When your best effort reveals what you're capable of, you walk away proud. But when your best effort misrepresents you, it haunts you. It leaves you doubting whether your best effort showed up at all. It leaves you craving to set the record straight.
I guess that best explains why I found myself at the starting line of the 2018 Patrick Henry Half Marathon.
Saturday, for the third time, there I was. Being there defied logic. I ran this race in 2016 in extreme heat and I wasn't up to the task. I got pulled from the course at mile 10 by a Hanover County Sheriff Deputy for running too slow. I assure you the law has never before or since cited me for going to slow.
I don't handle defeat well, so I signed up again in 2017. Two days before the race I got food poisoning. I desperately needed that 2016 race behind me, so I ran anyways. Well, I finished. I got my redemption. Sort of, because I left there just certain I could do better.
I started believing I should give up on ever having a meaningful relationship with the Patrick Henry. It just didn't seem to like me as much as I was trying with everything I had to like it.
That cravining to set the record straight, though. It just wouldn't go away.
As the race started, I found myself next to my friend Solomon (Mo). He asked me if I had any goals for the race. I told him I just wanted wanted to have a solid run. I'd had a tough run the weekend before at the Georgia Jewel training run (a prep run for my first ultra in 5 weeks), so I needed a confidence booster. I told him my Patrick Henry time last year was 2:45, and at the very least, I wanted to beat that.
I also hinted I knew the weather was working for me. In the back of my mind I knew my fastest half marathon was 2:25 back in April at the Run the Bluegrass. I'd increased my miles since that race, and I knew if everything came together today, something bigger than a solid run was possible. I hadn't thought about it much the past week, mainly because this race had always been a disaster maker not a record breaker, but in that moment the possibilities seemed greater.
Mo and I didn't make a plan to run together. We simply took off that way. We settled into a rhythm over the first three miles. Our pace wasn't blazing, but it was steady. It was slow enough to carry on a conversation that really made those first 3 miles fly by in my mind.
We picked up the pace ever so slightly the next 3 miles. We approached the first cutoff mark just beyond mile 6. I told Mo this is where I knew I was in trouble in 2016. Back then I'd only been a couple of minutes ahead of the cutoff. I had 4 miles to get to the next cutoff at mile 10. And in my mind I knew my pace would only slow.
But here we were today, over a half hour ahead of that 2016 pace.
I didn't say anything to Mo, but this is where I made the decision to go for it. I knew my record was possible. I hadn't walked once the first 6 miles, which is unusual for me during any run, let alone a race day run. I felt strong. But I also knew there was "that hill" coming at mile 11 and I'd better put some time in the bank to allow that monster to slow me down like it always does.
Miles 7 and 8 ended up being our fastest of the day. There was no look. No head nod. I just slowly picked it up and my buddy just stayed right beside me. I knew he knew what I was up to by this point.
I told my mind to shut up and I battled on. We passed the 10 mile cutoff mark where two years earlier I'd been ushered to the backseat of a small car and driven back home. That memory alone was fuel for the stretch.
Just in time. Because along came mile 11 - THAT HILL.
The hill was tough, but in some ways it never seemed easier. We definitely took some walk breaks as we climbed. But I knew it wasn't robbing from me what I needed to get home, to break my record. In some weird way I didn't feel like the hill wanted to do that at all. The hill, like the weather, and my buddy Mo - they all seemed to be on my side this day.
Up until this point, Mo remained a silent partner in my chase for the record. He knew what I was up to at some point I'm sure, but he never mentioned it. Likely because early in our run I told him I wasn't coachable. I told him how my relationship with Tracey Outlaw nearly ended early in my career when Tracey made the mistake of trying to coach me in a race.
This is when Mo simply told me, "let's go ahead and get this thing done." The hill was behind us, the finish line just over a mile ahead. We walked a bit this final mile, monitoring the time the whole way, but with just over a third of a mile to go, it was an all out run to the end.
It's ironic. Running is such an individual gig. I spend a lot of time on the road in solitude - running. But this day revealed the true beauty in running is the teamwork, the relationships, that work with each and every stride to bring home the fulfillment I so easily find in this sport. God has used running to plant some of the best people I know in my life. With their help, more often than not my best efforts reflect the me I want to be.
I was a few miles into a run last week when I felt a pull to head to Blacksburg on September 17th and run my 9th Half Marathon. It was more than a pull to run, though. The call to this race came with images of the tragic flooding scenes I'd seen playing out in Texas. There was only one reason I could be feeling the urge to run while at the same time being overcome with the heartbreak of seeing so many people suffering in such a big way. I was supposed to run this race for Texas.
The first thing I did when I finished my run was reach out to my TwoTim47.com Patreon supporters who support me at the marathon level. When partners sponsor me at this level I agree to run a race for their cause. If I was going to run the Hokie Half for a cause I came up with, I needed to know they supported it. When I reached out to them, not only did every one of them support the idea, they all agreed to contribute to whatever support I decided to offer Texas.
(You can learn more about my TwoTim47.com Patreon platform here.)
That's when I decided what I was going to do. I used $85 of my August Patreon support to register for the Hokie Half. The remaining $108 I will donate to the Harvey Hurricane relief efforts in Texas.
Then came the next challenge. I didn't want to make a generic donation. I wanted to know something about where the money was going. It wasn't just about trusting it would go to a good cause. If I'm going to feel my heart pounding through my chest for 13.1 miles in Blacksburg next week, I'd like my heart to pound when I send off my donation. That can't happen without knowing something about the story on the other end of the donation.
So I reached out to friends on social media. I asked if anyone had any personal stories related to the suffering in Texas. My friend Janice, whom I worked with several years ago in North Carolina, put me in touch with her friend Tom in Texas. He was doing recovery work with his church. Then Tom put me in touch with the pastors at his church.
I was only on the phone with them for a few minutes when I knew their church, St. Andrews, was a story I needed to be a part of. I was sure they were part of the call I felt running last week.
St. Andrews is located in Pearland, Texas, a community within the Houston metropolitan area. They were hard hit by Harvey and are now leaning on churches like St. Andrews to help them rebuild. A rebuild that could take a decade or more.
What drew me to St. Andrews is they've been spending years getting ready for a moment just like this one. They've been building a loving partnership with the Pearland citizens for over 20 years. Father Jim Liberatore said this about his church's relationship with the community:
"Many churches establish themselves by looking inward and taking care of the family but don't necessarily look outward. My understanding of reading scripture and from some people like John Wesley see that we have a mission to the community and I've basically encouraged the congregation over the years to see the walls collapse of the church and that the parish, the church walls, actually become the community, so that we are the pastors of the community, we are lovers of the community."
That's long been the struggle I've had with many churches - their obsession with looking inward. When I decided I wanted to partner with someone to help with hurricane relief in Texas I knew I wanted to partner with an organization that would respond in love and not out of a sense of media fueled obligation. Don't get me wrong, I think we all have an obligation here - that's precisely what led me to look for a way to help - I just think obligations are best and most helpfully met in love.
As you'll see in some of the photos below, St. Andrews has already been hard at work in their community.
How can you help me partner with St. Andrews?
What St. Andrews needs most right now is prayer and money. There will be so much to do in the early stages of the relief - stages which might last years - gutting and repairing homes, helping replace essential items and simply helping people get back to a place where they can get to and from their work.
I want to give a special thank you to my marathon level Patreon supporters who gave me their blessing to use this race for this hurricane relief effort:
Robyn Larkin, Tiffany Eisentrout, Nicole Williams and Rachel Wood - Thank you!
And to the rest of my Patreon supporters who make it possible to enter races and find extra time to write stories and create podcasts and videos - I could do none of it without you all. So thank you Kristie Allen, Lashell Head, Solomon Whitfield, Kelly Anderson, Kimberly Yenser, Kimberly Caldwell, Missy Blacker-Hepp, Jenny Reynolds, Shannon Sala, Donna Shultz-Shegana and Angela Marini.
I ask for everyone's prayers as I tackle my half marathon next weekend and for all the people struggling in Texas, especially those in the St. Andrews community.
Like I said, I will be donating to St. Andrews as part of my Hokie Half Marathon run. If you would like to join me I know they'd be grateful. Maybe you could donate $13 for the 13.1 miles I'll be running in Blacksburg on September 16th. Every dollar will go a long way towards the healing and relief the St. Andrews community will be searching for.
If you donate at the link below, when you enter the giving type enter hurricane relief. In the memo section please enter TwoTim47. This will help us track our TwoTim47 Hokie Half Contributions.
Life is like running.