I spent the last four minutes of the Shamrock Half Marathon telling myself not to cry. I’d done the math. I knew I’d made it, knew I was about to set a new personal record and so, when we turned right at the Atlantic Ocean, hit the boardwalk and pushed toward the finish line, my chest tightened, my eyes watered and I felt a lot of things.
“Not yet,” I said to my tears. “Breathe first, run fast, cry later.”
In 2014, the Shamrock was my third half marathon. I had just turned 30, my husband had just told me he wanted to be married to someone else and I was living on bourbon, popcorn, beer and rage.
Somewhere around the eighth mile of that race I felt a ripple of anger. I grabbed onto it, dug for it, channeled it and I used it to propel me to the finish line. I ran that race in 1:50:30 and that was the PR I thought I’d always have. I didn’t think I could get much faster than that, not really, and that was fine.
At the end of 2017, I ran a 1:50:52 at a little half marathon in Fredericksburg. It was a challenging course, full of hills and much, much harder than the course at the Shamrock and my performance there made me think maybe, just maybe, I could run a sub-1:50.
In 2015, I couldn’t run the Shamrock because of a hip injury. In 2016, I couldn’t run the Shamrock because of a deployment. In 2017, I couldn’t run the Shamrock because of work. In 2018, I couldn’t run the Shamrock because of a calf injury.
Three days ago I said I wasn’t feeling it. My hip hurt. I’d missed one of my last long runs. The five miles I’d run a few days before had felt hard.
I told myself I would try again for a sub-1:50 in Richmond later this year. It’s another race I’ve been wanting to get back to and maybe, I thought, with a summer of running, I could get it.
I’ll just have fun, I decided. I’ll run what feels right.
When my watch pinged at the first mile marker, I laughed out loud. 8:20. The exact pace I needed to get a sub-1:50.
Okay, I thought. Let’s see what happens.
The second mile was faster, at 8:08. The third faster still at 7:59 and that’s when the math started.
I hate math. I really, really hate math. And yet, when I run, I find math to be quite entertaining.
I knew, in order to get a sub-1:50, I needed to run every single mile at an 8:20 pace. So, when I started running my miles faster than that, I started counting up those seconds I was “saving,” reasoning I might need them later should the whole thing go to shit.
In addition to hating math, I am bad a math. I tried to figure out how many seconds I had “banked” for several miles, to no avail, but somewhere in there I figured it had to be at least a full minute because 3×20=60 and also 20+20+20=60, fuck math, math is the devil.
When I was a baby Soldier 15 years ago, I couldn’t run two continuous miles. In fact, I failed the Army Physical Fitness Test repeatedly because I couldn’t run fast enough.
I got gatorade a little after the 8 mile mark. This was a mistake. Fuck gatorade.
By the tenth mile my belly was still upset, still churning from the god-forsaken gatorade. But I knew I had it. I knew I could slow down and still make it, knew I’d banked enough time to get my sub-1:50.
The official race photos of me from the final half mile are ridiculous. Based on those photos, my face spent the final few minutes of the race in a variety of contortions as I ugly cried and laughed my way to the finish.
But I did it. I ran a 1:46:22.