The first time I ran (aka “attempted to run”) a half marathon, I must have been out of my mind. I was living in North Carolina at the time and I had been running local 5K races—with not more than one 8K under my belt. In fact, I blame the bobble-headed trophy for the inflated confidence that must have led me to sign up for a half marathon without any training whatsoever.
It was supposed to be my New Year’s resolution—something to kick my ass in the right direction after another year of (not so figurative) flailing about in life. So I set out to find a half that was taking place as close to the start of the new year as possible. I chose the OC Half Marathon in Newport Beach, CA on 6 January 2008. I told myself that 1) I still had time to prepare and 2) I would get the mileage under my belt and 3) that I would arrive prepared on race day. But, as the date crept closer and no training followed, I realized I had been LYING to myself. I figured I could still do it. I was determined—sort of. I was a beast—at that mile around the block. I could do anything I put my mind to—right…?
I flew out to California on my own on the Saturday before the half, which was supposed to be empowering, like, “Look at me, I am a woman doing things on my own—traveling, and running half marathons!!” But, what it ended up being was lonely and stressful. I don’t remember what the in-flight movie was, but I know I cried. Yeah, I’m a beast alright.
If you know anything about race packet pick-up for a marathon, then you know a race organizer would sooner pistol-whip a runner before allowing them to pick up their race information on the day of. So when my flight was delayed and the clock was ticking down to mere minutes before the EXPO would be closing, I began to panic. And, somewhere inside of me simultaneously, a dirt-bag voice was secretly celebrating over the fact that I might not make it in time.
I arrived at the EXPO as all of the vendors were shutting down their booths. Luckily it was being hosted at the official race hotel where I was also staying. I picked up my shirt and number and went up to my room. I would have had ridiculous pre-race jitters if I wasn’t also battling a nasty cold and feeling miserably ill. I cleared the hotel store out of OJ and holed up in my room all night with over-the-counter drugs. Still determined. Still fierce. Still bargaining with myself over whether I should even run in the morning.
When the morning came, I decided I had no choice but to run if I was ever going to live with myself from here on out. They shuttled us in groups and it was still dark outside when I took the race bus from the hotel to the start line. I sat around by myself for a loooong time before we officially were called to line up—cold and slightly misted. I gave an old guy some of my water so that he could take his pills. I have no doubt that he later beat me across the finish line.
I don’t know how far I ran (or at what pace) before I had to walk. I do know my iPod shuffle battery died (again, I was very prepared). I do know my hips and knees felt tight and sore. I do know that when “Eye of the Tiger” was again audibly recognizable, my legs magically started working and I began to aggressively run toward the finish. I hope somewhere out there someone has my untested, unfortunate, strangely monochromatic marathon outfit slogging by in the background of a photo. Wait… Here is a small, blurry version of me coming across the finish line!!! I had never run in my race outfit before then and never since.
I may or may have not felt like I was dying when I crossed the finish. I may have been dry heaving like an idiot and had to sit on the curb to avoid vomiting. I may have gotten on the wrong bus back to the hotel and spent an hour walking around before getting back on a bus that was dropping off other runners and the driver graciously offered to take me (all by my lonesome) back to my hotel like some personal chauffeur because she felt sorry for the dumb kid sitting sadly like a sack of potatoes in the back with her head pressed against the window. Or maybe not…
I showered in my hotel room and broke down emotionally before checking out and flying home—all on the same day. I let the experience mean what it needed to matter. And, I’m pretty sure it was more than water that washed down the drain that day (only figuratively, of course).
Officially, I ran my first half marathon in 2:50:41 (13:01 mile). Yes, I know that is how long it took Joan Benoit Samuelson to run an entire marathon…in her 50s. Yes, I was sore for a week and could barely walk. But, I was never the same. In fact, later that year I went on to qualify for flight school and attend Officer Candidate School for the US Marine Corps, which I could never have done without the confidence running (even slowly) had given me.