After the 2010 cycling season, I decided to spend more time on running and see if I could try my hand at a longer race this year. Most of my cycling races are between 2 and 3 hours and so I figured if I could sustain a hard effort at 80% to 90% of my maximum heart rate (155bpm to 175bpm) then I should be able to maintain a hard running effort for two hours. I figured I had the aerobic base to handle a half-marathon, the only question I had was what would two hours of pounding on the pavement do to my legs; legs that normally only get pounded if I happen to kiss the pavement during a race. I entered into the Soaring Wings Half-Marathon hoping that I would survive and not embarass myself with a poor performance.
When I got to the race, they had something new that I wasn’t familiar with . . . starting waves. This was a new concept to me. I had estimated that if I did everything correctly, I should be able to sustain at least a 7:30 pace and therefore I would finish in under 1:40 minutes so I got into what they called the “second wave” and prepped for the start. I started out with a group that quickly formed from the second wave and we did the first mile in 7 minutes. t was strange for me to start 60 seconds after the first 40 or so competitors started and it left me with no real way to gauge how I was doing. I stayed with the group that I was running with until about mile 3. I noticed our pace had slowed to about 7:20 and I was feeling great. I made the, possibly foolish at the time, decision to kick it up a notch and try and leave the group I was running with. This is an incredibly difficult task in cycling, but it doesn’t seem to be quite as potentially disastrous in the sport of distance running. I increased my pace, and looked around about a minute later and our group of 8 had dwindled to just one lone, suffering runner. I think it was in that moment that fell in love. The pain was all too familiar . . . pushing myself harder than I had planned to, keeping up an attack at the cost of whatever comfort I had managed thus far in the race, reaching my limit and staying there when my lungs were begging for mercy. The pain was definitely familiar, but the experience was completely different this time. Instead of looking around and finding 10 people in my slipstream, which is common in cycling, I looked around and found that my suffering had produced immediate results. I had chosen to endure the pain and distanced myself from my competition and the euphoria was truly addicting. I would never be the same again.
About mile 7 or 8 it suddenly became time to pay the piper. The “rush” that I experienced from my acceleration at mile 3 was now replaced by a different kind of rush. I could actually feel my legs getting heavier with each step. The course profile provided no relief as I found myself on the steepest incline of the day but strangely the memory of those that were behind me, running after me, kept me going. I found it strange after spending my life racing that the concept of looking behind me and finding people actually chasing me. Chasing me down and trying to catch me. It was like a movie. It was so surreal. I used the desire to NOT be caught as impetus to push me up the hill. I didn’t want to get caught. I didn’t want my efforts, and small victories on the day, to go for naught. I had to keep pushing.
I made it through the next two miles and then had an epiphany at mile 10. I saw the marker and then realized that I had exactly 3.1 miles to go. 3.1 miles I thought? That is just a 5k. I can do a 5k. The nearness of the finish line and the potential completion of my journey sealed my new love affair. I knew from that point on that I would spend the rest of my life running. Not just running, but running long distances, pushing my limits, encouraging myself through ill-placed hills, accelerating when I thought I could handle it, and then even when I feared I couldn’t. This half-marathon wasn’t just a race, it was a microcosm of my life and my relationship with athletics.
I stepped up my pace as I moved past the 10 mile marker and headed for the line. There was no way I was going to get caught at this point. There was no way I was going to NOT finish this thing strong. I accelerated from there and outsprinted someone that looked to possibly be around my age (he was) in the final 100 meters. It was that “kick” thing that I learned about in my first 5k and it paid off. I finished in 1:35:08 and got fifth in my age group. Fifth place earned me the coolest trophy I had ever won. I had been racing bikes for 9 years and had never won anything as cool as the handmade, steel figure of a runner with wings on his back. I thought back to the times on the course where I “sprouted wings” myself and knew that my new addiction was going to be a lifelong affliction with no possible cure.