An Unfathomable Achievement.
So, during my little break, something wonderful happened. I did it. I achieved something I’ve been working toward for longer than I knew I was working toward it. A bit more than two weeks ago, on a Sunday morning in Philadelphia, BB and I ran a half-marathon, and set a new benchmark for ourselves.
If you remember my last two race recaps, I’ve been hurting a bit, even though it hasn’t really affected my performance. My trainer says it’s a high-hamstring strain. Basically, some muscle deep in the crease between my hamstring and my glute is torn or strained or something and running on it hurts. But pain is complicated, and it feels pretty badass to go out and run like hell despite hurting.
The race was called The Love Run, and it is a challenging half-marathon run through downtown Philadelphia and then out through the park on the western bank of the Schuylkill (SKOO-kul) river. It’s challenging because there is a hill at mile 7 that makes Pike’s Peak look like a speedbump.
OK not really, but it’s a hell of a hill that lasts about a mile, and goes around several demoralizing blind turns where you think you’re done but you’re not. Then you have to come down. Up is what everyone thinks about when they talk about how hard running hills is. But down – down hurts. Jarring, quad-shredding descents that sap you for the long flats after.
BB and I were not expecting to run this fast. It was our last road race of the spring. I had run a hard 10 miler only the prior week. BB had been struggling with calf and foot issues. My hamstring and glute were still singing. We intended to just go jog out a nice little half-marathon and then go have some pancakes. I wore my TomTom MSC, but didn’t ever once look at it.
We just ran.
For the first few miles I set the pace and BB ran beside me. But it felt like a good pace, and I could tell that BB was feeling alright, and even feeling aggressive, because she drank water at the fueling tables on the jog. She doesn’t like to drink while jogging (does anyone?) but she did that day. That, more than anything, told me she was feeling like she had the legs for a hard run.
Then we hit the hill. BB has strength going up hills that I can’t begin to conjure. She led the way with a hard pace straight up while everyone around us slowed to a walk. I parked myself behind her and gave everything I had. My heart rate soared. My legs burned, and my left hamstring started in on Il Dolce Suono. And then we came down the other side.
Everything hurt. For the last four miles, everything hurt. But we passed a clock or two along the way, and we knew we were close to pace for a personal record. It’s hard to tell using the gun-time clocks. We knew we’d passed the start line about 7 minutes after the elite runners. Exactly how many we didn’t know, and sexagesimal mental subtraction is difficult after ten miles at pace anyway.
But we knew we were on a solid pace. And I knew I was hurting. And we ran.
All the races we’ve run in Philadelphia start and end in the same place. Unlike Washington DC, where they might be anywhere. You cross the river toward the Art Museum, and come up a little hill and then go around this big traffic circle, and through the finish gate. I was expecting it to be about a quarter-mile after the blind curve. But this race it was much sooner. As soon as we crested the short incline, we could see it in front of us. We took off at a sprint.
I grabbed BB’s hand and we raced over the final timing mat. BB looked down, stopped her watch, and then shouted and jumped in the air. I stopped my watch. I looked down:
We did it. We ran under two hours. Less than two years after my first half-marathon, in Pittsburgh, where I ran in 2:38. In less than two years, we’ve taken almost forty minutes off of my half-marathon time. We’ve gone from 12 minute miles to 9 minute miles. I was in the top 40% of men my age, and 47% of men overall.
I have hit every running goal I’ve ever set for myself now. I guess I need to think up some new ones. And while I’m sure I will, and I’ll be happy when I hit it, if I do, there’s something kind of magical about the big odometer effect of breaking 2 hours. I don’t think I’ll ever reach another goal like that again. I won’t break 4 hours in the full marathon, I just don’t have the legs. And that’s OK.
But I’m proud of myself. This was hard. For years, I have run. For years, I have improved. Day in and day out I have worked and struggled and driven. Some days I haven’t had much. Some days I have had more than I knew. I’m proud of myself. I’m grateful for BB and for my sobriety and for all the things I’ve been given that have let me get to this place.
I feel like an Olympian.