The year kicked off to a strange start in my neck of the woods, leaving me a January with no paycheck and plenty of time. To escape the incessant headlines refresh, I kicked my butt outside most days to burn off some stress and log some miles on two feet.
I also had recently received a Garmin Vivoactive 3 with an integrated heart monitor from Santa so for the first time in about 10 years I began tracking my heart rate, as well as pace, during runs.
Once a week I would run a 15-miler, interspersed with shorter efforts, and after normal business resumed in February, I kept my long run routine going.
Regular yoga practice became another lifeline for stress management, and it also served to be an excellent counterbalance to the increase in miles. After about a month of this running and yoga combination, I started seeing my overall pace increase and my body just felt better than it had in a long time.
This progress motivated me to begin experimenting with pressing the pace on shorter runs to see how my body would handle it, and I then started whittling at my time on the long weekend runs. Over January and February, I watched my long run pace change from a steady 10:30 pace to sub-10 minute miles. It was so thrilling to feel this change in my body and to see it reflected in my running data.
In September of 2018, I had dragged myself through a completely flat marathon on a warm, but not overly hot day in just under 5 hours. On Saturday, the day of the D.C. Rock ‘n Roll Marathon, I showed up prepared to change my recent running narrative, more ready to go 26.2 than I had been in a long time.
I have been thinking a lot about acting with intention, as I spoke about in my last post, with an overarching theme of seeking possibility for the year. I used the unexpected time off in January as a way to focus on miles and gain strength physically. I humbled myself and committed to regular yoga.
In the last week, I’ve beeing feeling a need to approach each day’s activities from a place of love. Maybe this sounds crazy to you. It actually kind of does to me, as I write it. But I’m telling you, this intention was all I could think about as we started running on Saturday, so much so that I forgot to turn on my Garmin until I had completed most of the first mile and I ended up with an incomplete track for the day.
Rats, I thought at first, but I reset my watch and kept moving, confident that the marathon organizers’ tracking would show my full 26.2 time. The first half of the run seemed to fly by, except for that darn hill from Rock Creek up to Calvert. My body was feeling good and I settled into the event smoothly.
As we reached the midway point, I heard a young kid clap and say “You can do this!” It was said with such simple belief that I carried his sentiment with me into the miles to come.
The organizers have now completely separated the full marathon runners from those running the half, with the full particpants starting 90 minutes prior to those doing the half. In previous years, we would all go off at the same time and then you could hear everyone cheering at the finish, just as you were starting out for the second half. It was mentally tough, both to start among so many people and to keep going for another 13.1 miles while you know that most of the runners are finishing up and beating you to brunch.
I prefer the staggered start, but one of the other alterations to the course did not sit as well with me. This year, instead of starting the second half of the run by circling around downtown and meandering through a bit of Southwest D.C., we ran an out and back through part of Southeast and Fort Circle Park (hilly!) and into Anacostia Park (flat, thankfully!).
This change added a significant amount of elevation to the course, and I’m glad I didn’t pay more attention to the route until game day. The out and back also made the course easier for organizers I’m sure, but I generally find them less interesting as a participant.
On the upside, the mid-pack runners were able to see the more fleet of feet storming their way to the finish. The way they could push themselves up the hills was impressive. As for me, I did some walking and padding my way through, even though I still managed to keep pushing forward in ways that I would not have in years past.
Felkerino came out to cheer me at this segment as well, and that made the hills seem slightly less steep. It’s remarkable what a little bit of encouragement from a loved one will do for one’s mindset.
My momentary dreams of finishing within 4 hours and 10 minutes slipped away as I descended out of Fort Circle Park and stamped around Anacostia Park to then toddle my way through Fort Circle Park again.
I wonder how I would have done if I had not known that I would have a double dose of these hills. It seemed like just knowing I was going to have to deal with them twice slowed me down before I had even taken a step. Ah well, a lesson for the next time, I suppose – figure out how to run those hills!
I ran a lively final couple of miles and continued to feel strong as I pushed myself to the finish line. People were clapping and saying great job, and all the nice things people say when you’re finishing these events. One thing I’ll say for D.C., the running community believes in its runners!
Half-marathon finishers were still coming into the finish as well, but the organizers had set aside separate corrals for the full and half finishers. I took my last step at 4:12:58, an overall average of 9:40 per mile, and a personal best on this event by over 12 minutes.
By the end of the run, my heart was full. I put in the training miles and took on a fairly hilly (especially for D.C.) marathon course. Felkerino had come out to cheer for me. I had challenged myself to run faster and closer to my edge, yet still within myself.
I put the furlough way back in my rearview mirror and savored the accomplishment. I appreciated the day, the people who came out to run and spectate, and the changes made to the course – even though those changes introduced new challenges. I had still weathered them well.
Felkerino met me at the end with the tandem and we took a bike ride home together. I didn’t pedal very hard and I didn’t care. I was wrapped up in love and appreciation for the hours spent running around the city. What a beautiful day to be a runner.