I have Harriet to thank for this one. She asked me and a few others in our circle if we wanted to join her in registering for the Helderberg-to-Hudson half marathon scheduled for April.
I initially scoffed at the idea. My days as a runner have been dwindling in recent years. Various age, injury, overuse, and motivational factors have taken their toll on my “elite runner” status. It was almost exactly two years ago I was bemoaning The Inevitable Decline and urging everyone to continue participating in a sport they love for as long as they can because once you’re done, you’re done, there’s no going back.
I felt that way about running: there was no going back. I was down to about two runs per week, maybe six miles total. How could I even consider running 13.1 miles?
I told Harriet I’d think about it.
And then I started testing myself. For a month, I ran three days a week. I tried a four-mile run, then a five, then a six. Body parts hurt, but I wasn’t getting injured while increasing my distance. Could I work my way back up to the half-marathon length? Endurance—the ability to keep going when I’d rather quit—is one of my strengths. It’s a requirement for novelists and distance runners.
Yesterday came my first test. I decided to run a 10K race sponsored by the Hudson Mohawk Road Runners Club. How long has it been since I’ve run in an actual race? Seven years? Ten? I’m not sure.
I finished the race and didn’t feel awful. I also realized how much I missed the experience of gathering with other runners pre-race, assembling at the starting line, the horn going off, people running all around me, those first breathless moments, and the nagging self-doubt.
I had forgotten how much I missed the mental zone of running distance. Everyone talks about meditation these days, but I’m not a good meditator. I’m not one of those people who can sit in one spot and get my mind in that heady space and come out the other side refreshed and renewed. But I am one of those people who can embrace the running mindset. Focusing on breathing and stepping and strides. Counting. Repeating mantras. Run tall, run light. Chin up shoulders back hips forward. Get to that next sign, that tree in the distance, the crest of that hill. Breathe. Step. Breathe. Step.
It’s a unique feeling crossing the finish line. The pain is behind you; your goal is complete. Self-doubt and regrets vanquished. My race time was better than I expected and not nearly what it used to be. I can accept that. I saved a little something and my last two miles were my fastest ones.
I felt decent afterward, although I spent most of the afternoon on the couch, which proved less relaxing than I’d hoped because we were watching the Bills almost lose to the underdog Dolphins.
I’m starting to believe I can work my way up to the half-marathon length. I’m starting to think maybe I can do some things I thought I’d never do again or never do at all: take that epic hike to the top of a mountain or along the Appalachian Trail. Ride my bike around all the Finger Lakes. Maybe even write another novel?
It’s like a door that had been mostly closed has opened again.
I’ve even written a novel featuring a runner, The Finish Line. You can read the first chapter right here. For free. For pleasure. For the experience.