Last week I tried, and I think I was successful, to answer my own personal question as to why I was running a trail half marathon. Well, the race was this past Saturday, and I did it, I finished and I want to reflect on what I experienced before, during and after the race.
Before the race I was pretty nervous. More nervous than I usually am before any race. I kind of knew what was ahead of me, but I wasn't fully certain. I had been training at the spot of the race, but I only ran the course a handful of times, maybe four, and it wasn't the full course. I did different distances on the course, but nothing over seven and a half miles. So, I was sweating the full course before I even started. I also caught up with my buddy before his race started, and you could just tell from looking at us that we were both nervous. He even texted me as I was driving there, asked me if I was ready, and I told him I was as ready as I was going to be. I wasn't even fully confident on the drive there. Then, after getting all the pre race info, the half marathoners were sent to our starting line, and headed over there. It almost felt like a death march. I know this all sounds very grim, but I promise, it will get better.
When the clock struck 7am, the coordinator blew the horn, and we were off. About one mile in, I started to actually feel okay. I was on a track I was familiar with, I was keeping a steady pace and it wasn't super hot or humid. Not yet at least. I kept feeling good even into the third mile. This was the first big elevation gain, but power hiking up the hill was treating me proper. It helped me get my heartbeat down, I still felt solid and once I got to the top, it was a flat track, and I was ready to run right away. For the next 3 and a half mile, that is 6 and a half total, the first leg of the race, I was good. I ran the straights, the downhills, power hiked the hills and kept chugging along. It was all good. I made it to the halfway point after about an hour and a half, and still felt solid. I stopped off to regain my composure, to check in at the aid station, not because I was hurt, we had to to give them our number to get our official time, and decided I had enough water and I was good to go after a few minutes of rest. I figured the back half would be similar, and I thought I had enough water to get me through.
So, I started back, and this is when I hit a major wall. I was good for another half a mile, maybe even a mile, but then some weird stuff started to happen. After I power hiked up the first hill, I hit a straight path that, for some reason, I couldn't get myself to run. My heart rate was too elevated, and I was suddenly very tired. It hit me like a ton of bricks. I pushed on through because that is what I do, but something was off. As I kept going, I started to feel twitchiness in my calves and thighs. Now, this has happened before, in fact, it happens a lot, but this was different. The twitch was constant, and it hurt. I felt like I could literally see the muscles twitch. If I was a bit more cognizant, I would have taken a video. But, choosing to not listen to my body, I decided I would push through this feeling, and that eventually, it would go away. It did, but something much worse happened. I had been walking for about 2 miles at this point, and as I hit mile 9 on the race, I completely cramped up. I drank some more of my water, but I was getting low.
I then decided to get to the side of the trail and stretch. This was super painful. I sat down, a mistake, and stretched my legs to the best of my ability. When I felt up to it, and the cramping stopped, I got myself up, which took a ton of effort, and started to hike again. I started to get the twitch again, but I drank some more water, luckily found a big walking stick and tried to run. I got maybe a quarter mile before I had to walk again.
And then it started to rain.
The rain didn't bug me, but the humidity was starting to get to me. I was sweating so much that it felt like I was wearing clothes that I had worn in a pool. I was soaked, and it wasn't the rain. I traversed on because that is what the athlete in me was telling me to do, but it was starting to get tougher and tougher. I was getting frustrated. I was cursing myself. I was saying things aloud to no one in particular.
That is when the quitting feeling started to set in.
I was around 10 and a half miles in, and I wanted to give in. I was getting near an aid station, the last one, and I was going to throw in the towel. I was also out of water and I just wanted to be done. I got to the aid station, and was ready to pack it in. But, and the volunteers were so truly amazing at this race, helped convince me to finish the race. They filled up my hydration pack, they gave me solid words of encouragement and they let me know that I just had 2 more miles to go. To think of how easy, and euphoric it would be to finish this race. They gave me the added encouragement that I was craving at that point of the race.
After I gathered my thoughts, walking stick and pack, and endlessly thanked the volunteers, I was back on the course. About a half a mile after that, I ran into my buddy that was doing the 53k that day, and saw him running, and that gave me the one last push I didn't know I needed. To see him pushing, knowing he still had a good amount to go, pushed me over the edge, in a good way. From there on out, I power hiked. I still had pain in my legs, my feet were very sore, I had a bruise on the ball of my foot from stepping on a rock early on in the race, and every time I stepped on it it shot pain throughout my foot, but I kept going. I kept telling myself one step at a time. That soon, I would be done. As I came upon a sign that read, "13.1 Finish Line Ahead", I started to get very excited. I should point out, my watch read 13.72 miles total, but at this point, I didn't care. I was so close. When I got to the very last, small climb, I decided to finish with as much speed as I had left, which wasn't much.
As I crossed that finish line, I felt a feeling like I never have before. This was an accomplishment for me. This was one of, if not the, toughest athletic competition that I have ever done, and I finished it. I wanted to quit, but I didn't. I wanted to give up, but I had people that were willing to talk me out of it and help me finish. And as I crossed that line, and yelled out to the race coordinator, jokingly, "my watch reads almost 14 miles", I was excited. I went and got stretched out and headed to my car. I tried to stretch a bit more, but started cramping up again, so I got in my care and drove home feeling very happy. Sure, I didn't meet my goal of 3 and a half hours, I finished in 3 hours and 53 minutes, and I was more sore than I have ever been, but I felt great. I couldn't believe that I had done a trail half marathon, but I did.
Now, 4 days after doing it, I feel totally fine, and am prepping myself for a street half marathon, and have already committed internally to do this same race again next year. The best word I can use to describe finishing is euphoric. This was hard and taxing and excruciating at times. But, finishing was the best. I'm so happy that I did this race. It was more than worth everything that happened on Saturday. I cannot wait for next year.
Ty is the Pop Culture editor for SeedSing and the other host of the X Millennial Man Podcast. No jokes today, just a hearty “Good Job Ty”.
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