First Responders Half (2018)

Distance
Race Status
When
2 years 4 months ago
Where

“It was windy.” …was how I’ve described it to anyone and everyone who asked. In that reply, I suppose, is embedded the obvious conclusion that the wind was a factor in my result. Rather, and contrary to that bit of evidence, I would suggest that it just was windy. Not a windyness factor. Just, it was windy. The wind was blowing. Statement. Fact. Because the simpler truth is that such as statement is the nearest I’m able to come to conveying a simple relatable aspect of the race itself.

Rewind.

Since running New York Marathon in 2016 I’ve been wallowing in something slightly less relatable than a windy day: a slump. A trash fire of progress. A mid-life re-evaluation and re-focus.

Training for that NYC event took a lot out of me. I wouldn’t have thought it as I signed up for it, and it in and of itself neither the race nor the training was really the blame. I’ve tried since to avoid showing my slump. Failing. But trying. And truth be told, if honesty is actually worth anything, there is a span of time from August 2016 through January 2017, when, for about a thousand reasons — and yes, THAT reason and THOSE reasons and HUH reasons are mashed in there somewhere too — that caused my emotional life to go into something of a spin.

The reasons, in no particular order: Life. Family. Running. Hobbies. Friends. Hope. Fears. Running. Music. Work. Dog. Art. Passion. Pain. Food. Politics. And did I mention Running?

That New York race was the culmination of a summer of training, a passion-fueled, pain-driven prelude to this now-very-clearly demarcated transitory chunk of time in my life. It’s not a moment. It’s a span, but like a marathon a slog of epic proportions aligned with an effort of will and pain and self-doubt and resolve. It is a span from which I have only lately come to full grasp, realize, understand, process mentally, I’ve emerged as a fundamentally changed person. Reconcile that, huh?

And you thought you were just going to read about a half marathon here.

I’ve run training and run relays and run races since. Obviously. Those efforts were unanimously classic messes. Slow. Painful. Frustrating. Messes.

No one asks for change, and usually as it’s happening either through will or on accident or in a state of diverted misattention to the whirlwind of events that sweep through the universal story slog of life, one barely recognizes it as anything more than personal discomfort. Bad days. Moods. Slumps.

Then one middle of the night you wake, sit up in bed and realize that the guy who put his name into the NYC marathon lottery in early 2016, that guy, him, is this guy you don’t even recognize and that all the little pieces that make up all the days, and klicks, and spent calories since, all of that has nurtured a narrative that is so clearly incongruent with personal prognostications barely two years old that life seems a little more random with every sunrise.

Pause… and that temporally catches us up to an actual race report.

I trained for the First Responders Half with a sense of impending judgement. In 2015, I ran this same race and it was –still is– my best half marathon time. In a sport where one’s most particular foe is oneself, I could see my former self, the guy who ran three marathons, trained with a blissful, innocent passion, fighting the twilight of his thirties with indulgent rituals of technology and fantastic adventure interlaced between the layer of something so mundane as plodding on asphalt, I could see him effortlessly sprinting past current-day me as I fought a year and a half of wallowing, trash-fire, slump.

I don’t bother to share these disjointed thoughts with the people around me, of course. It was just another race, after all. Just another half marathon. No one was going to get kicked out of run club for not breaking two hours, we joked. The stakes are a mass-produced medal-on-a-ribbon and a free banana, right?

The day prior I rested. I hydrated. I chilled. I re-evaluated my list of weekend chores and instead avoided anything that might wrench my back or aggravate the lingering blister on my toe.

I was awake at 5am. It was just another race, but in my head every race is a moment of clarity, a couple hours of transitory motion that puts a runner into limbo between starting and finishing, measuring every step as a crystal-clear evaluation of every other step that has preceded it.

I may have said something like “regret is a thing you only have when you don’t like where you are.” After all, if you are happy in the moment, happy in the place where you find yourself, how can you regret the path that’s brought you to that place and time.

Even if that path is a slump.

I plodded my way through the race, navigating great conversation, meticulous training, pounding through the busy paths, bracing against the wind, and shivering to the slight chill caused by an optimistic wardrobe. Then I broke away. I pushed a pair of white earbuds into the side of my sweaty head for the last eight klicks, finding myself solo against the final hills, the final miles, the final bracing push of the ticking clock, while upbeat rhythms pounded in my ears, and still full stride towards a finish line I sprinted across in one final heave.

Changed. Another race, another different person on the other side of a simple line on a road. This new guy no longer the guy in a running slump, but having finished a race confidently and at speed, negtive split, and medal well-won hung on my shoulders.

Running has long materialized itself in my heart as a powerful metaphor for life. Transformational. Indulgent. Cataclysmic. Meditative. A rolling narrative of people and effort and goals and accomplishments and failures and epic success. Then one middle of the night you wake, sit up in bed and realize that the guy who has been running in laps and loops and in plodding neighbourhood circles actually seems to have gotten himself somewhere. And you can either accept that fact… or you can look back at the start line and question everything.

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