It's Our Turn: Highs and lows of a half-marathon
Can something be exhausting and exhilarating at the same time? Frustrating yet fulfilling? Puff you up with pride while deflating you with defeat?
Yes. At least that's what I found out while competing in the Rock 'n Roll Las Vegas Half Marathon on December 2.
It was 13.1 miles that I'll never forget, the most grueling physical and mental challenge I'd ever faced. I thought I was ready for it. Although I didn't follow a training schedule, I'd been running all year long to prepare. I competed in 26 races, which varied in length from a one-mile sprint, as part of Lakes Area Recreation's Holy Moly Ole 5 series, to a 10-mile Monster Dash in the Twin Cities. I also ran on my own, typically logging between 15 and 20 miles every week. I completed a total of four 10-mile runs, my furthest distance.
But I wasn't ready for what awaited me on the Las Vegas Strip.
The build-up was mind boggling: Organizers shut down one of the busiest streets in the country to allow 30,000 half and full marathon runners to jog down the Strip, at night, all the way to the downtown area and back. The excitement, the crowds, the lights, spiked my adrenaline level off the charts before the race even began. The sights and sounds were incredible: Bands playing along the route; cheering stations and signs everywhere encouraging the runners; streets lined with well-wishers; and, everywhere you looked, the bright, dancing neon from the casinos.
I set a goal to complete the race in less than two hours. Judging from past races where I was running eight-minute miles, I thought I had a good shot at it.
The first three miles went by in a blink. After the runners in my corral broke from the starting line, I weaved in and out of the pack, passing dozens of runners, not realizing until later that all that weaving added a third of a mile onto my total distance.
I was feeling good. A wind advisory was in effect and it made the 55-degree temps a little chilly but running kept me warm. I was caught up in the camaraderie of runners, those amazing lights and the rush that comes with competing in a big race.
Miles four, five and six breezed by, but as I finished mile seven, I hit a psychological wall. In my past 10-mile runs, I got a lift after mile seven, knowing I only had three miles left, a quick 5K. This time, I realized, with a thud, I was barely beyond the half-way mark. That shows how long-distance running is not only physically draining but a mental challenge as well. I kept going though, plodding through miles eight, nine and 10.
Now I was in unchartered territory, the farthest distance I'd ever gone. I had nothing left in the tank. My running dramatically slowed. My eight-minute mile pace dragged to 10 minutes, then to 11. It was as if I was running in slow motion or having one of those dreams where you run and run and never get anywhere. I fell into a kind of trance, losing track of where I was, just staring down at my feet, willing them to keep on going.
I don't remember much about miles 11, 12 and 12 and a half. A pink elephant could have whizzed past me in roller skates and I wouldn't have noticed.
Finally, I saw the finish line. I tried to put on a last burst of speed, but it was as if my legs were mired in mud. When I crossed, I raised my arms in triumph and checked my time. Two hours, five minutes and 45 seconds. I missed my goal but I had finished the race.
All I wanted to do was to lie down and collapse but there was nowhere to go, only the hard street and runners everywhere. Then, the shivers set in. I couldn't stop shaking so I went into a medical tent to warm up and wait for my wife to complete her race.
After we tiredly celebrated our finish, we both agreed that the half marathon was much more difficult than either of us expected. We were hoping for faster times, a smoother finish, an easier pace. But it was an experience we'll remember for the rest of our lives. It filled us with a deep sense of accomplishing something that we'd never dreamed of doing a couple of years ago. And maybe, in the long run, that was a better goal all along.