Six months ago, I wasn’t a runner.
Today, I’m a half marathoner.
The story of how I went from non-runner to half marathoner begins and ends with the same person: Chick Vic.
Vic and I both work at the Democrat and Chronicle in Rochester, NY, and she’s the newsroom captain for our team for the JPMorgan Chase Corporate Challenge, an annual 3.5-mile race that draws 10,000-plus runners who work for Rochester-area companies.
In early April, I was at a conference in St. Louis for work when I got an email from Vic saying when this year’s race would be. She sent it to me, I presume, because I had expressed some interest in running and had tweeted some about my difficulties on my once-a-week treadmill runs at the Y.
Even though I didn’t really enjoy running at that time, I had always been intrigued by the Chase because my colleagues all seemed to have a great time every year. By the time I left the conference, I had decided to reschedule an event I had planned for the night of the Chase and register to run. I left the hotel in St. Louis the morning of Sunday, April 7, walked past runners competing in the St. Louis Marathon and headed to the airport with no idea that I’d soon have plans to become a marathoner myself.
Eight days later I was at work when bombs went off at the finish line of the Boston Marathon. As with most everybody else, I was sickened by what happened, but the thing that moved me to tears over the next couple days was the power of the running community. The stories of runners who pushed exhaustion aside to help those who had been injured. Of the finisher who gave his medal to a runner who had been stopped at mile 25. I was so moved that I decided that I wanted to be part of the running community.
Two days after the bombing, I tweeted out a new fitness goal: To get myself into good enough shape to run the half marathon in Rochester on Sept. 22.
I had no idea what this would entail. I had never run a road race before. I had never run “farther” than six miles before. And I say “farther” because I didn’t actually go anywhere; my only runs to that point had been on the treadmill.
I spent the rest of April researching how to train for a half marathon. Vic and some of the other distance runners I work with gave me some advice, and articles online provided a wealth of information. Ultimately, I decided that I would modify Hal Higdon’s Novice 2 program, extending it by four weeks so I could start it right after the Chase.
I immediately increased my running from once a week to four times a week to get ready for the Chase. And I started to run outside some. The results were immediate. I started to run faster. I started to enjoy running. I started to think about running all the time. I started to look up other races I could run. I was hooked.
Getting my first taste of racing at the Chase just cemented my addiction to running. The atmosphere before the race was incredible. I lined up with Vic and several other members of team D&C. For the first couple miles, Vic, Traci Bauer and I ran as a group, a tremendous help to me since I had almost no experience pacing myself. I pulled away with about 1.5 miles to go as they cheered me on and when I saw the finish line I got a jolt of adrenaline and was able to sprint to a 30:43 finish.
The rest of the summer was some of the best fitness self-control I’ve ever exhibited. My training plan called for four runs a week for 15 weeks, so 60 total. I did 59 of them, skipping one three-mile run in July because my knee hurt.
I ran three more races between the Chase and the half marathon: the Firecracker 5-mile (44:22) on Fourth of July, the Jungle Jog 5K (25:23) a few weeks later and the Summer Fest 12K (1:09:20) at the end of August. I loved all three races. The feeling of crossing the finish line is one of the best imaginable, and my times in the races made me feel like I had a good shot at hitting my goal for the half marathon: two hours.
Ben finishes the Jungle Jog 5K in July
The unexpected part of the summer was that my journey to a half marathon became more than just me, my training program and some advice from friends.
A little before the Chase, Vic mentioned that Scoot A Doot was holding a giveaway for PROCompression socks. I didn’t really know anything about compression running socks, but I like free stuff, so I entered (I didn’t win, but I ended up buying four pairs of PROCompression marathon socks over the course of the summer).
As many of you know, getting entries to the giveaway entailed following Scoot A Doot on Twitter and Facebook, tweeting about the giveaway, etc. That led to me learning about more giveaways, which of course I entered. Which led to me following more people on twitter and following more blogs. Which led me to chatting about running on Twitter with people I may never meet and getting tons of encouragement from an online running community I never even knew existed.
It was, and is, amazing. The thing that pushed me into running was that I thought it would be great to be part of the running community. I was right. The specifics of what that would mean just weren’t exactly what I expected.
When I finished my final training run before tapering, a slow 10-miler the Sunday before the race, I felt incredibly content. Whatever happened in the race, I had already fulfilled the fitness goal I set out in that tweet five months earlier: to get myself in good enough shape to run a half marathon.
The morning of the race, my nerves weren’t as bad as I might have expected. I was glad I had already run four races earlier in the summer. I knew what routine worked for me and I just made sure I gave myself plenty of time to get ready. My wife dropped me off down the road from the start line about 25 minutes before the race, which was perfect.
As I wandered around among the thousands of people gathered around the starting area, I saw Vic. We hadn’t planned to meet at the start (she was actually looking for a different friend she was going to run with), but I was glad to see a friendly face. She reassured me that I’d do great and, as the start time neared and she still hadn’t found her friend, she said she’d run with me until she felt like she needed to slow down. This was just supposed to be a training run for her as she prepares for the New York City Marathon.
I won’t go into as much detail as she did in her recap last week, but she never slowed down. We ran side-by-side, almost step-for-step at times, and chatted for 13 miles. It was so much fun. I think most non-runners, and even some runners, are skeptical when people say running can be fun. And certainly, not every run is fun. This one was. I enjoyed every minute I was out there on the course.
Some people asked me if I had a time I was shooting for. My response was always the same: two hours would be nice, but it’s not a big deal if I miss. I was lying. I wanted to be under two hours badly. As we ticked off each mile, I become more and more confident that I’d make it. We were setting a great pace and felt comfortable doing it.
Also as the miles went past, I became more confident that Vic was going to keep up with me the entire way. At some point I asked her what her PR was. “2:03:something.” I got even more excited for a potential sub-two-hour finish. It’s one thing to set a goal, work for months toward that goal and then achieve it. A intensely satisfying feeling, to be sure. It’s something else entirely to have somebody give you encouragement and advice every step of the way toward that goal and then, unexpectedly, be able to help them reach a goal of their own. It was wonderful running karma that all the help she gave me in preparing for my first half marathon led to me being able to help her break the two-hour mark.
As the finish line came into view, we could see that we had plenty of time to cross before the clock would read 2:00:00. I got my usual finish line adrenaline surge and Vic, sensing that I suddenly had a lot more energy, told me to go. I sprinted to the line and crossed in 1:58:56 for a net time of 1:58:38. I got my medal and turned to cheer on Vic, but she was already across, finishing seven seconds behind me. Traci (whom we had seen briefly about halfway through the race) finished nine seconds after Vic.
Ben sprints to the finish at the half marathon
We hugged. We high-fived (badly; we were tired). We grinned from ear to ear. We got some post-race food and drinks. We took pictures. We discussed the race. We reveled in our achievement.
Over the summer, when I told people I was training for a half marathon, they frequently looked at me like I was crazy and/or told me they could never do that. I used to feel the same way. Then I started running. I don’t plan on stopping anytime soon.
The sub-2-hour club: Vic, Traci and Ben
Ben is a husband, father, runner and editor. This week he started training to run his first marathon in February at a race to be determined (but hopefully in Florida). He can be found on Twitter at @bjacobsroch.