The Pittsburgh (Half) Marathon

Waaaay back in November I shared that I had set a goal for myself to run the half marathon this year in my hometown of Pittsburgh. “Health Coach Help Thyself!” I said. I set a goal and committed to it (and have been talking about it each month since the 2012 Goals Project started!) And this past Sunday, I followed through.
This was the first time I have ever run a half marathon and I really didn’t know what to expect. I mean, I knew that it was going to be long and difficult, and I was very familiar with the course (a portion of which I could see from my own living room windows!), but I had no idea of how my body would react to such an endeavor. I had no idea if the kind of training I had done was what I needed to get through. I had no idea how long it would take me.
I kept my expectations low for my first shot simply because I didn’t know what I could really do. When people would ask me what my goal was, I’d say “An upright finish”. When asked what my pace would be, I’d say “Whatever gets me to the end.” I did, however, have a super-secret goal of finishing under three hours.
In the world of serious runners, a half-marathon time of under three hours is hardly brag-worthy. I know that. But for me, this race wasn’t about impressing anyone or beating a time or any of those things. I just wanted to start when the gun went off and cross the finish line feeling alright.
My training for this event has been a bit non-traditional. I haven’t been running a whole heck of a lot, but if you’ve been following the 2012 Goals Project, you’ll know that I’ve been working hard at CrossFit for a long stretch, and since running is more of a mental challenge for me, I’ve been working on getting my attitude straightened out. Telling myself that I’m weak and can’t run anymore is counterproductive, wouldn’t you say? I had to get a handle on it. I knew that I could physically make it over the finish; I have endurance and strength and those things have improved greatly over the past few months. But the mental struggle was going to be the hardest part.
I was lucky to have a running partner by my side for the entire race. My husband, Dude (a.k.a. Brian R. from the Goals Project!), ran the race too and unlike other, shorter races we’ve done in the past, we decided to stick together the whole time. His support and encouragement were invaluable. I wouldn’t have wanted to do it without him!

(Check out those fancy running shirts! I wonder where you can get one for yourself? )

The first half of the race was fantastic! I was cruising along like I was born to run!! I felt like I was ticking off the miles like nothing. I wasn’t going fast at all (12:00 mile is hardly fast!), but I mentally felt like I was really doing it. My legs felt terrific and I was having a great time. I even found some money on the ground!
Just before the official half-way point we passed some friends who were among the crowd cheering everyone on. I can’t tell you what a mental boost this was! Even though I was still feeling confident at this point, seeing some of my best friends and getting high-fives and hugs meant the world. I almost burst into tears!

However, after that point, we got to a very large hill and then a long stretch of straight road where there were few spectators. I knew that I had passed up all of our friends, and I started to feel just a little tired and achy. To think that I was only half way finished started to play with my mind a bit.
Miles 8, 9, and 10 were a true struggle. Not even hilarious signs (“Worst Parade Ever!” “You’ve trained longer than Kim Kardashian’s marriage!”) kept me going. I had hit a serious low point. Negative thoughts crept in and I even thought at one point that I might not make it. We had started near the very end of the pack at the starting line, so slowing down and even walking a bit didn’t help my negative thoughts. (Are we going to be the last people to finish?!) It was starting to get very hot and we were running into the sun. Between the heat and feeling like I wouldn’t make my under-three-hour goal, coupled with the long straightaway, I wasn’t in good shape.
This is where I was so grateful to have a running partner. I told him I was flagging and feeling weak, but my Dude kept pushing me. He told me to run as much as I can, take a little walk break, and then get right back up to running. I knew he was feeling it too, so we just did what we could.
The last two miles were a serious push and a serious test of all my mental preparations. Up until this point my body was feeling alright, although a bit tired and worn by the heat and sun. But by the last two miles I was starting to ache all over and each step just hurt. I had to tell myself that this — THIS! — this last push is what I had been training for all these months. Finding the inner strength to DO IT and kick the last two miles was what I had been preparing myself for since last November. I either had to conjure up the will to rock those two miles or I might as well quit. I just turned up my tunes and forged ahead.
When I was training for this event I envisioned myself sailing across the finish line like a beautiful track star. I thought I would look like a fresh-faced supermodel prancing over the finish like I was doing a bikini photo shoot on the beach. Nope. I kicked in the remainder of my strength for the last two miles and did what I could. I held Dude’s hand as we ambled across the finish like two sweaty, beaten-down, first-timers. I felt like a pudding pop. But you know what? We earned the title Runners of Steel.
2:46:33
A volunteer handed me my medal and I wore it around proudly like I was Usain Bolt.

Many things run through your head when you have almost three solitary hours to think. I came up with a list of things that occurred to me as a result of doing this race:

  • Sometimes getting uncomfortable – mentally and physically – is the best thing for you.
  • Always challenge yourself. Having this race to prepare for made me push myself harder in the gym and along the running trail than I would have had I not registered for it. I’m stronger in many ways for having done this.
  • There is always going to be someone better/faster/more comfortable/thinner/heavier/more experienced/etc. than you. You have to run YOUR race. You have to overcome YOUR challenge. There is someone out there who is envious of my 2:46:33 and there’s someone out there who would be humiliated with that time. But it was MY finish time and I’m proud of it because I ran my own race in my own fashion.
  • Never ever ever underestimate how wonderful it is to be cheered for, especially by people who know and love you. There is something powerful about a total stranger looking you in the eye as you run by and saying, “GO RUNNER! YOU CAN DO IT!” and there is something positively fantastic about getting high-fives and hugs from the people you like the most in the world.
  • Fitness challenges aren’t only about the fitness activity, and they’re not about winning. They’re about putting yourself into a new situation.  They’re about learning from mistakes.  They’re about having fun.
  • Don’t wait until you achieve some mythical level of supreme fitness to take on a fitness challenge. If all 25,000 participants in the Pittsburgh Marathon were elite athletes it would have been a crowded first place finish.  Also, if everyone who competed waited until they were in the ultimate shape of their lives, it would have been a very small crowd.  Train for it, but just get out there and do it.  Set a goal, work towards it, and give it all you have.  If you come in 25,000th, so be it!  You’ve done your best.

So, congratulations to everyone who participated this past Sunday – marathoners, half-marathoners, relay teams, wheelchair competitors.  We are all Runners of Steel!
Now, it’s your turn dear readers!  Share with me a time you challenged yourself.  Tell me all about a goal you set for yourself and then achieved.  How did it feel?  How did you get to the end?  What did you learn about yourself?  As always, let me know in the comments or on Facebook.

10 Comments

  1. Kelly
    May 8, 2012 9:01 am

    Love you Jillness!! You are always such an inspiration!!!! Way to go!!!

  2. Bernie Ross Zmitrovich
    May 8, 2012 9:19 am

    Mazel tov! You Rock dear Cousin! Thanks for sharing your amazing experience.

  3. Lori
    May 8, 2012 9:35 am

    Great recap Jill! I can tell you that what you described was very, very similar to my first half marathon experience last year…except I didn’t have the blazing sun to contend with as well. (Thank you for making me feel normal.) I can totally relate to that push on the last half and the mental strength to finish…so I commend you AND Dude. Job well done. Wear that medal with pride because you earned it girl! Woot!

    • Jill
      May 8, 2012 9:45 am

      I kept thinking of you, Lori! Sharing your first-timer tips with me was so helpful. Can’t thank you enough, lady!

  4. Lynsey
    May 8, 2012 12:27 pm

    Oh Jill! I know I’ve said it many times up until Sunday but I am so proud of you and the Dude. You brought a tear to my eye while reading this. As I read on I thought about the race of LIFE and yes how we are running our own race and anything is possible and to never give up when you feel weak, tired, beaten down mentally and physically! Thank you for sharing your experience. I love you friend! xo

    • Jill
      May 8, 2012 12:47 pm

      I love you too, Lynz! Your unfailing support and training was invaluable. I couldn’t have done this without you! Knowing I had the CFC/Physique Rx’d community rooting for us was fantastic.
      And you’re right. Running as a metaphor for life. We all stumble and struggle, but we’re in our own race doing the best we can. Can’t let the hills and heat get us down.
      XOXOXO

  5. yunker
    May 8, 2012 1:56 pm

    Congrats Jill, what an achievement. I love how you summed up your experience and what you got out of it. Great words of wisdom!

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