I ran the MO Cowbell Half-Marathon on Sunday, which was my 7th or 8th official half-marathon. I’ve lost count.
I say, “Official,” because when I ran a full-marathon (26.2 miles) in 2010, I ran between 13 to 20 miles every Saturday for three months straight. Over the past six years, I have ran at least one official half-marathon; some years I’ve ran two. However after each race, and I use that term loosely, I ask myself, Why am I doing this?
Every year for the last six years I have signed-up for a race three or four months out. I usually do the bare minimum to get into running shape. This means doing two to three mile runs once or twice a week. Then when I’m about six weeks out from the race, I’ll start running a little further on the weekends adding about two miles to my long runs on Saturdays until I’m up to about eight or nine miles.
Of course the real-run is 13.1 miles, so I’m usually under-prepared for the race. Then the week before the race I will hardly run at all. This is not recommended.
“The proof is in the pudding,” means the results you get out of something are from the work you put in. My lack of training shows in the result-times most years for me. I’ll struggle through the race, but I do finish. The times aren’t impressive. Usually I’ll finish between 2 hours and 40 minutes to three hours. I then hobble back to my car swearing at myself with each step.
I then spend the next two days limping around saying things like, “Next time things will be different. I’ll run more and I’ll get back into the best shape of my life.” Most years I usually do the same thing that I did the last training season and usually end up with the same race results that I had the year before.
I will say that in 2010, I took my training much more seriously. I ran three or four times a week. I had a coach. I quit smoking. I logged 20+ miles a week. Bottom line, I trained hard and took it seriously.
There have also been a couple of years out of six that I was in pretty good shape, meaning I could run four or five miles without stopping. One of those years I finished this same race in 2 hours and 18 minutes—which is my best time so far. It was also the only time in my life that I ran 13 miles without stopping except at a couple of water stations for 10 or 15 seconds to get a drink.
This year’s race was much different. I felt like I was getting major blisters on both feet at Mile 6. I stopped at Mile 7 to pee in a bush, then sat down on a rock wall, pulled my socks off and looked at my bare feet. The blisters were starting to form and they were both quarter-sized. Oh well, I thought as I started to put my socks and shoes back on.
Up to this point I was pacing with the 2:40 pace group. For those who don’t run, you can tell your pace group by volunteers who run the course with long sticks with times posted on them. If you hang with them the whole race, you should be about on pace with what the number/time says on their stick.
I saw the lady holding the 2:45 stick go by me while I was sitting down checking my feet. I put my shoes back on and started running. About two minutes after that, I saw the 2:30 pace-lady run past me.
That’s when I realized that I must have gotten turned around on the course. I didn’t know what mile marker I was at and I had a brief moment where I thought, Do I turn around and go back?
Then I thought, I still have a long way to go with these blisters and I don’t care about this race. I paid for it. I know no one else cares at all what I’m doing. And if I found someone with a golf-cart that would take me back, I would go back right now.
So I just kept running.
The surprising thing is about two minutes later I came back to life. I found a little spot in my shoes that wasn’t as hot on my foot as it had been rubbing my arches where my blisters were. I bared-down and made sure my foot didn’t slide off that spot and I kept on trotting.
The people around me were keeping up a slightly faster pace than I was which in turn made me pick up my pace. I ran for about three miles without stopping until I got to a long hill. It was too much for me mentally, so I walked up the hill and then ran for four or five minutes down the other side of the hill, then walked again for two or three minutes.
By the time I had hit Mile 12 I was wiped out. The last time I ran this race I ran the last mile in nine minutes. This time it took about fifteen.
When I got to the finish line I passed-up where they were handing out medals and went straight for the beer tent. The lady working there said, “Here sit down. You look like you could use a beer.”
I thanked her and slammed my beer down in about five gulps.
“You look like you could use a refill,” the lady said handing me another beer.
I thanked her and said, “You can see where my priorities are, I didn’t even pick up my medal.”
“Whatever makes you happy,” she said.
By the time I finished my second beer my Facebook running buddy showed-up with her family. She got herself a beer and I explained to her how I got turned around somehow.
She said, “Well go get your medal.”
“Nah, I don’t feel like I deserve a medal this time,” I said.
“What? That’s crazy! Go get your medal.” she said.
“I’m good. I think my official time might say, ‘Cheater,’ when they look at the computer screen.” I said.
A few minutes later I heard the announcer say, “I’m sorry folks, we are out of medals. Just sign up at the tent and we will send you one.”
My friend said, “Go sign up.”
“Eh, don’t worry about it. I’m good.” I said.
As I was hobbling back to my car, a 70-something year old man saw me limping and said, “How did you do?”
“Well I saw you pass me,” I said shaking his hand as his whole family laughed.
I took the next day off from work and went “floating.” Floating in this context involves getting into a sensory deprivation tank filled with warm water and 800 lbs. of Epsom salt. There are no lights or sound after a few minutes of getting in the tank. You are left alone with your thoughts for 90 minutes.
When you run long distances you sometimes forget that things rub against each other leaving it a raw—like your shirt against your nipples. It didn’t take long to remember what rubbed against what when I got into the salt bath. Once the salt hit my nipples it stung so bad that I almost had to get out. But I let the pain wash over me and muscled through it and after a couple of minutes the pain went away.
Thoughts ran through my mind faster than a deer being chased by wolves. I thought about people who I hadn’t thought about in years. I thought about five different businesses that I could start tomorrow if I just could pick one. I saw blinking blue lights and heard swirly sounds that weren’t really there. Occasionally my foot would hit the side of the tank and I would come crashing back to reality.
I went back to work the next day, limping with each step and trying not to bust my water-filled blistered feet. I opened my email and there was a message that said, “We are judging by your time that you didn’t receive a metal. We are sorry but we didn’t realize we were short on metals until we ran out of them at the finish line. But don’t worry, we are sending you one!”
Great! I thought. Now the only thing I can think about is, Will mine have the word, “Cheater!” engraved on it?
The funny thing is, I don’t even care about the medals from each race. I keep them in a cardboard box that is in the closet where my heater and air-conditioner are. For me it’s about getting out there, doing some form of exercise and competing with your mind that you are going to finish no matter how much it hurts.
But no matter what the medal does or doesn’t say I promise you this, next year things will be different.