I ran my third half marathon this past weekend, the Yuengling Shamrock Half Marathon. I ran it far faster that I had hoped to, far faster than the goals I had set for myself. I finished in 1:50:30, with an average pace of 8:27. I didn’t know I could do that. For a lot of reasons.
When I was younger, new to the Army, I failed the Army Physical Fitness Test a few times because I couldn’t run two miles in less than 18 minutes. Or 20. I couldn’t run a continuous two miles. It was impossible for me then, and I said, for years and years, that I would always be someone who ran at a 9-10 minute pace. Period. The end. And I believed that. Solidly.
And then Andrew left for flight school and everything changed.
I went to California, for a Toyota-sponsored adventure, and I ran while I was there, still solidly on East Coast time and unable to sleep past 6am. So I ran. 4 miles, for both of the days we were in Santa Barbara. And I found, there, running alongside the Pacific Ocean, that I could run. I had been confining myself to treadmill runs, believing that I couldn’t run on the Earth, that the treadmill was the best course of action for me, but in California, it was different.
I didn’t run fast, but I did run faster than I thought I could on the road, but the bigger thing is, I found an incredible sort of peace out there, on the road. I ran next to the ocean, past farmlands and cows grazing on beachfront property and I realized that I could be a runner.
And so I came home. And then I started running. Outside, on the road. And then I ran a 5k. A really, really good 5k. And I went home from that 5k feeling like I was ready for the next challenge and so I signed up for my first half, the Rock ‘N’ Roll USA Half Marathon, with the urging of Andrew and Nicole and Tara.
And then March came, 2013, and I ran that race and it was hard. It was god awful hard. I fell apart in the end and the last three miles were among the hardest I’ve ever run. I finished that race just under 2:15, and I was determined to run another, because the thing about races, like tattoos, is that they’re addictive.
So in November I ran in Richmond, the first long distance race in my own city. And it was different. I knew myself as a runner by that point, knew what I needed to get to the finish and, more than that, to finish strong. I ran a 1:57:13 that day, smashing my previous personal record and leaving downtown with the realization that I am capable of far more than I thought I was.
And that brings us to now, to yesterday. At the Shamrock, I started out too fast. I didn’t want to. I was hoping to run at an 8:45 pace or so, but my first mile was closer to 8:30. But then I saw the 1:52 pacers and I thought about Nicole, about how she decided to hang with the 1:50 pace group during her most recent half marathon, and so I figured, what the fuck? Let’s hang with these cats until I can’t. I reasoned that, by the time I got tired, I would have built myself up to finishing at 1:55 or so, and so I hung with them until mile 10, tired, wondering why the fuck I was running at a 8:20-8:30 pace when I’d planned to run at a 8:40-8:50 pace.
But then, at mile 10, I passed them, the pacers. I pushed myself, hard, fueling myself on the anger and the rage and the hurt because – NEWS FLASH – divorce is fucking hard. I thought about Nicole again then, about how she talked about pushing after the 10 mile mark at the first half marathon she ever completed in under two hours (which, by the way, was my first half marathon), and I went. It’s just a 5k, I told myself. Just 3.1 miles until the finish, until bananas and water and walking and beers.
So I channeled the anger and Nicole’s logic on that last 5k, which, when she talked to me about it a year ago still seemed like a fuckton of miles, but I pushed. I pushed hard. I thought about all the shit, all the absolute bullshit, all the rage that’s been fueling me for the past months and especially for the past weeks and I ran those last miles as hard as I could.
And to the finish, right on the boardwalk in Virginia Beach, in sight of the Atlantic Ocean, wind smashing against my bare legs.
I went through the finisher’s chute, got my medal and my banana and my hat and my shamrock cookie and finally, standing in line to get my bag, checked my phone to see the runner tracking texts I’d opted to receive on myself and realized that I’d run a 1:50:30 half marathon, something I would have thought impossible just two days ago. “Holy moly!” read the text from my best friend, who had also gotten the runner tracking texts.
And yeah. Holy fucking moly, indeed.
He says he knew I could do it, knew I was capable of running at that pace, that I doubt myself too much, that I’m capable of so much more than I realize.
And I guess that’s the moral of the story. I’m not writing this to brag. I’m writing this because running used to be a thing I couldn’t do, until it wasn’t. Because that’s how things work. You only can’t until you do. I know it’s not always that easy. But sometimes it is.