A colleague asked me why I run races — it’s not like I’m going to win them.
And the answer is different for each race. And it often changes from the time I sign up for the race to when I cross the finish line.
I trained for my first, a 10K in New Orleans, as a healthy distraction from my master’s project. I ran my first half marathon to raise money for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. I ended up testing my relationship in the process, as my running partner (and boyfriend) and I had different race mentalities.
After that, I kept running, mostly for the mental escape and runner’s high and pushed myself in the Denver half marathon. I shaved 21 minutes off my Seattle time and gained an appreciation for the strength I’ve built in the past two years. I celebrated that strength with girlfriends on a trail run in Napa.
This year’s Denver race tested that appreciation and, after 10 miles, my patience.
I signed up in May for the Rock ‘n’ Roll Denver marathon — the full 26.2 mile race. I was in decent shape and had a whole summer ahead of me to train. Training went well, very well, actually, until the second week of July. I ran a 5K, my first race in 10 months, and injured myself by starting out the gate too fast.
I hobbled through runs for a few weeks, trying to self diagnose because my health insurance doesn’t cover sports injuries. I realized I would lose too much training time to prepare for the full. Over a few weeks, the point of injury shifted and I realized it was my IT band. I started a daily routine of stretching, foam rolling and doing awkward strengthening exercises such as the clamshell.
I stopped running and lusting after running and enjoyed the things I could do — hiking, biking, walking.
And one day, I could run. I was determined to run the half. I fit in a few runs including a 10 miler. I was in no shape for a personal record, but I knew I could battle through it. My boyfriend, less prepared than me, agreed to run with me.
A scene from Seattle replayed in my head: 12 mile marker. He wanted to walk. I’m yelling, “We’re almost there!” He starts walking. I threaten to run ahead. I do. I stop, walk backwards to meet him. He says, “My legs hurt. I think I broke my knee.” I say things I can’t repeat here. This continues for the longest 12 minutes of my life.
Going into the half marathon, I was more nervous about running with a partner than I was about my muscles falling apart. I have done and do a lot on my own. I also enjoy working on group projects, but I get frustrated with them when what I think to be the most obvious, right idea is ignored.
And this is why I struggle to run with others. For me, running has been such a personal, individual effort where I control when to sprint, how far to run and when to finish. I may not be fast, but my excellent internal clock makes me a terrific pacer. My body knows it can run at a harder pace when I’m only running 3 miles vs. 6 and I sustain that pace over time.
Josh doesn’t run this way. He runs hard, slows down and then, just when I think he’s completely exhausted, has an incredible burst of energy that propels him ahead of me and across the finish line.
Knowing this I set a different set of goals for Denver: Run the whole way with Josh, pace him to a PR and finish injury-free.
My hips started hurting after only 6 miles. Josh wanted to stop after 10, but stopping made my calves hurt. I channeled my frustration into obnoxious optimism. “We can do it! Only 3 miles to go! Your legs aren’t broken! Let’s run to that corner and then walk!”
The Seattle race gave me the longest 12 minutes of my life — Denver gave me the longest 3 miles of my life.
Like all races, it eventually ended. Crossing the finish line, I realized we accomplished all three goals. It felt better than a PR.
And there’s always more races to run for those PRs.