Rising before the sunrise wasn’t any problem because I was on a mission to run the Pensacola Half Marathon. It was so worth the early morning to see that spectacular sunrise, which was one of the prettiest I’ve seen in Pensacola. On the way to the race, I picked up my friend Scott, who ran the full marathon. As we were talking about our goals, we decided to try to run together.
Scott and I ran the Mardi Gras marathon in February in New Orleans, and it was a great experience, but I felt like I held him back from reaching his potential. I can’t remember the exact quote from the book he read, but he said that it was greater to accomplish something with someone else than by yourself. He wasn’t disappointed, even though I was disappointed for him. He definitely helped encouraged me along the way. I was kind of surprised, though, when he said he’d run this one with me, too.
As I prepared for this race, I was really excited that I was only running a half marathon. Since my last half marathon over two-and-a-half years ago, I have run two marathons, so I was anxious to see how I’d do with a half after running two fulls. This was also my 3-year anniversary for the beginning of my running career. As much as I can, I do whatever I need to do to be best prepared. I even drove most of the course the day before, just so I could anticipate what was ahead (most specifically hills, since I don’t run so fast that the turns really matter). Someone asked me the other day if I was competitive in my running, and I said that I’m not really on a competitive level in the racing community, but I am competitive with myself. Just finishing the race doesn’t cut it with me… I want to do better than I did last time. So many factors play into racing: temperature, humidity, hills, other runners, course conditions, fans, stretching, what you consume before and during the race, wellness, mental preparedness and toughness, training (how many miles you’ve put in, the conditions of your runs, intensity, duration, etc.), physiology (i.e. hydration, balance of nutrients and fuel in your body, cramping, how your body feels, etc.) – just to name a few. 🙂 As you can imagine, preparedness is very important.
After all this preparation, I was ready to run. So, Scott and I headed to the start line and awaited the signal to begin. The first mile was pretty crowded (over 1000 runners were vying for a spot on the two lanes of the road that were designated for runners and closed to traffic), and we can be sure that we didn’t run the first mile too fast because we couldn’t get through all the people. The first few miles were fun. I enjoy running and racing, and there’s a synergy that comes from being around a bunch of runners. We ran the best we could and tried to set a decent pace. The first few miles went without a hitch, and we first spotted Scott’s wife Jill and dad Steven close to mile 7. We had personal fans – it was awesome! It’s always nice to have anyone to cheer you on, but it’s even nicer if you know them (and they’re calling out your names). Fans at this race were pretty sparsely distributed along the way, so they were a welcomed sight. Shortly after that we hit our first major hill. The course was generally hilly, but there were two big ones. We made the steady climb up the first hill, and it was relatively easy. I did have to work on controlling my breathing during and after that hill, though.
When we came up to the aid stations, I didn’t take anything because I had carried a water bottle with me (it’s so much easier to drink out of a water bottle while running than a cup – I’ve had a few mishaps, mostly involving water up my nose). One problem with my method in this race was that I didn’t really think it through. It was great to have the water bottle, but I didn’t consume a lot of water because I took a swig or two but didn’t drink as much as I would have it I had gotten the aid that was offered to me. Did I mention that hydration is important? It really is a no-brainer that you’ve got to replace your fluids, and I didn’t rehydrate well during the race. They also had energy gels around mile 6, and I got one. But, it was double latte flavor – I can’t stand the taste of coffee, so I don’t think I would’ve even been able to get it down.
Around mile 9 we hit big hill number 2, and it was much harder than the first. Scott asked if I was okay, and I told him I was alright. I also told him to keep on going. He was ahead of me by a few strides, but I sped up on the downhill and caught up to him. It also helped that our great fans Jill and Steve were waiting at the bottom of the hill. They also appeared at 2 (or was it 3?) other spots on the course. Scott and I ran together for a little while longer, and when we came up on the aid station close to mile 10, I told him that I needed to refuel and that he should go on. He encouraged me to press on and finish strong and went on his way (he still had to run another 16 miles. By the way, he finished with a PR – personal record). I walked for about a quarter mile, while eating part of the Clif Bar in my pocket and washing it down with the small cup of water. At that point, I probably could’ve drunk 10 cups of water. I began running again. This was supposed to be the easiest part… it was all downhill or flat for the rest of the race. Still, it was tough. I hit “the wall.” I went from feeling great to feeling weak and lethargic in a few short minutes. Then, my legs started cramping some. I still had in my mind that I wanted to break the 2-hour mark for the race, and I was still on track for that. Thankfully, Melody, Rob, and Drew were also there to cheer me on – it gave me a great boost to see them and hear their cheers when I was struggling in the last part of the race. I kept going, but I had to stop to walk a couple other times. With just over half a mile to go, a fellow runner passed me and told me that I had all day to rest and encouraged me to pick up running again. He was right, and I continued running. My body wasn’t too happy about it, though. I jogged the rest of the way, picking up my pace significantly in the home stretch – it’s really easy to pick up the pace when you’ve got a crowd of people cheering you on to the end. I was especially thankful that my friends were standing just before the finish line, helping me make it to the end. As I crossed the finish line at 1:58:24, I relished in the accomplishment. I met my goal!
Almost immediately, I felt really weird. I wasn’t stable. I thought I might pass out. When I tried to walk, I staggered. I’ve never experienced that before. The strangest thing to me was that I didn’t feel anything of the sort until I crossed the finish line. That was yet another time when having a friend there was crucial. Melody came up to me, and I grabbed her arm so I could hold my balance. She walked with me, stabilizing me so I didn’t fall. I don’t know what I would’ve done if she hadn’t been there. It took about 30 minutes, combined with water and a salty snack, before I regained some kind of normalcy.
As you can imagine, I’ve thought a lot about the race. I’ve also tried to figure out what happened and what I could’ve done differently. Every time I race, I am reminded of things that are true in life. Running races is much like living life (1 Corinthians 9:24 and Hebrews 12:1-2 come to mind). Two major lessons arose from my experience in this race.
First, we’re not designed to go it alone. God designed us for community. There are definitely different stages of being with folks and by ourselves, but all in all, life is so much more enjoyable when experience it with others. I’m glad Scott decided to run with me – the race was more fun and somehow easier. Not only that, but we need others to help us when we’re down. That moment of need may come at the most unexpected time, so we can’t wait until we’re in need to develop those friendships.
Second, fueling is so important. As Christians, we sometimes think a little Bible reading here and a Sunday morning sermon there will be enough to sustain us for the journey. It won’t. We need more than that. Like I needed more water, carbs, and electrolytes, we need more God-filling in our lives. You know, the Living Water of Jesus and our Daily Bread.
I could go on and on, but those were the most poignant things God showed me. I enjoy the life application lessons I learn and am reminded of while I’m racing. I never know what I’ll experience along the way, but God’s with me all the way. 13.1 miles – great race, lessons learned, ready to sign up again!