Anyone that knows me or has followed me for some time knows that I had a HUGE problem running on my own. I typically do most training runs and almost all races with either my husband or friends. Last summer I started training by myself and I surprised myself and made it through okay. And in 2010, I started doing one race a year on my own. Yesterday I finished the Cellcom Green Bay Half Marathon on my own even though I had a lot of friends running it that I could have tagged along with and could have had fun with running as a group. But it’s a different experience running a race alone. I’m not fast, so I’m not actually competing but running on my own allows me to run my race and experience things that I may otherwise miss if I was talking to a friend the whole 13.1 miles.
Here’s the race as I experienced it:
I got to the start early so I had plenty of time to see nervous first-timers. I saw anxious runners scrambling to find the starting line, relay teams ribbing team members on who’s going to be the slowest among them, kids kissing their moms and dads good-bye and wishing them luck and the parents promising to see them at the finish line. I actually listened, probably for the first time, to the sound track the marathon had playing for the runners and spectators to enjoy while mingling around. I took all the start sights and sounds in and I really enjoyed it because I not only didn’t have the nerves I normally have for a big run, but I was completely alone and was really able to be in the moment.
And as the starting gun went off and we started running, I purposely kept my music off. I instead listened to the runners around me and I heard everything from people giving each other advice, to people joking and in general a lot of exciting banter. But what I didn’t expect to hear was the footsteps of 8,000+ runners hitting the pavement. I had never ever noticed the sound of all of our collective feet running as a group before and it was pretty damn cool. It’s even more cool to realize I was just a tiny part of that sound and realized – that what I once learned in school was really true – that the sum is really greater than the parts!
As I was running it was great to just be able to take in all sights and sounds. I always have been a person who looked around and read the signs that strangers hold on the side of the road but running by yourself really lets you take even more in. I got to see the group of 5 friends who were trying to spot their runner and when one finally saw her coming she yelled, “here she comes” and all the friends started jumping up and down, waving and cheering for their friend. The excitement they had for spotting their friend was contagious, I couldn’t help but smile.
I saw how happy the little kids got when they got high-fives from total strangers that ran past them. I tried to high-five as many as I could and each and every one was so excited and that gave them the extra encouragement they needed to keep their little arms out stretched no matter how tired they got.
Running by myself gave me the opportunity to chit-chat with other runners that I knew. It’s amazing how many people I can spot that I knew in a crowd of thousands. It was fun being able to talk to them for some time until one of us decided it was time to say “good-bye and good luck” and pick up the pace and move on.
There were a few places on the course that had a wall of spectators on both sides of the road and as we ran past it was like running through a tunnel full of cheers. I got goosebumps listening to it and thinking ahead to running New York in fall and anticipating what millions of people will sound like compared to the hundreds in Green Bay.
I was getting pretty warm during the run and a few families who lived along the route were nice enough to put sprinklers and hoses out for us to run through. And I ran through them all. It’s probably one of the few times, as an adult, you can run through a sprinkler and get away with it (sans being a parent and doing it with your own kids). I think I ran an extra half a mile from zig zagging all over the road to get to the sprinklers. But it was totally worth it.
I made a point of not looking at my watch while I was running because I figured I wasn’t going to do well (because of the heat and the fact I was on my feet the past 2 days working the expo) and I didn’t want to bum myself out by seeing poor mile splits. But late in the run I thought to myself… “I wonder how I’m doing, I think I’m actually having an okay run.” So it wasn’t until mile 12 that I snuck a peek at my mile split. And I was thrilled!! It was about a full 60 seconds faster than I had run in training. So, even though I was on the verge of overheating, I gave myself the green light to “go for it” in the last mile. I ran and I ran hard and it felt good. Okay, I lied. It felt HORRIBLE then, but now it feels good.
Running by myself gave me the freedom to run as fast or as slow as I wanted and I didn’t have to apologize to anyone for holding them back or wish I could go faster if I was with someone a bit slower than I wished to run. I had freedom and it was fun. I pushed through to the end and was rewarded by the sound of people yelling my name. About 10 feet before the finish line I saw a bunch of friends (my fellow Operations Team buddies) along the fence all screaming my name. While I was so damn tired and I couldn’t actually acknowledge them as I ran past, I was smiling from ear to ear on the inside.
Once I crossed the finish line, I soon saw my husband who is the Director in charge of the finish line so he was busy working. But he was able to break away and hug me and congratulate me. He said he was proud of my time, because unbeknownst to me, he was getting updates on my progress and my pace from the rest of the Ops Team that was tracking me along the way. He too knew my time was way beyond anything I thought I could run.
I had a hard time recovering from the heat and my effort but once I did, and I left the finisher’s chute to go out to the runner reunite area I heard the post-party band playing. I couldn’t instantly make out the song but after I listened a few more seconds I realized they were playing “Let it Be”, a song that has very special and significant meaning to me. And I got pretty teary eyed. Not just because of the song, but because of the entire day. I have read a lot lately on how people need to pay more attention to the “signs” that the universe puts in front of them. And I am desperately trying to pay attention to any sign given to me. And Let it Be, was definitely a sign. I’m not sure what it means just yet but hopefully I will soon.
So, as I wrap up my Half Marathon recap and I start to prepare both mentally and logistically for the marathon I am running this Sunday, I will leave you with this thought. Running, truly is a spectator sport. It may not be an obvious spectator sport like football or basketball but I think it’s actually more inspiring to watch than either of those two. The human spirit you will witness is crazy… all you have to do is know how to read the signs as they pass you by.
Until next time,