For months, I’ve been teetering just above the two hour half marathon mark, but it has continued to elude me. Until now.
Let March 31, 2012 go down in the history books as the day I broke through the 2 hour time barrier, finishing the Viking Half Marathon in 1:59:44. That averages out to a 9:08 mile, which may not sound terribly impressive, but my battered left hip and black toenails beg to differ. That’s roughly 17 minutes faster than the first half marathon I completed 3.5 years ago, and 15 seconds faster than my goal. As long as my official race time started with a 1, I didn’t care what the remaining digits were. And numbers aside, from an emotional standpoint it was one of the most meaningful races I’ve ever run.
Meaningful, because I was accompanied by a devoted pit crew. Two of my dear friends, Kim and Cristen, joined me on the trip solely to see that I accomplished this goal. It is not lost on me that these ladies essentially gave up their Friday nights, their Saturday mornings, and their own shots at a PR all to support my endeavor. They ran beside me, offering me pace updates and encouragement at regular intervals, and I absolutely could not have done it without them. I am so blessed to have friends who care enough about my goals to make them their own. What a rare act of sacrifice in a world so consumed with self.
We left town at 5am and passed the two hour drive to Greenwood, Mississippi with plentiful conversation. Upon arrival in the Delta, we gathered our race packets, stretched our tight muscles, discussed strategy, then situated ourselves at the start line. The second the gun announced go time, we hit the ground running. We ran the first half of the race a little ahead of pace, and I was feeling great. I often enjoy chatting during my long runs, but on this particular day it was all business. I was in the zone. I bounded along, admiring the overhanging canopy of trees, a lone bird sitting atop a telephone wire, the warm sunshine cut by an occasional breeze.
At mile 6, one of my pacers fell off with a piriformis ache. Kim passed me her Garmin and insisted that we press forward. And then there were two. Cristen and I continued onwards, but my spryness was fading. While the roads we ran were scenic, I no longer noticed. By mile 9, we were both hurting, and 10 and 11 seemed endless. Other than the occasional coaching tip and inspiring word, there wasn’t much room for conversation; we were more focused on staying upright and breathing at this point. At mile 12, my partner stopped for a quick walking break and sent me ahead to tackle the beast on my own.
One mile to go, and it was just me and God. I wanted nothing more than to lay down in the green grass, but that’s no way to run a sub 2 hour half, so I refrained. I ate a well-timed orange slice and hunkered down. Each step was a struggle. I prayed for wings like eagles, for God’s strength to carry me those last dreadful meters, and He showed up. Each trudging step moved me a little closer, and I eventually found myself approaching the most glorious, magical, welcome sight – the finish line. Even at this point, even with only a few steps left, I didn’t know with certainty that I would make it. It wasn’t until I literally stepped foot across the threshold that I knew my efforts had paid off.
And just like that, less than two hours later, I was done. I crossed that line with seconds to spare, fell into Kim’s congratulatory hug, and then went straight for the water jugs. It took a while to really sink in that we had accomplished what we set out to do, and oh, what a sweet, sweet victory it was.