This past Friday morning, 4 am to be specific, my parents' SUV was loaded up with running clothes, shoes, water and other beverages (alcoholic), pillows, various chargers and a few of our favorite road trip snacks. My aunt, uncle, mother, father and I did our final checks before to sitting for what would be nearly a 10-hour drive from Jacksonville to Key West, the southernmost point in the continental US. This was a trip we had been anticipating for nearly a year when we had signed up for the 19th annual Key West Half Marathon. Even though this would be my fifth half marathon, I've learned that in long distance races, there is always something new to learn. Each race teaches a new way to grow not only as a stronger runner but as a better, stronger person. This out-and-back 13-mile course would prove to be a surprising wake up call and an experience to reconnect with the pure magic that is long distance running.
Every year since I turned seventeen, I gear up for a grueling 13-mile run that leaves me staring at the starting line asking the same haunting questions: why do I do this to myself? Why do people pay to put themselves through this?! The Key West Half Marathon was no different except that, for once, I felt the answer starting to loosely form in my mind.
There is a sincere magic to long distance running (granted many would certainly not consider 13 miles to be 'long'). Somewhere along mile markers 8 and 10, your mind begins to sink in. It begins to accept any nagging pains and aches, and a wonderful balance emerges between your mind, body, and spirit. Too often this terrific state is muffled out by harsh judgments and expectations. Most people learn to connotate running with dreaded grade school gym classes and punishments for doing poorly in team sports before they ever open their minds to how liberating it is to set out on an open road with just a pair of sneakers and some time to kill.
This year's race I focused on a new way of thinking while I ran. Inspired by Christopher Mcdougall's book, Born to Run, instead of trying to beat others and pass people in a competitive drive to show how tough I can be, I decided to run with the cheesiest thing in mind; acceptance and a love for running. Yeah, I know, how cheesy, but it worked! Despite barely training and not doing any run longer than 7 miles, I finished while only having to stop to twice for water and a quick breather! I might not have gotten a new best time but I did make the top ten in my age group!
So how did I put my new realization into action during the run? First off, I had to stop obsessively judging myself and my pace, no more negative self-talk! You are your best coach. You have the power to motivate and encourage yourself beyond what you might have thought possible but it needs to be out of love for yourself instead of punishment or to prove yourself to others. Every mile, every ache and every moment of exhaustion is a moment to take it in, accept the discomfort and adapt.
What I learned from my Key West Half Marathon would be best explained in one of my favorite quotes from Born to Run, you have "to become a strong person before you could become a strong runner."