13.1 MILES I THOUGHT I WOULD HATE
Running the Eugene Half Marathon
Common logic says that if you don’t like something, you probably won’t enjoy thirteen of that thing.
Let’s say that you can’t stomach the texture of oyster… downing thirteen oyster shooters is probably not a very good idea. If you’re a college freshman hating a class in organic chemistry, I wouldn’t recommend signing up for thirteen more classes in organic chemistry. And if you find Meaghan Trainor’s songs annoying, you probably won’t enjoy a full album.
I’ve always hated running.
Perhaps you see where this is going now.
In school, running was my least favorite. I played a lot of team sports, but even one mile was something I hated.
Following the rules of common logic, I probably shouldn’t have signed up for a half marathon.
Deanna convinced me to put a running a half-marathon on our list of adventure goals for our first thousand days of marriage. She herself was already a proven runner, with two full marathons and another half-marathon under her belt. She loved running. I thought that was great, but I never shared the enthusiasm.
Right after my very first training run of the year, I wrote the following post:
“I don’t like to run. I live in Tracktown, USA, birthplace of Nike and host of this year’s Olympic trials. Still don’t like to run.
I wish I could learn how to like running.
I know how to run. I don’t know how to enjoy it. Deanna enjoys it.
I signed myself up for the Eugene half marathon on my birthday weekend and bought some cold weather running clothes. I figured at the very least I love wearing those compression leggings, but I think I’ve taken the plunge even further.”
I signed up for a race.
What I ended up committed to was a first-hand look at what it looks like to respond to life when it gets challenging.
Deanna assembled a small team of runners, and created a well-thought running plan to bring us up to speed. By gradually increasing the amount we ran, we’d go from no running in over a year to half-marathon condition in four months.
Right away, training did not go according to plan.
To make long story short… Deanna got really sick in February and we found ourselves spending a week in the hospital since she was having a hard time breathing. It likely was the result of a bad reaction to some medicine, but we didn’t know it at the time and it was scary.
Seeing somebody you love struggle with health is one of the worst things to go through.
The optimist in me insisted that Deanna could bounce back and that we had enough time to get on pace with our training schedule. There was still the fear of the unknown, though, and I just wanted us to be back home. Back to normal.
To add insult to injury… or actually, injury to insult, I tried to run a mile around the hospital to try and get back in shape. My foot caught an uneven curb and I wound up taking a spill onto the pavement. I managed to catch myself, but I landed right on my hand which was clutching my phone. Both were busted.
Compared to Deanna’s discomfort mine was trivial, more slapstick than anything else. But that moment caused me to realize, things are not good.
Life right now is really challenging.
Marathons have long been overused as a metaphor of how to respond to different challenges in life. That metaphor has given us played out cliches like “it’s not a sprint, it’s a marathon.” In my case, though, it was neither a sprint nor a marathon. It was a half-marathon. And here’s what I started to realize:
Many of life’s greatest moments come when you overcome a challenge. The process is often enormously difficult though, and patience doesn’t seem like a strong enough word to describe the endurance it takes to overcome things like a health scare, a career setback, or an intimidating goal. It’s exactly that challenge and that process that makes a finish line beautiful, though.
Here’s what I’ve learned about what it looks like to face a challenge: No matter how big the challenge is, there’s no other way to take it on other than one day at a time.
You just have to break up the bigger challenge into the question of what you need to do today.
Then you just have to go do that thing. Whatever it is.
For me, that meant running.
The next few months resembled a sports-movie training montage. No Eye of the Tiger, though. More like audio clips from podcast episodes of The Splendid Table and NPR’s Pop Culture Happy Hour. Podcasts turned out to be my favorite running companion.
I started to discover more of Eugene through its running routes. The wood chipped Rexius Trail by my house. The Fern Ridge Path in West Eugene that seems to keep going forever and ever. The circuit within Amazon Park that seemed to form a perfect mile. Of course, Steve Prefontaine’s running trail in Alton Baker Park.
Before I knew it, running became a habit. Somehow I always found time for it.
A month or so into it, Deanna started training too.
She started doing two runs a week, gradually inching closer and closer to her original plan. She noted that she could probably get in enough shape to run a good portion of it.
We also decided to run for the cause of Liberty in North Korea. Another one of our marriage goals is to raise enough funds to rescue a North Korean refugee. That’s $3,000 and we figured a half-marathon could help us raise about half of that. We set up a fundraising page and donations came in. Slowly.
Then, the night before race day, we turned our carboloading into a charitable event. I cooked up massive amounts of pasta for friends and it was a success, and we managed to raise $200 that night. We went to bed and when we woke up on race day, another $500 came in, putting us within a couple hundred of our goal.
The day of the race was a major adrenaline rush.
I approached the starting line in my corral, with A Tribe Called Quest in my headphones.
Then, I ran.
I learned how to pace myself using other people. Once or twice a mile I would pick someone way in front of me in a distinct outfit and sprint to overtake them. Then I’d fall back into my groove.
After running for several miles, I realized that my training had been a bit off. MapMyRun isn’t very accurate in Eugene, probably because phone signals often die out in the heavily wooded parts. Several runners also noted that their estimation of a mile did not match the markers, meaning we all probably undertrained just a bit.
The moment of approaching the finish line, of realizing that you’re going to make it, and recalling all the work and endurance that it took to get there somehow makes the whole process beautiful and unquestionably worthwhile.
I passed the Mile 12 marker and realized that if I wanted to have a pace under ten minutes I would really need to try and turn things up. I increased my stride, but I couldn’t hold it for long. My energy was used up much more than I was used to. I had to just continue to push myself towards the finish.
I crossed the Willamette River and set foot onto the Oregon campus. The finish line was on the historic Hayward Field… pretty cool!
My legs appreciated the soft surface of the track. As I crossed, I realized something. The guy finishing just a bit in front of me was the winner of the whole thing!
Okay… so he ran the full marathon and I ran the half, and that’s not as impressive as it sounds. But still! I walked off to collect my medal, and more importantly, my chocolate milk. Chocolate milk was like, the best thing ever after a run. Who knew?
Even more exciting was that about twenty minutes after I finished, Deanna came walking off the field with our friend Meaghan. She had ran a lot more of the course than she expected, not pausing for the entire first half.
I remembered back to February and being in the hospital, back to March and trying to run beyond five miles for the first time. I remembered admitting to myself then that I really was in the middle of a challenging time. And that’s also when I felt God remind me of something really important.
The definition of adventure isn’t a fun experience. It’s the overcoming of a challenge in pursuit of a goal.
At the start of the year, my goal wasn’t to dominate a half-marathon. It wasn’t even to be good at running. I just wanted to learn how to like running.
I like running.
So much so, that I want to do it again! Or, some other kind of running feat. I’ve already got my eyes on a fifty mile beer relay if I can find a team for it. I kind of miss having something on the calendar to train for.
And perhaps someday I’ll have a full marathon in me somewhere. Today, however, is not that day.
Today is one where I get to rest my legs and wonder what’s next.