My initial thought was absolutely not. I'd only been running for about two years and for the first several months, I couldn't do three miles without walking part of it. It had taken about a year just to build up to five miles. I was slow. Running was hard. Absolutely not.
I brought up the idea to my beau/running partner anyway. He'd been a runner for years, and had completed two 5Ks, one of which we'd run together about a month before. He'd never gone this distance, either (keep in mind a 5K is 3.1 miles; a half-marathon is 13.1), but by the end of the conversation, we'd talked ourselves into it.
We began training right away, building on our standard 5-mile runs. We had five months, which experts say is plenty of time. Every Saturday we ran together, working up to 6 miles, then 7, then 8. Every new goal reached brought with it new levels of pain, both physical and mental. We kept each other going and often spit out, breathlessly, in our best JFK impression, "We do this not because it is easy, but because it is hard." We'd also sing, "Who in the world do you think you are? A superstar? Well, right you are!" On those post-run evenings, we would sit on his recliner sofa and moan a lot with every movement.
Despite the awful winter, which kept us from training as often as we should have, we ran every chance we could, eventually reaching 10 miles which, again the experts say, is all you have to do during training. Your adrenaline will keep you going those last three miles on race day.
13.1 13.1 13.1 13.1 13.1 13.1 13.1 13.1 13.1 13.1 13.1 13.1 13.1
My beau and I made the lovely drive to the Lancaster countryside. We had our minds on the calories and the calories on our minds so we stopped at Five Guys for burgers. Holy moly, these things are huge! And a "hamburger" consists of two patties! What? Shouldn't that be called a double-something-or-other?
I just looked up the nutritional information and I can't un-know this. I exceeded every daily limit for everything the body should ingest minimally in order to not have a heart attack and die. Holy Clogged Arteries! But, ding-dangit, was it awfully tasty.
We went to bed and as the beau drifted off effortlessly, I lay there wide awake. I was thirsty. I got up for water. I had heartburn. I got up for Tums. I'd start to fall asleep and my ear would itch. I'd start again and I'd jolt awake with the need to roll over. I'd start again and it sounded like the hotel guest above us was moving furniture.
Seriously, I don't know what they were doing up there, but I considered calling the front desk to complain or stomp up there myself and pound loudly on the door. I shouted a curse at one point and the beau slept right through it.
In the end, I got about three hours of sleep. I woke up angry, groggy, and with an icky tummy; not ideal conditions for tackling the biggest physical challenge of my life.
We made our way to Stoudtburg Village, an idyllic replica of a 17th Century Bavarian town. As we were getting ourselves together, we started talking to a race volunteer who showed the beau how to tie his car key in his shoelaces so it wouldn't get in the way. We noted how steep the surrounding hills looked but Eric, with his thick French accent, told us there was nothing to be nervous about. "I'm doing a 50-mile run soon. You'll be fine." We were like, okay, let's suck it up. This is nothing! Eric, who probably skis the Alps and climbs Mt. Everest, says we can do it, so we can do it!
We found Annie, who was also full of encouragement. Where was Megan, you might wonder? Oh, yeah, she never signed up for it after all. Hmm. It was a sunny, albeit chilly day (perfect for running) and we fed off the energy of the hundreds of participants. We found the sisters from the Black Horse Restaurant, who looked adorable in their German dresses.
We crossed the start line at the end of the pack knowing we were as ready as we'd ever be. The first six miles felt great! I know that sounds unbelievable to non-runners, but it's true. Running is so much a head game. Often, when I go for a 3-mile run, it sucks the whole time. When I go for an 8-miler, the first half feels great and then it starts to suck. I wish I could trick myself into thinking a 3-miler is an 8-miler, because it would be easy the whole way. Unfortunately, the brain always knows.
We felt joyful with every mile marker we passed. Woo hoo, we're doing it! We were energized by the water stations and all the volunteers cheering us on. If only we had that every time we ran! The countryside was absolutely gorgeous and the only people out and about that early on a Sunday morning were the Amish. We passed a church where all their buggies were parked. Then, like a mirage, a huge group of Amish boys and teenagers streamed past us on their bicycles. It was a surreal, bizarre, and rejuvenating sight.
Around mile 4 was the first real challenge; a hill bigger than I'd ever run before. My theory on hills is to really push as hard and fast as I can, then relax coming down. At the start of the hill was Eric, our Rumspringa spirit guide, so I attacked that mother like a champ. The hill, not Eric.
The beau and I were happy to see the mile-7 marker--half way, baby!--but that was the last time we were happy for the next hour or so. By mile 8, we weren't talking. I think that's when I started making deals with myself, with God, and with the Universe. At mile 9, there was a bit of a reprieve. I remember saying to the beau: I hate 8 but 9 is fine! We hit mile 10. Wow! So close! Almost done! We even saw Eric again, whose idea of encouragement was something like, "Come on, my grandma can run faster than you!"
Shortly thereafter, I realized I'd never run this far before. I also remembered, having studied the course online, that the last three miles would be uphill. But the adrenaline will keep me going. With each step, it was getting worse, and at mile 11, I hit a wall.
This is a phrase we've all heard and I thought I'd hit walls before, but I didn't know what a wall was.
The beau and I were now grunting and groaning and spitting and wiping snot on our sleeves. We no longer cared how crazy we sounded or looked. It didn't matter anyway since the pack we'd been running with had surpassed us long ago. We seemed to be the only ones on the road. I wanted to stop and lay down on the ground. A little boy wearing huge Mickey Mouse hands cheered us on and gave us high fives as we passed and I started crying.
"Hold it together, woman!" I yelled to myself. I mean, I didn't think it, I yelled it. I couldn't waste any energy crying or I wouldn't make it. At every station, volunteers kept telling us, "you're doing great! You're almost there!" I tried to smile and say thanks, but my face grimaced and tears started filling my eyes. We weren't doing great and we weren't almost there. We would never be there.
At the last mile, it was all-out desperation. I was forcing myself not to cry and the beau just kept shouting, "No! No!" "Yes!" I'd shout back. "Come on, superstar! We can do this! We're almost there!" But we were dying.
Our goal was to run the whole thing without any walking. We had stopped twice along the way to go to the bathroom, and briefly at the water stations (where I told the volunteers they were angels from heaven), but that was it. At this point, we thought walking would just prolong the misery so we might as well keep running and get it over with.
We made it to the village for the last tenth of a mile. Hundreds of people who had achieved what we were attempting were milling about, looking happy and alive. Several cheered us on as we rounded the last few corners. We still couldn't see the finish line and I started laugh-crying. "Is this a cruel joke? Is this ever going to end?" I sobbed.
We made it around the last corner and there it was. The adrenaline kicked in for those last few feet and I bolted past the beau and sprinted across the finish line, where I broke down.
We saw our runner sisters one last time, who were awarded kooky little German weather houses for running in costume. They told us how proud they were of us and confirmed that those hills were no joke. In fact, we heard a lot of veteran runners say how tough that was.
Time to replenish the 1900 calories burned!
Don't get me wrong; I'm glad I did it. I've never set a physical challenge for myself before and there are a lot of benefits that come with meeting it. I'm so grateful for my good health. I learned about commitment and dedication, perseverance, facing adversity and kicking its ass. And speaking of asses, mine's looking pretty sweet right now.
A week afterwards, I laced up my running shoes and ran 5 miles. I thought if I don't do it now, I may never want to do it again. I'm still a little bit mad at running, but that 5 miles felt pretty good. And today, two weeks later, I'm going to head out again.
I'm sure the thrill of this achievement will fade eventually. You can't rest on your laurels forever. But until the next challenge comes along, every time I see that medal hanging on my door, I can feel pretty proud of myself.