Most people have trouble hiding their shocked expressions when I tell them I ran for a Division One Cross Country team in college (granted it was only for a semester and I was awful, let alone our team was the worst in the Atlantic 10 and probably all of the Division One schools). I do not have an athletes physique, let alone that of a runner. I’ve been told I am built like the MMA fighter Rhonda Rousey (which I take as an incredible complement, she is an amazingly skilled athlete and fighter, and one of the most fierce women I have ever seen), but no one would ever look and me and think “runner”.
I never really found my groove in the 5k races we did in University. I always started to fast and ran out of energy or started too slow and never increased my speed. Even though I was awful (I think my fastest time was around 23 minutes), there was something kept me running, a spark, that at the time was ever so slight. Since graduating college I have been developing that spark, and in the past few years, running and I have developed a passionate love affair. My transition into adulthood was through running, and without it I don’t think I would be the person I am today.
I don’t really know how to explain the feeling I get when I run. I’m sure everyone feels the same way about their sport, it’s like a part of you that you have complete control over. It changes when you change it grows with you. Last year after I nearly lost my life in a tragic swimming accident, I had a lot of trouble sleeping. I tried meditation and I just couldn’t wrap my head around it, when I finally got out of my slump and started running again, I found that I ran longer than I could before, and I could sleep again. Running became my physical meditation. The biggest problem I have with Buddhism and most religions is the separation of mind and body. They aren’t two separate entities in the same being, but they are two parts that make a whole and they need to be treated as such. Running long distances allows me to meld my mind and body into one functional being. In the mornings after a night of letting my subconscious run wild, a long run always reins in my mind and wakes up my body and gets them working together so I can carry on with my day. My body moves as I let my mind ramble, and my legs are my outlets for my loose thoughts.
Without that I just feel a bit off. I’ve tried other sports and fitness, I’ve been learning Muay Thai for about a year now, I played soccer for 15 years, I’ve dabbled with Cross Fit, and do yoga and swim laps once a week. And they are all great, but running really gets me. I read Christopher McDougall’s Born to Run last spring and was amazed that someone could pinpoint the way I feel about running. After that I decided it was time to do my first half marathon.
Saturday I participated in the GoLife Taoyuan Shihmen Reservoir International Marathon and Half Marathon race. Logistics, since I can’t read Chinese and since it wasn’t in Taipei, I had to rely on Google translate and the help of friends for registration and event information. A former coworker and I signed up at the start of the school year and I have been working off my own made up training schedule since September in order to prepare.
I went back to my Taiwanese roots in Nankan Friday night and got to visit with some old friends before heading off to the Reservoir Saturday morning. We left at about five and got there about quarter to six for the race to start an hour later. It was a dark frigid morning, we were tired, there was nothing to eat, just some hot ginger tea, things didn’t look very promising.
Just before the race began the sun started to come up and we got to see where we were. The Shihmen Reservoir is beautiful.
There were about 6,000 people competing in total (between a marathon, a half marathon and an 11k) I think about 3,000 were in the half marathon. Cramming into the starting point I started to get excited, there was a ten second count down and we were off. I kept up with Peter for about 500 meters then let him take off. The first 2 ½ k was an incline, then flat, then more incline, then a slight slope, then more incline, slope, incline, slope you get the picture. City running in Taichung hadn’t exactly prepared me for hills (I didn’t do a single hill workout) so I was quite nervous about how well my legs would hold up. I was surprised at how many people started walking already on the second and third incline. My goals were; do not stop, do not walk, and make under two and a half hours. While I was running I let myself forget about the race, and just enjoyed the fresh air (compared to Taichung the air was amazing) and beautiful scenery (I regret not running with my I-pod so I could have photos of the course). I think a lot of other people did too. It felt more like just being out for a jog with an extremely group of people than a competitive event. People were chatting and cheering each other on and having a good time. One man I was running next to for a while asked me where I was from and we chatted for a bit. I told him it was my first half and he advised my that if I kept up my pace I could make 2 hours, the goal he was trying to accomplish. Mid-race I switched my time goal to two hours and tried to always keep him in my sight. We went back and forth for a bit, I would pass him then he would pass me. But we maintained the same pace until the end.
I was determined not to stop, I only slowed down my one water station and used the others as an opportunity to pass people. About ¾ of the way through, the inevitable was happening, I needed a toilet. I ran an uncomfortable couple of kilometers and used a port-a-potty as fast as humanly possible, keeping my watch running. I lost my buddy, and tried to increase my speed a bit to make up for lost time. After what seemed like no time I was back at the first incline which was now a decline. This is awesome I thought to myself, I still have plenty of energy left and the race is ending on a decline, so I let my legs loose and just glided down the hill. Only to realize at the bottom there was a marker reading “Last 4 K”, oops. I could see the finish, and since I still convert kilometers to miles in my head I am a horrible judge of distance. The last part of the race was starting to get painful. Not so much that I needed to stop, but that I knew I didn’t have the marathon stamina, yet. Irregardless I sprinted (or kind of) the last 100 meters or so passing one of the girls I was trying to catch almost the whole race.
I finished in 2:03:16 not wonderful by any racing standards, but I blew my personal goal away and I was really happy to see how much my training paid off. Out of the 635 women who ran, I came in 36th. Another accomplishment I was really happy about. I found my buddy after the race and we chatted about our times, and we got all the free stuff we could then went home to Nankan. I had a great time, I am proud of myself, and I can’t wait to do it again, and someday it will be the 42k. I finished Haruki Murakami’s What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, on the way back to Taichung and to quote him as a conclusion “Long distance running (more or less, for better or worse) has molded me into the person I am today, and I am hoping it will remain in my life as long as possible”