Thirteen point one. Got ‘er done, and in record time to boot. It wasn’t the first half-marathon I’ve run, nor God and all her saints willing, will it be the last. But it was the most meaningful. It was the first half completed in my fifth decade. It was my first half after a stream of injuries. It was my first half as I  let go simultaneously of some dreams and embraced new ones.

By the way, can we think of some other name for this distance? It’s not half of anything. It is a whole 69, 168 feet; 27, 667 steps; 21 kilometers. It is a months of training, two sets of earbuds, 507 songs on the iPod, two pairs of running shoes, 3 seasons, a month or two of Sunday mornings devoted to the dreaded “long” run. Which kept getting longer. There is a movement afoot – so to speak – to rename the half-marathon “21k” or Pikermi, which is the town halfway between Athens and Marathon. I kid you not. Team Pikermi.

I took chances and learned lessons as I trained. For reasons to do with timing, planned vacation, surgery, and unplanned injuries, I followed a very loose and likely very inefficient training plan. It looked something like this: Run. A few times a week. Longer on one day. I debated for months the usefulness of my gym membership. In August I let it go – the first time in over fifteen years I haven’t belonged to a gym. I decided that the mind-numbing stints on the elliptical and the miles on the treadmill would never properly condition my legs and feet for the road. I accepted that weight lifting was more about aesthetics and wasn’t the best way to achieve sustainable fitness  (and truth be told – I do a lot of heavy lifting a few days a week at my day job).   I had to commit to the harder work of  training out-of-doors in all sorts of weather, of finding ways to cross-train that didn’t involve equipment run on electricity, and of concentrating on yoga as a whole-body approach to building strength, stamina, and that all-important core.

I turned to my bike as cross-trainer #1 and landed hard on the pavement, derailing my training with ribs so sore that laughing made me cry.  I followed a night of dancing barefoot with a morning’s hard run and landed myself in a big black boot, on my way to a stress fracture of my left metatarsal.  I ran my last long run too close to race day and found myself back in that damnable boot only days before the marathon, pumping ibuprofen and denying away the pain.

But somehow the self-inflicted insults stitched themselves together into muscles and bones that knew what they wanted to do once my feet crossed the starting mat. They ran and ran, even when I thought I’d run out of gas. My one stop was a stretch and pee break at the 4 mile porta-John. After that, the pavement rolled out before me, sometimes agonizingly uphill, sometimes painfully down. Miles 5-9 felt steady and smooth and I was able to enjoy the beauty of Lake Washington and the Arboretum at autumn’s end. I lost my hat somewhere along mile 8, which wasn’t a problem until about mile 10, when the wind rushed off of I-5, my reserves were running low, and I felt a deep chill building in my extremities. But mile 12 gave an extra jolt of adrenalin and that gave me the needed heat.

I didn’t feel a great sense of accomplishment crossing that finish line. But neither did I feel wrecked or exhausted, just tired and happy. I had a sense of ease and energy, like I could do this again sometime soon. This past week of recovery week was harder emotionally – the post-event blues- than physically. I’ve walked long and hard, run short and tenderly, biked, and melted into some healing yoga. And I’m planning out the next race – perhaps Whidbey Island Marathon (half) in April, and a couple of local 10ks to keep me motivated through the winter. I’m investigating lessons with a swim coach to train again for a sprint triathlon.

And I’m already signed up for the Seattle Rock-n-Roll Marathon (half) in June.  It is this event I anticipate with particular excitement – my fingers are crossed that I will be joined by friends from near and far (I’d cross my toes, too, but I need them to train!). These friends are from my distant and recent past, some are new and some are those with whom I have corresponded for years but never actually met. Some of us will run the whole or half-marathon, some of us will walk, some will be cheering from the sidelines. If you are reading my blog post, I throw my arms wide and invite you to join us in June. If you are on Facebook, I’ll add you to our training and support group – just drop me a line.

And a few notes to self, on those lessons learned:

  • Miles 10-12 were rough. Means I need to do more long runs, earlier on.
  • BUT longest run no longer than 12. That last mile is sheer adrenaline. I risked it going for 14 in training.
  • Last long run 3 weeks out. No later.
  • I’m pokey. I’m not interested in speed for the sake thereof- too much pounding on my joints and bones. But I could make an effort to be a more efficient runner. This means heading to the track at Greenlake and running fartleks. It’s an excuse to buy a fancy new watch with supercool functions, right?
  • And bleachers. Need to run the damn bleachers.
  • My hips and psoas say “Thank you, Julie, for making an effort to stretch and strengthen us. Might we have some more, please?”  Ashtanga before breakfast. My new mantra.

Namaste.