Yesterday was the Philly Rock ‘n Roll half marathon, just one in a series of Rock ‘n Roll half marathons being held throughout the country. The day was perfect for running. Air was crisp and cool, not a lot of sun but just enough to warm me a little as I stood with some 20,000 other runners waiting for our respective corrals to move closer to the start line. Finally at about 8:34 the gun sounded for corral number 17, and I was off running my first race in almost 2 years.
It was a very exciting race because one of the 20,00 runners was Adam Goucher, husband of female phenom distance runner Kara Goucher. Adam was running the Philadelphia race in order to qualify for the Olympic trials next spring, and needed to complete his 13.1 mile race in under 65 minutes. Now I ask you, in what other sport can you compete in the same event as the most elite athletes of said sport? That does make things a little bit more exciting. But unfortunately not for me…alas I was pretty blasé about the whole thing.
As you already know, I have really been struggling with my training for the marathon in November, most of it being a mental struggle. My body will do whatever I ask of it, the only problem is that my mind will just say…”Awe you can’t do that…it’s just not in you.” It has been a constant battle between mind and body, and to be honest, mind was winning out…a lot! But standing there in the corral before the gun went off really got to me emotionally, almost to the point of tears. I thought about the running I had done in the past; I thought about all the people I know who are unable to run for one reason or another; and I thought about 9/11. The master of ceremonies spoke about the Philadelphia half that was set to run in September of 2001. There was a hesitation after the terrorist attack of only a week or so beforehand, and race officials heavily debated on not holding the then called “Distance Run”. But the runners wanted to run. They had it in them that no one was going to take this race away from them…it was theirs and they were going to run it. I thought about the strength and courage of those runners along with all the men and women in the towers, the Pentagon and on flight 93 that fateful day, and I knew in my heart it was exactly the way I would feel. Running empowered those athletes on that September morning in 2001, and I felt that empowerment come back to me in terms of how running makes me feel when I challenge myself to the most difficult of tasks. Feeling all those feelings and then knowing that there was a man in the midst of the 20,000 plus runners trying to qualify for the Olympic trials,suddenly made my goal of “just finishing” seem unacceptable to me. What have I been thinking? Where has my head been? These are all the reasons and feelings that made me begin to love this sport! Hell and I was going to let them just all slip away! Nooooooo Waaaaay!
The overall plan for my race was set up by my dear friend Donna, who would in no way let me stray from the prescribed strategy. And the stratagy was this…to simply walk the water stations which were set up about every 1.5 – 2 miles along the course route. This would let us “hydrate to run great” and also allow for bit if a small break for the old legs and lungs. We also planned to go out slow so I could conserve energy and not hit the proverbial “wall” before the end of the 13.1 mles, and up to about mile 8 or 9 the plan was working rather well.
So what happened at mile 8 or 9? This…the flood gates opened and all the thoughts and all the emotions I felt while standing in my corral before the gun came rushing back to me and intuitively I had began to pick up the pace. We started passing other runners…runners who had passed up several miles back, this fueled my pace, and I ran faster. Donna warned me at mile 10 that I had move my pace up markedly, and that she didn’t want me to finish feeling exhausted, so she slowed me down a bit and we continued to run. The two parallel lines representing mile 11 was in our sight…and I again picked the pace back up. We passed the mile 12 marker and I told Donna that I wanted to sprint to the finish line as soon as we saw it. She said O.K. and when the mile 13 marker was in front of us, unfortunately, there was also the second of only 2 hills of the entire course. I said to Donna…”All I want is the finish line and my medal!” She then added…”And a beer” I laughed and we hit the hill and ran it hard! We crossed the finish line at 2 hrs. and 41 minutes a far cry from my PR of 2 hrs. 16 min., but our time was also 19 minutes faster than Donna predicted based on our training runs. We finished strong actually running our last 5k 4 minutes faster than the first 5k of the race.
By now I was spent and I knew I had left nothing out there on the course…and that was a great feeling. What I needed more than anything was to run a race again so I could feel the excitement of being part of such a large and challenging event. I had become too complacent with regard to running and Donna knew that. I told her as we chatted at mile 10 that I thought she was one of the smartest people I’ve ever known and not just because of all the information she carries around in her head on a daily basis…but smart about people and how she can know them with her heart. And I thank her from the bottom of my heart for being there and knowing me so well!
So now I have to begin to wrap my brain around a 16 mile run scheduled for this coming Friday and I’d like to believe I have it in me to just do it! One thing though is for certain, I am mentally far better prepared for this run, and that will make all the difference in the world!
Note: Adam Goucher did end up qualifying for the U.S. Olympic trials with a finishing time of 64 minutes and 53 seconds!