I have been looking forward to this day for a long time, my very first half marathon — and I wanted desperately to say something to the effect of “…and it was sooooo awesome!” I really did, and I had all these hopes of reporting just how excellent of a run it was, finally achieving something half way towards my bucket list goal of running a marathon.

But it wasn’t awesome.  It wasn’t excellent.  And it most certainly wasn’t a highlight for me. No, it was really, really hard — it was the hardest thing that I’ve ever done.

Fitness Vader costumeThe idea was to run the Monster Dash Half Marathon in a pseudo Darth Vader costume, dubbed “Fitness Vader”, complete with Darth Vader mask, homemade LED-lit chest piece, cape, and black running gear. But matters became more complicated when I woke this morning to the sound of rain beating on the roof our house. I had checked the forecast for that morning and it was going to be a soaker throughout the entire half marathon.

Great.  Just great. Just the day before they were predicting only an 8% chance of precipitation and temperatures in the upper 40s. Instead we got a deluge of rain and lower 40s.

So I changed my game plan a little bit, put on a layer of C9 compression long-underwear under my tights so I’d stay reasonably dry and warm, and had a few layers on top — compression shirt, and two long sleeve running shirts.  Now that I’m typing this, I know it sounds excessive — and I know that now — but at the time my reasoning was simple:  stay warm, dude, so you don’t freeze out there.

Up to this point, I haven’t had to worry about dressing for frigid rainy conditions, so I haven’t really found out what really works for me and had to improvise as best as I could. And I think it’s fair to say that I was over-dressed.

But that wasn’t all that I had to deal with — I had a reasonably heavy mask, a cape, a water belt with electrolyte water and a toy light saber attached to it, and a homemade Darth Vader chest piece to boot.  I had tested it all out on a short backyard run and it seemed fine at the time (of course there was no rain either), but reality set in within the first mile that this wasn’t going to work in the rain. The neck strap that held up my chest piece became separated, the mask became unbearable to breathe in after a mile and a half, and the cape began to take on A LOT of water from the rain. It was just no longer tolerable, and my optimistic assessment of what I could tolerate was far from reality.

At about mile one or so, I had to flip the chest piece so that it’d stop flopping around and would be more stable. At mile one and a half the mask came off and it became an act of switching from one hand to the other carrying the damn thing as I ran. And at mile sixish I ditched my cape in what I thought was a discrete location (only to discover when I went back for it, that someone took it…jerks).  It was all just too much — yeah, it was fun to wear at the start, but it was just way too much.

The majority of the run was a series of random run-walk intervals, driven solely by how I was feeling at that moment — I did a lot of walking.  My legs felt tight, heavy, and I felt really sluggish — even after only four miles.  Six miles has become kind of my base mileage on my weekend runs, so it felt really discouraging when I was having a hard time running beyond that four mile mark.

Heavy. I felt so heavy.

I remember hitting mile seven — there was a bit of a hill there, and walked up that entire hill murmuring under my breath f**k this hill, f**k this hill. Still, I kept pushing on, and on.

Mile ten hit and all the ten-milers were branching off to their finish line, while the few of us half marathoners that were left trodded on alone, just a handful of us every few dozen yards. I nearly broke down thinking, why didn’t I just sign up for the ten-mile!? But I kept pushing on.

Walking. Running. Heavy. Feeling so heavy.

By the time I had past the 10-mile fanfare, I was back at it alone in my head with my thoughts and music that I had selected in the hopes that they’d keep me motivated. But all I could think about is OK, a little less than a 5K… you can do this….

I started counting down the quarter miles… 2.75 miles… 2.5 miles… 2.25 miles…

You can do this… This is your run around Long Lake, you can do this…

But it was so hard. I felt so heavy. Walking. Running. Walking.

Born to Run by Bruce Springsteen came on my playlist — that song usually motivates me to bust my ass in gear. It’s normally a great pick-me-up — but I felt the weight of the world on me, and not a single song could boost my morale. I wanted so badly for the 10-miler shuttles (that were cruising down to the “after-party” to pick me up)…. but I kept pushing on.

So heavy. I’m tired. My legs are tight and achy.  One foot in front of the other, keep going.

I then saw the finish line, finally in my sights and my walk turned into a slow, stiff, hobble-like run.  I can’t walk across the finish… I have to do this… I have to finish strong.  And then I saw my good friend Jamison and his son about 50 feet from the finish line, cheering me on, taking a couple photos, and running with me as I hobbled along.

Almost there.  Just 30 more feet.

20 feet.

10.

I crossed at a slow 2 hours, 49 minutes, and 43 seconds — much slower than I was hoping for.  I had actually originally estimated a time of 2 hours and 40 minutes, but was almost ten minutes over that estimate and felt like a failure — yet I did it.  I finished my first half marathon.

A wave of fatigue, euphoria, pain, happiness, relief, and regret all flooded me at once and I broke down into a puddle of tears and wailing on the barrier about 20 feet after the finish line. Jamison patting my back, reassuring me, you did it! You did it!

It took a minute to regain some composure, and hobbled along, collected my medal, all my free post-race goodies, and went and grabbed my free Finnegan’s beer and sat by myself in the cold, rainy, after-party area which really resembled a rained out festival that really should have been cancelled.  There were a couple dozen people there, eating, drinking, talking — but I think most had just gone home by the time I crossed the finish line.

Later that day — after being dropped off at home, I spent the afternoon hobbling around the house, doing laundry, sitting with my kids — but no euphoria, there was no influx of endorphins like I normally experience on my runs and the races that I’ve run. But for the first time I felt really depressed after this race, and I just can’t quite pin down why. Maybe it’s the disappointment in how I finished, maybe it’s the failure of my costume and my inability to run in it, maybe it was being cold for five hours in dreary, rainy, overcast conditions. Maybe it was the lack of fanfare when I got home. Or maybe it was a whole lot of little things that all added up to one big thing — despite having finished, I felt like I failed.  And I know I didn’t fail, but my feelings sure seemed to be sending me that message loud and clear, even though I kept trying to remind myself that we’re only racing against that guy (me) stuck on the couch back in March…. remember?

On a sort of side note, after stripping down out of my running clothes to get into some dry ones — I couldn’t help but notice how heavy all of my running gear was, wet from constant rain and sweat. I’m pretty sure that my running gear alone added another ten to fifteen pounds.  Tack on the costume components, I’m pretty sure I was running with an additional 25 pounds or more on me.  That explains quite a bit. Lessons learned.

Later I gorged myself on leftover pizza and my home-brewed IPA — it was delicious — and just sorta moped around the house as I did laundry and helped with the kids. But no matter what I tried to tell myself, I just couldn’t shake the feeling though that I just sucked and failed at this half marathon today. To make matters a little worse, I looked at my MTEC Results in greater detail.

4270th out of 4513 runnersIn some ways, I hate getting my finisher results — I invariably look at how I stack up against everyone else.  And when I do, I can’t help but think that I suck.  But I try to tell myself, at least I’m not last.  But regardless of how I placed among 4500 other runners, I still beat that guy on the couch. The old me couldn’t hardly run a half mile without becoming winded and couldn’t run 20 minutes to save his life.  I finished a half marathon… sure it was a mix of a lot of walking and running with a lot of variables stacked up against me to make for a much harder run… but I finished.

I have to keep telling myself that.

The mental game was brutal during the half marathon, even worse when I got home.  But I have to keep reminding myself, breathing this mantra… but I finished!

This was clearly the hardest thing I’ve ever done. Ever. The mental game was extremely challenging, the physical demands were tough for me, and there were so many points where I just couldn’t keep running and had to just walk it off.  But I finished.

I learned a few hard, practical lessons today, and have a few things I’d do differently in cold, rainy conditions. I also came to the realization that I need to train harder, push myself a little bit more on those cross training days, build up my core fitness and endurance level, and get used to spending more time out on the road. That hard work will pay off in the long-run.

I don’t at all regret doing this, but it was hard and it really kicked my ass.

What doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger, right?  That’s what I hope, anyway.