This past weekend, I ran my third half-marathon ever: the Philadelphia Half Marathon. I ran my first one in 2011, and signed up for my second in 2012, but had to drop out because of a broken ankle. I ran again last year and this year, signed up with the goal of beating last year’s time—even if just by one minute. My training was quickly derailed by excruciating knee pain (what was eventually diagnosed as IT-band tendonitis), but I refused to be sidelined by another injury. And if I was going to run, I was going to try for that new best time. My theory was that I could at least get through a few miles at a good pace before the inevitable pain set in and I’d have to slow down—but then, at least, I’d have those faster miles under my belt to bank, right?
I went into the race (with my dad and my older brother, Paul, by my side while my fiancé over-achieved and ran the full marathon), not having run in weeks, and prepared for terrible pain and the possibility that I’d have to walk part of the race, and maybe even drop out. But somehow, I managed to make it through the entire thing almost pain-free (I mean, aside from that whole my-legs-feel-like-lead-and-my-feet-are-tired-and-my-quads-can’t-take-this-anymore pain) and pull a new best time out of my ass. I thank Paul for that, because he ran with me and kept me motivated the whole time. (Also probably helpful: rest, weeks of ibuprofen and slightly stronger stuff from my doctor, and more ice-packs than anyone should come in contact with when it’s below freezing outside.)
Here, to share this lovely experience with you, I take you through my thought process during each of those 13.1 horrib-I mean, fantastic miles.
Pre-Start: F–k I’m freezing. And I’m tired. And I haven’t run without crippling knee pain in months. Why did I do this? Should I be rational and try to run slowly?
Mile 1: Alright, here we go. No turning back now. Just run, and thinking about finishing the race. But think about finishing it at your best time.
Mile 2: I really have to pee, already. UGH. I’m going to stop at this port-a-potty–wait, there are like 6 people waiting in line. F That, I’m not giving up that much of my time. But I have to drink water anyway. Where is it going to go???. Look at all those lucky guys peeing against the wall. Sometimes I wish I was a dude.
Mile 3: Dad’s dropped back but Paul’s still with me; I still have a buddy. And–is he singing? Yep, he’s singing. That’s weird.
Mile 4: The knee pain is going to start any minute now. It usually starts around mile 4 or 5. Is it possible I won’t feel pain during this race? Nope, not possible. I better just keep running, fast. That’s a reasonable approach, definitely.
Mile 4.5: I’m getting french toast at brunch.
Mile 5: Holy shit, Paul just told me our pace and I don’t believe it. We’re actually pacing ahead. I’ll tell him we can slow down a bit. That’s a relief.
Mile 6: We didn’t slow down. And Paul is still with me, thank God. And, wait, could it be? Yes, finally a port-a-potty with a minimal line. Time to speed-pee while holding my breath (ugh, port-a-potties), and then catch up with Paul. He said he’ll run ahead but slow down, so it should be doable.
Mile 7: OMG I can’t sprint much longer. Where the hell is Paul? I give up, I’m not going to find him. But I’m going to keep running kind of fast just in case.
Mile 8: There he is! I see his red hat! Okay, now that I’m caught up with him, my legs feel like lead. And I’m pretty sure the hills are starting soon. Yep, there’s one…this sucks. And here’s another. Ugh, why hills, why??
Mile 9: Wait, did we already hit the big hill? That wasn’t as bad as I recall…oh, mother-of-God, we didn’t. This is it. What would happen if I just walked up the hill? No, I can’t. If Paul is still with me, and has enough energy to rile up the spectators to cheer for us, I can keep running. Plus, we always have the downhill to look forward to.
Mile 10: THERE’S NO DOWNHILL. IT JUST LEVELS OFF. ALL IS WRONG WITH THE WORLD.
Mile 11: Is Paul still singing? How? How is he so cheerful when I kind of want to cry or punch my past self for signing up for this race?
Mile 12: Only one more mile to go. I’m just going to take this mile kind of easy, I don’t have it in me to sprint. Except, Paul keeps cheerfully encouraging me to keep going, speed up. Paul, don’t you understand I DON’T LIKE PEOPLE TALKING TO ME AT THE END OF RACES. I NEED TO FOCUS ON NOT CRUMBLING.
Mile 13: This is longer than a mile. Yeah, I know it’s technically .1 miles longer than a mile, but I mean, this is way longer than a mile. There’s just no way this is only a mile. It’s never ending. I can’t even see the finish line. This is cruel. I think it’s a trick.
Mile 13.1: OMG THERE’S THE FINISH LINE. Fine Paul, I’ll sprint but…I think I’ll probably puke once I cross the finish line.
Finish: Thank God that’s over. Did Paul just say our time was 1:51? OMG! I’m actually really proud of myself, and of my brother, and…wait a minute. Oh God, I whispered “Yes” to myself while crossing the finish line. The camera definitely caught that. My finish line photo is going to be so weird and ugly. Damnit.