Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Marathon Mania

And so, the marathon has come to an end. Figuratively and literally. 

This past weekend I was back in Pittsburgh (where it all began) to complete my second Pittsburgh Half Marathon, my third half to date. Per my usual self, I was nervous, but this time I was more "laid back nervous" (what does it say about you when you have varying degrees of neurosis)? This laid back nervousness consisted of being unsure of whether I was properly prepared, but too tired, lazycranky, short for time, to do anything about it. As finals and final projects wrapped up I couldn't decide where to focus my energy; graduating or crossing the finish line. As it turns out, it was a bit of a split effort. My training schedule took the biggest hit though, as failing there wouldn't result in lack of a degree.

So, the big day arrived Sunday and it was ready or not. My unspoken goal was to break 2 hours 10 minutes. At my last half I had shaved 7 minutes off my original time and hit 2:13, so I figured breaking 2:10 was the next logical goal for someone who was half heartedly training. To be honest, I was prepared to be disappointed and meet my November time of 2:13...at best. 

As my sister-in-law, boyfriend, and I woke at 5:00 a.m. I was as ready as I'd be. Obnoxious green shorts (to identify me in a sea of 25,000 runners), check. Bib, check. Sporty hat, check. Entering the city I felt the same rush and sense of excitement as before. It did something for my confidence, but I was still concerned.

As the gun went off, I wished my sister-in-law well as she darted ahead of me, and settled into 2+ hours of conversation...with myself. Around mile 3, the day grew hot and it seemed the water stations were moving further from one another. Turns out I had only prepared about 90 minutes of conversation between me, myself and I, and at mile 9 I hit a big wall. An, "I may actually have to walk this out" wall. But I carried on, scolding myself for getting myself into this yet again. As the miles hit the 10, 11, 12 marks the hills were steeper and more frequent. I knew the last mile was all downhill, and thank god, because it was the only thing getting me to that bright yellow mile marker. I imagine I looked hilarious moving at a pace which could only technically be classified as still "running." But at least I was moving.

As I hit mile 12, I checked my time and was still in line to finish close to my 2:10 goal if I hurried. Thank god I could see the finish line. My legs felt like jello, I don't even think my mouth was producing saliva at this point, but I went as fast as my legs (and Eminem) would carry me. 

To my surprise, I crossed the finish line with a final time of 2:10:17. Easy to be disappointed that I didn't break my goal, but still in shock that despite my worrying, and lack of training, I had still improved by 3 minutes from my November time. 

It was only after I was back at my brother's house, relaxing from my grueling day at 11:00 a.m., that I finally realized what I'd accomplished. For the first time in months I felt totally relaxed. I had not only surpassed my goal, despite my self doubt, but I realized that I had accomplished something not many people do. Not just with my personal goal that morning, but elsewhere. Not everyone runs a half marathon, or elects to continue their education. Not everyone can push through their training, whether it be 12 weeks, or 2 years, or the 6 years it took to get me where I am today. Not everyone can conquer a marathon, let alone what can feel like multiple marathons at once. 

I felt a sense of relief, and accomplishment, that in one week I had continued to test a major personal challenge (becoming a runner), and would walk across the stage to receive a masters degree, a major professional accomplishment. A tale of two marathons if you will; one literal and one figurative. 

Crossing the finish line on Sunday wasn't just about the running, it was about realizing I was a successful finisher. Not just on the course, but elsewhere. Other challenges will surely present themselves, but today I can breathe easy. The marathon is over. 

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