I am still beaming about Sunday’s Chicago Spring Half Marathon, which I ran in 2:08:15, setting a new personal record by almost six minutes. I maintained a consistent pace, and I have never felt stronger or more confident during a race.
This was a special one for me. Last year, I ran it to honor my deceased father on his birthday, and it was my first race after quitting smoking. It was also my fifth half marathon, and I finally beat my time from my first in 2011. This year, I was 15 months’ smoke-free when I crossed the finish line. My lungs were a year stronger and healthier, and I was diligent about staying on track with my training. The pressure, all of it self-imposed, was high to do even better this time. And I did — despite the niggling voice in my head that told me I couldn’t.
Even though I knew I was well-prepared, the voice managed to flame my self-doubt, especially during the final weeks of training. Your pace has been too slow on your long runs, it said. You’ll never be able to beat your PR from last year, it said. It’s not possible to get faster as you get older, it said. Get ready to be disappointed, it said.
By the week before the race, the voice was all I could hear. But then something happened that helped me quiet it. On Mother’s Day, my husband and daughter hung a bulletin board in my home office displaying bibs and photographs from the races I have run and put up two rows of hooks for my medals. Atop the bulletin board, they placed black capital letters that spell out “JUST RUN.” If you are a runner, you know that is often easier said than done. But the words, which were my 13-year-old daughter’s idea, are as brilliant as they are simple. They told me to ignore the voice in my head and focus on my feet hitting the pavement. During the week that followed, that is exactly what I did.
I only had three short, easy runs remaining before the race. Looking over my 12-week training log, I was proud to see that I had only skipped one three-mile run, despite countless available excuses, including two weeks of traveling. I knew I was ready in terms of mileage logged, but, as the voice relentlessly reminded me, my pace was not where I wanted it to be. Even though I was supposed to be tapering and resting, I needed to push myself after those disappointingly slow long runs. I saw the racing bibs and medals on my office wall, I realized how far I had come during the four years since my first 8K, and I heeded the advice above the bulletin board. My pace was strong for all three runs, and it was exactly the confidence boost I needed.
When race morning came, the voice inside my head remained surprisingly quiet. Maybe it was the inspirational wall my family made for me. Maybe it was the distraction of my husband and a close friend running the race too. Maybe it was the awesome 2:10 pace group I ran the majority of the race with. Maybe it was all three. But for the first time probably ever during a race, I believed in myself the whole way. When I reached mile 10, I wasn’t just sure I could finish. I knew I would PR. I had no doubts. It was the best I have ever felt during a race because I stopped thinking. I just ran.
When our two rockstar pacers slowed down around mile 11 to ensure the 2:10 finishing time, several of the women who had been running with the group pushed ahead. At first I was unsure about leaving the group behind, but I felt strong and wanted to maintain the 9:45 pace. I knew I could do it, and I did. In fact, I sprinted across the finish line, simultaneously laughing and crying. One of the volunteers stopped me. I think she thought I was hyperventilating. “I’m OK,” I assured her. “I’m just happy.” Happy doesn’t even begin to explain how I felt.
For me, the best part of a race — besides crossing the finish line, of course — is finding my husband afterward. He is always proud of me. He always believes in me, even when I don’t believe in myself. When I told him I PRed, he said he knew I could do it. The difference was this time I knew it too.
Yep, still beaming.