Something has gone terribly wrong with this article already. I just used a form of the word great and running in the same heading. There's no denying it, though, when it comes to running, last weekend was my greatest running weekend ever.
I could have said that after my 5K on Saturday without even bringing Sunday's Anthem half marathon at Virginia Beach into the equation. But I ran both so I'm going to include both in the greatness.
Saturday I ran the Mission Possible 5K at New Song Church in Mechanicsville. The race proceeds benefit the church mission trip to Haiti this summer. My wife, Katie, is going on that trip, so that made it a pretty special run right there. But late last week our two sons decided they wanted to run the 5K with me, so special got elevated a couple of laces.
Neither of the boys had ever run a 5K before, so naturally we had never run one together. On the way to the starting line our 8 year-old Ian summed it up perfectly. In his uniquely innocent way, he said, "At least now I'll have something to share at school on Monday."
Ian hadn't even started the race and he was already anticipating what I've found to be the joy in running. What makes it great. The feeling at the end when you shout to the world, "I did it!" Or at least mutter it under your complete lack of breath. I knew if Ian and Elliott got a taste of the "I did it" at the finish, they'd one day line up for another start - no matter how ugly anything in between looked or felt.
And so we started - all smiles - nothing but fun ahead of us:
There really was a lot of fun over those 3.1 miles. We took plenty of walk breaks. Our Ian suffers from asthma, and chilly mornings like this one challenge him. Elliott, our hyper-competitive one, well he had to practice a lot of restraint when runners passed us. I watched his whole body cringe as he longed to give chase. I told him he didn't have to stay back. Go catch them buddy. He said he knew didn't have to but he wanted to. He loves to argue with his brother, torment the tar out of him, but he never runs too far ahead of the opportunity to make sure Ian's OK. Or maybe he feels it's more than an opportunity.
So we hung together. Here is a mid-race video that captures a piece of our adventure:
Just so we're clear, and only because I know you're wondering; we didn't break any records with this race. At least none the three of us would want anyone to know about. Our names weren't called during the medal ceremony and that wasn't an oversight. No, this performance left us plenty to improve on. But that's always the bright spot, isn't it? The potential for improvement was invented as a consolation prize for races just like this one.
Let me tell you what we did do, though; we finished.
We finished together.
That race, the celebrating behind me, it was time to start thinking about the half marathon I'd be running in less than 24 hours. I'd been more than willing to take the 5K at the boys' pace - at least Ian's - knowing I had dreams of running my fastest half marathon ever the next day. Any worries the 5K would take something out of me were now lost in the gratitude I felt for the chance to race with my boys.
As planned, I hit the road for Virginia Beach the next morning by 3:30AM. I arrived at a parking garage near the starting line a little after 5:30. I sat in the car and ate miniature bagels and peanut butter and debated gloves or no gloves and literally did everything I could think of short of checking my oil to stall my march toward the starting line. That's because the 70% chance of showers for the area had arrived in the form of a driving rain powered by 20-40 MPH winds. I wish that was a dramatic use of exaggeration. It's not. It's actually a conservative use of meteorological fact.
Don't believe me? Here I am standing at the starting line before the race.
I was grateful for two things standing at that starting line. And no, it wasn't for the two pair of drenched shoes and socks that I somehow expected to carry me through the next 13.1 miles before turning my feet into my great grandpa's feet. No, I was grateful for my friend Nikki who walked to the starting line with me. The whole way there she laughed at the weather. LAUGHED. She said it was part of the fun. FUN. That crazy woman meant it and I'm almost positive she hadn't hit the post-race Yuengling party before the race ever started.
Attitudes are contagious. Especially good ones. I caught Nikki's that morning. It stayed with me for 13.1 miles.
I was also grateful the weather wasn't as bad at my house when I left 3 hours earlier as it was in that moment standing at the starting line. I would have never - I repeat NEVER - gotten in my car and made the two hour trip east. Crazy runner talk there, right? Somehow I was grateful the weather wasn't horrific enough to stop me from standing at the starting line in the most horrific weather I'd ever run in.
Don't ask me to explain it. I can't.
Here's what I ultimately came to believe about the weather. The weather turned out to be a much greater mental barrier than a physical one. Don't get me wrong. It's not like I rejoiced at the rain pelting water dents two inches deep into my face or anything.
But the truth is once I started running and forgot how wet and cold I was, the running took over.
My first goal of the day was to hit the 5-mile mark in under an hour. The first 3 miles we ran were straight into the fiercest winds of the day. The next two turned into a tunnel of trees and the winds seemed to disappear. 5 miles in under 58 minutes. I began to believe my record of 2:53 was possible.
At 10 miles my watch said 1:57. I'd hoped to get to 10 miles in 2:05. I felt great at this point and knew something great was possible.
Let me pause for a minute and say in running, great is relative. And it's always relative to you. What is it you have done before? What is it you are capable of today? And what is it you've run hard enough to accomplish today relative to both? At the 10-mile mark I knew I was about to run the fastest race of my life, and potentially much faster than I thought I was capable of. I knew great was not just possible, it was mine for the taking.
2 of those last three miles were my fastest of the day. In fairness, the gale was to my back. But I still had to have enough energy left to take advantage of it. And for a hard earned change - two months of hard training and weight loss worth of change - I had plenty left.
I can't describe the feeling I had when I crossed the finish line and my watch said 2:32. I'd run 21 minutes faster than my previous fastest half marathon. It wasn't just that it was a fast time. It was more about the decision I made in January to be faster this year and then making it happen. I wasn't going to just finish races this year. I was going to finish them faster than I thought I could. That's what the jubilation was about.
My friend Lashell sent me a scripture from Isaiah 43 before I hit the road for Virginia Beach.
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you, and through the rivers, they shall not overflow you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; neither shall the flame kindle upon you.
She was prophetic, I suppose. Sending verses that would literally lift me out of the water. But running through a storm most considered a pretty foolish endeavor, I was reminded for 13.1 miles that God truly is with us in the storm. He is constantly begging us to hear and to cling to the promise: I will be with you. I felt God's smile that last mile. It felt a lot like wind blowing in off the ocean with the force of a gale. And it felt like sand. But it looked like a smile. I sensed it wasn't because I was about to break a personal record and ring a silly bell, but because I ran. God gave me a gift and I ran with it.
So he smiled.
Life is like running.