The race started two hours later than the Phoenix Half Marathon, but it still took more effort than I feel comfortable to admit to rise from my bed on a Sunday and head out the door while everyone else slept. The morning after St. Patrick’s Day, and, for the first time in my adult life, I was clear headed. I ate a bowl of oat meal and drank a cup of coffee before driving to Tempe Town Lake.
This was only my third half marathon race, but I could tell weeks prior to the event that it would be much smaller than the previous two. There was exactly one email sent prior to the run providing race day information. The day before the race I showed up to Roadrunner to pick up my race packet and had difficulty finding the registration booth in the store. The Phoenix Marathon and Rock N Roll Marathon both had large expos with thousands of people and vendors lined everywhere.
The 2nd Annual Shamrock Half Marathon was a small event with roughly 200 half marathon runners and a few hundred more participating in the 10K, 5K and dash, which I believe is a mile. I showed up about an hour before the event to make sure I had time to use the restroom – the bane of all runners’ existence. However, when I showed up it was just a few dozen people milling about. Runners of all ages were dressed in their best festive attire, but I opted instead for running tights – which I’m still getting used to – and a long-sleeved shirt. The wind was persistent and it was the coldest day in a week, but manageable.
The run coordinator announced for runners to line up behind the start line 5 minutes prior to the 8 a.m. start, so people started slowly making their way. There were no corrals like the previous races, just a gaggle or semi-awake weekend warriors looking to get in a good run. I was under no illusion that I would beat my personal best on this course. The race was a two-loop course with some pretty decent inclines. The day before the race I did a 7-mile hike at the Granite Mountain State Park with my 30lbs daughter on my shoulders for 4 hours. The day before that I ran a 10-mile trail run through the mountains near my house, so my legs were spent before the race even began.
I’m 34, and I often wonder what might have been if I had dedicated myself to running earlier in life. I’ll never be a competitive runner, but I’ve been able to maintain some of my athleticism over the years. The race started, and I slowly made my way toward the start line while I fiddled with my iPhone. A new audiobook – Sam Harris’ “Waking Up” – would see me through the next few hours. Already in pain, I hoped just to finish under two hours.
A group of about 15 runners immediately shot to the front of the group wading through the less mobile – I was among them. A mile in my phone let me know I had 12 more to go, and the mental games came on strong. My first mile was just below an 8-minute pace. I was really dragging, and my legs felt heavy. However, I pushed through with the help of Harris’ book on meditation. His voice is meditative, which compounded with the content of his book helped me acknowledge my discomfort but also realize I was above it. I’ve run this mileage before and at a much faster pace.
It took a couple of miles but ability groups naturally began to form. There were the top five or so runners who were running at about a minute a mile faster than I was. The second tier was where I ran. Behind me was a group I like to call the persistent but ungifted runners – dedicated runners who just aren’t fast. The last group consisted of the older runners and walkers. After the first turnaround I spotted a man in his 70s wearing a kilt. He wasn’t walking but shuffling along at a steady pace. If he could do it then I was determined to conquer my inner bitch.
A half marathon isn’t ridiculously long, but it is the point at which you have to take running somewhat seriously and determine if you’re willing to constantly quell your desire for comfort for hours on end. I remember contemplating during a 3-mile run in the Marine Corps’ physical fitness test stepping on the side of my foot to sprain my ankle, so I wouldn’t have to run anymore. When I was younger I only wanted comfort, which was something that often alluded me in my youth. I think about those moments when I run now. I think about how weak minded I was to have wanted to give in so easily considering my body’s ability to perform when I was younger.
I was about 10 miles into the run and had been battling a few runners over the course of several miles. One guy ran past me and I was determined not to let him out of my sight. He started walking a few minutes later. A half mile after that the same happened to a woman who decided to sprint past me. It’s awful, but I had the biggest Cheshire grin on my face as I past them knowing I could preserve. The last few miles it was just me and another runner. She kept sprinting ahead of me only to slow down. I kept looking at my watch and tried to maintain the same pace. But, on the final mile whatever crack she took before the race kicked in and she rocketed ahead. I was a little bummed, but I kept my pace. As she passed me I notice on the back of her shirt it read ‘If you catch me, you can kiss me.’ My face is reminiscent of a slobbering Bull Mastiff when I run, so I suppose that was her motivation to push that last mile.
I crossed the finish line with a pace of 7:37. Not my fastest time, but I was pretty happy. I typically grab whatever freebies the vendors are passing out after the race then head home. However, there wasn’t much going on beside Gatorade and bananas. I stuck around anyway having noticed my coworker was running the 10k. I wanted to congratulate her when she finished. Wandering over to a set of computers I typed in my bib number to see how I had done. To my surprise I placed first in my age group, 11th overall and 7th out of all male runners. I was pretty ecstatic. I started running for health and the meditative relief I get from it, but I hadn’t anticipated placing or winning anything. Of course, the voice of doubt immediately made itself known. ‘It was a small race. Real runners drank the night before. You were still only 11th place and four women beat you.’
However, when my wife texted me back, the negative voices faded away. I could tell she was generally proud of me. The hours running and getting up at 4 a.m. weren’t pointless. I’ll never win the Boston Marathon, but on that day, I won the admiration of the people I loved who throughout the day poured in the congratulations. I felt pretty awesome, something I generally never feel. I showered and went to a local favorite of mine to celebrate with my family. My wife paid for the meal, and my cousin bought me a pitcher of beer. I may have celebrated St. Patrick’s Day a day later, but it was the best way I’ve ever celebrated the Apostle of Ireland.