I ran the Run to Read Half-Marathon in Fairmont, West Virginia, this weekend. And it ended up being a much tougher race than I expected — but, oddly, not for any of the reasons I might have expected.
I had to pretty significantly adjust my expectations (and my pace) for this January half-marathon as the race unfolded because — get this — I got OVERHEATED!!! ?
I had been a little worried about the elevation — but it ended up being quite a bit flatter and 100’ closer to sea level than any of my runs in Kent. I was slightly concerned about trail conditions, knowing that snow, ice, and mud were all possible — but the trails were great. I thought gastrointestinal distress might be a concern, with a post-lunchtime, 1:00 PM, start time (whereas most races, and most of my training runs, start early in the morning) — but that didn’t seem to cause too many problems. I even briefly wondered about the potential for strong headwinds — but I didn’t even notice any wind until the last couple of miles.
The temperature, though, was a balmy 73° Fahrenheit! Warmer than the vast majority of other half-marathons I’ve done (because even the summer races I’ve done have typically started in the early morning, in the coolest part of the day)! It was just crazy that the second-hottest half-marathon I’ve ever done happened to take place in the second week of January!!!!
The heat really took a toll on me as the mileage mounted. I felt pretty good for the first quarter of the race, even getting ahead of my target pace of 7:45 minutes per mile. I started to feel the heat getting to me, though, through the second quarter of the race. By the time, I hit the half-way mark, I was still averaging 7:40 minutes per mile. But I felt awful. I knew I had to slow down, even though I really didn’t want to. I dropped back to about 8:30 minutes per mile for the third quarter of the race — but even that didn’t prove to be sustainable. The last quarter of the race was pure willpower — using all my mental and physical resources just to avoid walking or laying down beside the trail. I felt miserable by the time I crossed the finish line.
But I ran “with perseverance the race marked out for me.”
Those words from Hebrews 12 have been a regular item of prayer over the last year, as I’ve interceded for a friend (and fellow athlete) fighting a particularly aggressive form of brain cancer. Even as I was suffering through the Run to Read Half-Marathon, I thought a lot about this friend, John Drage. My last half-marathon (another steamer) was with him — the third leg of the Ironman 70.3 Ohio triathlon. John was six months into his fight with brain cancer at that point. But his body seemed to be responding well to treatment. He even beat me to the finish line in that race, by a pretty wide margin.
Last week, however, John learned that his cancer has recently spread to his spinal column — and doctors are telling him that he may only have “weeks to months” left before his “finish line.” It’s pretty devastating news for all of us who know him and love him.
John’s race has far higher stakes than the one I ran this weekend. And that helps to keep everything in perspective. It really doesn’t matter that I over-heated and under-performed for a half-marathon on an unseasonably-warm day in January. It matters that the race is run with perseverance on the course that’s marked out by the Great Race Director. I’m going to keep praying Hebrews 12 for John and his family — and for all of us. And I’d encourage you to do the same, if you feel so inclined.