Welcome to the latest edition of Happy Pace Diaries, written by MRG contributor Heather Quinlan. You can read her other posts here »
I’m an avid reader. I have books on end tables, nightstands, kitchen tables, bookshelves, more bookshelves, and at least one or two with me everywhere I go. As my journey to better health has progressed over the years, I’ve found a natural attraction to the “personal development” style of books. I know that this journey begins and ends with our daily mental state, so naturally I would crave feeding my mind the words and thoughts to fuel my journey forward and make it stronger.
Recently I was reading about regrets and the times when we wish we could go back and have a “do-over.” It’s often a natural desire to want that “do-over” to be an event, a moment, or a time we weren’t particularly fond of or that we regretted in some way. But then the book went on to explain that the stuff we should want to do over is the GOOD stuff, the stuff that makes us smile and feel happy inside. Hmm…. Maybe we’ve got this “do-over” business all wrong.
This past year, I set the goal of running four half marathons. After my half marathon this past Sunday in Detroit, I accomplished that goal. The other part of that goal was to finish one of them under three hours. Although I came within four minutes once, that goal is still out there. Ah yes, this would be one of those moments that qualify as a “do-over,” right? A moment filled with regret instead of joy for what WAS accomplished?
Leading up to this year’s Detroit Free Press Talmer Bank half, and especially as the day drew near, I started to reflect back on what a great experience this race was last year and … just how much lighter I was when I ran it. Yep, instant joy sucker. At one point, I had convinced myself that this year’s half was going to be a slightly miserable experience and that it would leave a bad taste in my mouth because I had lost a bit of my pace from last year and I was roughly 20 or so pounds heavier. “If only I had………” was the constant refrain in my mind. But then race week was upon us, and with one of my very good friends, my “international sister” Jenny, from Calgary, Canada joining me for the event, I quickly found little time to ponder these thoughts of regret and “what ifs.” In fact, the opposite started to happen.
As soon as Jenny and I walked into the expo Friday evening, one of the first things I thought was, “this feeling, this excitement — it never gets old.” And it doesn’t. Upon our first few steps into the Cobo Hall exhibit area, I said to her how surreal the moment was and I was suddenly enraptured in the excitement of the race and what I could accomplish and not what I was regretting. What about last year? It was truly in that instant that I felt hope and promise instead of fear and regret. We picked up our bibs and did a bit of shopping at some of the expo booths, just enjoying the hype that was building within me and the buzz of “I can do this!” filling the air from thousands of other motivated runners of all shapes, sizes, colors, nationalities, and paces. We snapped a few standard “Got my bib! This is really happening!” pics and went on our way, letting our “happy pace” lead us to Redcoat Tavern in Royal Oak (if you are looking for an outstanding burger, this is THE place) for dinner. Another great runner friend, Kelly, and her husband joined us.
Saturday was a fun yet busy blur of activities with Jenny and, of course, the obligatory pasta dinner. Before I knew it, it was time to set up “Flat Heather” and all the clothing/items necessary to get ready quickly and effortlessly early the next morning. Nerves were officially making themselves at home and it was soon time to try and get some rest.
My alarm clock went off pomptly a few minutes after 4 a.m. and, unlike every other Monday-Friday in my life, I immediately got up after the first buzz (other than a big race, getting up this early to catch an airplane to go on vacation is the ONLY other time I’ll awaken after just one sounding of the alarm). It was time to suit up.
I made sure to bless every crevice with as much body glide as humanly possible (because it saves lives … and thighs) and soon Jenny and I were on our way downtown. Traffic along I-75 south was steady for 5 in the morning, meaning I was sharing the freeway with other crazy, committed runners like myself, all headed toward the direction of the brightly lit “Ren Cen” you could see in the distance. Butterflies. That’s a drive I’d love to “do-over.”
As we parked downtown and met up with other runner friends, we began to walk toward the starting area while repeating to ourselves, “I’m not cold. I’m not cold. I’m not cold.” Yeah, it was cold. But then when you’re suddenly standing among thousands upon thousands of runners, you realize you’re not cold, you’re alive. I want to “do-over” that moment too.
This was my fourth year doing the Detroit Free Press International Half Marathon, but I have to say that this was the first year that if felt like the waves moved along fast! Before I knew it, my foot had crossed the starting line and my 13.1-mile journey had begun. My plan for this half was fairly simple yet flexible: stick to my trained run/walk intervals, running more than I walk, and in the moments I feel great and can keep running … do so. I also wanted to play it smart. The last two half marathons I’ve done this year, the last three miles were on the rough side. I didn’t want that this time. Not here. Not this race.
So I told myself to play it smart – use my brain, save some juice. Of course adrenaline far outweighs patience during that first mile or two, and per usual I kept looking down at my Polar only to see that my pace was a little too quick for what I probably should be maintaining at this early stage of the race. But look! I can see the Ambassador Bridge! And the sun is starting to rise and the sky is a beautiful masterpiece of red, pink, and blue, maybe even a hint of purple colors! I want to relive that moment.
As I’m around mile 1.5, just happily pacin’ along, I see a hand reach out next to me only to discover that it’s one of my awesome blog followers, Jamie. Then within a minute of meeting her, another woman approaches me and says, “Are you the girl from the videos, with the blog??” With an instant smile on my face and humbleness in my heart (because this small town girl, living in a lonely world — I couldn’t resist — isn’t used to this sort of recognition), she told me she loves following my page and that I inspired her to run her first half marathon, the one she was running that very moment next to me for those brief seconds. Wow. What a powerfully touching moment. Can I relive that one as well?
Soon we’re about to ascend the Ambassador Bridge and that long, winding gradual incline toward mile three. It is truly one of the most beautiful views in Detroit. When I stop to think about it, not many can say they’ve run across the Ambassador Bridge (at least legally). That’s something I’ve done now four times. Once we got past some of the twisting and turning of the on-ramp, I decided to use my brain and speed walk a fair portion of the way up the bridge. It was during that stretch that I decided to stop and take a few pictures because, yeah, I want to relive these moments. I’m glad that I did. My heart wasn’t set on any specific time to finish; I just wanted to enjoy the miles.
The next thing I knew, I was in the great country of Canada! In the far distance, I could hear the disc jockey who is always at the bridge entrance/exit area, cheering/razzing us on as we enter the next phase of our journey. Every year, the miles I run through Canada are always some of my favorite. The spectators are fun (one of the best signs from the morning “you are NOT almost there”) and of course I get a long view of the skyline of Detroit, the city I love and have so much pride in.
The stretch through Canada always seems to go by so quickly. Before I know it, I’m entering the famous “underwater mile.” This is a mile I’ve always enjoyed for its nostalgia and the fact that I know when I exit, I’ll be back in the great U.S. of A, and making the final five-ish mile trek toward the finish line. It was rather stuffy this time around in the tunnel, however when we caught that first rush of cool, crisp fall air upon exiting, you suddenly remembered how alive you truly are. I’d love to relive that feeling, that rush.
For a few minutes after exiting the tunnel, I felt a little bit of extra “pep in my step” thanks to the cheering crowds and knowing that I was getting closer to the finish line. But then it kind of hit me out of nowhere and my legs felt out of sync with the rest of my body. I stopped to walk a few minutes longer than I had planned and my self-doubt decided to pay a visit and try to discourage me, telling me things that I knew weren’t true. But I refused to let doubt stick around, and I stuck to my intervals, if even at a slower pace and with slightly non-cooperative legs, determined to fight off he mental demons that did not belong in my mind or my body. I want to relive that challenging moment. Why? Because by mile 10.5, I suddenly felt like a renewed woman and was entering mile 11 stronger than mile 4 (which is usually about my “sweet spot” and when I hit my stride) and stronger than I’ve ever entered that home stretch.
Miles 11 and 12 were awesome. I know…I know…this year’s race was supposed to “suck.” Funny how that works out, isn’t it? The crowd support continued to rock, including probably my favorite water/Gatorade/cheer station around mile 11.5 or so (I believe?) where a large church group was full of smiles, encouraging words, and a true spirit of support that you could feel deep in your bones. I am pretty sure every single person, on the left and the right of the road, was cheering something supportive our way. I want to relive that moment a few times over, even just as a reminder to myself that the heart, soul, and spirit of the human race are alive and well.
I was shocked when I saw the flag for mile 12. Already? It was right around that time when there was a station of jovial men passing out mini cups of beer. I hate beer. But I was in such a great mood, happy from my BondiBand to my New Balance, that I happily took one and cheers them as I ran on. The beer truly never tasted as good as it did right then and there. Although I felt great, I was anxious to finish. But then I quickly reminded myself, “Don’t rush this moment. Live in it.”
Off and on throughout the race I contemplated how much of running is an oxymoron. We race to finish as fast as we can and yet we’re rushing through the good part — the journey. So in that last mile, I told myself to enjoy each step, even if it was going by fast (because go figure I’d be running one of my best paces all morning, in THAT mile). I’ll never get this mile or this moment back, even though I’d love to relive it over and over. I reminded myself that the finish line would be there, but that moment of strength as I concluded my 8th half marathon would not. Holding tightly to that frame of mind made that mile and the dash to the finish so much more enjoyable.
As you can see from the picture, during the very last stretch leading to the finish line, I was very happy as I finished this race. Extremely happy. I felt pride instead of pain, accomplishment instead of failure. Not being as fast or the same weight as I was during last year’s race was the last thing on my mind. I didn’t care about that anymore, and I still don’t. What mattered to me were all the moments I got to experience during my journey that morning. Those were moments I chose to create. I needed to learn the lesson of letting go (of comparison) and embracing the special moments that are far more important than achieving a lighter weight, a PR, or finishing the race under 3 hours. I needed to realize that there are far greater moments for us to relive and “do-over” than there are moments we regret.
A certain unique sadness always comes over me after this race. It’s like being a kid on December 26th, only without a Barbie dream house and new Christmas PJs. That “now what” feeling comes over you like something fierce. But thankfully, I have those amazing moments to relive, over and over again, instead of a few moments of doubt where I felt I didn’t measure up to whom I thought I should be. Take the time to relive the moments that have brought you joy, because those moments were hard earned and fought for, not to be dismissed. And lucky for me, I have next year’s sub three hour half marathon finish to look forward to and then relive many times over!
But until then, this Detroit Runner Girl chooses to enjoy what she’s done this year and where she is right now … with the promise of more happy pace moments over the Detroit skyline horizon.