Run: Reflections on a Half-Marathon

Run. verb. To move at a pace faster than a walk; a form of exercise I used to hate.

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Six-year-old me looked out across the vast expanse of grass, stretching between me and my goal. My gym teacher had just done a terrible thing. She had brought us out to the phy ed field, told us to run around it four times, and clicked her stopwatch. I had been running for an eternity, it seemed, and yet the finish line was still an eternity away. There was no way my little legs were going to finish that mile. None.

I don’t remember crossing the finish line. I do remember sitting out the rest of gym class in tired anguish, and going home to report to my mom that I wanted to be homeschooled. That way, I would never have to run the mile again. My mom, I am sure, rolled her eyes as she sent me back to school anyway. Once a year, as I wheezed through another mile run, I questioned her judgment.

Fifteen years later, I ran 13.1 miles.

The irony of this is not lost on me. Though I had become vaguely athletic (I was a varsity athlete in high school, and I attempted one year of D-III college basketball), I was by no means a runner. I signed up for the half marathon anyway, just to see if I could do it.

I could. Barely.

On race day, my running buddy and I started slow but strong. Too soon, we were just going, well, slow. By mile 10, I was walking more than running. The last mile, which I forced myself to run in its entirety, felt like that never ending first grade mile run all over again. Crossing the finish line was not climactic. I desperately had to use the bathroom, and I was simply relieved to be done.

That was two years ago. Now, thanks to a convincing boyfriend and an open summer schedule, I am about to run a half marathon again. I’ve spent the past 11 weeks jogging around lakes, tracking my mile times, and building up my leg muscles. Everything I tried to forget about the first experience is coming back to me: the ache of cranky knees, the nerves before long runs, and the probable insanity of attempting to run so many miles. Before every run, especially anything longer than 5 miles, I am tempted to quit. What keeps me going (beyond the peer pressure of that convincing boyfriend, anyway) is how much running is teaching me about loving my body.

My body, like them all, is unique. I am 6’1”, broad-shouldered, with big feet and an athlete’s build. Though I can reach the top kitchen shelves without a chair, my frame often feels fraught with limitations. After all, this body does not blend in. It does not fit into pants with normal inseams. It is not delicate. It does not inspire tact in the middle school students I teach, as I often overhear encouraging, self-esteem-boosting quotes like “she’s gigantic!” whispered from new classes.

These limits provoke my mild intolerance most days. I cannot change the length of my spine, the span of my hip bones, the size of my feet, or the width of my shoulders. So I roll my eyes and resign myself to not wearing tall heels, to wearing dresses that flow gently over my hips and thighs, to joking about how easy my blonde head is to spot in a crowd.

Running helps change that perspective.

After a run midway through my training, I stood in my running shorts and confronted my bathroom mirror. Normally, I would poke my legs, noticing how they were paler and larger than I would prefer. I would examine the grossly fascinating blister forming on my left foot. I would hope and pray that all this running was firming up those glutes for the height of swimsuit season.

But after powering through long runs, decreasing my mile times, and perfecting my form, my muscles deserve more than half-hearted criticism. They have grown and stretched. They have voiced their complaints, and I have pushed them. My quads have gained definition after each run. My glutes have strengthened with every wall sit, lessening the ache in my IT band. The blisters on my toes are hard-earned, from pounding into pavement thousands of times. Using my body shows me its potential. I see all this body can do and how much it deserves my love.

The finish line of my half marathon is quickly approaching. I have no idea how those 13.1 miles will pass. Maybe my training will pay off, and I’ll be triumphant as I near the end. Maybe I’ll feel like a first grader again, counting every step towards the finish line and hoping to never, ever run again. Either way, what seemed impossible will have happened. My body will have survived a million and a half miles of training, give or take a few. And it will have earned my love.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Half-Marathon

Half-Marathon. noun. A race consisting of 13.1 miles, which leaves runners dripping in sweat, questioning their life decisions around mile 11, and craving chocolate milk. Also a race that is entirely worthwhile.

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Ten days ago, I and two great running buddies survived a half-marathon. (I hesitate to say ran, because by mile 6 my mom could keep pace with me for a block, which should tell you something about my speed.) This 13.1 mile jaunt was unlike anything I had ever done before. The furthest I had run before training was a 5k, and this was…longer. Significantly longer. Like long enough I had to start training 10 weeks before. And though running a half was possibly the longest 2.5 hours of my life, honestly, I’d do it again. But first, before I seriously reevaluate my sanity and the last ten weeks of peeling feet, sweaty sports bras, and runner’s fanny packs, let me share what I learned and how I survived.

Tell everyone so you don’t chicken out.

When I began considering running a half last fall, I asked a lot of opinions to see if everyone thought I was insane. (The verdict was split.) When I actually started training, I told tons of people so I could make sure I didn’t flake. It worked, apparently.

Have running partners so you don’t chicken out.

I did most of my runs solo (except for one time I went running with my boyfriend and wanted to kill him because he kicked my butt with no training whatsoever and talked the entire time), but I talked two other half-insane friends into signing up for the race with me. Knowing that my younger brother and friend were training and then getting to run alongside them made everything way more fun.

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Use a schedule to track your runs.

I taped mine to my wall and crossed out each run in Sharpie. Drawing big black x’s across the boxes was almost as rewarding as the endorphins.

Birds might attack your head.

On one of my long runs, I was attacked by a bird. Literally. Here I was, foolishly admiring how close I was to wildlife like the little bird perched on the fence, when I must have wandered a little too close to that dumb bird’s nest. As I passed, I heard a squawk and a flutter and felt a jab on the crown of my head. I squawked right back and kept running, a little more panicked. It happened again, same squawking and jabbing, right above my ponytail. I started to sprint while flapping my hands over my head (neither of these are natural around mile 4), watching over my shoulder like I was in the Hunger Games. The suspect bird eyed me reproachfully but kept its distance. Dang bird. But at least I have now survived a milder version one of Tris’s worst fears in Divergent, so that’s something.

Measure your mileage in manageable bites.

Don’t think about the 5 miles you have left – think about how you can totally handle the next half-mile. Ooh, life metaphor right there.

A good cheering section makes all the difference.

I had the best people supporting me. They got up early and waited at water stations to cheer and take action shots and jog alongside me for a few paces. It made the whole thing feel more motivating and epic.

Not pictured are my parents, grandma, and the brother who hates running

Not pictured are my parents, grandma, and the brother who hates running. But they were there and they were great.

Find what works for you.

This race was made possible by the TED Radio Hour podcasts, Aasics running shoes, and post-run McDonald’s blueberry pomegranate smoothies.

Slow and steady wins the race.

Actually, not really. I was mostly happy not to be last. But it does make death less likely and smiling more possible.

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Use common sense.

If you used the bathroom 25 minutes before the race and have a suspicion you might need to go 15 minutes later, for the love of God, just go. Having to pee for the last 7 miles of the run is about as fun as it sounds. And do other logical things like drink water and tell people when you’re going on long runs so they can find you if you collapse and eat lots (and lots and lots) of healthy food.

Basically, have fun and don’t die. That about sums it up. See you at the next race?

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