Wednesday, July 8, 2015

One Foot in Front of the Other


    On May 31st, I ran 13.1 miles in the Dexter-Ann Arbor Half Marathon. It was a long road getting to the point where I could even imagine running such a distance, much less completing it with confidence and in a time that instilled awe in many of my friends. 

    Only five short years ago, I weighed 298lbs. I moved to Seattle, Washington from my home in North Carolina looking for a change in lifestyle and thank goodness I found it.

    Shortly after moving to Seattle, my sister bought me a pair of ridiculous looking “Five Finger” shoes. After much familial prodding, I acquiesced to her demands and finally went running in them … even more shockingly, I liked it! I felt like a kid again. My knees didn’t hurt. My hips didn’t hurt. For the first time since elementary school, I was having fun running

    While I’ve gotten away from running in my Five Fingers I still tend to run once or twice a week in a minimalist shoe. Looking back I realized that too much cushion caused me to land on my heel and jar my entire body with every step, from my knees to my hips to my back. Thick, cushy shoes cause far too much pain for a man of my age to be experiencing from a simple jog, but something about a minimalist shoe (one that doesn’t have any more cushion under the heel than the forefoot) allowed me to bounce on the ball of my foot instead of striking at the heel and rolling off the toe. Minimalist shoes helped me start running properly, and it made all the difference.

    By the time I moved to Ann Arbor in March of 2015, I had lost over 75 lbs. I had no intention of stopping my march towards being a more physically fit individual. Riding my bike five days a week and training (albeit half-heartedly) for this run has helped me shed at least another ten pounds, inching me ever closer to my nebulously-defined goal of just feeling great living. I feel like that with this half marathon, I am getting out of the starting gate and really sprinting towards a healthier version of myself.

    Having never run such a distance (especially not in a crowd) I had absolutely no idea what to expect. My previous distance record was an 11 mile training run done only one week prior, so I wasn’t exactly anxious about being able to finish. But, having only run by myself or with a single partner, I was interested to see how running with 2000 other people would affect my performance if at all.

    As I lined up at the back of the pack, I never anticipated that I could set a pace of sub 10 minute miles for the entire race. 

    Almost right away, I found myself steadily passing the masses of people I had self-resignedly lined up behind. I was concerned that my pace would cost me dearly in energy towards the end of the race, but I felt good, probably because the rain was helping keep me cool. At mile eight, I realized that there was a real possibility that I was going to make it through this experience not only alive, but at a very reasonable time. My pace was comfortable, I didn’t feel fatigued or in pain, and with regular water, Gatorade and/or power food consumption, I lost all fear of failure and started really focusing on the finish line.

    I wasn’t really tired, but the final pre-finish hill climb was threatening to be the final straw on this camel's back after so many miles. A tremendous part of me just wanted to slow down to a walk. With the last mile or so almost entirely uphill I started chanting to myself: “DON’T STOP RUNNING TIL YOU’RE DONE! DON’T STOP RUNNING TIL YOU’RE DONE! DON’T STOP RUNNING TIL YOU’RE DONE!” 

    It helped. A LOT. As I crested the last hill, I saw the banner at the finish line and got the lead out. I broke from a consistent jog into a full-out run, darting between the exhausted and plodding, straight towards the time clock. 2 hours and 9 minutes flashed in front of me and I didn’t intend to let that clock make it to 2:10. I had to literally hold myself back from knocking people out of my way, running as fast as I could over the final hundred yards. 

Just after the 5:10 mark you can see a giant beard in an orange Arc'teryx hoodie break to the edge of the pack. That would be me.

    With friends cheering me on for the last hundred feet, I crossed the finish line with arms raised in triumphant and almost defiant celebration.

    Crossing the finish line and collecting my medal I almost broke into tears. Never in my life have I exerted myself like that, and much to my surprise I felt really good, physically and mentally. Somehow, the last five years prepared me to take on a challenge like I could have never otherwise imagined.

    My actual chip time turned out to be 2:08:08 or a 9:46/mi average pace; faster than I’ve ever averaged before, even in my training runs. It looks like running with a crowd really paid off, and now I’m already looking for my next half marathon. Maybe next time you’ll join me?

    While I usually run in The North Face’s Better than Naked (BTN) shorts, a tech tee and Merrell Trail Gloves, because of the inclement weather I found myself wearing a North Face Reaxion Amp Tee, North Face’s Isotherm Wind Stopper pants, Smartwool PhD run socks, North Face Kilowatt shoes, and an Arc’teryx Squamish Hoodie to shed rain and repel wind. Apparently it all worked pretty well, because I lived to tell about it.

~Hadley W. -General Manager

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