From the Archives: Reflections on an Untrained-for Half Marathon

For nine years, I was a competitive runner. During those nine years, I experienced various successes along the way, including

  • 5 trips to national cross country and track meets,
  • “hardware” for placing fourth in an NJCAA Indoor T&F 4×800 meter relay,
  • multiple top 5 finishes during my high school career,
  • team captain-ship, and
  • enough memories to last a lifetime.

A multitude of memorable moments, though, came from what can be deemed “failures”:

  • J. vomiting on the back of the charter bus somewhere outside Des Moines . . . and yours truly cleaning that vomit;
  • Epic Steeplechase Fail No. 1, in which Renee nearly breaks her shin but manages to focus on the fresh blood on her new socks rather than the flesh wound;
  • Epic Steeplechase Fail No. 2, in which Renee learns the mechanics of balking . . . and nearly breaks her ankle; and,
  • The First Half Marathon.

That last bullet point takes the cake on Stupid Running Things I’ve Done, though both steeple incidents present a tough case for second. I retired my track spikes in May 2011, and I was ready to focus on my degree and run when I damn well please. Though I knew I would miss the world of lactic acid, post-workout nausea, early morning runs in the freezing winter air, and the right to eat whatever I wanted, I was ready to be free.

Foolishly, I convinced myself that I would take a month off. It will do you worlds of good to get some rest, I said. Spend some time away from running and you’ll ease back into it once you ‘miss it,’ I said. Lawdy, lawdy, lawdy, was I wrong. Finding Motivation after one monthtwo months, five months away from my once-beloved sport was like finding a needle in a haystack. In July, I promised my mother that I would join her and her sisters in a half marathon to be held in October. Once a week, I would drag out my mud-crusted Brooks Launch 3s, pull on ever-tighter shorts, and burst forth from the front door, a trumpet fanfare resounding in my brain. Taking a deep breath of air, I would tell myself this is the day you fall in love with running again; this is the day! And with a series of gleeful cabrioles, I would take a painless six or seven steps forward. Those first few steps were so deceiving; after twenty minutes of running, I could be found on the streets of Hays doubled over, gasping for air, clawing at nothing in particular with disdain. (Okay, that might be a bit of an exaggeration; I was out of shape, but my “out of shape” is more along the lines of 8.5 minute pace per mile during “easy” runs.)

I had every intention of walking that half marathon during the three weeks that led up to the event. I knew that I could rely on cardiac arrest or an asthma attack to punish me if I decided to run part — yes, just part — of the 13.1 miles. But when I arrived at the starting line (or some three hundred meters back, thanks to the bulging multitudes,) my alter ego bitch-slapped me across the face and said, Girl, you ain’t gonn’ walk no thirteen miles. Damn well better be warmin’ up to run that shit. And with a voice like that ringing in your ears, just try to tell me you would walk that half marathon. Just try.

Remarkably, halfway through the race I was still moving strong. I was smart enough not to sprint from the start, wild-eyed and frothing at the mouth, like a true newbie. I remained ridiculously level-headed through the horrific hills (coming from Flatland, hills were something unexpected), and even at eight miles I managed a smile — or a grimace — once or twice through my gasping groans. At 11.5 miles, I couldn’t believe that I was still alive; nor could I see straight. I passed several pace groups and focused on making the next blurry object in front of me my next victim. My inner athlete suffered an insatiable thirst for victory, and at some point, I even entertained the notion that I would cross the finish line in a respectable time.

I managed to complete the half marathon at 8:20 minutes per mile pace, which is nothing to be embarrassed about after a five month leave of absence from running. What I did not manage to escape, though, is the excruciating hell of lactic acid, burning muscles, and tightness that was Renee for three whole days. You know how your muscles get kind of sore the day after a run when you haven’t worked out in a while? I had no grace period. Literally, the moment I stopped running, my body gave itself the bird and let out a whimper of agony. I needed help to sit down on the toilet. I needed help to get back up from the toilet. I needed help to get into the van, I needed someone to undress me and untie my shoes and take off my sports bra. I repeat: There was no grace period, whatsoever.

One years later, I’m finally making an effort to make running a part of my life again. I’ve struggled to maintain consistent training for the past 11 months (you can bet your buns I took a break after that half), but I’m finally beginning to fall in love again. I can assure you, though, I will never again make the mistake of listening to my inner athlete after five months of rest when something like 13.1 miles is on the line — and I hope, after reading this, you never will either.

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