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Training Recaps

That Time I Almost Walked Off Course Halfway Through a Race: 2017 Rock ‘n’ Roll D.C. Half Marathon Recap

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So that happened.

The headline is no exaggeration. I almost walked off course a little more than halfway through the Rock ‘n’ Roll D.C. Half Marathon. How do I put into words how I felt? Over it.

Over running the race, over the you’re (a little) more than halfway there, over running each mile, one mile at a time. Totally, utterly, completely over it.

I started wondering about the location of the nearest Metro, and dreamed about how I could just go home and sleep the rest of the day away. Screw the finish line, the medal, brunch.

I risked a glance at my watch, hoping those thoughts distracted me enough that I’d magically find myself farther along the course. I’d gone a whopping tenth of a mile.

This is gonna be a long race.

As I further contemplated the thought of walking away, I felt myself choke up. Just enough to feel that pre-tear sting in the eyes and for my throat to slightly close up. I needed to walk to regain my breath.

How’d I get here?

About 10 days out from the race, I wrote about my running rut, where even 3 miles felt like forever. I’d run into training burnout and denied it. To make matters worse, my training for the half wasn’t on where it needed to be, due to a combination of sickness, injury and skipping too many short runs for no valid reason.

I funneled my mental pre-race plan into helping my friend finish her first half marathon. She happily ran such an amazing race. The pace left me going out too fast, and we parted ways 1.5 miles in. I watched her disappear into the crowds ahead of me.

The thought of 11 solo miles hit me, but I focused on little milestones — the next water stop, the next mile marker, the big hill at mile 6.

I stuck with my plan to take walk breaks at water stops. I looked forward to the hill, because that’d always been a planned, long walk break.

A bit more than a half mile after that hill, I’d had it. I’d been struggling from the start, and I wanted to throw in the towel at the thought of running 6+ more miles. My pace slowed considerably after the first few fast miles, and my legs already ached.

When I choked up, I took a walk break to get my breathing back to normal and regain my mental composure. I scanned my body. Am I hurting so much that I shouldn’t finish the race? Am I risking injury? Am I too cold? (Temperatures were in the 20s with wind chills in the teens, which isn’t terrible but I hadn’t run in anything lower than 30 degrees all winter due to abnormal warmth, particularly in February.)

The answer to all those questions — a resounding no. My over-it feeling was entirely mental.

And with that I knew I couldn’t stop — I’d never forgive myself and I’d struggle in all my races to come, worrying I’d give up again.

Instead, I plowed ahead. I let myself take walk breaks on any hills, and later in the race whenever my legs required a break. When I hit miles 9 and 10, I knew I’d gotten over the worst of the hump. The knowledge only 3-4 miles remained eased my mental anxiety considerably.

Still, my legs screamed by the end — it felt like I was in the final miles of a marathon instead of a half marathon.

I didn’t experience that ecstatic feeling of crossing the finish line — I was simply happy to be done. By far, this was one of my slowest half marathons ever. My official time: 2:36:15.

While I was proud I didn’t give up, I still struggled post-race with my result. A year ago I’d run the same race in 2:00:48 — a PR that bested my first half and former PR on the same course in 2014. Five short weeks later after that shiny new PR, I ran another — this time a sub-2.

The comparison game is never good, especially when you compare yourself to yourself. It breaks your mind and heart down into little bits and spits them back out into millions of shattered pieces. It’s a lesson I continue to learn over and over again.