This weekend that I was to become a runner again started off with me feeling like a fraud.
Thursday afternoon, I arrived in Boston. Two hours later, Jason Fitzgerald and I walked into West End Johnnie’s restaurant, where we were to meet the rest of the invited bloggers and some of the Runner’s World staff, the kickoff to our weekend at the Heartbreak Hill Half Marathon and Festival.
We each got goodie bags from Runner’s World. In the bags, among other things: an early copy of the July issue of the magazine, which I’d been eagerly awaiting. Fully prepared for disappointment, just in case the article I was to be featured in got cut at the last minute, I flipped to page 37 and found something unexpected.
The article was there. Focusing on what the elites drink while they run. Scott Jurek. Shalane Flanagan. Dean Karnazes. Kara Goucher.
Record scratch noise. Excuse me? You mean the guy who had to stop and walk during his six mile run last month? Who even in peak shape wouldn’t be able to hang with the others for two miles at their marathon paces?
Look, it’s awesome to be in Runner’s World. You’ll never hear me complain about any mainstream feature like that, and seriously, what an honor to be listed with those legitimately elite runners. I’m grateful. But I’m the guy who doesn’t even wear his NMA shirt that much for fear of seeming overly self-promotional. An introvert to the core. To be featured like this, with these legends, is uncomfortable. To say the least.
And so in a moment when more than any other I should feel like a runner, a real part of the running community, I felt an incredible disconnect from it. I don’t belong here.
How it All Turned Around
This half marathon was my “get back in shape” race after a seven-month layoff from any serious training. The buildup had gone alright: I always have trouble getting motivated to train for a distance I’ve already done, but the fact that this was on part of the Boston course and that I’d be a guest of Runner’s World’s certainly helped.
But without a massively inspiring goal, my plans for serious training devolved into “What’s it going to take to get across the finish line?”
In the end, I did get across the finish line. In 1:48:12, close to 20 minutes shy of what I could have done when I was at my fastest a few years ago.
But it was a victory. While not even close to a PR, 1:48 on a hot and hilly course says to me that I’m getting there. Getting back to where I was, for whatever is next. And trust me, I’m thinking about that now. Because there was a much bigger victory this weekend than progress crystallized in a finish time.
That victory? This weekend made me fall in love with running again.
Partly, it was “the stuff.” The screening of Finding Strong, a short film by Saucony and RW that profiles several runners and their dramatic stories.
The expo. The seminars. The gear.
The city of Boston itself, the epicenter of running in this country, where we were treated to an early-morning November Project hill workout on Friday. A workout far more intense than I usually do, but one complete with instructions like “hug two strangers” that left me energized and optimistic.
But more than that — a hundred, a thousand times more than that — it was the people who made this weekend special.
It was meeting Shalane Flanagan, who ran 2:22:02 at Boston this year, the fastest time ever by an American woman on that fabled course. Getting to run alongside her for a few minutes with the other 1:40-somethings during the race, before she effortlessly sped up to run with the next fastest bunch.
It was hearing Sarah Reinertsen, paralympic athlete and the first amputee to finish an Ironman, point out that “We all have a disability; it’s just that some people’s you can see.” And her story of sitting next to someone on an airplane while wearing long pants, waiting to reveal the best possible retort to their “I could never be a runner because …” excuse.
It was enjoying Mark Remy‘s irreverent sense of humor, then learning that just like me, he’s a writer despite being an introvert. I found myself inspired by his obvious love of running, but also his ability to dance with the fear that accompanies writing your thoughts down for everyone to see (and criticize, if they wish).
And more than any other single person, it was Bart Yasso who made me feel like a runner again. The “Mayor of Running,” a title I never completely understood before this weekend. What exactly has he done to deserve that, I wondered, besides popularize an 800 workout that carries his name? But now I understand: with his stories from a lifetime of almost 2000 races, he makes everyone he touches love running more. He’s a man of the people, and never was this more clear than when on the last night he walked by our circle of bloggers, sitting on the lawn in front of the Boston College dorm where we stayed, and took the time to sit and entertain us with more of his stories.
Oh, and that group of bloggers? They made it great, too. We pretended we were college kids for a few days (beer pong didn’t quite happen, but twice it threatened), and it seemed like that was something a lot of us needed. What we had in common, other than blogging, was that we all run — despite the challenges of kids, work, school, and everything else, we all know what it’s like to make running a priority. Because we’re runners, and that’s what runners do. To be immersed in that enthusiasm for running for a few days was no small thing. Neither was the running that most of the bloggers did — the majority (not me) ran the 5K, the 10K, and the half marathon in the span of two days.
When it was done, the goodbyes were sad. But I brought home more than a swag bag and a new book (Running and Being, by George Sheehan) with me.
My legs are still angry at me for putting them through a half marathon on so little training (6, 8, and 10 miles were my only long runs), but today they’re accommodating enough that I’ll go for a run. The first in many months that’s not for any specific purpose, other than the thing itself. To run.
Thanks to everyone at Runner’s World and the Heartbreak Hill Half and Festival, and the sponsors who made it possible. The race and weekend had all the spirit (and exact same hills) of the Boston Marathon, but with the electricity and big-city atmosphere replaced by a small-town feel and sense of community.
This was exactly what I needed.
Here’s a list of the bloggers whom I had the pleasure of getting to know (or getting to know better) this weekend. I hope you’ll check out their blogs:
- Karla — Run Karla Run
- Presley — Run Pretty
- Jason — Strength Running
- Anne — Fannetastic Food
- Amanda — Run To The Finish
- Katy — Katy Widrick
- Caitlin — Healthy Tipping Point
- Dani — Weight Off My Shoulders
- Katie — Runs For Cookies
- Sarah — Sarah Fit
- Charlene — Fab Running
- Theodora — Preppy Runner
- Julie — Peanut Butter Fingers
- Heather — Relentless Forward Commotion
- Marnie — Run Street
- Sarah — Picky Runner
- Larisa — Larisa Dixon
- Jessica — Keeping Mommy Sane
A final note: I’m slightly concerned that people will read this and think the experience is unavailable to them. It’s not. While we got some private meet-and-greets with the people I mentioned, all of them gave talks (mostly free and in fairly small rooms) at the festival that were open to the public. Anytime I’ve raced before, I’ve skipped the festivities and talks — part of that “I’m not a real runner” complex, I suppose. My advice after this weekend: don’t. When you don’t feel like a runner, it’s this stuff that makes you happy to be one.