The day after I finished my first half-marathon, I almost had to pinch myself. I could hardly believe the day I had been planning and training for all summer had finally come and gone, quite literally in a fog. But all I had to do was swing my lead-heavy legs and crunchy hips out of bed, and it was much easier to believe.
Three days later, I have been busy with a trip home to visit family in Ontario, but it has all sunk in. Running 21 km is something I never dreamed possible, even two years ago. It’s hard to believe that a few short months ago, I had never even broken the 10 km mark. But gradually addinng distance, I managed to creep up closer to the 20 km barrier over the last few weeks. The farthest I had run up until the half was 19 km – and it was hard. So I had to squeak out another 2 km of uncharted territory for this run – and it was harder.
The day was muggy and cool all at once. If you know Saint John, you can imagine it. The fog was dense and wet. It rained very little. All this made for a sweaty, damp race. My new hat came in handy for controlling my mane and keeping drips off my face.
The first 10 to 15 km felt great. I was relaxed, hydrated and comfortable. I made it up the first few hills with no major problems. I took scheduled, very brief, walk breaks. I got pumped up seeing my fellow running friends double back on Manawagonish Road, and I didn’t let it bother me that they were all ahead of me. My goal was to finish, and that meant spreading out my energy carefully. I also sucked back some of my icing-like chocolate gel, little by little, throughout the race, as messy as it was. I stopped for sips of water at almost every water stop.
The hard part came at about 16 or 17 km. All I wanted to do was walk. I had a minor, nagging stitch. Crowds passed me. I walked a little then ran a little, and lost my rhythm. As I approached Wellesley Avenue in the north end, I knew I had suck it up, because I was expecting some friends to cheer. I couldn’t stomach walking by them, and I picked it up. (Thank you Dave, Mary and Reid!).
Getting up the last, twisty hill past Dairy Queen was another struggle. I tried to run up the whole thing, but stopped to walk a bit, twice. Finally, I forced my sore legs and feet to soldier on to the finish. I bolted down the final hill with everything I had. Hearing the announcer say, “Here’s April Cunningham, with a big smile on her face,” made me smile more (even though I really felt like crying).
I made the mistake of stopping abruptly after the finish. I could barely breathe, and panicked a little, which made me wheeze, which is strange, because I never wheeze. After a minute or so and trying to calm myself, the feeling passed and the thought of knowing I finished the race in one piece, with a decent time, took over. Then, I felt like crying for joy.
I told my friends it was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. I was asking myself later if it would include mental, and I would say no. But physically, absolutely. Especially for a kid like me, who has never done anything athletic her whole life. But as I said a year ago, after running my first race, a 5-miler, the euphoria of running kind of makes you feel like you can do anything. Hey, if I can run 21k, I can get the job of my dreams. If I can run 21K, I’ll be able to power through the next life hurdle.
So, what’s the next running hurdle. My easy answer, is the Hampton 5-Miler. I did it last year, and it was lovely. Also my guy says he wants to run it too.
As for more half-marathons at this point, I’m still not sure. Some people are asking about full marathons, and my answer today is a flat out, no.
All I can think about right now is this week. Precious holiday time. Rest, yoga (did it today with my mom and sister, excellent!) and maybe a couple short country runs. And cake.