Runners Tell All Linkup: A Running Picture

Of all the running pictures I could have shared today - all the official race photos, the selfies, the non-blurry landscape photos - I chose this one. Why? Because I took it on one of my most favorite and life-changing runs ever.

It was the morning of December 14, 2013 and I was up well before dawn for my long run. I was a little over a month away from my first marathon, and I was about to attempt my longest run to-date: the big 20-miler. I snapped this picture about 2 miles into the run. It was barely past 6am and I was so afraid of being out alone in the dark that early that a mile into the run I called Ben to come ride his bike alongside me. Even though it was a little eerie being out that early, there was something indescribably peaceful about it as well. I just remember coming up on the boardwalk and seeing it all lit up with Christmas lights, which wasn't even an unfamiliar sight, but something about seeing it that day, at that time, made it so different. I wish I could have stopped time so I could run in that moment forever, but taking a photo was all I could do.

Soon enough the sun came up and the miles kept ticking by. A run that had started so peacefully kept getting more and more exciting. I was running a 5k at 9am as the last 3 of my 20 miles, right on the same boardwalk where I started early that morning. I got to Mile 14 and saw the 5k runners making their way to the start line. At Mile 15 I passed a friend who was running the 5k, getting his pre-race coffee. At Mile 16, I crossed an intersection and looked to my left to see all the runners lined up at the starting line a block away, waiting for the race to start. I couldn't wait to get there. Another mile down, and I made it to the start line with a couple minutes to spare before the race started. For the first time in over 3 hours, I stopped moving - just long enough to fish my bib out from my race belt and pin it on before the horn sounded for the race to start. Those last 3 miles were some of the most magical I've ever run. Getting back to that boardwalk, with half a mile to go in my first 20-mile run, was one of the most indescribable feelings.

I think I experienced every possible scenario and feeling that make me love running that day: being alone, just me and my thoughts; running before dark and seeing the sun come up (being in the dark is scary but it's also really nice); running in the cold (my absolute fave, gahhh I hate summer); running a race; running with friends and family; accomplishing a new goal....this run had it all. If I could live that day forever on repeat, I would - even if it required running 20 miles every day.

"Running is a lot like life."

I ran my seventh half marathon yesterday. The morning of the race I checked my MilePost app, and this is what I got:

Not exactly the motivational quote I was looking for to get pumped up! I shrugged it off, but throughout the race and after, it really got me thinking. 

My 3rd running anniversary was last week and I thought I had learned all I could learn about life from running. In those 3 years running has taught me discipline, perseverance, and triumph over tribulations. It has taught me to apply those lessons to life's challenges, and how good it feels to push through and come out on the other side.

Now that running and I have been doing our thing for a few years, it's time to come out and say this: the honeymoon is over. Don't get me wrong, we're still happy together, but it's on a new, deeper level now. And I'm finding out that this new phase is bringing with it a whole new set of life lessons. 

• Life is better with a companion pony.
I don't give Ben nearly enough credit for his support on this adventure. He completed the Couch to 5k program with me and honestly, I don't even know if I would have stuck it out without him. He's run a few races with me, and I can count on one hand the number of my races he's missed. He sees me off at the starting line and he's there cheering for me when I finish. He's my companion pony, and I wouldn't have it any other way.

• Anything is possible. But everything is not possible every day. 
I didn't run the race I wanted. I didn't train for a big PR, but I had high hopes I could pull one off just by virtue of the fact that I have done so much distance running the last few months, and I've gotten faster at shorter-than-marathon distances in the process. I was on track held a great pace for the first 2/3, but I couldn't keep it up the rest of the way. But instead of beating myself up over it, I just kept going. I know there's a half marathon PR in me somewhere, it just wasn't in the cards yesterday. 

• I am no better or worse than anyone else. I'm no better or worse than past or future me. I'm just present me, and present me is good enough.
Yesterday I had friends who ran faster races than me, slower races than me, friends who ran their first race and friends who have lost count of their races. And let's not forget all my friends who were still in bed while I was running! My time was faster than some of my previous races and slower than some of my others. None of these people - all versions of myself included - matter. I ran my race, and that is all I could do. That's all any of us can ever do. There is no point in comparing what I did or didn't do to anyone else.

• If you want something bad enough, it's worth the risk.
I started the race at a fairly aggressive pace, something I don't normally do. I knew it was a risk, but I felt like I at least needed to try. I didn't PR, but I'm proud of the race that I ran.

• The little things are actually big things. 
I didn't get the time I wanted - so what? That's a true little thing. But the things I so often overlook or take for granted - things like having friends and family who will stand outside for 2 hours to watch me run by for 5 seconds, or having legs that are capable of carrying me for 13.1 miles, and having a heart and mind that are healthy and willing to keep up - those are the big things. For as hard as I push myself and as much as I obsess over "How am I doing? Am I running fast enough?", I never let myself forget what a gift running is. Seven half marathons and I still teared up when I saw mile marker 13 and realized just how lucky I am to know what a beautiful sight that is.

This race was my last hoorah of my winter/spring racing season. It's been a long, tough 6 months of training and races, but I'm proud of all I've accomplished. As the temps start to warm up, I'll back off on distance running for a while. I have a 10k in 3 weeks and a sprint tri the week after that, and those are the only races on my calendar as of right now. In a way, I'm almost glad I didn't PR yesterday because that made my goals for the fall a little clearer! :)