It’s Possible ~ Race Day Report

It’s Possible ~ Race Day Report

Awoke at 6:15am, turned on the coffee pot, showered, yoga, next I read some e-mails.

Check the temperature, it was currently 52 degrees at 7am, this changes how I need to dress.  I thought I would have been running in the mid-30’s for November in Pittsburgh. Run upstairs (trying not to wake the wife) and swap out shorts for pants and a bandana for a winter hat.

Poured myself a cup of coffee, filled up my travel mug for the drive out and fueled the body with a slice of peanut butter toast.  Pinned my race number to my shirt.  Wool toe-socks on, five-finger shoes on my feet and I’m out the door to run my first half marathon (or so I thought).

The morning air was warm and sweet with the last of the fragrance from leaves adding to the aroma. The morning twilight was starting to burn off, hints of pinks and purples lined the horizon.  The sky was filled with long drifts of white clouds splashed upon a canvas of blue (great day to take photos).  To my left hanging in the sky there was a full moon, sitting there in the empty space, no clouds to obstruct the view, only a rock in the sky to remind us that we all share this one planet. I often wonder if there were multiple moons in the atmosphere if that wold change our view on how we treat this planet. If we were to see three uninhabitable moons sitting there, corpses of dead planets, would that change us?

I arrive at North Park 15 minutes before race time, for a few moments I became fearful that I would be late because of morning park traffic caused by a duck crossings...ducks are not fast.  This then followed up by a herd of deer crossing the road.

Find a parking spot and head down for the pre-race kick off rally. This is only my second time running a race, never before was I in this environment. The room was electric, high energy to say the least. All ages, all sizes and all types of crazies filled up the room.

The race director stands up on a table and goes over the race rules: be nice to other runners. That was it.  Then he goes on to talk about changing the course route, it will now be a 16 mile run, not 13. WHAT? I have never ran more than 13 miles in my life.  The crowd gives a grumble of disappointment, a few cheers but not many. Later towards the end of the race I would discover that the entire course would cover closer to 18 miles.

Mile 1 - 6
Shot gun start and we’re off.  I see a man wearing a race t-shirt from a 50 mile race. “OK”, I think to myself, “I will let the ponytail guy set the pace for me, I will gently follow his lead.” The race started with a long run up a hill (a foreshadow of what is to come). This would be the only time that I would be on pavement for any stretch of time. Atop of the hill we turn left and we are in the woods. This part of the race was great; the landscape was beautiful with genteel rolling hills and sun still on the horizon to our left. We ran verging on military in style: quiet and in a long line formation. We came out of the woods to the first aid station.  My time was 6 miles in 54 minutes, I was more than happy to say the least. Drank down a small glass of water and on to the next leg of the run.

Mile 7-11
This is where the pack of runners broke apart and I found myself running by myself. This felt like trail running: virtually alone in the woods with the soil under my feet and a still mind to guide me through the path. I could see runners in front of me in the distance and a few behind me but never would I pass or be passed for the entire route. This is the part of the trail that I knew from my days of hiking with my dog.  One of the longest hill climbs of the day would be during this section. As I approached the climb I could see a long line of runners walking the hill (“Thank God”, I think to myself because in no way did I want to attempt running that monster of a hill).  I did get the chance to have one conversation on the hill climb. It was with the 50 miler-ponytail-guy from the start of the race. He told me about how extremely difficult this course is and that he is using today as practice for future 50 miler (I would hear more conversations like this as the race went on). Atop of the hill the ponytail guy takes off and I am again by myself, just soil and thoughts to keep me company.

At the end of mile 11 my time was 1hour and 43 minutes. I jogged into the aid station. PB&J sandwiches, pretzels, chips, candy, different colored watery drinks...think of a 5-year old’s birthday party. They had it, I needed it. Downed a couple of drink, ate half of a PB&J and discovered how out of my element I was.

As I rest and eat and talk with the other runners, I start to question if I picked a race greater than my ability. I have a conversation with man training for his “next” Ironman competition, a retired Navy Seal and two others training for their next 100 mile race.  As for me, I am training for nothing; all the training I did was to get me to this point in the race.

I am flooded with feelings of insecurity about my abilities, but on the other hand a sensation of “Damn...I am hanging with a Navy Seal, an Ironman competitor and a couple of ultra distance runners.”  This would be the last time of the day that I would be with this group of people; I’m pretty sure they were home, showered and eating before I would even complete the race.  But hey, I hung with the those people for 11 miles. That felt great.

Mile 12-13 (13.1: the goal mile)
After leaving the aid station the trail was lined up with runners back into military formation.  This part of the trail was all about elevation: you were either going up a hill or coming down a hill.  The leaves that lined the ground became as slippery as ice with all the foot traffic pressing them into the ground. Footing became challenging.  Only once did I fall during the entire day and it was during this part. I was going down hill and luckily there was a tree to break my fall (ouch).

Mile 13 at 2 hours and 7 minutes.
I did it. I ran my first half marathon.  Alone in the woods with only a phone app to give me any sense of accomplishment.

Mile 14 to the Finish.
This is where things got painfully hard. Mentally I was done. Marathon goal reached...despite the rest of the miles to the end.

The terrain continued to be rough. Zig-zags of climbing hills. My phone battery went dead at mile 15, 2 hours and 33 minutes into the race.

At this point I have run two miles further than at any time before and was on my legs a half hour longer than ever before until now.

I ran up next to a lady all in black and she asked me how my toe-shoes were treating me. I told her good.  She politely asked me to pass her because she just ran a 50 mile race yesterday and she did not want to slow me down.  I smile at her and say “God Bless you for the motivation” and she tells me “It’s possible”.

On the next down hill I came out of the woods back to the the starting point.  My wife, daughter and father were there to cheer me on. “I did it”, the breathless words came out of my body. My father went to get me some fluids, my daughter played in the park and I looked into my wife's eyes.

“It’s possible” I think to myself. Nine months earlier my wife and I were trying to figure out life if I became immobile.  There I stood in pain, not from the disease but from the effort of living.  Having control over your pain, to know where it’s coming from, to know that you are stronger than disease is intoxicating.  Pain from effort feels so much better than pain from a transfixed, motionless state of mind due to some course of disease that you think you must follow.

After the race, I’m home laying on the sofa, my wife comes downstairs to share an e-mail with me that we received. The e-mail is from a woman in the medical industry who is taking care of a Multiple Sclerosis patient. She shares with us the condition of her patient’s progression. Not good.  Then she goes on to share with us that she has been reading my writings to her patient and the improvement that is starting to blossom in her. She is starting to stand on her own and exercise. This brought tears to our eyes. My wife cried as she read this to me.  All we could think was thank God that my condition has never progressed that far, and thank God that my story, my words, were a source of inspiration to her.

To end my race day with such a message of hope was a remarkable moment for both me and my wife.
That is the goal of running: not the miles or time but the awareness of possibilities that live in all of you.

This is what I want to share…..It’s possible….whatever you want is possible.  Living with a disease is nothing special. Do not give your body, mind and soul to something that is not special.  Live your life with the heart of a servant with the strength of fighter….


Next race Thanksgiving morning.