Monday, February 22, 2010

Fort Langley Historic Half

So yesterday I ran a half marathon. I got up, I made a bowl of oatmeal with almond milk, smashed banana, and a spoonful of almond butter. I put on my favorite running clothes, picked up my dad and brother from my boyfriend's mom's place where we were staying and headed out to Fort Langley. The weather was perfect, high of 15 C, sunny, clear skies... I ran the entire race with a perfect view of Golden Ears... I realize the problems the weather has caused for the Olympics but I was thankful for it.

We got into Fort Langley at about eight am, sat in a warm coffee shop for about twenty minutes while the boy got a mocha, and waited for my dad to park the car. Then we headed up to the fort, where the race was starting. I for one, was a bundle of nervous energy. This was it, this was what I had been training for not only for the last 13 weeks since I officially started a targeted half-marathon training program, I started preparing for this in September 2008 when I decided it was time to take control of my life and my body and get healthy. Except I didn't know then, I didn't know how much I would change, how much my perspective, approach to things, and just everything would change.

I started running in February 2009, after loosing roughly 20 pounds and finding that it was possible. I started off doing just fifteen minutes at a time, taking five minutes in between to walk and stretch out, slowly I put the two fifteen minute segments together and started running for thirty minutes with a five minute walk break and then another twenty minutes after that. Then I put those two halves together. I remember the day I first ran 50 minutes straight, I ran slowly, only covering four and a half miles during that time, but when I stepped off the treadmill I felt something changing.

I was the kid who walked the mile in middle school. I was the kid who was picked last because I wasn't athletic and was always, always, always slightly overweight. I didn't start really gaining weight until I started University, but even in high school I weighed 185, at 5'7. Long story short, running was something I hated, something I could never do, and something I never thought I could do.

On that first day where I ran for fifty minutes straight, I knew I was onto something. I felt dizzy with happiness. I felt powerful and capable, and I felt myself changing. I left behind the middle-schooler who was picked last, I left behind the high-schooler who wore oversized pants so people didn't notice how much weight I carried in my lower half. I left behind the university student whose mom died and used it as an excuse to put on another thirty five pounds. I also started to think: if I could run for fifty minute straight, maybe I could run for longer, maybe I could one day do something amazing, like run a marathon.

When I chose to take this year off of school, I decided I had a goal. By the end of summer I had lost 40lbs and with roughly 30 left to go I figured why not spend this year losing those last 30 and training for a marathon. I shyly told my plans to my boyfriend, to his family, and to my own, and was happy to find them generally encouraging. I picked a November 10k as my first race, figuring that was probably the first step. At 6.2 miles a 10k race is just under half of a half-marathon, I figured it was a good test. I didn't really have a plan, I mostly just ran a lot, and on November 15 I lined up at the starting line, and ran my first ever 10k. I finished soaking wet due to the rain and wind (oh Vancouver weather...) and in just under an hour. I went home and registered for my first half marathon, February 21st, the Fort Langley Historic Half, simply because I wanted a February half, and it was the only one being run around Vancouver.

I pulled a training plan off of and followed it diligently. I started with seven mile runs and worked my way up to eleven. I ran in the pouring rain, returning from one particularly rainy nine-miler looking as thought I had just stepped out of the shower. I forced myself through some insanely painful mile repeats. I pushed through every-single tempo. I ran eleven miles, twice, and I loved it.

So yesterday when I lined up at the starting line I felt good. I had a goal of finishing in under 2:10, averaging less than a ten minute mile, nothing spectacular, but respectable and I was confident. I zap-strapped my timing chip to my shoe, pinned on my race bib, and waited for the race to start. I set out, at a steady pace, going through the first mile in 9:24, the second mile in 9:20, and then the hills started. No one told me just how hilly the Fort Langley half was, but I discovered it quickly. After each turn there seemed to be another hill looming waiting to suck energy out of me. Nevertheless, I continued. We ran through a wildlife preserve, where I saw two zebras, and I was treated to beautiful panoramic views of the BC mountains throughout the entire race. At around the 10k mark I felt my energy waning, so I took my first cliff-shot energy gel, and just as it kicked in as I was running down a hill, and I saw my boyfriend, with the camera, standing at the bottom, I waved, and I smiled for the camera, thrilled to see him and feeling fantastic, as I turned the corner onto yet another hill, part of which he ran up with me. Then I continued.

Around mile 8 things started to hurt. The ball of my right foot started to hurt and one of my toes started to go numb. But I kept going. I thought about everything I've accomplished this last year. I thought about how it would feel to finish. I thought about what my mother would say if she was here. I thought about how hard she fought, for eight years, against cancer, a much bigger challenge than a half marathon.

At mile 10 I turned another corner to see the biggest hill yet, and I felt my heart sinking. I inhaled my last cliff-shot, and promised myself I would RUN up this last hill. I know walking is an ok thing to do in a half marathon but I didn't want to. I wanted to run the whole thing. So I did, I moved slowly, but surely, telling myself I would make up the speed on the downhill. Telling myself I could make it. That I would make it JUST UP THIS HILL. And then I saw my boyfriend standing halfway up with my Dad and brother. I think he could see from my face how badly I was hurting because he jumped into the street and ran up the hill with me. Promising me it was downhill and flat from here on out, and it was. I made it over the crest of that last hill and then surged downhill, doing what you're not supposed to do for the sake of my legs and just letting myself fly down the hill. I only had a mile and a half left to go, and I really wanted to finish in under 2:10. Then it flattened out, and I fought with my legs, forcing them to move at a 9:20 mile, and before I knew it I turned the corner to see the finish line up ahead, my watch beeping to tell me I had hit the 13 mile mark. I forced my legs as fast as they could go, which lets face it, wasn't that fast, and crossed the finish. Exhausted. In 2:07:13. Perfect.

I don't thing I realized what I accomplished until this morning. I spent most of yesterday in a half daze, happy but completely spent, but this morning, I woke up and realized what I accomplished.

I did it, I went from the girl who hated running to the girl who completed a half marathon, and I cannot wait to run more, to complete more races. I'm looking towards a 10k trail run in April, and another half marathon in May, and a full in June. I have a lot of work to do. I need to get into better shape, I need to strengthen my hips because they were insanely painful at the end of yesterday, I need to mentally prepare myself for the challenge of running for four hours straight. But I can't wait.

So to everyone out there who is doubting their abilities to accomplish something amazing, go out there, start, you'll be amazed at what you can accomplish.

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