Friday, February 2nd was 3 weeks to my next big race and I really needed to complete my long-20-mile training run. Despite the 2017-2018 winter in Northern Utah being unusually warm, the conditions the first week of February were gloomy and rainy.
The forecast for Southern Utah was sunshine and 60’s so I asked my sweetheart if he be willing to cover things at home while I made a quick 24-hour trip. My right Achilles tendon had recently been irritated and inflamed, and I needed to see if it would be able to hold up to the rigors of a marathon. The plan was to drive south with a running buddy, get up early, run a half marathon, and if I was having no issues with my right Achilles tendon (pain, tightness, inflammation) I would run the full 20-miles and then immediately head home.
Saturday morning, we woke up early and headed out to the race. Coach Paul gave me strict instructions when I left home that I was to follow my prescribed pace of a 9:00-9:20 mile; reminding me that despite the warm weather, this event was simply a training run in nicer weather and NOT a race for me. He warned me that if I ran too fast, I’d risk re-injuring my Achilles tendon and my next race would be in jeopardy.
Knowing that I would need to run a half marathon and 7 more miles, I decided to run the race, and see how I felt when I crossed the finish line. If all was going well, I would simply turn around and run 3.5 miles back up the course and then turn around and run back to the finish line again, completing my 20-mile run. This plan had the advantage of bathrooms and aide stations (always a plus for me) and a well-marked course so I wouldn’t get lost.
On the bus ride to the starting line, I was nervous and worried about my tendon. I didn’t have the pressure of a time goal and knew I could finish a half marathon, but I worried how I would feel as I ran. As we drove out of St. George, the sun was just peeking up over the canyon, and cast a beautiful glow on the stunning red rocks. As I looked around at the scenery and the other runners on my bus, my thoughts wandered back to my very first race, a 5k I signed up for 9 years ago.
Coach Paul and I had set a goal that day to simply run the entire race without stopping. I thought about my running journey and how 9 years ago, the thought of running 20-miles seemed impossible. I thought about how much I had learned and changed. Today, I was hopefully going to be able to propel myself for 20-miles, and in 3 more weeks, only 6 more. As I looked around, my heart started to fill with gratitude.
I took a longer look at the other runners on the bus, and wondered what each of their own running stories were. Why were they running and what obstacles did they face in their lives? I decided to ask a few runners where they’re from and why they were running today.
I met the Freeze family who came all the way from Tennessee. They are running a half-marathon in each state.
I met the Durham running family from Wisconsin; they chose Southern Utah because they’d heard scenery was beautiful.
After the race started, I ran miles 3 to 5 with Frank, a business executive from Philadelphia who had been working in Las Vegas all week. He would be on a plane in Las Vegas flying back home at 3pm.
At mile 6, I met Ashley who was attending college at Southern Utah University and was engaged to be married. This race was her very first half marathon, and I could tell she was starting to drag. The next mile on the course was uphill, so I asked Ashley if I could run with her for a little while, hoping I could encourage her.
Ashley told me about her goals and her fiance who would be waiting for her at the finish line. Mile after mile we ran together; and at mile 10, Ashley told me she had never run more than 9 miles before. I told Ashley I knew she could finish.
When we crossed the finish line, I realized that I had no issues with my Achilles tendon, so I could run the additional 7 miles and complete my 20-mile run. As I saw Ashley with her fiance and headed back out to run up the course, I felt a deeper sense gratitude.
As I started back up the race course, I understood I would be running 3.5 miles with an uphill grade. At first, I didn’t think this would be a big deal, but as I ran, I felt the warmth of the morning sun and realized I was starting to get warm. I had just refueled at mile 12, so now I would have to wait and see if my gut would give me any issues. I grabbed a cup of water at an aide station, poured it down my back and kept running.
The miles started to drag on as my legs felt heavier. I remembered that sometimes when I hike with my kids, we play the gratitude game when we are hiking on a steeper part of the trail. We say things like, “I’m grateful for the ability to walk, because there are people who can’t do this…” Over and over we take turns saying something we are grateful for until the time comes when we can take a break.
As I started the gratitude game, I remembered how cold and dreary my run would’ve been at home and how much I appreciated my husband for supporting me. I remembered I wasn’t having any pain in my leg and how happy I was to be running in February wearing shorts. I remembered my gut hadn’t given me any issues. I looked around at the runners on the course that were mostly finishing marathoners and took a minute to think about each runner and wonder what their running journey was. I thought about all the different people I met this morning and how happy I was to be in their presence.
Soon I was turning around and only had a short 5k left. When I finally hit the downhill incline, I opened up my stride and realized that because I ran uphill, I truly appreciated being able to go down. When I finally finished my run, I was tired but happy. I was ready to return home to the cold winter weather and to my family who loves me.
In one week, I’ll get the opportunity to run in the warm sunshine of Phoenix, Arizona. I look forward to listening to my song list and thinking of all the wonderful people who’ve made a difference in my life. When I get tired, I look forward to running dedication miles on their behalf. There’s power in positivity, which I will need to draw upon as I hit my time goal.