This image from my photo library of a 2013 tweet from @WomensRunning caused a flood of memories and emotions from when I finished my first half marathon. The last two or three miles of the Bellingham Bay Half Marathon almost did me in.
During the first two hours of the race, my usual race walking form slowly morphed into the more casual power walking style. By the third-hour mark, I felt my tiring feet and legs seemingly plod along at a snail’s pace. I still had at least a 5K more to go. Would I…could I make it to the finish line? Would all those training days done during the hot Vegas summer be for naught?
As I passed the Squalicum Harbor area, the turn-of-the-century buildings of downtown Bellingham came into view. There, on Railroad Avenue, was the finish line. However, I would have to go right by it on Cornwall Avenue to the turnaround at Taylor Avenue Dock.
Sure enough, as I made it onto Cornwall Avenue, I heard the race announcer welcome finishers and the cheers of family and friends. My entourage would meet me after I called them. I didn’t want them waiting for hours. Too much pressure on me. Too much boredom for them.
The temptation to quit my race grew in strength and voracity. I could feel hot spots flaring on my toes. My legs felt thick, and my hips grew tight. Despite the chilly mid-50’s temperatures and the occasional drizzles, I wiped the sweat from the back of my neck and readjusted my cap.
I. Just. Kept. Going.
I ramped up my mental game. I gazed at the cedars, pines, oaks, the peek-a-boo views of the bay. I chatted with woodland bunnies and cawing crows. I kept a keen eye for rocks and roots on the South Bay Trail to avoid tripping with increasingly fatiguing feet. I relished each inhale of cool, salty marine air. In sync with my breathing, I muttered my mantra: “[breathe in] I [breathe in again] Can [breathe out] Do [breathe out again] This.” I kept to this in-in-out-out breathing rhythm and each word bounced along as if beating a drum.
The expansive watery views along Taylor Avenue Dock boosted my spirits, giving me a bit more energy to make my way up the grade to 10th Street.
Now heading northward toward the elusive finish line, my mantra changed into the chant of “I am, I am” — and now I could feel my feet, legs, and arms move in tune with my breathing. Slow running marathoners passed me. Some urged me on. I returned the favor…when I had the breath and mental awareness.
I checked my Garmin watch. Seeing the elapsed time, my current pace, and calc ulating the remaining distance, I knew I wouldn’t make my time goal. My spirit began to sink, but I fought back the disappointment. No matter what my finish time was, it would be a “PR” — a personal best.
Turning at the final corner, I saw the finish line ahead. I increased my pace despite the protests of my feet, legs, hips, lungs, and brain. Those body parts simply wanted to quit. But the cheers of volunteers, staff and onlookers motivated me to push the pace even more. My in-in-out-out breathing quickened, my arms pumped, and I thought I’d pass out.
Crossing that finish line moments later, I felt a rush of relief, euphoria, and achievement consume me! Achieving my goal of starting and finishing a half marathon made all the months of work, sweat, and discomfort worthwhile. I kissed that finisher medal and carried it with me for several days. Would I do this again? Yes! Two years later and on a gorgeous sunny yet cool day!
I even bettered my 2013 time by 17 SECONDS despite getting delayed at a porta-pottie for around 10 or 15 minutes (because when several hundred runners make stops before you arrive, well, you know…plus it’s why I packed my own toilet paper!).
Today, choose a challenge — walking, running, cycling, triathlon, another sport or fitness objective — one that gets you excited, that even scares you a bit. It’s that desire that will help keep you motivated through seemingly endless training sessions. Go for it!