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My Journey to a Half Marathon

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Monday, November 12, 2012

About a week ago I completed a half marathon. This was a big achievement for me. I have learned so much about me and life through the preparation and the actual running of this race. I’m using this space to document my reflections of my journey. Perhaps it will help motivate you; perhaps you will feel I am sharing too much. I probably am, but this is my very personal ponderings about the last year or so of my life.

In the summer on 2011 we had the opportunity to go to Hawaii with my wife’s siblings and parents. When we came home several of the pictures made it onto Facebook. One picture uploaded by my sister in law showed me in snorkel gear. Frankly, I was embarrassed by the picture. I knew I was overweight, but this picture seemed VERY unflattering. I quickly untagged myself from the picture. It is still a sore image, but I have mostly come to terms with it and have even summoned my courage to post it below.

I think that in any person’s successful weight loss journey there needs to be a positive trigger event. There are painful events that initiate the process, but they usually aren’t trigger events. For example, most of us have started losing weight, then given up, then started again, then given up again. Each starting event likely began after a painful event. My painful events have been the inability to participate in some activities, lack of self-esteem or pictures like the one above.

Each painful event was followed by a desire and some actions towards changing my lifestyle. Yet none became a lasting trigger to push me to continue towards success. The common denominator in each painful event is the key word painful. I was trying to change because of a negative event that had already occurred.

About this same time my oldest son was about to turn 11 and was getting ready to enter the Boy Scouts. I grew up in the Boy Scouts and some of my favorite memories were the camping trips that I was able to participate in with my dad. I loved those experiences and wanted to look forward to doing the same with my own sons. I resolved that I would be in good enough shape to go anywhere and do anything with him. I didn’t want to sit on the sidelines as he grew up without me.

I didn’t realize it at the time, but that was my trigger event. Finally I had found a positive goal to work towards rather than a negative experience to run or hide from. That has made all of the difference.

Immediately, I started participating in the free gym membership provided by my employer. It wasn’t easy at first. I would spend 20 minutes on a stationary bike and feel like I was going to faint. I started in the fall and as temperatures started dropping, the enticement of staying in bed rose. Nevertheless, my positive goal kept me pushing. Eventually I was able to sustain more than an hour on the bike or the elliptical. My strength training also improved. Most noticeably, my energy and stamina outside of the gym also skyrocketed. I didn’t feel so weary anymore. I found myself playing with my kids a lot more.

Along with the increase in activity, my weight started dropping. I was receiving compliments from family and friends. I was eating more fruits and veggies and less fast food. In short, my life had been flipped 360 degrees and it felt great. I couldn’t believe that I didn’t make these changes earlier!

In the spring of 2012 I signed up for my first 5K. It was daunting. Although I was now exercising regularly, I still wasn’t a good runner. My knees would hurt badly and I couldn’t run for very long or very far before the pain would cause me to stop. I went to a running store and had them fit me for a good pair of shoes. This helped a lot, but not completely. It still hurt to run. I changed my strength training routines to put more focus on my knees. I tried to strengthen them any way I could find. Ultimately, the day of the race came and I found I was well prepared. I finished the race and had such a rush of adrenalin that I couldn’t wait for the next one.

Throughout the summer I ran in a few other 5K and 10K races. Each brought euphoria and a push to keep going. I must have been on one of these endorphin highs when I signed up for a half marathon. After clicking the submit button I started having second thoughts. Luckily I didn’t let myself be talked out of it. I trained hard up to the day of the race and felt ready to accomplish this as well.

The day before the race I picked up my race packet and made sure I had everything set aside and ready to go. I had to be at the parking area by 6:30 to take a bus to the starting line, so I set my alarm for 5:00 and went to bed early. At one point, I rolled over and noticed light streaming through the blinds in the window. I bolted up! I must be late. I looked over at the clock; it was just after 2:00. The full moon fooled me. I went back to sleep, but at 6:07 my wife woke me up wondering if I was supposed to be up.

My cell phone alarm thought it was going off. It had the “snooze” and “dismiss” buttons on the screen, but no sound was coming out. I scrambled out of bed and threw on my gear. I ran out the door, but I wasn’t very hopeful. The parking area was a good 30 minutes away, so there was no way I would make it by the 6:30 deadline. Thankfully, there was still a good sized line waiting when I got there. I made it in time.

When I finally made it onto the bus, I finally started to calm down. It was then that I realized I had forgotten breakfast and my water. I quickly came to realize that there are two aspects of preparation. There is the long term preparation where I had built up my endurance and stamina. Then there is the race day preparation that is just as important. All of the training in the world won’t help if your body doesn’t have the fuel to finish the race. I hoped that there would be something at the race start.

Unfortunately, there wasn’t. I dug through my drop bag and found a bag of pretzels. That was my breakfast. I started the race hungry and thirsty. Before I even passed through the starting gate I was ready for an aid station.

The first part of the race was a fairly steep downhill slope from Sundance Resort to Provo Canyon. The combination of running downhill and a lack of electrolytes caused my right calf to start cramping about two miles in. I didn’t want to stop, but my body kept telling me to. I kept pushing, convincing myself that the aid station must be just around the next corner. It wasn’t. There were a lot of things done well on the race, but not having an aid station for the first 3.8 miles was a big mistake if you ask me.

When I finally reached the first aid station I was so happy to see those little cups of water and Gatorade. I downed plenty. I was very thirsty and wasn’t sure when the next aid station would be. Thankfully, the rest were spaced about every 2 miles.

The rest of the race was pretty uneventful. My calf was very sore, but I no longer had the feeling to just quit. I knew I could finish and I’d worked so hard to get to this day. The scenery through the canyon was spectacular. The leaves had changed and were starting to fall. The river next to the trail was soothing and brought back memories of the many times I’ve fished it.

As I approached the end of the race I stopped paying attention to my sore leg. I think it probably still hurt, but it’s hard to feel pain when you are running on clouds. I could hear the crowds before I saw them. The excitement was encompassing. Each stride of my pace was accompanied by the party music and the cheering crowds. When I turned the last corner and saw the finish line I struggled to keep my emotions in check. There were hundreds of people lining the last stretch and cheering me on. As memories of the last year’s experiences, struggles and wins coursed through my mind tears of joy, gratitude and excitement brimmed my eyes. I strode across the finish line as the reality of the moment started settling upon me. I finished a half marathon. A major goal could be ticked off my list. I CAN DO HARD THINGS!

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