Runners too often ignore how important rest is to one’s training. No one could say that about me; the 2007 Dog Days 5K was my first race in 14 years. In between the two races, I’d graduated high school and college, had a son, been married and divorced, changed careers, run maybe 30 miles...and tacked on 30 pounds. Well-rested indeed. Although that race was a mere 3.1 miles, I never expected the journey I’d take from there and what it would mean to me along the way.
While it felt good to complete the challenging Dog Days course, I was discouraged with my time. You see, those who ran in high school or college must grapple with the unreasonable idea of being just as good as you once were, when running was your only job and your body had yet to understand the concept of mutiny. We must overcome this idea to recapture the joy of running. Some never do.
After running another 5K, I wanted to challenge myself in a way I never had, so I set my sights on a half-marathon. I’d never run that far before and truly didn’t know if I could. I decided on the Austin Half Marathon, booked the tickets and began training.
Fighting through a couple of training setbacks, I arrived in Texas having only gone as far as an 11-mile long run. I began the race on that cold mid-February morning in 2008 among 15,000 runners. It took 30 minutes for the pack to thin and as the miles ticked away, I became more relaxed, trying to soak in the experience. Amid the cheering crowds at mile nine, a runner’s high washed over me in a way it never had before, and has not since. This elation drew tears of pride and accomplishment, as it was in that moment that I knew, no matter what, I would finish this race. The last 5K wound through a grueling array of hills, testing my mettle in ways unexpected. Sprinting through the finish drew tears once more, as I felt perhaps the greatest sense of personal accomplishment in my life. Running was magical that day, more meaningful than it had ever been and yet, this feeling had nothing to do with my time.
This Valentine’s Day, 2010, most of my friends were at home, running the Gainesville full or half marathons. I wanted to be there too, but was again drawn to the Austin half. I think I was trying to recapture that elusive high I felt two years prior. Once again, my training has not gone as planned, but I had a goal I thought challenging but achievable.
As my alarm clock went off that morning, it took everything I had to drag myself out of bed. The race began and before finishing the first mile, I ran through the list of reasons why I should pull out. To borrow from Yogi Berra, running is 90 percent mental, the other half is physical; this was going to be a long day.
I wore the Florida Track Club singlet, and was proud to represent our club, being careful not to cover the logo with my number. I didn’t start how I’d planned, however, and I was getting frustrated and embarrassed...but after three miles, as the pack began to thin, something changed for me; I heard someone yell, “Go Florida!” It happened once, then again as complete strangers saw the FTC logo and cheered me through. At the 10K mark, there were hundreds of spectators screaming out to me, and I felt something I never had before. Magic struck in Austin and once again, this feeling had nothing to do with time.
Not quite two and a half years since my first race back, I’ve dropped five minutes from my 5K time...and those 30 pounds. When I think of when running has been most meaningful to me, very little had anything to do with my time. Meaning has come the through struggle and success. Meaning has arrived in the friends I’ve made along the way. I’ve run three marathons, four halves, and been part of a team that’s run across the state twice. I haven’t beat my high school times and maybe I never will, but I sure have enjoyed the ride.