My spirit animal is a couch potato. At my core, I am a bit of a lazy person, the natural kind whose second nature is to binge watch an entire series on Netflix in two weeks time. So now, five days after completing my first half marathon, I still can’t believe it. It hasn’t fully hit me yet, really.
I ran 13.1 miles. I am a half marathoner.
Ten months ago, I was a potato personified. I had just finished college a year early, cramming class requirements, an internship, a job, and an entire school newspaper all together so I could walk across the stage with the Class of ’14 instead of the Class of ’15. Subsequently, I “forgot” to work out for almost a year. (Literally.)
I had gained A LOT of weight (the Freshman 15 came late for me) and I was feeling shitty. Tired. Puffy. Gross. My love affair with all things carbs was still going strong into the beginning of the summer, but the impending beach days and the nice weather had me realizing that I had to cut the crap and get my ass moving. So I did something I hated: laced up my sneakers and went for a run. A really slow, stop-and-go, cursing the universe run. But eventually and painfully, I finished. And the rest, the 10 months of blisters and shortness of breath and foam rollers, is history.
Unlike carbs, I had long had a hate-hate relationship with running. I have never been a super athlete and wisely chose softball as my 13-year long hobby of choice, a sport that requires very little running compared to soccer or lacrosse. I was a catcher, a job that literally asked me to stay in one place for the most part, and everyone knew my speed on the bases was nonexistent. For the most part, that didn’t matter. I was in it more for the fun than the score and cared more about throwing runners out at second than about stealing it myself. But high school softball came with warm up runs, an activity I quickly came to loathe. I was either last or practically puking, my exercise-induced asthma not helping the matter. On particularly bad days, I would point out my bad knee and watch from the bench as the other girls circled around the park. I stared at the leaders of the pack with envy, my brown eyes glowing green to match my Dartmouth High jersey.
Throughout college, I dabbled with running on and off, joining my friends for a summer run, hating it the whole time. Before senior year got the best of me and pushed me out of the “in shape” club, I would go for runs off campus by myself. I remember actually enjoying them for the first time, sometimes even craving the feeling of a tight, out-of-breath stomach that came after.
After graduation and a few too many celebratory pizzas, I couldn’t put it off any longer. I needed to do something to help myself feel better and look healthier. So I went for a one mile run (a big deal for me then) and, if I remember correctly, I stopped approximately seven times, panting and dry heaving on the side of the road.
If you were to ask me why I kept putting on my sneakers and dragging my body up and down my neighborhood’s streets, if you are wondering what motivated me to keep doing something that I have absolutely no natural affinity for, I couldn’t tell you. I honestly don’t remember. But I do remember how good it felt to run one mile without stopping for the first time, and I could tell you about how motivated I was after completing my first 5k. The summer sun kept rising and setting, and I found myself needing a run to complete my day. I found myself searching “running motivation” on Pinterest and making playlists on Spotify to give me that extra push around mile two. I found myself being…well, a runner. And for the first time ever, my health and weight were tied to a positive, non-obsessive entity. I couldn’t care less about the scale, but I sure as hell was concerned with the numbers on my Nike Running app.
By the end of August, I clocked a six-mile run for the first time in my entire life. Ariana Grande’s “Break Free” streamed into my ears as I rounded my final corner. I’m stonger than I’ve been before! I practically screamed the lyrics as I pounded the pavement, so proud of my body. Amazed at what it was apparently capable of all along.
In November, I had built up enough miles and confidence to take the ultimate plunge: I registered for my first half marathon, the annual New Bedford one, in March. I thought I was being well prepared, giving myself more than enough time to train. I suited up even on the coldest days, covering my ears and my hands and trekking through the icy air. I’ll be more than ready by March, I thought.
And then snow happened. A whole lot of it. So much that I’m pretty sure we might still have some lingering in parking lots and backyards come June. My running sneakers stayed in the closet and my inner potato emerged again, victorious. I was taking processed foods and Netflix to the face, practically becoming a part of the couch itself. But after a few weeks and a few snow storms of that life, I snapped out of it. Realized I had been working too hard to give up on my March marathon goal.
Because of the snow and (partially) my own laziness, my training wasn’t what it should have been. I was forced onto the treadmill (which is just NOT the same as the open road, trust me), and my planned miles ticked down, down, down. The Big Day came anyway, and I was ready–as ready as I could be. I picked up my race bib and pinned it onto my jacket. I made a 60-song playlist that would get me through all 13.1 miles. I waved to my boyfriend and my parents with a smile, and I took off, simultaneously beginning my first half marathon and the hardest thing I have ever done.
It’s worth noting that even after 10 months of running three to five days a week, I am still not a fast runner by anyone’s standards. In fact, I’m pretty slow. Average, maybe. I’ve never clocked a nine-minute mile and I probably never will. Needless to say, I was conquering the beginning of the half, slowly but surely. At one point, around mile four, an 80-year old man passed me (I’m not kidding). An elderly man just passed you, I remember thinking in a serious tone, beating myself up. And then: An elderly man just passed you. If he can do it, you can do it. Shut up and keep going.
The miles kept passing and even though I was a little behind my normal pace, I was feeling good. I had made it over eight miles without stopping or walking once, and I was proud. Spectators were cheering me on, the police who were barricading the roads would send me nods of encouragement, and every “You can do it!” helped. More than I ever thought possible.
Mile nine (the highest mileage I had trained) eventually reared its ugly head, though and my legs started to feel like lead. I had taken too many energy gels and too little water, my arm muscles seizing in protest. The wind off of the ocean was slapping me across the face, hard and repeatedly. The sky was starting to shade itself grey, and so was my mindset. I’m going to throw up, I thought. I’m going to pass out, I imagined.
And then, what I thought was an actual mirage. A woman in a red windbreaker walking toward me on the opposite side of the road, waving frantically.
My mother. I practically exploded with relief. She began to walk alongside me, graciously giving me the gift of positivity and distraction. Eventually I realized that she was keeping up with my running pace at a walk, so I gave myself a break finally and joined her. I was dehydrated, I was sore, and I was freaking exhausted. But I knew I was going to finish whether the blister on my right foot liked it or not. I was sure I was going to cross the finish line despite what the pain in my left hip had to say about it. I had stockpiled too many motivational quotes to quit now.
I kept walking, eventually swapping out the companionship of my mom for my boyfriend. He made the mistake of telling me that I could do it once, and I made him repeat it over and over and over until we finally glimpsed the finish line banner three miles later. Even though I was pretty sure my body was disintegrating and even though I was definitely sure I was dead last, I gathered up all the energy I had left and we ran across the finish line together. In the picture of the moment that my dad snapped with his camera, the pain is bursting out of my face in a tight and twisted grimace, as if I’m about to burst into tears. My boyfriend is a few steps behind me, beaming. I fell into my mom’s arms as the tears spilled out. A release of pressure and build up, a release of worries and doubts so powerful that I could have been the gun that they fired to start the race 13 miles before.
Hours later, as I wilted under a blanket near the fireplace, I found out that I didn’t actually come in dead last. (2385 out of 2394 to be exact.) I browsed the results and, sure enough, that 80-year old I saw around mile four had finished way ahead of me. As I stretched out my sore muscles and pulled the blanket a little closer, I realized that I actually couldn’t care less. Because whether I was last place, close to last place, or tied for second, I did it. I finished the race. I ran it my way and I completed the goal I had set so many months ago. I was– I AM–a half marathoner.
After 13.1 long, slow miles, after hundreds of miles of training runs, after rain-soaked sneakers and sweat-soaked laundry loads, I can confirm that it’s true. There is no better feeling in the world, no sweeter joy, than crossing a finish line you thought you might never reach. There is no better club than 13.1.