It’s 5:15 in the morning and I’m awake sitting on my couch with a 32 ounce cup of water and staring at what appears to be bland, soft, chunky and hot vomit but is actually microwaved instant oatmeal. I force the chunky hot cereal down my throat, chug my water and quickly start to get ready for what would be a horrendous next three hours and painful 48 hours.
I got signed up for a half marathon by the same group that made me do it last year and, like last year, I did not prepare as well as I should have. Last year I ran maybe three times before the race with four miles being the furthest distance traversed, but this year things would be different.
I ran seven times in the two weeks leading up to the race with distances ranging around three, five and even eight miles. I was able to awaken a little bit of the competitor inside me that makes me want to push through pain to achieve my goals during these runs.
Last year, my lack of training caused me to run the half marathon in two hours and nine minutes. It also caused me to burn out after six miles (It’s a 13.1 mile race), throw up and be bed-ridden with debilitating joint and muscular pain for 48 hours and aches and soreness lasting for another three days.
As I put on my racing outfit— a black running shirt given to me by my team, track shorts with built-in underwear, special running socks, knee compression sleeve and old running shoes— I remind myself that I’m going to do better this time.
I’ve been awake since 4:00 a.m. due to my nervousness. I’m not actually nervous about the race itself though. It is a harder course this year with a lot more hills, but I feel better about my conditioning and goal of coming in under two hours. To do that I need to run 9:09 minutes a mile, so my goal is to run the first three miles slowly (around 9:10-9:20 pace), then settle in at a 9:00 minute pace until mile 11 and then take off for however fast I can for those last two miles.
Besides a better plan and superior conditioning this year I have three more advantages:
- My friend Chris is going to stick with me because he hasn’t run any of his longer runs faster than a 10 minute pace since he’s been training with his girlfriend. Chris is in better shape than me though, he’s a mini Adonis and has trained more than me. I expect him to be better than me despite his lack of confidence.
- I’m running with my phone while it’s running an app that tells me the amount of time I’ve run and the distance to the hundredth decimal. This helps distract me from the pain or actual act of running by constantly doing the math to stay on pace for every quarter mile.
- I’m running with headphones in so I can listen to music. This is huge for me since I was never able to run with music in high school because I wasn’t allowed to have the headphones in during a high school meet. The music is a distraction for my mind from the pain in my legs and the sound of my own breathing.
On the drive to downtown Jackson for the race I listen to the Disturbed version of “The Sound of Silence.” It’s haunting, depressing and perfectly fits my mood. My nerves have not left me.
After arriving and finding my team, I realized I need to use the bathroom and there’s a wait for the mens’ room. I don’t want to wait, so I decide to warmup without using the facilities thinking I don’t really have to go.
At the starting line, Chris, some of our teammates and I are towards the latter half of the crowd before they let us start. I’m trying to be smart by starting further back so I don’t try to run too fast in the beginning and forget my pace.
When the race starts, I press play on my first song, “Alaska” by Maggie Rogers, which is a slower song meant to help me set my pace and calm me down. I like this song way more than I should and sometimes play it through the speakers in my apartment when I’m alone so I can dance to it because it’s happy, fun and makes me feel better about myself.
We hit the second half of our first mile and the song “Warrior Daughter” by Wildwood Kin comes on. I don’t know this song that well and thought it was perfect to inspire me to start well in this race with lyrics like “You will not grow weary. You will never cease. You have been made warrior.” Listening to the chorus: “you are a warrior strength and courage lies within your heart. Daughter, can’t you see your power never fades,” I now realize the song is meant for girls but it’s still really inspirational so I’m letting it inspire me.
The next four songs are more folksy or indie songs that help me keep the pace right where I wanted so I can then push into hitting nine minute miles the rest of the way. After the third mile I’m feeling good, but… oh no, not now! The need to use the bathroom strikes and it hurts pretty bad. I can’t stop though because the last time I stopped during a race like this my muscles tightened up and I could barely finish. I need more distractions from everything physical right now.
Then, my friends Ross and Charlie with wigs, tights and a signs for everyone in our group run up to Chris and myself to cheer us on. They’re yelling a bunch— it’s a great distraction and what I need to push the desire to urinate to the side.
Chris and I are right behind a tall old man that’s maybe 60 or 70 years old. He has a neon head band and looks like he’s running strong. He’s putting more distance between us and I sense Chris speeding up a touch because a girl with him is running fast then walking until we catch her and then running fast again to get away from us. Chris wants to overtake her so she won’t bother him, but I’m more worried about Day-Glo Old Guy.
Three rap songs play which I strategically placed to get me amped up if I was starting to feel down. Since this is a Union University publication I am not supposed to put explicit songs on this playlist, so for every explicit rap song I listened to there is the song “Lord Give Me a Sign” by DMX. The song is technically labeled explicit, but only because it was on an explicit album. It is actually incredibly clean (probably the only clean DMX song) and seems to be pretty theologically sound.
Anyways, a rapper I won’t name told me “California knows how to party” and the beat and happiness of that song helped me stay on pace.
Day-Glo Old Guy is barely in sight now but we’re staying right on our pace so I’m not worrying about it. I know if we keep him in sight we can catch him and beat him.
At every mile I take an earbud out to tell Chris which mile marker we passed and what our time was for that mile. We’re doing really well. I don’t really feel that much pain in my legs except for when we have to go up hills, but even then, the part of my brain that wants to accomplish my goals take over. The giant hill on mile seven isn’t that bad because if I can get to the top of it in two minutes and fifteen seconds I’ll conquer another small goal. Like Wildwood Kin said, I am a warrior.
This part of the run isn’t that bad; it might even be enjoyable. After last year’s half marathon I realized why people hate running and just how evil and savage it can be on someone’s (read: my) body.
But I feel great right now and want to keep going because I know I can achieve my goal and beat it by a good bit. The dog inside me that wants to pass people is taking over too now that my strategy of going slow in the beginning so I could go fast at the end is paying off. Everyone around Chris and I are slowing down or have settled into their pace but we are just getting started.
I see him. It’s my archenemy from last year’s race, my white whale— The Camel. I’d recognize the back of his head anywhere since I never got in front of him to actually beat him. It was embarrassing to lose so hard to him and now is my chance to overtake him. He looks weak and I don’t even have to speed up to pass him so I dawdle by pretending not to notice him. I know on the inside he must be weeping as he gets beat by me— the up-an-comer, the example for those who didn’t train that much for the race and protector of the consistent pace.
Our seventh and eighth miles are at an 8:58 pace and we’re starting to kick it into a higher gear.
Suddenly a guy with a raspy voice infiltrates my ears screaming about a “last resort.” Since this song is explicit, I will place “Lifeline” by Papa Roach in it’s place because it’s very similar and by the same artist. I put this song in the playlist at the point I thought I’d feel my lowest but I feel strong so it’s basically useless besides the fast pace of the song.
My friend Ross shows up besides Chris and I again to cheer us on. This time, he decides to run beside us as he’s cheering for us.
“You guys look fresh,” Ross says as his wig bobs up and down in a ridiculous fashion.
“Yeah, Caleb’s doing a great job of pacing us right now,” Chris says. I basically nod in agreement because I’ve been doing well and I don’t want to jinx myself by boasting out loud.
Now all of my songs are “Lord Give Me a Sign” type songs and I’m feeling the groove. At the nine and a three-quarters of a mile mark Chris and I subconsciously speed up as we pass somebody. This time I don’t slow us down though. I know I have enough energy to finish this race strong.
During the tenth mile, we pass a girl that looks like she’s our age and she’s texting! She’s actually texting on her phone while running nine minute miles. I can’t believe it. That has to be one of the most incredible things I’ve seen someone do in a long time. That needs to be it’s own race— the how fast can you run while texting half marathon?
I see Day-Glo Old Guy ahead of me now as we’re nearing the eleventh mile marker, but we hit the eleventh mile first so I tell Chris and he takes off ahead of me. It sounds too good to be true, but “Ridin’ Solo” by Jason Derulo just came on. I love his songs a lot because they’re super happy, he has a great voice and they nail whatever emotion I’m feeling. Sometimes I want someone to want me, I feel like wiggling or I’m stunned thinking “whatcha say?” In this case, that emotion was that I was “ridin’ solo,” but I was still “feeling like a star” and nobody could “stop my shine.” So as I was feeling good and finally doing me because it feels so right, I decided to take out Day-Glo Old Guy and put him down for good.
The intoxicating feeling of passing people at the end of races took over when I passed him. I haven’t felt this in a long time and now I’m just trying to pass every person I see and not let myself get passed—it feels like I’m in a high school meet again.
My eleventh and twelfth miles were both at an 8:18 pace and I’ve hit what should be my last mile and some change. I’m starting to lose a little bit of my edge though because I turn for what I think is the homestretch and see a giant hill and realize I’m still two-thirds of a mile from the finish line. I need more inspiration so I skip to the second-to-last song on my playlist, “Ante Up” by M.O.P. All I’ll say about the song is that the dudes yell every single line and it’s incredible. I want a version of every song in the whole world with those two guys yelling the song. Imagine “My Heart Will Go On” sounding like “Near! Hold Up! Far! Hold Up! Wherever you are! Zap him!” It would be incredible.
I turned what I think is the final corner but instead saw apartments and I’m really confused now. Wait a second, did I miss the turnoff point for the half? Is this the full marathon now? Oh no, I won’t do another 13 miles. I can’t do another 13 miles.
Then “Lord Give Me a Sign” comes on. This is actually a DMX song— in it he says “Break bread wit the enemy, but no matter how many cats I break bread wit I’ll break who you sendin’ me.” As this line plays I come around a bend and realize I have to sprint up a small hill to get to the finish line and there’s one dude in front of me. The song is prophetic because I’m going to break him because he’s been sent to me, so I pass him with five steps left in the race.
My time is 1:56:24 which surpasses my goal by more than three minutes. With my last three miles included, I ran an 8:46 pace.
“Water, I need water,” is all I can say. A lady comes up to me and starts putting a medal around my neck. “No, I need water. I can get this later.” She doesn’t say anything so I keep walking around for another 20 seconds with my hands stretched out in front of me repeating “water, water, somebody get me water.” I’m so thirsty and tired that I’m getting angry at all the people staring at me with blank expressions. Am I not making sense? What’s happening? It feels like the world is spinning a tad
Finally, somebody hands me a cup of water and I realize I’m not crazy and everything rights itself, so I walk over to Chris to congratulate him on his fantastic finish. I feel surprisingly good—not physically but emotionally and mentally. When I finished, I expected to feel like death, but I didn’t— I felt good.
Somehow, I learned to love pain.