On Crossing the Finish Line

A few months ago, I committed to running 100 miles before the first day of winter because Angela Newport, a friend and role model, offered a public invitation and challenge. She created a Facebook community where folks could commiserate and motivate on their way to 100 miles. When I started the challenge, I wrote that "The real test will be in one, two, and three months, when the excuses start to sound compelling." 

Well, I passed the test. The excuses lost. Yesterday, I crossed the finish line.

Fittingly, it happened on a six miler up to The Dish and back.

I wasn’t the first in the group to cross it; some beat me by a few weeks. I wasn’t the last, either; others have re-calibrated their goals. There is no doubt that just about everyone ran more than they would have without the challenge -- and without being part of a community going through it together. It was inspiring to watch people participate and grind on, despite broken bones, pneumonia, and unforgiving weather.

I've been recording my progress in the "Notes" app on my phone; here’s the math the got me past the finish, in miles:

10 + 2 = 12 + 3 = 15 + 6 = 21 + 4 = 25 + 5 = 30 + 3 = 33 + 6 = 39 + 6 = 45 + 1 = 46 + 6 = 52 + 6 = 58 + 1 = 59 + 3 = 62 + 1 = 63 + 3 = 66 + 1 = 67 + 6 = 73 + 1 = 74 + 6 = 80 + 6 = 86 + 6 = 92 + 6 = 98 + 6 = 104

As I look back on the numbers and try to remember which digits correspond to which runs, I'm realizing that running is a great lens to look back on a period of time. For me, this challenge corresponded with the first academic term of my graduate school experience, and my first three months living outside of Oregon.

I remember the first 10 miles, a winding route all across the Stanford campus -- those were the hardest and slowest 10 miles of all 100. Yes, definitely because I was worse shape then, and because I legitimately got lost in the dark, but also because it was more of a psychological battle than the runs that followed. Running wasn't habitual. I had to force myself to lace up and take off. It was the beginning of the term, and I was nervous and not sure what the next year would look like, but up for whatever it might bring. I was in a good place.

The last ten miles were stretched over two separate miles, with slightly-too-long break in between. On Thanksgiving morning, I set a personal record for a 10K, running it in 44:08, a 7:03 pace — a 30-second-per-mile improvement over my previous PR. For whatever reason, I didn't pay attention to my pace during the run; it wasn't until I crossed the finish line and glanced at my Runkeeper that I realized I smashed it. It's a great feeling looking down at your screen and seeing the cyber confetti float down -- particularly when you know the succeeding hours will include hummus, party mix, cheese pies, turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy, dinner rolls, cranberry sauce, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, pumpkin pie, apple pie, and homemade ice cream (all true). 

Another thing that struck me during the Give'n'Gobble 10K was that preparation always trumps money. There was a guy on the course that I ran with for the first four miles or so, and this guy was decked out in the latest and greatest everything. He had new shoes, wireless ear buds, an arm band to hold his phone, a CamelBak water bottle -- the works. When I see people like that I'm always a little intimidated at first. The extent of my "gear" is a pair of running shoes I bought a year and a half ago at the Woodburn Outlet when they were on sale and a pair of $14.99 headphones from Target that cut out only sometimes. But the fifth and sixth mile proved that equipment, technology, money -- it will only take you so far. I sped up, he slowed down, and I haven't seen him since. It made me grateful for all those trips up to the Dish over the last year.

In high school, we were supposed to be able to run three miles in 21 minutes in order to make the varsity soccer team — I always got close enough that I made the cute, but I never actually beat the time. On Thanksgiving, I ran double the distance at a better pace than I did in half the distance in high school. It makes me feel happy -- and it also motivates me to finally break the 7 minute per mile pace that's eluded me for a decade.