Yesterday, my hubby and I ran the Rock n Roll Providence Half-Marathon. It rained 2.25 inches in Providence yesterday. Most of the precipitation occurred during the morning hours, when the race was being held. It rained so much that some of the bands didn't even perform. It rained so much that 1,500 or so people who signed up for the race either didn't race at all, or didn't finish the race. It was WET. It was WINDY. It was easily the craziest weather I've ever run in.
But here's the thing. When you train for a race, or specifically a half-marathon, you prepare yourself and your body for a certain amount of punishment. You slog out the miles over a period of weeks and months, alternating tempo runs with track sprints, short runs with long runs, slow runs with fast runs. You build up both your weekly mileage and your total number of running days per week. For example, the last (and only other) half-marathon I ran was the 2007 Applefest Half Marathon in Hollis, NH. I diligently followed a 16-week training plan in Runner's World that had me start running 3 times a week for about 12 miles and finished with me running 5 days a week for about 30 miles. By the time I toed the line for my first half-marathon, I had several 10-, 11-, and 12-mile runs under my belt. (Incidentally, I was also childless, so I had plenty of time at my disposal to run said miles). I felt well-prepared, confident, and ready to tackle the race. And indeed, I ran pretty well in the race. Although my goal was to finish under 2 hours, I finished in 2:10:21 on a record-setting 85-degree October day. Considering how hot the day was, I was quite pleased with myself. All of my hard work had paid off.
Now, fast forward three years to August 2010. I saw that the Rock N Roll Half Marathon was coming to Providence in 2011. My interest was immediately piqued. Since becoming a mom in May 2009, my running had taken somewhat of a backseat to parenting. Sure, I still got out for early-morning runs before my hubby went to work, but the mileage was definitely low - usually 3-4 miles - and I only ran 3 days a week. When I heard about the Rock N Roll Half, I thought to myself, Aha! Just what I need...some motivation to get myself in running shape again. It's perfect - I'll have a year to get myself ready and train! I filled out applications for myself and my hubby and smiled with a sense of satisfaction. Maybe, just maybe, I'll even beat my Applefest time. I even put myself down for an estimated finish time of 2:00:00.
Now, fast forward one year to Saturday, July 23, 2011. I knew it was two weeks and one day til the race. I should have been completing my last 12-mile long run before the half-marathon.
I did a long run, alright.
That was the longest run I'd done in almost a month. I did run 6.1 miles on July 2. The longest run before that? On May 18, I ran 6.08 miles. And this is where it gets really good. Before that, the last time I'd run 6 miles was in October 2010.
So much for my "year of training."
But back to the 5.6 miles on July 23. Boy, did that run make me tired. I mean really, I was pooped. I lost count of the number of times I said to my hubby, yeah, I am SO not running the half-marathon.
How could I?
The last time I'd ran a half - you know, the one I trained 16 weeks to run - I had built up to running 30 miles a week. This time? I'd run 30 miles...it just took me three weeks.
And then, the icing on the cake? On Sunday, July 24 at approximately 11:10 pm, I woke up from my slumber and stumbled to the bathroom. I knelt in front of my toilet and revisited the contents of my dinner. For good measure, I did this again at 12:15, and had an encore at 1:20. By this time, there was nothing left.
I woke up the next morning feeling like my head had been stuck in a vice and squeezed. My stomach felt terrible, I was achy, and I had no desire to eat. For the next 6 days, I pretty much existed on dry toast, brown rice pasta, water, and bananas. Forget exercising. I spent most of my days tending to my son and sitting on my recliner. I did go to the beach with my son and mom on the Wednesday of that week, but this proved to be idiotic behavior on my part, because I felt worse than ever on Thursday and Friday. Finally, blessedly, I started feeling better on Sunday, and Monday I started feeling somewhat human again.
That would be Monday, August 1. Six whole days before the half-marathon.
1. I was barfing last week.
2. I hadn't eaten much of anything last week.
3. I hadn't exercised at all.
4. I had not been training for the race.
5. My longest run in the last year - I'm talking, 365 days - was 6.21 miles, completed on August 7, 2010. One calendar year to the day of this year's Rock N Roll Half.
6. A half-marathon is 13.1 miles. That would be more than double my longest run in the Entire.Last.Year.
7. I am not a fast runner to begin with. Heck, I'm not even a natural runner. I actually went out for tennis in high school instead of soccer because I didn't want to run during practices. Yes, seriously.
It was so not looking good for me.
In fact, I think it was on Monday, August 1 that I told my husband that I wasn't going to be running the race. There was just no way, I said.
He nodded sympathetically, and asked if I minded if he ran anyway. Even though part of me was a teensy bit jealous, I said okay. Guess what happened?
On Tuesday, August 2, my hubby woke up sick. And he was sick for two whole days.
Well, I thought...there's always next year.
But then my hubby did a funny (crazy) thing. He woke up on Thursday morning and felt better. Apparently, he felt so much better that he snuck out of the house and went for a run. I woke up confused, wondering where he was. Then he came into our bedroom and said he'd been out for a run. I told him he was nuts. Hello, weren't you just really sick? But as quickly as his illness came, it departed. He was determined to run on Sunday.
I, however, was only determined to run the next day - Friday. I had run 3 miles on Tuesday and felt okay - not great, but okay. I wanted to see how I felt on Friday. So, on Friday morning, I got up and ran 4.35 miles. I felt okay (again). It was about this time that I decided that if my hubby was crazy enough to run the race, then so was I.
Nevermind the overwhelming evidence that I was indeed not ready to run this race.
I remember feeling eerily calm on Saturday, the day before the race. I mean, what exactly did I have to lose? It's not like I'd trained for this. I wouldn't exactly feel like I'd wasted my time and effort completing a 16-week training plan or anything.
My goal - which I explicitly and repeatedly stated to my husband - was to just finish the race. I knew this would take some combination of running, jogging, walking, and maybe even crawling along. I didn't really care. I just wanted the race to be over with.
And then? We heard the forecast for Sunday.
100% chance of rain. Thunderstorms likely. Winds upwards of 20 miles an hour.
I woke up on Sunday morning at 4:45. I hadn't slept well (what a shock, right?) I knew I had to run 13.1 miles beginning in approximately 2 hours and 15 minutes. I ate a banana and drank a little water. When we got to Providence, we took cover under a tree while it poured buckets all around us. I didn't warm up. I didn't even jog in place. I simply got into my corral at the appointed time, gave my hubby a fist-bump, and said good luck. I also said a prayer to God that He would help us finish this race and keep us safe. To be completely honest, I couldn't wait for this thing to be over.
At the signal, we began. Like most races, I went out a little too fast. It happens - you get caught up in the excitement and the fast pace of the other runners. Being in the fifth corral, I was running alongside people who expected to finish in 2 hours flat. That translates to a 9:10-mile average for 13.1 miles. Pretty fast, right? Especially for someone who didn't train? And was recently sick? And who doesn't run fast to begin with? And who ran her last half-marathon - fully trained - with a 9:59-mile average pace? Right.
Here's what happened:
I crossed the first mile mark at about 0:09:30. I crossed the second mile mark at around 0:19:00. I hit the 5K mark (3.1 miles) at 0:28:32. At this point, I was averaging a 9:11-mile. Not too shabby.
Shortly after I passed the 5-mile mark, my knees started to hurt. A lot. Both of them. The outside part of each of my knees burned with every single step I took.
And this is when I thought, well, this is it for me. 5 miles. Disappointing, yes, but what did I expect. I haven't run much more than this in the last year anyway.
But then, the words of Psalm 23 came to me. Specifically, the verse "For thou art with me. Thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me." And suddenly, I wasn't running under my own power anymore. God was carrying me.
My knees still hurt with every step. My quads began to burn. And yet, I kept putting one foot in front of the other, sloshing through deep puddles. I never stopped running. I ran the entire time. I hit the 10-mile mark at exactly 1:32:00. This was a 9:12-mile average.
At this point, it was just 3.1 miles to go, or another 5K. I really couldn't believe it. My breathing was steady. I was not fatigued at all. I had no cramps or side stitches. I wasn't tired. The only things that were really hurting were my knees and my quads.
I realized: I can do this.
What I actually said to myself was: I can do all things through Christ, who strengthens me. Philippians 4:13.
I prayed this verse. I prayed this verse many, many times. I prayed it as my knees ached because my sneakers were completely soaked through and weighed an extra 2 pounds a piece from the rain. I hit mile 12 at 1:51:08 (9:15-mile pace). Just over a mile to go. I took my final swig of coconut water and began my dash to the finish line.
Yes, dash to the finish line.
No huffing or puffing. I was completely in control of my breathing, and I started to pick up my pace. I was running.
The race ended with a turn onto Francis Street in front of the Providence Place Mall. All that was between me and the finish line was one final hill. The biggest hill of the entire race, incidentally.
Let me tell you something - I hauled booty up that hill. I lengthened my stride, pumped my arms, and literally flew up that hill. I heard one of the spectators call out, "Great stride! Way to finish!!"
I crossed the finish line with a gigantic smile on my face.
That's a 9:16-mile pace.
For a race I didn't train for. For a race I wasn't even going to do 3 days ago. For 13.1 miles, more than twice as long as I have run in over a year.
I ran the entire time. I did not stop to walk. I did not stop to take a power gel, or a swig of Cytomax or water. I did not stop to go to the bathroom.
I did not stop at mile 5, when I thought my race was over.
I ran, and I kept on running, because of the power of God in me. God did that for me. God showed me what He can do when I just surrender to Him.
I didn't have the ability to run that race on my own. How on Earth could I have trained for the other half and finished in 2:10, and not trained for this one and finish in 2:01? In a complete, torrential downpour and windstorm? How?
There is no answer but God. And this will be my testimony. When I think of this race (and believe me, I will never forget this race), I will have an amazing story to tell.
But it's not about what I did. It's about what God did.
But not this time. This was all God. I am so completely amazed and humbled at what He showed me yesterday. And He can do amazing things in your life, too. Just ask Him!