and asked if I wanted to sign up for the San Francisco Nike women’s half with her and a group of friends. She had joined me for Malibu, when I had convinced her that we should both try to do our first half-marathon. Once you start running, you know about the Nike series. These are large all women races that attract runners from all across the U.S. Getting in is lottery-based, and you can enter as an individual or a group. At the end of the race, instead of the traditional race medal, you get a Tiffany necklace with the Nike logo on it.
Katie’s call brought back the urge to do another half despite swearing off races after the Huntington Beach experience. I decided that since this was an all women’s event with so much buzz, I’d go ahead and enter; but I was so worried about THE HILLS!! I knew I could do the long miles on a flat course, but I hated and dreaded hills. I didn’t really expect that we would get in through the lottery. After all, we weren’t part of team in training or any other charity group, but sure enough, we got in. Panic over the hilly course set in.
As we got closer to race day, I told myself that I was not going to worry about my time. I was just going to enjoy being with all these other women runners and look forward to the girls’ weekend with one of my close friends. I’d be happy to just finish the hilly race course while enjoying the process. Then Nike released the course map, and I saw the continuous steep 1 mile hill on Lincoln Blvd through the Presidio, or as I started to call it, “Presidio Hell.” Anytime the race topic came up, all I could think about was “Presidio Hell” and not anything else.
I did my last practice run the Thursday before the race. This is it, I thought. On Saturday morning, Katie and I met in the airport and boarded the plane together. We were both so giddy and excited, filled with nervous energy. In the plane, I gave Katie a card that thanked her for pushing me to do something that I knew would be an experience that I would always remember. In the card, I apologized in advance for cursing her out while we were running the hills.
We knew this event was going to be big, but when we got to the expo, we were still both surprised by the massive crowds and numbers of volunteers. On the glass window of the Nike store was printed the name of every single runner in the race, over 26,000 names. That night, we tried to get to bed early, knowing we’d be getting up at 5:30 in the morning. I barely slept. Excitement and nerves and tossing and turning and multiple bathroom trips resulted in at most 3 hours of sleep. Fortunately, Katie slept through all of it.
In the morning, we headed out of our hotel and saw runners everywhere. It was still dark at 6 am, yet over 26,000 runners were crowded in together waiting to start. A woman in front of us who seemed to be at most 30 told us that she was running her first ever half. She had leukemia 4 years prior, but was now cancer free and doing well. We started crying. The emotion and excitement all around were palpable.
The race itself was amazing, filled with so many volunteers, bands performing, spectators with hilarious signs, and cheer leaders and entertainers. The course took us through the most beautiful parts of San Francisco. The weather was perfect. We started in the dark, passed through some drizzle and morning fog, and ended in sunshine. There were lots of hills, but by mile 8, I realized that I was going to be able to do this thing. As we turned from 28th Avenue onto EL Camino Del Mar, I knew this was the last stretch before Lincoln Blvd or “Presidio Hell.” That hill stopped almost everyone. We were all “running” at a walking place. And then “Presidio Hell” was done and we just had a couple of miles of flat left until the end.
I recently read a quote that said “Worry is a misuse of the imagination.” So absolutely true. All I had done was worry about those hills for months, when instead I could have been looking forward to the challenge of them. And after crossing that finish line, and finishing in the top third both in my age group of 40 – 44 and in the overall category, I finally knew that if I could run that course and feel good and energized at the end, I could run any course. And I knew that I would run again and again. Worry is a misuse of the imagination. I know that for sure, I will never worry about a course again. I’ve read many different articles on what defines a runner. It’s not whether you are fast or slow. It’s not whether you do ten races or none. It’s not if you run long distances or short ones. If you run and you enjoy it, you are a runner. And although I have read this many times and agree with it, for me, knowing that I’ll never worry about another course again makes me know I’m a runner.
**Thank you for taking this trip down memory lane with me. After that race, I decided to start regularly practicing hill repeats, which I wrote about in Hills and Lumbersexuals, and to work up to 26.2.