Two hours, twenty-two minutes, thirty-one seconds.

There are some events that change you as a person.  You go into them as one thing, and come out of them as another.  It could take three months (maybe in New York City, for example) or it could take just a couple hours.  Either way, you know it’s the kind of thing where there’s life before, and there’s life after.

The morning of May 8th, 2011, I woke up at 4:30 am to take my synthroid (thyroid meds) and knew there was no hope of falling back asleep.  I bounded down the stairs at 5:30, full of nervous energy, to spread peanut-butter on an English muffin and devour a banana.  Danielle, one of my best friends from the Gagie days (the school I went to from 2nd grade to 8th grade) had spent the night the night before, and hopped in the car with me on our way to the Borgess “Run for the Health of It” half marathon.

If you have been reading this blog, this will come as no surprise to you.  I’ve been talking/complaining about my training regimen basically since this blog began.  But, if not, it could certainly catch you off guard.  I would never, EVER have characterized myself as “a runner.”  A fitness fanatic, yes.  But, before December 8th, the day I signed up, I had never run more than three miles in my life.  When I trekked to Gazelle Sports in downtown Kalamazoo to buy new shoes, the salesperson asked after my motivations for training for a half marathon.  “The feeling of crossing the finish line,” I told him.  “I need that feeling in my life.”

Somewhere along the line, my brother’s girlfriend, Andrea, messaged me over facebook asking what I was doing in the run, and that she was thinking about joining me.  Especially after returning home from NYC, when I started to get a LOT more serious about training, we shared our training run success stories and woes.

The weather the morning of May 8th was beautiful.  Pretty chilly at 7:30 am, but the sky was clear and it was a perfect temperature for running.  I pinned my orange bib printed with “1870” in bold to the front of my jacket…thank GOODNESS for Danielle, who reminded my forgetful self to get it out of the car before we were shuttled to the race’s starting line!  Danielle, my mom, my dad, and my brother waved us off, and we made our way to the gigantic amoeba of runners congregated beneath the “start” banner.

We were kind of frustrated, stuck behind the mass of people and unable to start running right as we passed the timers.  Once we got going, though, it was the most electric feeling I’d ever felt.  You know how fantastic it is to dodge your way past people, because you are RUNNING FASTER?  Pretty god damn fantastic.

I must say, I was on top of the world.  Mile one whizzed by, then mile two, then mile three.  Somewhere around there we stopped for water and I downed a carb goo shot thing.  Brent followed us along most of the way on his bike, taking pictures, cracking jokes, and motivating in general.  We trucked along to miles four and five feelin’ alive.

Mile six came along, and people really started flagging.  I was starting to get somewhat tired, but I knew I was better off than many and we were pretty close to halfway done.

Mile eight, though, man.  Mile eight threatened to hand me my kneecaps on a dinner plate.  Thank goodness Andrea was there by my side.  With her still padding along I knew I couldn’t stop.  Every once in a while we would pass by our little support group on the sidelines: my mom, my dad, and Danielle.  Every time we saw them I tried to pump my arms in the air and smile, acting like it was easy as pie—sometimes I believed myself, too!  This became crucial shortly after mile eight, when a gigantic hill reared its ugly head.  I basically sprinted my way up—this is how I deal with hills, I’m either at a dead stop, or a dead sprint.  My glutes where screaming after that.

After mile nine, a gigantic downward-sloping hill seemed like a beautiful sight.  But damn, that thing hurt! After you’ve been running for that long, the last thing you want to do is pound on your joints trying to slow yourself down.

Around mile eleven or twelve, Andrea told me to go ahead of her.  I had gotten to the point where stopping to walk hurt (strangely enough).  Nearing the end, it really became a battle between my brain and my body.  I was so tired (though now I realize I was not in nearly as horrible shape as a lot of the people around me, who were one step away from needing medical help), but I had to will myself to keep going—just a mile left.  All the encouragement from people at the side of the road helped immensely.  I powered through the last mile, and finally, finally, was in sight of the finish line.  I lengthened my stride the last couple hundred meters, surrounded by hundreds upon hundreds of cheering spectators.  I somehow had become isolated from the other runners, there was no one for about ten feet in front of me and ten feet behind me.  I felt like something big was welling up inside of me, turning inside out and threatening to burst.  I may or may not have started crying, even before they announced my name and it was all over.  I stumbled in a stupor of endorphins, veins overflowing with oxygen.  None other than Ben Hartley, one of my best friends from high school, was there just beyond the finish to give me a hug and my finisher’s medal.  The whole thing felt like a dream.

I wandered around a bit, and someone handed me a bottle of water.  Eventually, I found Andrea, who had finished only a minute behind me.  We met up with her parents, and searched around for mine.  After what seemed like millions of years, we were finally reunited.  Success!

Coming to the end of this experience was both euphoric and depressing, in the post-partum sense.  The next half we’re signed up for is the Detroit Free Press Half in October, but that just seems so far away.  I want it NOW.  I’m hooked.  Andrea and I finished respectively in the middle of the pack of our first EVER organized road race (the first for the both of us), and we were not lying on stretchers or in baby pools full of ice on the other side of the finish line.

My body, my own two legs and feet, the bones I’ve carrying inside of me my entire life—carried me 13.1 miles that day.  I felt like I could accomplish anything I set my mind to.  The experience completely changed the way I feel about my body and the way I feel about food.  When you’re trying to power your way through a long run, you finally begin to understand the whole “food is fuel” mentality (though I will never, ever, give up the amount of pleasure I take in certain foods, either).

I can go anywhere, now.  All I need is a good pair of shoes, and my own two feet.


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