Just focus on the feeling of being back.
That was the thing I had to keep telling myself over and over again after mile 6. For 7 more miles I continued to repeat that over and over again, the weight of each bounding stride telling me to stop moving and walk off the course. Needless to say, this run was a mental mudslide for me. I felt like I was trapped in my own thoughts.
After PRing my previous two half marathons (the first by over 14 minutes), I had gotten used to the feeling of success after crossing the finish line. I went into the Runner’s World Half knowing that it would be less about success and more about honor. That was the word I chose: Honor. After being injured all summer (and most of the spring, honestly) with a torn hip flexor, honoring my body was my only goal. Show it how much you love it, that you’re willing to prehab and rehab and do all of the things you need to do to keep going.
And so even though I had to keep reminding myself of the same thing over and over again – Just focus on the feeling of being back – I still crossed the finish with a smile on my face.
I’m back. I’ve been humbled. I feel gratitude… most days. And I’m ready. Head up, wings out.
After dropping our dog off to board for the weekend, my husband and I set out super early on Saturday morning so that I could get to the Runner’s World Half Marathon expo. For some reason – and I did this last year, too – I have this expectation that it’s going to be bigger and better than any other expo that I’ve ever been to. Unfortunately, I was wrong again this year. It’s still a great expo – but there are only a handful of vendors that I have any interest in. I was surprised to see Lululemon and The Vitamin Shoppe – these are two places that I could visit on my own time, should I choose to. I also was surprised to see Blue Diamond Dog Food. I have a dog who I also run with – so you think I’d be the target audience – but I didn’t have time to think about switching his dog food while I was at a race expo. I did end up buying Balega socks from their booth in the Aardvark Running (Bethlehem’s local running store) booth. That race expo deal always gets me – buy 3 get 1 free? Sold!
Bib pick-up was a breeze. After getting the bib, I was directed to head upstairs for the t-shirt. It’s my understanding that based on which event you do that weekend, you get different swag items. For the half marathon, I received a long sleeve t-shirt this year – which I also received last year – but was pleasantly surprised to see that it was a heathered cotton. At first I was skeptical, but after holding it that skepticism was gone – the shirt is SO soft and cozy. I’ve worn it several times since then and it’s only gotten softer with each wash. Win!
After that I went outside to watch the kids fun runs as well as the 1 mile dog run. Both are fun spectating events, even if you don’t have anyone participating. I did miss hearing Bart Yasso – the former Runner’s World runner-in-chief – emcee the event. I also noticed a much larger presence from Altra at this year’s event. As the main sponsor I figured that they would play a prominent part in the weekend, and with the RW offices no longer being in Bethlehem, maybe there was less RW turnout due to travel.
One of my Oiselle teammates came over to meet me (she ran the 10k event that morning) and then we walked over to Social Still, a local micro-distillery in town that served great drinks and food. I had a beer (two, actually) and the ‘Everyday I’m Trufflin’ Burger’ which was as delicious as it sounds. I absolutely loved hanging out with my team and getting to see the Lehigh members. We had great conversation and talked about anything and everything, including our upcoming fall running schedules. I also finally got to meet Dodie, a bird from Western PA, who I’ve been hoping to meet forever! She was even more lovely in person.
After the meetup I met back up with my husband, who spent the day fly fishing on the Little Lehigh. I love running (and also fishing) in that area so I was slightly jealous, but it was nice to see him and hear how the day went. We waited a little bit and then went to Bethlehem Brew Works for dinner. I had another beer and salad with salmon. In hindsight, I definitely didn’t eat a balanced dinner – something I’m usually really good at, but it is what it is. I ate what my body was craving and honoring those cravings is something I’m trying to get better at, especially when I’m training for something. The salmon hit the spot in the moment!
Back at the hotel (Hyatt Place Bethlehem) I did my hip stretches and some foam rolling and took a long, hot shower. I was feeling a little anxious so I read a little Harry Potter before bed and then we watched the Sixers game. When I woke up in the morning, I immediately felt sluggish. Stephen went downstairs and got me a coffee and I ate a Picky Bar while I got ready. Looking back on it, I didn’t time the Picky Bar right – so I was a little hungry when I got to the race start. Getting to the start is tricky because the bridge is closed – which we forgot – so I made it to the start with only enough time to go to the bathroom and spend about 10 minutes in the corral. It felt so entirely rushed that when I finally crossed the starting line I felt like I was barely awake.
I ran the first four miles at the pace I was aiming for (actually, the first mile was a little fast – always is) and as soon as I passed that 4 mile mark I immediately felt sluggish, with a terrible cramp in my right calf. I trudged through the next two miles but still felt okay, but once mile 6 started – Just focus on the feeling of being back.
I saw Stephen between mile 6 and 7 and I started to cry. I barely said hello to him and he could tell immediately that I was hurting. My mind was not in sync with my body and I started to let the negative thoughts creep in. I saw my BirdGang at mile 7 and heard one of them say, “Oh she looks so good!” as I ran past, which made me focus on my form for the next mile – maybe I felt worse than I looked.
By mile 9 I was over it. The cramp in my right calf was still there, and I truly wanted to walk off. But then I thought – what’s the point of training for this for so long if you’re just going to walk off? Are you going to regret it, or be okay with having this on your race record? I wouldn’t be satisfied knowing I DNF’d this race, so I kept moving. I prayed to my dad and asked him to carry me for the last 3 miles, and believe me – he did. He always does whenever I ask.
I crossed the finish line at 2:06:01 for a 9:33/mile pace. It was 4 minutes off of my PR, which felt like a lifetime once it was over. But you know what else? I ended the race without any hip pain. None. I walked part of mile 8 and I was still only 4 minutes off my PR. Come on. That’s pretty damn good!
I was a crank for most of the race but looking back on it, I’m really happy. I’m happy I committed to a race instead of letting the injury swallow me up. I’m grateful that I had the support of my #wingman husband, Stephen, and my fellow BirdGang. I’m thrilled that I honored my body in the best way that I know how. And I’m super thankful to Runner’s World and Altra for putting on a great weekend.
That’s the thing about races: Sometimes it’s not about the final time, and it’s more about what you learn before, during, and after.
Here’s to being back in the field, a healthy hip, and flying onward. Head up, wings out.