“There are no shortcuts to conditioning. There are no shortcuts to mental toughness.”
~ Bill Belichick
I couldn’t resist the itch of not running a race by mid-training season or waiting until December to run the OUC Half Marathon right after I signed up for MarathonFest’s summer session in June. No way!
It’s week-18 of training; my first half marathon of the season, and I’m feeling more nervous than excited. The nervousness came because I’ve over-sighted the possibility of over-training, and unfortunately, that’s exactly what happened. I’ve been dealing with right hamstring/quads soreness since week-13; such discomfort just didn’t want to go away. It got a bit better, but I was not 100% for this race.
Through soul-searching, I’ve come to realize I didn’t do the proper strengthening exercises for my lower body, didn’t stretch enough and didn’t rest enough. As human being, we tend to perceive that “more is better”. I got caught up in that perception instead of listening to my body and emphasizing “quality over quantity”. It’s a hard lesson to learn because the body does not lie. But had I not pushed to its limit, that lesson would not exist, and today, I am stronger because of it.
Luckily, it was a rather overcasted-cool morning to run the JAX at 68°F, 78% humidity and 7 mph WNW wind. I set my mind towards the positive, absorbed all the good vibes of texts from my running friends, and really just did what I’ve been doing since June – running. A PR in today’s JAX’s race was a tall order to ask, but it was a possibility I wanted to consider; however, disappointments were absolutely not allowed!
Kurt and I warmed up on our way from the EverBank Field stadium parking lot (I’d rather be at Gillette stadium) to the packet pick up stands and back to the car. We stopped for a bathroom break before heading to the corral. The energy was contagious and very emotional as a Marine performed the national anthem and the start of the race began with the sound of blasting cannon.
The adrenaline of the race kept me going strong even upon the sight of the first ramp towards the John T. Alsop Jr. Bridge going from 60 to 81 ft of elevation in the first mile of the race. Kurt kept close and paced himself really well. At the 2-miler, we faced The Acosta Bridge. At its 136 ft elevation, if not before then, we took our 2-minute walk break to conserve energy.
At the 10k-split (1:06:39, 10:37 pace), I thought my legs were moving well, considering the circumstance, but my average 178 bpm heart rate was ridiculous off the chart trying to supply fresh blood to my sore muscles. At the 8-miler mark, some cool JAX’s residents handed out ice pops. I couldn’t be more grateful for a boost of frozen-juicy-sugar-water!
At the 10-miler with 1:45:16 into the race at a horrible 11:00 pace, I literally saw the tip of the wall. Kurt’s legs, lungs, and heart were stronger than mine so he kept running away from me to earn his PR of 2:16:58 and first nipple bleeding experience! Sure enough, the wall was there waiting for me at 11.1-miler in the form of a steep spiral ramp under the Acosta Bridge. I paused. I took a deep breath. I rolled my eyes. I ran. At that point, I wanted nothing more than to cross the finish line; however, I briefly paused again. I felt good going down the spiral and the boost was much-needed.
I thought the wall was behind me, but not really. The 12-miler was my worst mile of the race as my pace increased to 11:15 with the clock ticking at 2:07:15. That’s it. There’s no way I could beat my 2:15:44 PR. The test for mental toughness was truly challenging me; questioning why I was beating myself, telling me to just stop and that I was not doing well enough. I acknowledged it and let it go. I kept moving while exhausting the energy I had. I saw many Marines cheering up runners at the 12-miler’s last stretch. I asked myself: how in the world do they find the strength and mental toughness to fight in wars as their lives depend on it? There’s no try. Either you do it or you don’t.
It’s a thought-provoking question that many of us cannot relate because we hardly expose ourselves to physical and mental challenges that defies our limit while pushing even further. I crossed the finished line in tears; something that had never happened before. I was overwhelmed by emotions. It was a “runner’s high” with a unique dose of gratitude, humbleness, compassion and respect. A 2:19:05 net time and 70th place out of 140 women in my age group, it’s a lot to be proud of.
“A runner must run with dreams in his heart.”