Racing and Dating

By on 26 October, 2012 in Fun, Meg Lewis, Outdoors with 0 Comments

Photo by Kekka

On October 6, I faced my fears of having trained improperly and ran the Montgomery Half Marathon for the second time. My goal in training was to improve my speed and run the race in under two and a half hours. My first Montgomery Half Marathon time in October 2011 was 2 hours and 48 minutes. My time in March 2012 at the New York City Half was 2 hours and 28 minutes on a very chilly morning after battling the obligatory pre-race head cold and drinking and eating every delicious thing I could in the city. I figured if I could make such an improvement in four and a half months with so many obstacles the week of the race, surely I could do just as well in October 2012.

So I used my trusty Adidas Micoach app on my iPhone and set up a training plan designed to trim down my race time and bring my race pace up to around 10 minutes and 30 seconds per mile (10:30 in running shorthand). I was used to a pattern of easy runs on Mondays and Fridays, with some more difficult faster runs with intervals on Wednesdays and gradually building time on the Saturday long runs. This program, however, had significantly more difficult mid-week and Friday speed training, and Saturdays bounced from long runs around 7 or 8 miles to shorter, faster 4 or 5 mile runs. I never broke more than 8 miles prior to the race! This made me very nervous that I didn’t have enough miles under my feet and that I could possibly risk an injury during mile 11 or 12. My worst fear was that I wouldn’t have the endurance to make it through the race and that I would have to walk a large portion of it. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but having run two completely before, that would feel like a major setback.

In addition to a new style of training, I hadn’t been as committed to my training schedule as I’d been in the past. I realized a bit late that I’d traded a really great summer, full of late nights and beer, for a potentially disastrous race day. I made my peace with that, and decided that it was all for fun before lacing up my shoes and applying a ton of chafe-stick on race day.

Something else unusual happened before the race. A few days before, I received a message from a runner in Houston who was traveling to Montgomery for the race. (Full disclosure: The message was received on OKCupid, a dating web site.) He introduced himself as a runner, several races into a plan to run half marathons in every state in the U.S. He suggested we get together for drinks or a pre-race bite the night before the race. I assumed this was a friendly runner’s meet up, so I suggested that my running partner join us for a healthy dinner and beer on Friday night. I mean, he lives in Houston – there’s no way he could have intentions of making a love connection in Montgomery, right? I really hoped not, because he was definitely not my type.

Friday night came, and my running buddy and I went down to the expo to pick up our packets and go to dinner at one of our favorite spots, El Rey. Mr. Half Marathon, USA, was to meet us there. He showed up and we settled in to a table and enjoyed chips and guac, beers and various delicious and mostly healthy entrees. The conversation was good and he shared stories about his past race experiences, including a beachfront marathon in sand, several Rock and Roll half marathons in various cities, etc. Three runners, chatting and easing the pre-race nerves.

On race day Mr. Half Marathon met us at the starting line. We commented on how there seemed to be fewer people at this year’s race, and reconfirmed our commitment to just keep a steady comfortable pace so that we could finish. The gun went off and we started.

I quickly realized the value of running with a very experienced runner at my side. His Garmin! I’ve never sprung for one of these fancy watches with GPS, mostly because I’m poor, and also because I’m afraid I’ll never learn how to use it. But it was very handy to have someone to keep me under or up to pace. Our good conversation continued, about life, running, singing along with the lyrics to our playlists … and then, around mile two, it happened. He asked the question.

“So, does this count as a second date?”

“Um. Second date? Was last night a date? “I replied.

In my mind I’m thinking, “Crap! I have 11 miles left to go and he thinks we’re on a date! This could be the worst race ever. Will I have to fake stomach cramps? What is my exit strategy?”

Luckily my ambivalent response seemed to set him straight. Mile after mile, he helped me keep pace, and the conversation kept my mind off any fatigue that might have been creeping up. At the end of the race, he pushed me to run faster than I would have. My best friend who had run the 5K joined me for the final mile and we three ran quickly to the finish line, where I set a new personal record of 2 hours and 23 minutes. It was a new personal record for me, both on this course and for a half marathon.

I learned a couple of valuable things at the race. First, your body can do amazing things, even when you don’t think you’ve trained it well enough. Second, there really is a community of runners out there, who will travel miles, make immediate friends, push new runners, encourage experienced runners and share smiles and miles on the race course.

Meg Lewis is a runner, cupcake baker, and theater marketer residing a smidge outside of the bypass. She regularly makes her rounds through downtown and midtown Montgomery evaluating the beer selections, live musical performances and the social atmosphere of local establishments in the company of a small and close-knit group of fabulous people.

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