Tough and Resilient
2022 Richmond Half Marathon Recap
On November 12, two awesome runners toed the line of their respective races, ready to rock and roll. However, for both of them the days did not go as planned.
I often talk about grace being abundant in our lives and that is especially true in the toughest moments. However, the problem with that is that it is very easy to be graceful when things go well, but we are a people that like to break everything down and beat ourselves up over every minute detail that we think we could have changed.
On November 12, Mike Couch and I both toed our respective start-lines with an entire country separating us. He was going after a Boston Qualifier at the REVEL Big Bear Marathon in San Bernardino, CA. Our coach, Ryan Carrol,l went out there with him to pace him through the race.
I stayed a bit more local and ran my favorite race: the Richmond Half Marathon (part of the Richmond Marathon weekend). Our lead-ups and training seasons were different– we were running different lengths of races, but we would both learn a valuable lesson at the end of our races.
We both had tough races, but it was our resilience that taught us the most after we crossed our finish lines. As we both finished our races feeling defeated, a light shined forth that helped us to recognize the resilience we had built in these runs (that light was the reminders from our awesome coach Ryan Carroll). I will leave Mike’s story to him to tell but wanted to give it up to him for all he accomplished in his race and for what he will continue to do in his running journey.
For me, my journey of resilience began back in the summer. I had been having such an awesome training season, and while I did not start my spring half marathon for logistical reasons, I had shown awesome fitness at several races through the first half of the year. I had learned and grown as a runner, coach, and community leader. However, it all began to feel like it was falling apart mid-summer when I sprained my ankle on vacation. Shortly thereafter, I also fractured the head of my radial bone in my arm (up near the elbow). It took 6 weeks to fully recover from the fracture and get back to running giving me about 7 weeks to build for Richmond; but my coach knew that I still had some fitness in the bank and thought I could still come away with a decent race to work off of for the spring.
My training was going so well, and I was feeling ready, when a week before the race I came down with the flu. It knocked out the final part of my build, but again I heeded the wisdom of my coach and kept calm. I got through the flu in a few days, took it easy running through the week leading up to my half, and again was feeling loose and relaxed. Then on Thursday (a couple days before Richmond) I developed sinus and chest congestion…again. If something could go wrong in this cycle, it pretty much did. I felt beaten and defeated, but I love this race so much and wanted to give it my all. I managed my congestion and again thought I was feeling fine on race morning.
The weather for race morning was projected to be a warm one, but again my legs truly felt good, I could breathe, and I was not going to let anything stop me in this endeavor. As I warmed up I could already feel the humidity, and I had adjusted my water and electrolyte intake the past couple days to ensure I would not bonk in the race or suffer dehydration. Then came the moment: the start. As I awaited the gun, I ran a few strides (short sprints) to stay loose before the start (and honestly calm the nerves).
Knowing my fitness had probably taken a hit from the original 1:36 time goal (7:19/mile), I lined up towards the back of the first corral to allow the quick runners to get ahead of me and not suck me into their speedy paces. I got off the line and felt really good; I found a nice pace and settled into it, feeling like it was a pace I could stick with the whole race. The first 2 miles takes runners down Broad Street in Richmond and is where I always take the time to shakeout the pre-race jitters out of my head. It is reasonably lined with a crowd to get runners going. Once runners take the turn onto Arthur Ashe Boulevard, they begin to make their way north and head over their elevation change of the race as they run on the overpass going over train lines. I dropped my pace back on the uphill and quickly got back on race pace on the down. The next few miles meander through the neighborhoods, and get runners further into the northside to drop them off at Bryan Park, all the while focusing on this steady pace and staying strong. I resisted pushing too hard knowing what lay ahead of me.
Bryan Park is the part of the race that usually breaks me. However, I am not fully blaming it this year. I got into Bryan Park and immediately dropped my pace back a bit to nurse my legs through the park hills (a practice I try to do every time). I came through 10k feeling strong, and kept it going through the halfway point of the race. I slowed my pace considerably on the uphill and through the water stop in the park, knowing that I had plenty of time to make back up the pace on the last half of the course. As I came up the last hill out of Bryan Park to run back over the interstate, the heat began to rise and I could feel breathing getting increasingly difficult. However, this was not the tough breathing you get from a hard race— this was labored breathing. I was struggling to catch my breath and when I did it was a rough cough (the congestion rearing its ugly head). I stuck with it as long as I could, and gutted it out until I got past mile 8 where I really started to struggle for breath. This was the first time I walked.
Walking became a death nell for me, not because I felt I had mentally lost the race, but because it highlighted the struggles my body was dealing with as I closed the final 4+ miles of the race. It highlighted the fact that I was really struggling to breathe without coughing. Breathing through my nose was a no-go and this caused me to begin to feel super light-headed. This was a struggle and miles 8-10 were probably the hardest part of this race.
I consider myself lucky to have an amazing support system (even when I don’t even expect them to be places). As I came past 10.5 miles and knew I was getting close to the finish one of my co-coaches from RaceTeamRVA (the run team I was a part of when I lived in Richmond) was waiting for me. He had been following me on the tracking app, noticed my pace had slowed, and told me he would run me as close to the finish as he could get me…and he did (Thank you Jim!!!). In those closing 2.5 miles, I struggled (HARD). I stopped to walk (and by walk I mean I looked like I was drunk). I struggled to keep my balance, but I persevered and kept running as much as I could towards the finish (sometimes we runners can be stubborn).
I wanted to finish because I knew that to finish this race would finish this rough cycle that I have had. My spring and early summer had such promise, and I felt like my goals were well within reach. However, things kept getting in the way: injuries, sickness,…life. It was a lesson for my own mental self-care. I didn’t need to prove to anyone, let alone myself, that I was strong enough to finish a half marathon (I have done 8 in my life). However, the finish line was the end of a season; it allowed me to put behind the roughness that had been the last 5 months. The agonizing hours laying in bed with my arm propped up. Watching others hit their goals and enjoy things that I love. Yes, I have enjoyed watching them accomplish all of those things, but I also enjoy being right along there with others, too.
I crossed the finish line and hobbled. One of the officials came and helped me through, making sure I didn’t need medical (I probably did, but that’s neither here nor there). I got my medal, got some water, sat down, and let the emotions pour over me as I inhaled not one, not two, but three bottles of water (did I mention it was hot?). Was part of my problem dehydration? Maybe, but mostly I had beaten up my body and it was time to recover.
I spent some time hanging with friends, and getting some delicious Hardywood Beer in the finisher area. Then I left and went back to my in-laws’ house. There was a level of dejection, but I tried to hold my head high as I followed the live tracking for my friend Mike as his marathon was coming to a close in California. As I mentioned at the top, it was not the day for either one of us, but great lessons were learned as we both look towards our next challenges.
How does any of this have to do with self-care? How does pushing yourself so hard equal self-care? Why do I even continue to do it?
Because at the end of the day I love it. Could I do without the enduring pain and soreness? Yes, but also no. For me it is something I enjoy. It is an activity that allows me to push who I am. It builds me up mentally andit makes me stronger, not just physically, but mentally and emotionally, too. I returned to my in-laws’ house dejected. I wasn’t sure whether I failed or not, but I was still standing and I know the next goal is around the corner.
For me, that is another half marathon. I return in the spring to run the Shamrock Half Marathon in March, and then I will be back to Richmond next November!!! There will be races in between, but I have fallen in love with the half marathon distance (maybe I’ll unpack why in another post), and I love testing my limits and learning about myself in the process. My wife thinks I’m crazy (and I am sure she isn’t the only one), but at the end of the day…it may be rough, but I know I am resilient.
I just need to remind myself that even when it is rough, grace is what makes me resilient (not beating myself up over my failures). In the eyes of God I know that I am loved no matter how fast I finish. I find joy in going fast, but it does not define me.
The finish line is what defines me, not how I got there. I am a finisher!!!