I Ran a Half-Marathon
When challenged to push the limits, I proved that I was more capable than I ever thought I would be
In Accepting the Unexpected, I step away from writing about travel to comment on the bigger journey of life. While the topics may vary, the central theme is always the same: living life means learning to deal with the unexpected.
I did not grow up a runner.
But when we moved to Houston and we didn’t have easy access to a YMCA where I could continue exercising on workout machines, my husband passed along the laughable suggestion that I start running for fitness instead.
I’ve always kept my running rather simple. Over time, running three miles, three times a week, became so routine that when I don’t run at least twice in a week, I start to get antsy. I become a little more irritable and I long for thirty-five minutes to myself so I can just go for a solitary run. And while I’ve run a couple 5K races, I didn’t want to do more. I was comfortable with where I was in my fitness and didn’t feel like I needed to push myself. Besides, I didn’t really have time to do more, did I?
But then, in a chat thread with two friends who are lifelong runners, one of them said, “We should run the St. Louis half-marathon together.” After all, we are all living back in the Midwest after an overlap of time together in Houston, and with both of them living in St. Louis, I could just drive over there for a weekend to join them.
Except the most I had ever run was four miles, a race I had done with that same friend shortly after I initially completed the C25K program.1 The very thought of doing just over thirteen miles froze me in my tracks. It was a crazy proposition, wasn't it?
I chose the word “forward” for my word for 2023 long before 2022 was over. Additionally, I was not happy with my physical condition. Six months of uncertainty at the beginning of 2021, a difficult move in the summer of the same year, and two and a half months of a job that did not work for me after that move, all wreaked havoc on my body. While I had kept running during the first half of the year, the move and the time required to transition to that first new job took away time that I needed to take care of my health. Additionally, stress combined with middle age added its own kind of weight. It seemed like the kind of challenge that I needed, even if it was to just prove to myself that I could do it.
I told them that I would do the race if I could hit six-mile runs by the end of the year. I did just that on December 31. The next week I started training for the half-marathon, using an app training plan and slowly increasing both my regular runs during the week and my weekend runs. I discovered that the empty neighborhood behind our house, a future neighborhood with a finished road and no houses, had a loop that was just under one mile. I started running laps there and pushed myself more every week, realizing about halfway through that the scheduled interval days were there for a reason, and that interval training might be the only thing that treadmills are actually good for.
I got lucky. We had a relatively mild winter and most of our bad weather days didn’t fall on Saturdays, when I was scheduled to do all of my longer runs. I occasionally had to go to the Y to run on the treadmill, especially during the darkest days of winter, but in general, I was able to do most of my training outside, albeit with several layers that I shed during the course of my laps. The only exception was my longest training day two weeks before the race, when, thanks to a March snowstorm, I begged our closest fitness center to allow me to use their much better indoor track for two hours of running that I think totaled twelve miles.
That isn’t to say it wasn’t without significant challenges. About halfway through the training program I developed runner’s toe, three of my toenails turning black and blue with the middle tow on my right foot painfully swollen due to bruising and blistering under the surface. The mild winter turned unseasonably pleasant during the worst week of toe pain, and I traded my running shoes for my bicycle, taking off down our country roads to our closest biking and running trail. I also finally followed advice and went to an actual running store to get fitted for new running shoes, leaving the store with a size bigger shoe, arch insets, and new socks.2
It also was not easy on my family, who often saw me take off for more than two hours just to run and come home exhausted and trying to continue with normal Saturday activities, despite the fact that I had just run several more miles than my body was used to.
But on April 2, Palm Sunday, my friend Rachel and I laced up our running shoes and she slowed her pace to stay with me for the whole race. We started in one of the last bays, trying to stay warm in 40-degree weather, cold hands eager for our bodies to move. We got to talk more than we had in well over a year, we saw our friend Gretchen (who did not run because of injury) at Mile 3, and we were greeted at the finish line by my husband, kids, and sister-in-law, who decided to fly in from Denver for 48-hours just so that she could be there to support my finish.
I survived the longest run of my life. I survived the hills that seriously kicked my butt (I did not train on hills and I did walk up the very last hill near the finish line because I just couldn’t do it). I survived the transition from being too cold to too warm as I approached the finish line. I proved that I could do something really hard as I keep moving forward with my life.
Will I do it again? I think so, but not anytime soon. I’ve proved I can do it and now I have to work on making those six-mile runs as easy as my three-mile runs. I’m in my forties and it’s time to add weights back into my workout routine and I need to find parks with hills so that I can build up more strength and endurance with changes in terrain.
But I’ve done what I truly believed was impossible when I was a teenager. I’ve shown my kids that it is possible to keep doing these things no matter their age. And I’ve proven to myself that I can do hard things.
I can’t give that up.
You can see the training highlights from my Instagram stories here.
For more Substack writers who run, check outand her book The Trail Runner’s Companion and and her books about running.
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The Final Four was in Houston that year and they hosted a Final Four four-mile race. It was fun, but it was still the furthest I had ever run at a time.
I’ve since learned that runners often have to go up a size in running shoes, especially when doing long runs.