I wish I had a more grandiose or admirable reason why I ran my first half marathon other than I thought I could, and I had to prove myself right.
It was a chaotic first half marathon, in Chicago, in 2008. Rain poured from start to finish, my shorts chafed my legs, I questioned my sanity around mile seven, and the organizers forgot to make a meet-up area. After I crossed the finish line, I was cold and in pain, but jubilant. Even with all those missteps, I was hooked.
I then started the journey many runners take: a journey of goals.
I had finished a half marathon and thought I could finish a full. I did, in 2009, in just under four hours. Next, I thought I could qualify for Boston, if I tried really hard. This did not come easy. My first real attempt was in 2010, and I fell short by thirty-odd seconds. It was really hard not to be disappointed, especially as I saw the 3:40 pace group pass me just after the 25-mile mark. I knew I could not move any faster. I think that’s part of the process to becoming a better runner.
I made other attempts, but because of less-than-stellar training and an illness I missed the mark.
From my disappointments, I learned I needed to commit to my training. If I had planned an 18-mile run, I could not quit at 16. I also learned the importance of rest days. Those days helped combat physical and mental burnout. I realized I had to add strength training to run faster and prevent injury. I changed the way I ate. I never ate poorly, but training to run at a certain pace required a different kind of fueling. I decided I wanted this goal. I wanted it because I worked for it, not because it was a fluke.
Then the Boston Marathon changed regulations. I now had to run at least five minutes faster to qualify and 10 minutes faster if I really wanted to secure my place on the start line. This was an opportunity to really test myself, my physical strength and my character.
I attempted to qualify a fifth time, at the Wisconsin Marathon, in May. I missed by about 90 seconds. I could have been disappointed, but I had achieved a personal record of four minutes, comfortably. Boston was within my grasp.
This fall, during the 2012 Milwaukee Lakefront Marathon, around mile 22, I again questioned my sanity. That element never changes no matter the race! I also felt excited. I knew at that moment I would really have to fall apart to not qualify. It was the pushing force I needed. It was the fastest marathon I had ever run, and I was definitely feeling that pace.
After I passed the 26-mile mark, the excitement took over. I growled at a bystander wearing a Boston Marathon jacket that I was about to secure the opportunity get my own jacket! After I crossed the finish line, I was misty eyed and emotional. I was incredibly happy to get this monkey off my back, but then came fear. What’s next?
Four years ago, I would have never thought I would be where I am as a runner. I would not have considered myself an athlete, to be so ingrained within the athletic community, and to make numerous friends. There have been many great moments on my journey. Many emanated from my success in reaching progressive goals. I wondered, “What is my next goal, what will be my motivation?”
After some contemplation and recovery runs, I realized I should not worry. Life really had not changed. It’s not any different than what I had been doing the past several years. I can start over, set and achieve new goals. Perhaps, I could try an ultra marathon or triathlon, which could lead to an Ironman! I was the one who sets these goals, starting four years ago, and I could not box myself in. I have this wonderful opportunity to expand and I can’t wait to see where it takes me.
Sheila Wordell is a coach and race director for the Girls on the Run of Greater Milwaukee. A Marquette University alum, she works at Independent Studios and pursues yoga, cooking and good music. This is her first contribution to the Active Pursuit.