The first half went smoothly. Perfect 62 degree weather. A forgiving course along the Lehigh River in Pennsylvania. Trees and shade, air and wind, quick steps and sweat in the sun: there is, in my humble view, simply no better way to spend a Sunday morning. And so it was that I felt good, just good, for 13 miles at 7:30 pace, just as planned.
At the halfway point, after miles of silence in nature, I found cheerful crowds. And Kelly. She handed me my Tailwind bottle, and told me I looked great. Maybe, I thought. But in truth my lungs and legs and digestive system were protesting. As in: refusing to keep that pace. Saying: we. should. stop. running.
A thought: I can simply pull out and give up, like two years ago. A counter-thought: no. I’d trained for this. Dreamed about it. Planned for it. Traveled from LA. After my surgeries and doubts and challenging recoveries I want this.
But first the stages of grief. Let me create the narrative right now, I thought after saying bye to Kelly. Hitting the trail again I slowed down. The denial (stage 1) was now behind me. I realized this was not the morning for anything like a personal best or a Boston qualifying time. Here was the anger (stage 2). I felt frustrated, cheated somehow by myself; how come I can’t hold this half-decent pace after all my hours of training and preparing? Bargaining (stage 3) was next: maybe if I slow down now, drink more, if I’m tougher on myself, if, if ,if. Around mile 16, a moment of shallow depression (stage 4) set in. I walked and felt my shoulders slump. I wondered how I might really stop and even disappear – from the race, from the world. I had to smile a my own ridiculousness. Kelly was at mile 20, I knew that, and that was where I was going. I remembered parts of the little list I had created for myself and tried to follow these simple tips from me to me:
Back and neck straight
Swing arms back
Controlled light steps
Be a gazelle
One mile at the time
Don’t give up
Think of NYC 2010
Acceptance (stage 5) came, thankfully, as I made my way through the woods, following runners who had earlier passed me, passing walkers, being passed by faster souls, and opening my gaze to what was around me. I realized I was very lucky to be here, now, doing this. Speed was not the issue, this run in Pennsylvania was – nothing more and nothing less.
This was one of the most beautiful courses and one of the best organized races I have participated in. Lovely all around – including terrific volunteers and free beer at the finish. If you’re anywhere close, go run it. Fly in if you have to, like I did. You may or may not qualify for Boston, but you will have experienced something special along the Lehigh River.