It was the best of times. It was the worst of times.
Today, I ran my 4th Nashville half-marathon in as many years. As expected, it was much warmer than is conducive for a long run. I’m talking off-the-charts warm, about 25 degrees warmer than I prefer. When I arrived at Nissan Stadium a little after 5 a.m., my car thermometer showed 77 degrees. When I left around 5 hours later, it was 84. The promised breeze never really materialized. The morning clouds did not stay around for very long. Mother Nature conspired to make the weather as un-runner-friendly as possible.
I’m not complaining. There was nothing I could do about the weather, and all the other runners were running in the same weather I was. In fact, I never heard a single other runner complain about the weather the entire time I was there. No one makes us show up to run half-marathons/marathons. It’s strictly voluntary. So I’m not complaining about any of this.
My previous three half-marathons, I’ve been able to run the entire distance without taking walking breaks. Sometimes it has been dicey, but I’ve always managed to keep running until the finish line. I knew going into this year’s run I was going to have to let go of that as a goal. I’ve never attempted a long run in weather anywhere near this warm, and I had to embrace walking breaks as a reality.
I was hoping to make it halfway through before resorting to walking. I took my first walking break at the 10K marker — almost halfway — and still managed to do more running than walking for about the next 4 miles. Everything changed after I passed the 10-mile marker, maybe 10.5 miles. I stopped sweating. I had been sweating profusely — I always do — and drank everything they offered at each water station (about every 1.5 miles). At one point, and I don’t remember exactly where I was, I reached up to run my hand across my head — I just got a haircut yesterday — and realized my forehead was dry.
Also at that point (between 10 and 11 miles), I started to grow concerned about the possibility of heat stress/exhaustion. I didn’t actually feel any of those symptoms, mind you, but while I was trying to prevent overheating that might lead to sickness (very embarrassing when that happens), I also trying to be mindful about other negative consequences.
So for the final 2.5 miles or so, I actually did more walking than running. I was not alone. The entire pack of runners I was in was forced to alternate walking/jogging at that point. We were all laboring, just trying to finish the race at all cost at that point.
My finishing time was 2:38:18, which was a little more than 22 minutes slower than last year’s time. Honestly, it’s about what I expected. I knew I wasn’t setting any sort of personal record today. It would have been foolish even to try.
Overall, I figure I ran maybe 10 miles out of the 13.1. I’m thankful I finished, because there was a long stretch of the run when I wondered, “How on earth am I ever going to finish?” Even though my time was off by a considerable amount, this one was special to me. Everything about today’s half-marathon was hard, going back to an injury I sustained 3 months ago, to the recovery, to the difficulty of today’s run.
I have to say that the race planners did everything they could to keep us cool. There were several “amenities” I’ve never seen before: water hoses spraying mist at every water station, cold, wet sponges around the 15K marker, and icy wet cloths after the finish line. Every little thing they did for helped in some way. It takes a lot of volunteers to be able to have a race of this magnitude, and the ones who clean up after us are the most awesome. There are literally tens of thousands of paper cups that have to be picked up, all those sponges, and it takes hours to stand there and pass out water/Gatorade to all the runners.
I honestly don’t know how anyone could run a marathon on a day like today. I say that about marathoners every year, because it is extremely difficult to run the “double half-marathon” even during ideal circumstances. The marathoners run with the half-marathoners for the first 11+ miles, and then the marathoners split off to take their own course. At the split, even though there were fewer marathoners than usual — I’m sure many of them switched to the half-marathon given the heat — the few I saw were walking/jogging just like us. I don’t know how a person can keep that up for so long because they still had 15 miles to go at that point.
I know it seems like self-inflicted punishment to run half-marathons. It has always been difficult for me, because 13.1 miles is right there at the edge of my limit. I’ve never been able to go farther. Yes, they are difficult, but I’ve never found myself wondering, “Why exactly am I doing this?” I do them because I really do love running, running 13.1 miles all at once is hard for me, and a person gets a true sense of accomplishment from doing things that are hard.