The Last Mile
Last weekend, I ran the Brooklyn Half Marathon for the 3rd time. This was my sixth half in the space of two years, and I am sorry to report that they do not get any easier. In fact, when I started running, my sister told me to enjoy those early races- earning a new PR every race, she warned, was not a phase that would last long. She was right, of course.
Training for this thing so close to our wedding drew some interesting parallels. And so, an allegorical tale:
Signing up for a race like this always sounds like a GREAT idea. You might be coming off the high of another race- that sweet spot when you have managed to forget how terrible the actual running part was, and all you can remember is the finish-line-crossing-triumph part, 0r the post-run-all-you-can-eat-ice-cream part.
When you sign up, the actual race is still so far away- this time, you’re going to wake up at 5:30 every day and train your little heart out. Fartleks, tempo runs, hill workouts- hell, you might WIN this thing. You’re going to be disciplined this time, you promise.
Then life happens. It turns out that you like sleeping more than waking up in the dark, so your training… well, suffice it to say, you drop a few miles here and there. Or a few days, or a few weeks. Your long weekend workouts get trimmed down a bit because, really, who has time to spend two hours running on a Saturday? But it doesn’t matter- you still have so much time! Besides, there’s such a thing as OVER-training, you know. You’ll get started next week, and then… Oh boy. Watch out, world. Next week.
You can guess how that goes.
You somehow do manage to fit in a bit of prep work over the months, though- not as much as you maybe anticipated, but enough to know you probably won’t die on the course. And so, early one morning, you line up with your fellow runners in a corral filled with Porta Potties. If your colleagues’ visors and fancy stop-watches are any indication, they are much better prepared than you. But whatever. You’re here. And you know you’re probably NOT going to die, so there’s that.
And so, the gun goes off, and you run. And at first, you feel great. Your adrenaline is carrying you across the pavement with a speed you didn’t know you possessed. You’re basically a gazelle, or a greyhound. When you see your boyfriend/friends/family among the spectators, you smile and wave serenely, like how you imagine Kate Middleton might. You probably look just like her as you run, too. You’ve got this. And then you see a mile marker in the distance.
Mile 2? Are you f***ing with me? I still have 11 more of these to go?
It gets harder and harder the longer you’re running. You have momentary bursts of energy and enthusiasm- you see a particularly funny sign, or you spot someone you know in the crowd. But somewhere around mile 8 or 9, you start to question every life decision you’ve made until this point. How bad would it REALLY be to just stop? After all, no one has forced you to do this damn thing- you did bad all by yourself, to very incorrectly paraphrase Tyler Perry. This, you promise to yourself, will be your LAST RACE EVER.
The finish line still seems like a fantasy. You’re tired. Your legs hurt. Your ponytail is falling out. At this point, you’re less Kate Middleton and more wrinkled-up Royal Baby, complete with limited coordination and motor skills. You hate this, you hate running, and you would do anything for the actual Devil to show up next to you, for you would trade your first-born to just have this race disappear.
But something- maybe self-discipline, maybe the promise of french fries- makes you keep going.
And then, suddenly, it’s there. The finish. By the time it materializes in the distance, you’ve basically been reduced to a sweaty bag of trash with legs, but once you see it, you somehow scrape yourself into something resembling a human and you muster up the energy to get across. Someone hands you a medal, someone else hands you snacks. Happy volunteers in bright colors say, “Congratulations! Great race!” You believe them.
You walk a bit more and the person you like best in the world is waiting for you, ready to fold your sweaty, disgusting body into a hug. “I’m proud of you; you killed it,” they say. You believe them, too.
You’re tired, emotionally and physically. Your time goal slipped through your fingers, maybe by seconds, maybe by more. And unfortunately, you did NOT get first place. But as you walk, bowlegged and stiff, away from the finish, you’re still pleased.
And maybe- just maybe- you take a peek at Fall’s race calendar.
Just in case.