In May of 2019, I was supposed to run the Flying Pig Half Marathon. But, in February of that same year, I began to experience the first of many mysterious symptoms that would plague me for most of the year. By my 27th birthday, I’d made the decision to defer my Half to 2020 and hope for better circumstances.
While my personal circumstances did improve post diagnosis and treatment for occipital neuralgia, 2020 became the dumpster fire of a year it has become. By my 28th birthday, I was in quarantine, working from home, and watching numerous races get postponed or cancelled.
Soon, the Flying Pig followed, pushed from May to October. I marked the new date on my calendar and hoped to travel to my hometown of Cincinnati to enjoy some of the country’s best cheering crowds for my first half marathon.
And then, another announcement. The in-person race was cancelled, and I had a choice to make: give up the ghost & donate my race registration, defer again to 2021, or run the race virtually. As in, alone. As in, in Pittsburgh. As in… without the very crowd enthusiasm and adorable pig balloons that had inspired me to choose this particular race as my first half marathon.
After a few conversations with my fiance and my therapist, I made my choice: I couldn’t wait another year. The doubt and fear about whether I could handle running 13.1 miles were stacking up, and I needed to stop get out there and see what I’m capable of.
As virtual race day approached, fear and doubt spoke louder than determination and grit. I’d spent the summer training for the BadassLadyGang virtual race series with a group of amazing women, and planned to roll into the fall with another training program.
My longest streak of uninjured, consistent running since I first began in 2018 should’ve come with feeling sure of my ability to run 131. But it didn’t. I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop, waiting for a reason to quit, to give up, to decide I simply couldn’t be a half-marathoner.
As October 11th approached, I went into denial mode. Privately, I wondered if I shouldn’t just wait until the Fall Racing Series virtual half to do the thing. Which was really just an excuse to put it off and let December weather choose my choice for me.
Thankfully, Andy doesn’t let me get away with those kind of nonsensical excuses. The day of my virtual half marathon approached, and while I had still only run a max of 7 miles, I knew I had to try.
I spent the Saturday before race day full of dread. Ready to wake up, start, and inevitably crash and burn. I can be honest now–I truly did not believe I was going out there to succeed. “Dare to Fail” is one of the BadassLadyGang mantras, and that was what I intended to do.
Andy mapped out a nice, flat course around Pittsburgh for me, and we picked out my bathroom breaks and where he would meet me to swap out a full water bottle and fresh Gu energy gel. I worried I would get lost, though we went over the map multiple times and there were, like, two turns.
And then, morning came. I stretched, got into my carefully selected race outfit (nothing new on race day), and prepped my water bottles. I wondered how far in I’d get before I wanted to quit. If I would be able to push on.
Andy drove me down to the waterfront, where we’ve run together a few times. Gloriously, they had recently installed new portapotties, so I had my first race day pee at our makeshift starting line. Then, a few fiddles with my RunKeeper app and live tracking feature later, I was off.
|The view from my starting line|
My first stop was Pittsburgh’s Point Park, one of my favorite spots and a destination with which I was familiar. I made a plan to take a photo at each mile marker as a way to pass the time and stay true to the whole “run the mile you’re in” tactic.
What I found was that I ended up taking pictures a bit more frequently than planned. As I ran to the point, I reminisced about the first time I’d gone there. On the way back, I passed Station Square, the first place my mom and I had lunch when we came to see the city where I was considering getting my graduate degree.
And then, we were up the ramp and around the turn where I feared I’d get lost. Except that the trail I was supposed to take was ridiculously clearly marked, and I turned onto it with ease. Running along the river, I thought back to the first race I’d done in the city, the annual Great Race. The Eliza Furnace bike trail runs along the river and past Allegheny County Jail, where I spent a summer teaching creative writing to incarcerated men.
|Allegheny County Jail|
And on, and on, through parts of the path I hadn’t run on yet.
|Mile 4: Plenty of light still in my eyes|
At the five mile marker, Andy met me for our first water bottle swap, and we discovered the portapotties he’d planned for my first bathroom break were a figment of his imagination.
|That face when you realize Mile 5 isn’t even halfway|
|My cheering squad of one|
Armed with a wad of toilet paper for emergency situations, I continued over Hot Metal Bridge.
From there, I ran slash walked towards the Waterfront, where Andy and I had our third date and where I enjoyed many a vegan veggie burger before Burgatory so rudely betrayed me from taking it off their menu.
|Mile 7: Sweat has permeated my bangs|
As I passed mile 7, I began to walk briskly more and run less, but was shocked to find that quitting still hadn’t crossed my mind.
I ran through beautiful fall foliage and switched my audio from Spotify to one of Mindy Kaling’s new essays (“Kind of Hindu”) for a little something different.
I reached the end of the essay right about as I pushed into the parking lot of Sandcastle, Pittsburgh’s water park. Gloriously, there also happened to be a portapotty there and I didn’t have to resort to the horrors of peeing in the woods with my wad of toilet paper.
|-insert chorus of angels-|
Post pee, I resumed my Spotify playlist and “Into the Unknown” came on as I pushed into Mile 10, officially hitting double digits in a run for the very first time. I was alarmed to realize I was headed towards the AMC theater and Costco. It felt impossible that I could’ve started my race at The Point and ended up all the way over here. ON FOOT.
Andy met me around 10.5 and joined me for the “I am going to primarily walk” section of the half marathon, spurring me to push and keep my average mile pace below13:00 min/mile.
Though I grumbled with him about how much to run versus walk, I still didn’t feel like quitting was an option. I just… kept going.
|Mile 12: Considered running through this car wash|
And then, the number on my tracker finally hit 13.1. I could hardly believe it. As Andy cheered, tears pricked the corners of my eyes. For two years, I had been chasing this goal. For weeks, I’d tried to talk myself out of it, worried I couldn’t possibly push through. And for 13.1 miles, for nearly 3 hours, I had kept on pushing.
The virtual half-marathon was nothing like I imagined my first half-marathon would be, but in retrospect, I think it was the half-marathon I needed.
The quiet, contemplative time, the lack of others passing me by and making me feel pressured to push harder than I should, all of it made the experience so personal and special. Plus, I ended up running in the city I’m going to call home for the foreseeable future, which was a nice reminder that I’ve been calling it home for a few years now.
So, after two years of this impossible goal feeling further and further out of reach, here I sit: a half marathoner with sore legs and a much sorer back (running uses a lot more core than you expect, and mine is still working up to the challenge). I am so grateful to be in a body that can carry me, with a mind that decided not to give up, either. Now, the question is… what’s next?