I believe that everyone healthy enough to do so should run half-marathons because it is good for the soul. Now that I’m winding down to the end of a fruitful military career, running half-marathons has become my passion. You would think I would have loved them when I was younger and more physically able to participate in such events. I guess I’m just a late bloomer in all phases of my life. I have trained for and completed a full marathon but that was just to prove to myself that I could do it. Unlike the half, the full requires more than time and persistence, it requires a total change in lifestyle. I have run 16 miles in four hours just for practice. When I am ready to challenge myself for the lifestyle change, I’ll run a full one again. For now I’ll stick to “Halfs”. The first time I ran a half was two years ago at Virginia Beach during Labor Day weekend. The half-marathon race event is called the Rock and Roll Half at Virginia Beach. It was here where the culmination of my training and preparation, presented me life lessons in self knowledge and spirit.
First of all, training for a half marathon isn’t what I would consider to be time consuming. My longest run during the training period would be 10 miles, which took a little over two hours to complete. What I noticed during my training is the more I trained, the better I felt. This was not just the physical athletic upside, but the emotional and mental sides as well. No matter what the distance, even after a bad run, I would be a little more talkative and open to conversation. My kids noticed how nice I was to them. “Daddy you don’t yell at us as much anymore” my oldest said to me. My wife noticed the change too. She said I was showing improvement in having patience with the kids. I also noticed my coworkers asking me more and more questions about my race, my training, and my overall health. My training allowed me to open up to people. This same training had given me the ability to talk to someone smartly about something I cared deeply about.
Upon the half-marathon weekend, I learned the process of following the racing event planning. For every race, you must get to the hotel, map your route to the expo center, map your race day route and keep everyone else entertained as if they were participating too. In order to participate, all runners are required to pick up the race number packet at the designated expo center. As I walked in the main room ballroom, the feeling of human togetherness exploded through the room. It was here when I truly knew that I was participating in something bigger than me. 20,000 people had the same I idea I had and they were proud to have me along with them. As I got my race number and heard “good luck tomorrow” for the thousandth time from the event staff, I started feeling like a winner. I don’t know if the staff’s intent is to make everyone feel like a winner, but it sure does carry over well. Feeling like a winner, in a world full doubt is critical to human existence. Packet pickup day for the race reminds me than I am accomplishing a feat that so few in the world have done. It tells me that during my journey, I will meet someone who is taking a positive step forward in his or her life and I may be the support he or she needs to get through it. It says that I must feel proud of my personal decisions in life.
On my first race day, the lesson of following the event planning still rang true. I first dropped off my post-race gear at the gear station. Then I ate bananas and drank the last of my sports drink while standing in the longest port-a-let line in the world. By now I had gained the courage to ask another runner why so many people had to go at once. The response was clearer to me than my choice for joining the Marine Corps some 18 years ago. “Those people are in line now, so that when they have to go, they will be in the position they need to be in.” This enormous little tip has since been very fruitful during my journey to obtain my undergraduate degree; prepare now for the future inevitable. Whenever I see a large group of port-a-lets, I think of the wisdom I gained from line at my half-marathon race.
After using the bathroom, I had to migrate to my corral. The corral system is based on placing runners with like times at the same starting points. While standing in my corral I noticed all of the different types of people. There were old, young, athletic builds, non-athletic builds and many different colors of skin. I noticed the black males stood out like sore thumbs but that just brought me closer to them. I felt part of elite group more than I felt like a minority; there are less black males with college degrees than there are in jail. Here in the corral I started having doubt and thoughts of failure. I asked an older lady what the key to finishing was. She stated, “You will finish because you are here. Just remember to drink liquids at every water station. You don’t think you need it but you do. Besides, it is good for you. If you keep reminding yourself of all the things that got you here to this point, you will be fine. By the time you get finish thinking of all that, you will be at the finish line.” She was my support that I needed at a moment of weakness. I then turned to talk to other people and a couple of people who overheard my conversation thanked me for asking that question out loud. You see, we were all scared of failing but they were too afraid to ask for help from a total stranger. Every time I think of failing, I remind myself that I’m in a corral of people on the same journey. I just need to ask the questions in order to receive the proper guidance for continuing on.
During the race I met all sorts of fascinating and wonderful people. At this moment there wasn’t any racial bigotry. There wasn’t any homophobia. There wasn’t any sexism. The only that thing that qualified me to run in this race was my presence. I saw people walking, sprinting and some variation between the two. All of us had set out to complete this mission ahead; all of us were going to complete it. As I finished certain distances in the race, I felt huge rushes of emotions. I had felt pleasure in my life but nothing to this extent. As I approached the 1 MILE LEFT sign, I started feeling an overwhelming sense of accomplishment. This was one like I never felt before. I could not rationalize it. I hadn’t won anything. I was in the middle right were I had planned but I felt like an Olympic gold medalist. This feeling grew stronger and stronger with every step. As I crossed the finish line, my joy almost brought me to tears. As I looked around to stare at the fans and the other competitors, I told myself I did win; and so did she; and so did he. I felt like a found a missing piece of my soul at the finish line. As my soul starts to feel empty from the monotonous drab of my daily grind, I look at my finisher medal I received at my first half-marathon. It tells me that I’m still on my journey and life itself is too great for an achievement award.
I am far from knowing my true self and what life has offer. I feel better when I realize that I can run a half-marathon. I can plan and prepare myself for the challenges and I can get through the challenges to meet my goal. I must pickup my packets, ask the questions, stand in the lines, run the race, and cross the finish line. Running in half-marathons gets me a little closer to the truth. Achieving the truth in life is what every one seeks but not everyone signs up for the Half.
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