I started running for real in March 2011. I decided to start running just for the heck of it. No tangible goal in mind. When people asked me why I was running so much, I answered that I wanted to see how far and how fast I could really go. One thing I really knew for sure is that I was definitely not at my best yet. I ran a few times a week and only a couple of miles each time. It was not impressive at all.
I heard about a couple of races in Palo Alto (10K) and in San Francisco (13K). I signed up and ran. The first one was on my own and the second one with two friends of mine. Esteban and Shawn. I learned that running with a partner is a great experience. It pushes you further. I loved the feeling of accomplishing something new and exciting with someone by your side.
After those two small races and with decent times for a novice runner I got interested in the San Francisco half marathon which was happening in November. We were already at the end of July and I had not anything close to 13 miles but I decided to sign up anyway. What’s the worst that could happen, right?
A sweet pain set in my legs the day after I finished the San Francisco Half Marathon. I finished among the top 500 runners and I felt exhausted physically and mentally. The first day after the race I devoured a hamburger, a full breakfast, three mini kitkats, 3 mini twix bars and liters of cold water and warm mint-citrus tea. The second day was similar so I added vitamins to aid in the recovery. It was tough.
A few days before the race, my mind quieted down and started repelling outside noise. Meaningless conversations, frustrations, unfulfilled goals – everything out the window. There was no space for junk in my brain. You have to disengage from the internal and external sources of noise and focus in what’s important so that you can accomplish something you’ve never achieved before.
I stopped wearing normal running shoes in favor of the barefoot kind. I now have strong opinions about brands and types of barefoot shoes. I will post them soon. But that is just a technical detail that I personally enjoy since not many people ran the race wearing barefoot shoes.
You really don’t know what’s coming during your first half marathon. It felt great the first two miles. I was excited and full of adrenaline and running a bit too fast. I slowed down because I knew that I would need that spark of energy later during the big climb in Marin. I really didn’t know how big the hill was until I was half way up and almost ready to give up. Right before I started running the hill I had the chance to see the front-runners as they flew by us after the had finished the climb. They looked focused, determined, strong and driven. They were truly inspiring. A beautiful human machine in fast and elegant motion.
After I saw them fly by me, I felt inspired to pass a few people. Once I hit the hill, the reality of my mental barriers set in. I had to face them and choose to push through or give up. There was no way out of this binary decision –– you do it or you don’t, simple. I was afraid I would not bring myself to start running again if I stopped so I kept going up the hill and made it up running. Took a couple of gels from the aid station and started the downhill. It was tough but I felt great. I put on my earphones and ran to the beat of Lady Gaga’s You and I which is a favorite of my three-year old twin sons. I was almost dancing down the hill and across the Golden Gate bridge.
Then mile 10 came along. That last stretch was so difficult, draining and challenging. The tiniest hill became hard. But I couldn’t stop. I wouldn’t stop. Not in the last three miles. I was exhausted and losing strength. Looking down at my watch I saw that my speed wasn’t terrible (9:00 per mile) and I decided to conserve the pace. To my surprise, very few runners passed me in the last stretch. That last stretch was about camaraderie and making it happen. I was on the verge of finishing but with the real possibility of failing. Failing didn’t scare me. What I was fearful of was feeling that I didn’t give it my best, so I kept pushing one leg in front of the other and remembering the routine I’d practiced in my runs at the Stanford Dish. I repeated it out loud. Land soft, push back, lift the other foot, take a short stride and repeat. Breathe. Keep your back straight. Don’t worry about the distance. Be fearless.
1 hour and 50 minutes later. 13.1 miles were behind me. I was at the finish line. Excited. Exhausted. Accomplished. Fearless… and possibly changed forever.