Tomorrow, I’m re-tracing the steps of my first half-marathon, that I decided to run for my unborn daughter. Here’s the story of that ill-planned adventure.
A few days after Christmas 2004, we found we’d be having a child that summer. It hit me I needed to do whatever I could to stay healthy for a long time, so the day after I found out, I signed up for my first half marathon. The race would be the Tom King Half Marathon in mid March.
I’d done a couple of 5Ks, but training was foreign to me. Preparation was pretty much limited to fitting in a mile run maybe once or twice before a race. Otherwise, I just stuck to basketball twice a week. Someone had told me that if you wanted to do a half marathon, you did this thing called a ‘long run’, where every week, you run one mile longer than the week before. I started with the week of the half marathon, and worked my way back subtracting a mile each week. To figure out mileage, I’d go out and drive to a point of half the distance I needed, and drive back. I learned that the distance around the parking lots of a nearby school was one mile. Oh, the boring laps I ran around that school! I only knew about this long run thing, so I didn’t do any running outside of that. I had a radio headset, so I’d time my runs during football and basketball games so that at least I’d have some company. I never ran with any friends, because at that point, I only had friends who did normal sports like football and basketball.
Finally, race day arrived. My mildly pregnant, mildly supportive wife agreed to go to the race with me. To pass the time, she brought along a pillow, blankets, a personal DVD player, and four or five DVDs that she could watch laying down in the back of the car. “How long do you think this is going to take me?” I asked. “I just want to be prepared,” she replied. I’d set a goal of running a 10 minute mile pace, but I decided I’d be happy with a 2 hour, 20 minute finish. They open up the Titans stadium for fans to watch the finish, and she promised to be there. The race also advertised that they’ve have Gatorade and gels throughout the course, and that the Titans cheerleaders would be there at the finish cheering you on and handing out medals.
The race started off pretty well. In general, the Tom King Half is a good race for a beginner. It’s as flat as you can ask for in the Nashville area and there aren’t a lot of turns or side streets for you to get lost. I was feeling pretty good, so I decided to go a little faster than I had in training. That’s a big rookie mistake. Probably around mile 3 or 4 I started getting tired (which is bad, because I had 9 or 10 miles to go), so I slowed back down to my normal pace.
Although the race had advertised that they’d have Gatorade every mile, it turned out that they had run out of that on the faster runners, and only had water for us slower runners. That made me mad, so I just decided to skip drinking all together and gut it out. It’s not really very smart to punish yourself for the mistake of someone else. Rookie (and just immature) mistake number two. (Also, you have to realize no race is perfect, they volunteers are doing their best, and you just have to roll with it.)
Mistake number three came courtesy of being too much into music. I didn’t have an mp3 player, so I just listened to whatever was on the radio. If a fast song came on, I ran faster. If a slow song came one, I ran slower.
By mile 8 or 9, the decision to only drink non-existent Gatorade instead of water hit me with a vengeance. I started cramping in both calves badly. I got water at every chance I could, but it was too late. Mile 11 took me 20 minutes, mostly ‘duck-walking’ on my heels with my toes up.
I was really happy once I got to the stadium, thinking I was finished. I was wrong. You had to run around to the back side of the stadium, which was bad enough, but then you had to run around some short curves and up and down in the underbelly of the stadium, which was just torturous on my calves.
Finally I emerged into the light of day onto the field, but still had to run down one sideline, across the end zone, and back down the other sideline to the finish line. I couldn’t see where she was, but I knew my young bride must be up there somewhere in the stands cheering for me, so I knew I had to somehow stop duck walking and actually look like I was running. To add fuel to the fire, some lady jogged up next to me and in her best drill sergeant voice yelled, “You’re not gonna let a GIRL beat you, are you!!!”
I wanted to say, “Listen, lady, about 1,000 girls have already beaten me today, one more won’t make a difference.” But I could tell in her own cruel way she was trying to be supportive, so I picked up the pace and rounded the last curve.
By this point, I was exhausted, still cramping badly, dehydrated, and I now realized I probably needed to add hallucinations to my list. I squinted and peered down the sideline at the cheerleaders, and they just seemed SO tiny. I know cheerleaders are small in general, but these were just miniature. I heard someone yelling, “GO BRIAN”, and looked to the stands to see my friends Adam and Mary Ann from our Sunday school class up in the stands. They looked fresh and energetic, like they’d been able to take a shower and possibly a nap from the time they’d finished the race till the time I finished. But I didn’t see Krista.
Finally, as I crossed the finish line, the mini-cheerleader mystery was solved. Apparently, after so much time, the cheerleaders had left, and were replaced by Girl Scouts. It was very painful with every part of me cramping, but I bent down like everyone else and gratefully let a Girl Scout put my finisher medal around my neck.
I had actually finished my first half marathon. I checked my watch- 2:40. WAY slower than I’d wanted, but I’d finished. I found out that Krista had been in the stands, but for reasons that remain unclear, left the stands just as I was finishing. But, she was there to receive a sweaty hug as I walked to the car, to tell me she was proud of me, and to drive me home. I was famished, so we decided to go to Jonathan’s for lunch. I almost couldn’t get out of the car, and my legs wouldn’t bend. My walking was so comical that the manager who opened the door literally laughed at me and then stopped himself. But that race helped launch me into endurance sports. I’ve now run 10 half marathons, three full marathons, and countless 5ks and 10ks. For my second daughter, I decided to do a triathlon, and have now down seventeen of those, including six Olympic distance races and one Half Ironman race. I’ve been a part of helping a number of people get into running and triathlon for the first time.
It’s hard believe the little girl I ran the first one for and her sister are now doing 5Ks and triathlons on their own. Since deciding to be crazy and signing up for that half, I’ve lost 20 pounds and am vastly healthier, and I think the course of my life and those of many family and friends have been changed as well. I’m truly blessed.