I, Stefanie Johnson, will be running my first Half Marathon this weekend in New Paltz, NY. For those of you who know me, you know I’ve never been the “running type” before. As in ever. You also know, however, that since meeting my husband, TJ, things have changed for the better. Not only did I run a 5K, which I never thought possible, nor had I tried since the 6th grade, I LOVED every minute of it. Yes, I cried at the end, and yes, I dramatically (and unnecessarily) “collapsed” at the end of it. I also looked at TJ and exclaimed: “That’s it, I’m going to be a runner. I want to do that all.the.time!” And so, my story begins…(I apologize in advance for how long this might end up. I have a lot to say about this process, and I want to make sure you get all the “deets.”)
Let’s start with TJ. He’s been an avid runner – nay, athlete – since before I met him. The first race he did after we had met was the North Face 50 mile endurance race in Bear Mountain. For those of you who have never heard of it, its basically one of the hardest races North Face has. Naturally, I was drawn to how “hard core” my husband-to-be was. It was inspirational! Fast forward to this past year. He signed up for his first triathlon ever, that took place on May 4th in Bethel, NY. Not only was this his first tri, he decided to do a Half Ironman distance,which was basically as intense as you could get with this race. The water that morning was 55 degrees (a.k.a freezing, if you’re swimming in it) but the sun seemed to be on the athletes’ side, warming their backs as they biked and ran to the finish. The spirit of comradery in the air that day were mind-blowing. Everyone was cheering for everyone and helping strangers get to the finish-line. It was heartwarming. It also reminded me of how much I loved being in that moment of finishing a race, and how accomplished I felt after my 5K. So, I decided, now that my husband was finished with his race (and let me gloat: he came in 1st place in his age group. YUP!) it was time for me to sign up for one. I aimed high (by my standards, anyway) and went for a Half Marathon. I signed up for the Half Marathon taking place on Father’s Day, June 16th, in New Paltz, NY. Now came the hard part…
With the help and advice of TJ, I slowly but surely started running more regularly (4 days a week) and went for one long run a week. I started off considering a 6 mile run to be my long run, and boy was it painful. Not only were my legs entirely unprepared for that to happen, my mind was not cooperating (more on this later.) Gradually, I built up a tolerance for running longer distances once a week. Every week, I would add a mile to my long run. Two weeks later, I ran from our house to Ridgeback Sports which is exactly 8.2 miles away. My breathing was steady the whole time, it was raining ever-so-perfectly so I was NOT overheating, and nothing hurt. I pulled into the store and was elated. I was so proud of myself! Only later did I realize it felt that easy because it was all down-hill. WOMP. Either way, in the moment, it felt great.
My next long run of 9 miles did not come easily to me. I kept having to stop because of the stitch in my side that felt like a little alien was inside me with a knife, trying to cut his way to the outside. By mile 2, my mind told me to give up. As stubborn as I am, I was ready to give in. I called TJ (crying) and explained what was happening and that I didn’t think I could go on. He told me I was dehydrated, told me to chug my Hammer HEED and walk it off for a while. Then, before I could whine anymore and convince HIM that it was a good idea for me to stop, he said “okcallmelaterloveyoubye” and hung up. I knew it was for the best. I did what he told me to do and I was off again. Now, by the end of this run, I was FUMING. I hated it. I didn’t want to do it ever again and I was just about ready to bail out of the Half Marathon. There was something about that run that made me never want to run again. It put me in a foul mood. Then I came to a terrifying thought: “what if all this training is taking the joy out of running? what if this half marathon is the last run I’ll ever do?” I realize now that having this thought alone, was a sure sign that I loved to run and nothing was going to take it away from me. (Let’s note here: I NEVER thought I would say this. It never used to make sense to me…I learn by doing, what can I say.)
The next run I did, my 10 miler, I tried to go into it with a better attitude, and better hydration. It wasn’t easy to wipe away the memory of my last run and to convince my mind that this was going to be AWESOME. I battled with myself for the first 3 miles. Yes, I kept running through it, but slowly and unwillingly. Once I got to mile 3, however, I had finally reconciled my mind and body and we were all on board to run 10 miles, taking in the sights and sounds, and appreciating it for what it is. Passing a deer and holding eye contact with her the entire time helped. After all, she made me feel like Pocahontas. From then on, I was running to the soundtrack from that movie, and it.was.glorious. The sense of accomplishment I got out of that run is beyond words. Not only was I painting with all the colors of the wind, I made it to the double digits!!!
Last week, I made the mistake of letting that sense of accomplishment override my body’s need to keep moving. I didn’t run all week. I still needed my long run of the week, though. So, I got up and ran 12.5 miles. Let’s be clear, when I say “ran,” this time it was a combination of running, walking, and borderline crawling through the painful bits. I forgot my hydration rule, I forgot that body parts would start to ache, and I forgot how to pace myself. Huge Mistake. I got the whole pain package. The sharp knife wielding alien was back in all his glory. This time, he was attacking my side, my hip and my knees. I guess this is what runners call “hitting the wall.” My mind gave out. It told me, “no more, your bones will be ground to dust if you don’t stop now; You cannot go on.” LIAR! I fought back, and I kept going. Wouldn’t you know it, I made it to 12.5. That’s how I knew I was ready for my Half Marathon coming up this weekend.
Running, to me, has become one of my greatest achievements. One that I can track, understand, see, and be proud of. The stickers I get to put on my car from racing helps too. I’ve always had a thing for stickers…ever since I got my first sparkly butterfly sticker as a kid (I know I’m not the only one here :))
So, Half Marathon HERE I COME!!!!! I will post again after the race to give you every detail of how painful and wonderful it all is. Oh, and did I mention I’ll be running a Marathon in September? I figure why waste all these weeks of training! I’d rather continue and get the 26.2 sticker sooner than have to start all over at mile 6 again. We’ve got lots to talk about.