Just over a month left until my fourth half marathon in the Lincoln National Guard Marathon & Half-Marathon 2016 on May 1, I went on a three-and-a-half-week business trip to South Korea to recruit students for the fall semester of 2016. On the trip, with the combination of a cold that lasted three weeks and the inexplicable pollution that prevented me from running outside, I checked only six or seven cardio sessions, two of them on the treadmill and one on the cycling machine, in the inanimate basement and stairway. I embrace nature while I run, so I find running inside mentally draining. Upon my return to Kearney, Nebraska, I ran three times, concluding training camp on a hilly 5.13-mile run, in the week and a half I had left prior to the half marathon. Cross-training in swimming and cycling as well, I prayed my three-month preparation had been sufficient for my first race in 2016.
I drove to Lincoln, Nebraska, the day before the half marathon to pick up my bib and cruise through the Expo in the Lincoln Marriott Cornhusker Hotel. Surrounded by hundreds of dedicated runners and veterans, I was reminded of the joy of embarking on this journey with strangers who share the same passion and inspiring one another; my preceding three races in 2015 did not offer an Expo. As I prepared to leave the building before the one-hour free parking expired, I ran into Kaci Lickteig, 2012 Olympic Trials qualifier in the marathon, runner-up of 2015 Western States Endurance Run, and one of the top female ultrarunners in the world today, along with her Boston-Marathoner mother and best-friend pacer. Months ago, I observed the track records of the University of Nebraska at Kearney and read Kaci’s name as the university’s second fastest 10K and eighth fastest 5K female runner of all time, discovering she graduated from the school for which I work. She was even familiar with the Brazos Bend 100 and humbly complimented me on my completing 51 miles in the event. Talking to her had me encouraged and pumped for the following day.
Waiting for my corral to start, I told myself to never underestimate 13.1 miles; the time I did so following a 50K resulted in one of my worst performances. With 13,800 participants anxiously waiting to take off, I predicted I would never be alone throughout the course and worried I may have to spend much energy passing slower runners ahead of me as I did in both the 2014 and 2015 Publix Georgia Marathons. Although many runners were not fond of the rainy 40-degree weather, I took this to be a blessing in disguise to avoid dehydration. For the first mile, I could not wipe the smile off my face, as I thought, “It feels good to be back,” especially with the fervent crowd holding up motivating and hilarious signs to cheer the runners on. In attempt to finally achieve a sub-two-hour half marathon, I ran significantly faster than I did in any of my training sessions for this race, and I did not plan to conserve my strides and endurance. I was pleasantly surprised I could maintain such a high pace without exhausting myself or running out of breath. I also tried not to look over my Garmin to see how many miles I had left in the race so that I would enjoy the moment rather than desperately hoping to cross the finish line.
On mile three, I caught progressing stomach cramps. Even though I initially decided not to drink at the first couple of aid stations, I knew based on experience I needed water to resolve the issue; the pain swiftly escaped after my first cup of water. I let my weight carry me over running downhill and did not back down running uphill. On a lengthy and moderate uphill around mile seven, likely due to immensely overpacing, I pulled a muscle in my right knee; nevertheless, I blocked the hurt out of my mind and did not let the burden slow me down, even if I had to pay for that decision for days. Only a 5K to go, I was en route to breaking two hours for the first time. One mile remaining, with the 2:00:00 pacer still behind me by quite some distance, I thought I had barely accomplished my time goal. According to my Garmin, I hit 13.1 miles under two hours at an average of 00:09:08 per mile, but the course frustratingly measured 13.22 miles, and my official time read, “2:00:43,” yet still my personal best. I technically ran a sub-two-hour half marathon but was disheartened I had missed my official time goal by merely 44 seconds. I even set new personal records (PR) in the 10K and 15K splits, 00:56:46 and 1:25:05, respectively, and thus must not exude an arrogance of disappointment.
At the Expo, I wrote on the banner, “Running keeps me active and determined” for the reason I am running in the Lincoln National Guard Marathon & Half-Marathon. If I could, I would change my answer to, “Running keeps me humble.” Each time I participate in endurance running, I realize how vulnerable human body can be and, without God, I cannot do anything. Humanly, I might not comprehend how I set three PR’s in one race considering all the training distraction from the business trip; however, I follow my Father’s odds, and “I can do all things through Christ, who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13).