I want to first apologize for how long and rambly this post is. I’m going to try to condense it as much as I can, but I feel like background is necessary.
I was raised to not say can’t and not to quit. I have never quit anything in my life. Okay, I quit clarinet, but that was only for two weeks. I was raised to strive to be the best. Once I got straight A’s, that was the bar that was set for me. If I got a B, my mom responded with “why wasn’t it an A?” During high school and college, I’d get updates on my cousin’s grades, and was told to “be careful or he’ll beat you!” My competitive spirit and need to be perfect was cultivated early on. Not my mom’s plan, I’m sure, but that’s how it turned out. Can’t was not a word we used. Quit is not something we did. Fail was not an option.
Everything I’ve ever done has been done with 110% and I’ve been good at it. Music, languages, academics, and baking were all things I excelled at. And if I didn’t excel? I’d push myself so hard and throw myself into it until I came out perfect. I’d practice my instruments and I’d conjugate verbs in Swedish and Danish while watching TV or in bed. Sports, though? I’d never touch the stuff. I had enough running when we had to do 600 yards every spring in high school, thank you!
So fast forward to May 2012. I decided to run a 5K. Me? Run? PSH, NO! But I decided to anyway. I walked a lot, but I did it. Then I signed up for the Philly Half that November. I walked a lot, but I did it. Then I signed up for the Pittsburgh Half in May 2013, less than a year after I started running. I trained. Okay, maybe I slacked a little. But I still pushed myself to do what I could. I learned to accept that I’m slow, and I may never run the entirety of a half marathon, but I’m not alone in that, so it’s okay. I ran Philly because of the timing – if I didn’t register for a half last summer, I knew I never would, and Pittsburgh was too far away. Pittsburgh is my adopted home town. I love it, and the idea of racing there was fantastic. I couldn’t wait to run around a city I love so much.
Mike & I drove out to Pittsburgh for race weekend, and had pre-race dinner with my aunt, uncle, and two cousins who were also running the half. They grew up with the same take on can’t, quit, and fail as I did, except they substituted sports for the music & language I focused on. So I figured they’d run faster and finish the race before me. First, they’re guys. Second, they’re already athletes.
As we sat at dinner (and cousin #1 dissected my choice of dinner before a race), the conversation fell to the pace requirement (16:00 miles) of the race, and they started mocking it. Their take was that, if you’re doing a half marathon, you should run faster than that. I mentioned that people stop to walk. They commented that it’s a half marathon and you should run. The dinner and weekend I was so looking forward took a very disappointing turn. My uncle and cousins – people who I’d expect to support me – turned my running and, even worse, my race into a joke. I combated their comments with what I could. I’m short, I’m obese, I’m borderline asthmatic, I have pronated feet and arthritis. They continued to laugh at the entire notion that people would walk and be so slow during a race. They laughed at the idea I’d run in a tutu, which was the only comment I could effectively counter. “You take this seriously, I do it for fun.”
Mike & I left dinner and went back to the hotel. I wouldn’t talk to him the whole ride back. When we finally got to our room, I couldn’t help but breakdown. MY hardwork was mocked. MY running was mocked. MY ENTIRE RACE was turned into a joke. What I had worked for the past four months, what I had decided to do a year prior, was all one big joke. Mike reminded me of what I said at dinner, and that I didn’t take it seriously, and it was for fun. But I didn’t want to hear it.
We went to bed, I woke up early, and I sat by our window overlooking the start and cried. I didn’t want to be there. I didn’t want to run. I wanted to hang up my running shoes. If Mike hadn’t been there with me, I would have driven home after dinner. The race I was so excited for was suddenly a nightmare. Maybe they were right. Maybe I shouldn’t do it if I can’t run it all or if I’m slow. I decided to do it anyway, because I had paid for my registration, a room in the city, our rental car, and because Mike was laying ten feet from me. I did it because I didn’t want to disappoint him when he had been my biggest cheerleader. I even debated skipping my tutu, but figured I’d enjoy my last race and wear it. I laced up my shoes for the last time, and walked out of the hotel.
Miles 1-2 weren’t bad. I was still in a nice cluster of runners and I totally felt into the race. As the pack thinned out though, my thoughts drifted back to what my cousin and uncles said. Races are meant to be run. Who registers if they’re slow? Those people shouldn’t do races. And I cried. I lost count of how many times I wanted to stop and just walk to the medics and quit. But I didn’t, because I didn’t want to disappoint Mike, so I just silently cried while running (or walking) and kept going. Sometimes, spectators and volunteers would say something that would inspire me and feel like, however I was doing it, I was accomplishing something. But that inspiration quickly faded. It took me hours and miles to get out of the funk. It wasn’t until the split between the half and full marathons around mile 10.5 that I got out of my head. It wasn’t until the water stop at 10.7 where a volunteer made me feel like I was doing so well I could have won. I don’t know who that woman was, but she saved the last two miles for me. She liked my tutu and my matching nails. I was heading into a killer hill between miles 11 & 12, so I needed her words more than ever.
As I passed the mile 11 flag, I told myself there was no quitting now. I told myself to conquer the hill and it’d be pie after that. Well, I kicked so much ass on that hill that I wasn’t even sure I had climbed it. I walked to the mile 12 marker, still waiting for that hill, and knew I had passed it. The Pitt Drumline played at mile 12, and, as a former Pitt Band member, it made me smile, and I jogged my last mile. The whole race I heard people talk about my tutu or take pictures, but my favorite was approaching the finish. As I sprinted to the finish, I heard “look at tutu go!” come from the spectators. I mean, I know sprinting is just a sign I mismanaged my energy or some crap, but that rule can bite me. I crossed the line, got my medal, and wanted to die.
I met up with Mike, and we sat on some grass for a bit. He told me he was proud of me. I looked for my aunt, uncle, and cousins, who I presumed would be waiting for me. My cousins finished in less than 2 hours, and they all decided to go back to their hotel. Well, thanks for the support guys. I ran into a friend who ran the full instead, and he congratulated me and gave me a sweaty hug, even though we finished at the same time.
I learned the difference between a runner/race runner/half marathoner/marathoner and a person who runs that day. The “people who run” will judge your pace and time and if you walk, because clearly, you are not a runner. The runner/racer/etc will see your accomplishment regardless of time.
I learned something else that day, too. I don’t need to always win or beat my cousins. I don’t need to be perfect. For once in my life, I am allowed to be imperfect at something. I’m allowed to see myself make gains and get better, even if I’ll never be the best. I’m allowed to run, walk, crawl, or skip those 13.1 miles no matter how long it takes. I’m allowed to wear a tutu and have fun with running and races.
It may have taken me 3:38:53, but I am no less of a runner because of that time. I finished, just as they did. I earned a medal, just as they did.
I have a point, I swear. My point of all of this is that there will always be haters. There will always be someone telling you that you can’t do it. Sometimes, it’ll be you. Sometimes, it will be your family. Sometimes, you’ll let them ruin your race because you can’t get them out of your head. But there will also always be amazing people who help you push through. I let the haters get into my head and ruin my race. I let them take away something that is so important to me that I was so looking forward too. So focus on the people trying to help you, not the ones tearing you down. Your supporters out number the haters, and positive thinking is so much more helpful and a much better use of your time.
In case you’re wondering, my cousins finished around 1:55/56, with a sub-9:00 pace. And they’ve both informed me that they’ll never run another race again. So (thankfully), I won’t have to worry about another hate filled dinner, the day before a race to tear my will to run to shreds. Meanwhile, I'm less than 6 months away from half marathon #3. It will be a perfectly imperfect race, and I will most certainly be wearing a tutu.