The great philosopher Forrest Gump once had a profound conversation with a t-shirt designer while running coast to coast…
Woah! Man, you just ran through a big pile of dog shit!
What — shit?
Shit, indeed, does happen. And in doing so, sometimes it makes you take a short hiatus from blogging and social media updates. In the meantime, I finished training for my half marathon (kind of) and then made it happen. That’s what we’re here to talk about so let’s talk.
Bluegrass Half Marathon
The alarm went off at 5:30am and I calmly shut it off because I was already mostly awake anyway. I was in my parents’ house in Kingsport in the bedroom that I slept in for 15 years or so. It looks completely different with the lights on but at 5:30 in the morning there’s a strange vibe that enters your soul that makes you feel like you may actually still be 17 and you should be careful because you probably have heavy metal magazines, CDs and even a stereo in the bed with you.
I made a bit of coffee, ate a cup of oatmeal and two slices of plain white bread. At this point it was 5:45. My parents would be up in 15 minutes, the race would start in less than two hours. The doubts started to set in.
I missed my last long run and that disappointed me. I was encouraged, however, that I had made it to 11 miles on the weekend. For my first half, the furthest I’d ever gone was nine and I finished just fine. I was more ready for this one and I knew the course wasn’t as hard as the first one but, I mean, what if I wasn’t as ready as I thought?
By 6:15 both parents were up and it was time to empty the tank and listen to my power song. At the same time. Enjoy that visual.
On the 20-minute trip from Kingsport to downtown Johnson City I sat in the passenger seat a nervous wreck. Tapping my toes, shaking my legs, slapping my fists together. It was like it was my first race all over again. I was an absolute wreck by the time we got there. We had about 20 minutes to spare before the start so we hung out around a bicycle shop debating what direction we’d be running in because the START sign seemed backwards.
I spotted a port-o so I ran down to pee even though I knew it was way too early to do it (I’d later pay for this). When I walked back up the hill, another runner came up to me and asked if there was any paper in the port-o I’d just walked out of. I told him yes but I didn’t really know. I spent the next 10 minutes trying to avoid him in case I was caught in a nasty race-day lie.
My dream goal for this race was to finish at 02:25:00. My actual goal was 02:30:00, tertiary goal 02:35:00 and last-resort goal of finish at all costs. When we lined up, I quickly found the 2:30 pacers and got behind them and I patiently waited for the start.
I don’t know how many people were actually registered for this race but I know for certain it was small by race standards. I wasn’t lined up in the back but there weren’t many people behind me. There was definitely a 3:00 pacer and there may have been a couple other pacers in-between. Either way, when we started, I quickly got shuffled around just trying to not run anyone over and before I knew it, I was right on the heels of the 2:20 pacers.
When new runners ask me for tips on running their first race I always tell them not to rush right out of the gate lest they wear themselves out. Know your goal pace, find it and keep it. Yet I don’t do that. I never have. I always take off faster than I should. So on Sunday, I decided to not push it even though I felt like I could. I had a long way to go still and I didn’t want to burn out by mile 5. I found a comfortable pace right on the heels of the 2:20 guys and I told the 2:30 pacers to bite me.
And that’s where I stayed. There were two pacers, an older gentleman and a group of four or five woman that were nearby that I stuck with through most of the race. I was both surprised and proud of myself for keeping up with the 2:20 guys for so long and not really feeling tired.
Then at mile 9.5 my legs decided they’d had enough of this newfound faster pace. There was no gradual build-up, there was no warning. They just started hurting badly. I slowed down to a trot. I slowed down to a walk. I stopped. I stretched. Meanwhile the 2:20 guys ran into the distance. I glanced behind me to see if I could spot the 2:30 crew and didn’t, so I managed to hobble away. I spent the rest of the race very uncomfortable. I had to slow down several times, more stretching, a shot of GU. I lost my shirt at mile 10.
I want to sound cool but I wasn’t. I kept moving through what was the most difficult portion of the route just dying for the race to end so I could get off my legs. At mile 12 two women started to pass me. They were carrying a flag that said 2:30. Suddenly I remembered how I felt when the race started. I remembered my goals and I remembered what I was running for. I could’ve walked my way to a PR at that point but that would’ve been settling for well enough and we decided well enough was old Justin.
And old Justin is dead.
So I shouted at the 2:30 pacers that they weren’t supposed to be there yet and I moved my ass. It hurt so bad, it was hot and I was tired but I wasn’t going to settle.
My folks were at the finish line cheering for me politely not criticizing my shit running form at that point in the race and not questioning what happened to my shirt. It was their first race so they had fun even though it meant waiting around on me for more than two hours.
In the end, I finished at 02:28:40 with an average pace of 11:26/mile which is a PR by 11 minutes! Like almost to the second. Holy shit… I was not expecting that.
I spent the rest of the day not doing anything. I showered, took a nap and stretched. I was hoping to eat my weight in pizza but mom insisted on cooking dinner which was fabulous and likely way better for me anyway. I can eat pizza any time but I can’t eat my mom’s food any time. I was thankful.
The next day I celebrated in the only way I know how…
And so another half marathon is in the books. As it is right now, it will be my last. If not forever, at least for a very long time. I’m ready to start lifting heavy again. Long runs are for the birds. And skinny people. I’m neither a bird nor a skinny person, though officially I’m down 19 pounds on my cut — merely two pounds away from goal. Just tooting my own horn here.
Toot, toot, y’all.
Now we wait until October 14 when I take on what may very well be the hardest race I’ve ever done. I have a lot more training to do and a lot more sharing to do. So many changes in my life right now and I want to put that invigorating feeling into my online presence as much as I can. I hope you’re cool with that.
Because I’m cool with that.
The Bluegrass Half Marathon was put on by the Goose Chase and if you want to show them some support, I think that would be really cool: