The 1 Thing I Realized While Running A Half Marathon In The Rain
It was raining the day I became a runner.
May 19, 2018. A Saturday. The day of the Brooklyn Half Marathon.
Except, I wasn’t running the race. Months earlier, in February, I’d forgotten the registration date and by the time I checked, it was sold out — It’s the quickest race to sell out so I wasn’t surprised.
And truthfully, that was fine. Most of my running friends wouldn’t be around or had moved away from New York so it wasn’t like I’d be able to meet them at the finish and share the hour-long train ride back to the city. Which is really what I looked forward to more than the race anyway, an excuse to be around the people I enjoy being with.
But, that’s not why I started running. I first started running because I wanted to be able to still call myself an athlete. Having been some time since I played lacrosse competitively I knew if I didn’t start doing something soon my “athlete” status would no longer be valid.
So in the summer of 2014, I signed up for a race: the Big Ten 10k. Two weeks before it started.
Having never ran more than two consecutive miles my goal was to finish in under an hour.
(Playing sports doesn’t count … running is a necessary part of them but running just to run wasn’t my thing).
With no training, technique, long distance ability and only the expectation of myself, I finished that race in 00:54:14. Under an hour, so naturally, the next thing I did was sign up for the Detroit International Half Marathon two months away with a goal of finishing under two hours.
Again, I had no idea what I was doing and pretty much showed up with the same amount of prep as before.
Somehow I finished just under two hours, 01:58:27.
With an apparent ability, running became something I did to challenge myself. Am I able to maintain a baseline of fitness so that I can just show up to these races and be good enough?
I figured I’d start training when that was no longer true.
Then I moved to New York and met other people who ran. People I wanted to be friends with, who trained so they could be better than they were in their last race. Not just good enough.
So, I started running with them. To be friends with, to learn from, and to be held accountable to more than myself. We ran races both in New York and around the country with the same goal. Each time to be better than the last.
Then they left, and I missed the registration, and I found myself running alone, in the rain, as the race I’d run every year since I moved to New York took place a few miles from me.
. . .
You see, the thing about running is unless you have a legitimate shot of being in the top 5 you’re not actually competing in the race. It’s really you and thousands of other people who decided to run the same course together with the ultimate goal of finishing. If anything, you’re competing with yourself. Someone else set the course and all you have to do is show up.
The advantage is that you get the added perspective of everyone else around you. Are they keeping a pace you like? Is there someone you need to get away from who keeps running faster then slowing down and throwing off your cadence? Who in front of you can you reach and then pass? This strategy works because you are all trying to get to the same place. You adapt but you stay the course because that’s what’s expected.
However, when you’re running alone, all bets are off, there are no rules. No one is there to motivate you, no one expects to see you at the finish. You could stop altogether and no one would know, or care.
When you run alone to even start is a choice. And to keep going is a choice. As you go you have to ask yourself is my pace sustainable, how far do I want to go, can I make it that far? Do I like the route I’m taking? Should I go left, right, stay straight, take the hill or not? Where am I trying to get to? It’s entirely possible that you don’t end up where you thought you would because another route looked like more fun, like more of a challenge.
The difference is that it’s all on you. No one is handing you water, there are no snacks, there is no party at the finish line.
Which means you have to know why you’re doing it — why you’re there.
It’s a different game.
That Saturday morning I realized I was there because I wanted to be. Not because anyone else expected me to be.
Had I remembered to sign up I would have been running a half marathon that day and whether it was raining or not, I was going to be out there. So that’s what I did.
And that’s when being a runner became who I am, and not something I did.
I realized that you — I — get to choose the races we run.
I realized I didn’t need to be running the race with everyone else because I’d ran that race, and been to that finish line.
I realized that courses are there to serve a purpose. Sometimes we need other people to help set our pace, and having those guardrails helps make sure we don’t take a wrong turn. But those things only help if you like where they’re leading you.
When you run with others or those you’ll meet at the end, you have to question if those people are helping you be better than the last time, or are they like that guy who is distracting you as he runs erratically and can’t catch his breath. Have you’ve seen others reach the finish line before you? Do you like how they look, do you want what they have? Does it seem worth it?
If the answer is yes, keep going.
But if not, the best thing you can do is stop running the race.
Don’t keep going because it seems like what you’re doing is the only option.
Duck the rope. Run your own route.
. . .
You also get to name your race whatever you want and run longer because no one is going to tell you to stop.
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Originally published on Medium.