Back in the spring of 2015 I was gently persuaded to tackle the gently rolling hills of a half marathon known as Run the Bluegrass. The race winds through horse farm country in rural Lexington, Kentucky. The Run the Bluegrass absolutely lived up to its tagline: America's prettiest half-marathon. You'll have a hard time finding a prettier spring drive. That's right. I said drive. But all the talk I heard that downplayed the magnitude of the 32 hills on the course was high altitude deception. So running this course, I left there believing, is for people who have something to prove in their running journey.
Let's jump ahead to 2017. The year I just so happened to set out to prove something in my running journey. Late last year I decided I was going to push myself to do more than finish races this year. I was going to try to run them fast. My world fast - not standing on the podium world fast.
When I set that goal I knew the first true measure of my progress would have to come through a return visit to Run the Bluegrass. The 2015 race was one of those I just finished. And barely. It took everything I had to get across that finish line so I left there feeling accomplished. I also left there swearing no mas, no mas.
The 2015 RTB finish line photo of THAT face haunted me for a long time. It too close for any future comfort reflected the pain I felt in that moment. It kept the pain alive in my head no matter how many races I ran elsewhere trying to exorcize it. It became painfully clear the only place I'd ever be able to exorcise it was back in Lexington.
That's where I was last weekend. Running the only race I've ever sworn I'd never run again.
If you read my last post you know I was coming into this weekend with tons of confidence. I'd just run my fastest half marathon ever by 21 minutes. Granted, it was on a completely flat course. EVERYTHING about that Virginia Beach course truly was gentle and non-rolling. At least everything but the weather. I had no dreams of running a 2:32 here in Lexington, but I did want to significantly improve on my 3:01 from RTB 2015. And I wanted a finish line picture that would erase the memory of the one that had been haunting me.
I don't think any starting line has ever gotten me more excited than this one at Run the Bluegrass. It was beautiful. Even in dreary starting line weather the scene simply remained beautiful. Because the starting line is sloped you can see all the other runners in front of you. At least when you start as far back as I did. Something about that got my blood pumping. Maybe it was being able to see the full collection of pre-race excitement and determination of the other runners. Maybe it's because this year I was full of determination myself.
I had one intermediate goal in mind. I wanted to hit the 5-mile mark in under an hour. I knew that would set me up for my best chance at coming in under 2:50 - the goal I settled on. I wanted anything in the 2:40s.
One problem though. For the first time ever I forgot my watch. If you're a runner you understand the panic that swept through me with a speed that would have left any runner anywhere envious. How on earth was I going to monitor my pace? The answer came from my friend Leah. Without hesitation she offered me her watch. I was overwhelmed by her selflessness. Then I was relieved and completely centered on time and distance.
I arrived at mile 5 in a little under 59 minutes. I was ahead of the pace I needed. The hills on miles 7 through 9 really started to take it out of me, though. I got to mile 10 in a little over 2:05. My pace was clearly slowing, but I knew I could get the final 3+ miles in the slightly under 15 minute miles pace I would need. I also knew I would be fading fast when I got there. This felt very different than the feeling I had two weeks earlier at Virginia Beach when I felt like I had tons left for the final 3 miles. This race I was running on empty.
I was within 3 tenths of a mile from the finish. I heard the race announcer shout out a finisher's time at 2:42. I didn't have much left to push, but I knew at this point if I did it was possible to beat 2:45. I tried to hit the gas. I saw my friend Missy about a tenth of a mile from the finish. She was the huge ball of hanging over the fence and screaming and throwing high fives energy I needed for a spark. Then I saw the rest of my Megsmiles friends cheering. It wasn't a sprint, but I kept running - that's my half marathon equivalent of digging deep. And it wasn't a huge grin, but it was a finish line photo that exorcised that 2015 memory for sure.
That, and a finish time of 2:44:18
Later this week I'll be doing a podcast on a powerful life lesson I learned tackling this race the second time around. I hope you'll tune in. The photo below is a preview:
Life is like running.