Guess who’s still alive?!

Ok scratch that, because there are over six billion right answers to that question. BUT – if you guessed me, you are especially right! People, the half-marathon is over, and I survived. Let’s talk about this, because it’s a fairly monumental occasion.

Now before we get started, let’s get something straight: I am used to doing strange things in the name of competition. I was an Irish dancer for most of my life, and competitive Irish dancers do weird stuff. We glue our socks to our legs. We tape the toes of our shoes in black duct tape. We wear curly wigs. We dress up like long-sleeved Vegas showgirls. I always assumed that Irish dancing was one of the stranger athletic endeavors in which one could participate, but this weekend I learned that runners are equally odd. The evidence is as follows.

There is no other classification that befits the habits and behaviors of hard-core runners than “odd.” In what other context does a fanny pack become a piece of athletic apparel? When else do jelly beans become power food? For what other purpose does one rise at 4:00am and immediately down a Powerbar and a Gatorade, an experience that can only be likened to eating a savory brick and washing it down with a melted popsicle? During what other athletic event do you see players running off the field to fertilize a nearby bush, in full view of innocent spectators? I was not familiar with these running rituals before this experience but now that I have been introduced to the many nuances of competitive distance running I can say with assurance that Irish dancers are not the only quirky kids on the block.

I can also say with assurance that runners are some of the nicest people you will ever meet. And you know why? It’s because they are the only people who understand how much pain you’re in mid-race and how good it feels to finally cross the finish line. Empathy and encouragement flow freely and in generous doses along the course, and I was ever so thankful for this camaraderie as I was hoofing it mile after endless mile.

Which brings me back to the point of this post: the race. Brace yourself…because I’m about to knock your socks off. Ready? The race…was fun! Seriously. If you strapped me to a lie detector, it would verify that statement. The fun was due in large part to the wonderful company I was blessed with; my parents came down for moral support and my friend/college roommate/outstanding roadtrip buddy Bethany actually agreed not only come with, but to run it too! My advice to anyone who wants to take on the beast of running? Take it on with a good friend. It makes all the difference.

Said difference was made when we were at the starting line and a marathoner next to us started making casual pre-race conversation, asking us where we were from and how long we’ve been running – the norm. When she heard it was our first time at the Charlottesville Half-Marathon and first half-marathon ever she responded with, “Oh, you’ll love it! It’s a nice hilly course.” Apparently this would be good news to hard-core runners, which would explain her inappropriate use of the word “nice,” however, for us it was kind of like being told that they added 18 new sections to the SAT right before we sat down to take the test. This revelation would have been far more disastrous without a friend alongside, but as it was we just laughed a lot because we knew there was nothing we could do to avoid the devastation that was about to befall us.

After taking in our newly pained expressions, a guy in front of us tried to tell us that the hills were merely speed bumps. I really wanted to believe him.

It took about one minute after crossing the start line to reach the first speed bump and to quickly realize that this was indeed a hilly course. Bethany and I ended up getting separated fairly early on which worked out perfectly fine since we each just kept plugging along, and as I ran I chatted with other nearby runners and talked to God and took in the indescribable scenery. I kept running as real runners passed me. I kept running as old people passed me. I kept running as a guy with a full-size American flag shoved down his back passed me (this was a low point). I kept running as I ascended the biggest hill I have ever encountered and people who were walking passed me. I kept running as I ran past the return mile 9 and thought it was the out mile 6, only to be told after my exaltation that we were only on mile four. I kept running, and I kept feeling footloose and fancy free, happy to be challenging myself on a meaningful day in a beautiful place.

Until mile ten. It was at this point that I started having doubts about the likelihood of my finishing in respectable standing. Or finishing whilst standing at all. The hills killed me. I was so naive when I signed up for this. I sincerely thought that no one in their right mind would put the course over a hilly terrain. But as we previously ascertained, runners are a little crazy. So they put the course on the Virginian equivalent of the Swiss Alps. In desperate need of motivation and with only three miles left to go, I thought of two things: 1. All of the reasons why I wanted to do this in the first place and how once it was over I could officially check it off of my life to-do list, and 2. The impending promise of a peach milkshake from Chick-Fil-A. That, and the additional bonus that I could FINALLY drink coffee again after a 24 hour respite, pushed me on towards the finish line.

And the finish line – covered in an arch of green and white balloons, screaming with the cheers of strangers, enthusiastically spotted with people I love, glowing with the warmth of a long-awaited accomplishment – was well-worth the effort. My quads will never be the same and I think I may need to become an investor in Icy Hot, but starting a new year of life by finishing a lifelong goal is an experience I’m glad I didn’t talk myself out of.

The rest of the day was just as wonderful as the start; I really couldn’t have asked for a better birthday weekend. I think God delights in doing immeasurably more than we could ever ask for or imagine, and I am so grateful for his boundless love.

A final note: I think Bethany and I set a new record. Not in race pace or finishing time or anything related to running, but in being the only people to ever wake up earlier on the day after their half-marathon than the day of their half-marathon. And beyond waking up at 3:30am, we traversed five states in eight hours. That has to be a first!

Pictures and more stories from the road will be coming later this week (when my brain is not threatening to boycott if asked to function for any longer)!