What My First Half Marathon Taught Me

This morning I did something my younger self would have never believed. I ran my first half marathon. I ran fast and hard at a 7:55/ mile pace, finishing at 1:43:36, 15th overall in my division.

Standing by the 8:00/ mile line-up sign because I was shooting for that pace, ideally. Finished just slightly better at 7:55/ mile.

My younger self hated running. I was “one of those” who would scowl at the good runners in gym class and make a joke about eating a donut. I can’t stand these types, but I can relate. I feel frustrated with them not because they can’t appreciate and celebrate the talents of others, but because in criticizing others they redirect positive thinking and effort away from themselves developing themselves.

Back to the race, I can honestly say without exaggeration that I loved almost every second of it. Running, for me, is almost meditative. It gives me time alone. And when I’m freed from people and distracting technologies, I can focus on myself, reflect on where I’m at and where I want to go.

You’ll notice thought that I wrote “almost every second.” Allow me to explain…

It’s unrealistic to pretend like I didn’t feel winded sometimes or tingly from lack of oxygen. But then I’d slow down and catch my breath. Sometimes in the race, and in training, I’d get frustrated when other runners tried to pass me. But running has taught me to be mindful of why I feel that way and to recognize that it’s not productive. So most of the time I let go. Just relax and return to focusing on my pace. But sometimes my sassier side comes out, and I don’t mind getting a little competitive. The other seconds not enjoyed were usually had at the beginning of training runs on dark, 40-degree mornings, especially ones with sharp pellets of rain. But these seconds were fleeting. When reminded that these extreme conditions could only make me a better runner–and that race day probably wouldn’t be this bad (and if it was I’d be ready for it!)–I began to appreciate them more and more. So my point is this: the seconds when you think you’re not enjoying yourself are the ones you learn to enjoy the most (later).

Medals make for a nice shiny touch, but who really cares about ribbon and brass after finishing a long distance? Finishing is the best reward.

More time spent training was loved than not, and that’s what I really want to talk about. Here we go:

1. I love a challenge. My 20s are bringing this out more and more as I edge closer to middle age and farther from youth.

2. Sunscreen is important. 4 months of training has taken a bit of a toll on my skin.

3. I love people, but I need time alone everyday. Running gives me this.

4. I need words and rhythms. Running in silence is nice for a little while, but to truly make sense of my thoughts, I need the ideas captured in song lyrics. I find one that fits with my mood; then analyze why that is.

5. Although I could probably name many more, my fifth and favorite is this: Graduate school is an awful lot like running. It’s enriching. It’s enlightening. It’s sharp rain pellets hitting you in the face sometimes. But I love both because I want to be better. I’ve never been okay with settling for anything. I imagine that won’t change any time soon.

A new friend met via my former neighbor and fellow racer, Joe, holds up a “Motivational Sign” for Joe, now being recycled for me.

Considering all this, the question I keep going back to is: Will I try for a marathon next year? I’d be lying if I said I didn’t want to. Desperately! But like anything, if I’m going to do it, I want to do it well. This time next year, I hope to be settled in a Ph.D. program. I imagine that will take more of my time and energy than I realize. But I’ve surprised myself before. So for now, I’ll keep it in mind and re-evaluate later.

The point I want to end on is this. The scathing little thing I was 10 years ago always wanted to be a good runner, and now she is. I think this is what I love about running most. I changed myself for the better, and it seems that this newly found passion is helping others do the same. I’ve seen the people around me become healthier eaters and a little more physically active–a few of whom have even taken up running and shared with me how good it feels to run a 5K, to surprise themselves with the strength they have. I want this to continue. At the end of the day, it’s great if I can be a better version of my “yesterday self,” but I love it so much more when I can bring about this change in others. That’s why I’m a teacher. That’s what helps me thrive. That’s what I run for.

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