First of all, I have to apologize for the delayed post. I, like many of you, were both excited and surprised to read that I’d be writing a post since my first knowledge of it was when I read her post on the Patrick Henry Half. Happy wife, happy life right? Honestly though, I’m very excited to have the opportunity to share my thoughts on the Patrick Henry Half Marathon and for the lovely lady who is allowing me to do so.
Most of you probably don’t recall the name Patrick Henry as he is far more likely to be the answer to a question on “Are You Smarter than a 5th Grader” than part of your daily conversation. Pat (we’re on a first name basis) is a founding father of the US and known for his “Give me Liberty or give me death” speech. Ole’ PH hails from a small town just north of Richmond, Va called Ashland, Va. Ashland is also the birthplace of a far less historically significant (so far) gentlemen by the name of Kevin Wagner. Our hometown and valuable signatures are the extent of our commonalities, but PH and I would meet again as Steph and I made the trek home for me to take on my first half marathon with his namesake.
For those of you who don’t know me, I’m not a natural distance runner. I’m 6’3″ and was 239lbs the morning of the race. I’m blessed with strong legs and have some small glimpses of athleticism left from my days of being a 290lb offensive lineman at Randolph-Macon College. These days I call myself a “runner by marriage”, in reference to the fact that distance is still a new venture for me and the prodding of my wife to get me involved. Football is a sport of short, intense bursts, 10 second plays, and requires the stamina to physically pound for 4 quarters. Distance running, on the other hand, is about being slow and steady, for me at least. Re-training my brain to think about slow and steady rather than full speed at all times has been a challenge, but a fun one nonetheless. I’m incredibly grateful that Steph has gotten me into running. The “runner’s high” is a workout buzz that I’ve not consistently known since my football days. Not only is it stress relieving in itself, but the common goals and quality time we have been able to spend together enjoying running have been one of our favorite things and allow us to do one of our other favorite things more often – eat!
Okay, so now on to the fun part – the Patrick Henry Half! We got in to Ashland on Friday night, caught the Randolph-Macon football scrimmage, had a carb-filled dinner, and hit the hay. Of course between all that, the family was super excited to see us as always. After a decent night’s sleep, we woke around 4:30 Saturday morning to get some food in our bellies and get to the race location early. As I woke that morning, I had a few things on my mind. First, I kept telling myself “run your race” because I knew I couldn’t worry about how fast people were flying by me or anything else if I wanted to complete my first half. Second, I had one of my favorite Bible verses since Steph and I have taken on running, Hebrews 12:1, pop in my head – “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us”. Perseverance is the name of the game in life, sports, challenges at work, challenges in relationships, and so on. A quick Google definition of perseverance brings up the following: steadfastness in doing something despite difficulty or delay in achieving success. Lastly, knowing that I was going to be in the 2:15-2:45 range for time of completion and having a 3 hour time limit, I really wasn’t sure when I would be crossing the finish line. That morning I told Steph it would be 9:39 when I crossed the line or at the 2 hours and 39 minute mark. Again, with the goal of completion I knew that number gave me a realistic challenge to beat while continuing to better my pacing on long runs.
Finally, as 7:00am on August 24th hit and we were off for what would be an awesome day with fall like weather. Here I was starting my first half marathon in the town I grew up in and on the campus of the college that I was strapping up the football pads for my final fall football camp just 5 years (and 50ish pounds) ago. The fun and distraction of the race for me was all of “life’s landmarks” that I got to pass as we ran the course that passed through the town I spent my first 23 years. As we passed by Ashland’s famous railroad tracks that run right beside the campus and serve as sort of a midway point of the town, I passed family friends that I hadn’t seen for years as they lined up along the path. My start was as needed – slow and steady as we began weaving our way through Ashland’s side streets. Around the first corner, we approached my elementary school – Henry Clay Elementary and though I’m confident she would never recognize me, my second grade teach Mrs. Lynne was standing out cheering runners on. Next up as we turned on to Hanover Avenue, we would pass a place where I caused lots of trouble in high school – my high school best friend’s house where his mother still lives. Stoney, as he is known based on his last name, not any bad habits, was a groomsmen in our wedding and is still a great friend. As we approached Elmont Road, we passed my aunt and uncle’s house. The family continues to have fun gatherings at Rodney and Mandy’s throughout the year as they have plenty of yard space for cornhole, football, foot races, and more amongst the cousins. As we made the right turn onto Elmont Road, we approached a less exciting memory – my first car accident. Though the tree we ran into is much smaller than my memory tells me, my best friend Troy and I, hit a tree back in 2001 that left me with a broken wrist. The wrist healed as did the tree and he and I have passed the tree many times since and hopefully many more times in the future. At this point, we were moving past the 5k mark and in an attempt to run my race, I had no clue what kind of time I was running. I didn’t have a watch or anything so I could just feel my pace throughout the run. Next up we made a bit of an awkward switchback on Elmont before cutting through Yowell Road. I have my fair share of memories on Yowell as well including dragging a broken vacuum out of a friends minivan. I suppose that’s not the worst thing teenagers can do and not amongst the craziest things that happen when high school kids get bored out in the country. Yowell is indeed approaching the country or as some call it “God’s country”. Yowell is a rolling road that at one point is farmland as far as you can see to either side. Having grown up in that part of the world, it was extremely peaceful running through that area. Yowell Road dead ends into Blanton Road, the road I lived on from 5th grade on and where my parents and grandfather still live. Blanton was the longest stretch of the course as it picked up at just past the 6 mile mark and ran almost until mile 9. We would pass several friends’ houses on that stretch and just before the end of the Blanton Road stretch, we would pass my parents’ house. Mom, dad, and my 84 year old grandfather were all sitting in the driveway as I came to the house. Dad had a spare shirt ready for me in case I wanted it, but I settled for using it as a sweat rag and using dad as a stretching post. The stretch and seeing familiar faces provided a nice burst of energy as we approached mile 9. I was tracking at an 11:40ish pace overall around the 10 mile marker, which was a negative split and included that burst of energy provided by the family that shot me up to a 10:30 pace between miles 8 and 10. Though I’d love to say I was running much faster at this point, I felt good and knew I had the juice to take on the final 5k and the biggest of the hills that the course had which meant I had paced well throughout. As the downhill approached, I knew that just meant the uphill would follow it. Hills are never fun, but this was one of the longer steady inclines I’ve ever run. I dominated the hill, but that probably came at a cost as my legs hit a wall at the top including a calf ceasing up which nearly resulted in me face planting. At that point, I took a quick stretch break followed by a speed walk which was maybe 30 seconds of the 2 minutes or so that I walked during the entire course. The second to last turn would take me past my great grandmother’s house who passed away while I was in college. Grandma Mills’ house and land was sold to the college and will be a big part of the college’s expansion plans in the future which the family is very happy about. Grandma always liked sitting on the porch listening to the sports teams playing and I’m sure she would have been sitting in her rocking chair as myself and other runner’s passed that morning. Just past Grandma’s house were the railroad tracks and the final .2 miles or so. As I made the turn, I imagined my football coach screaming me to the finish and then heard my wife actually doing just that. Seeing the finish line was an awesome experience and I finished full speed through the line beating that 2:39 time I anticipated with a time of 2:33:16 and an overall pace of 11:42/mile.
It took me a while to get the legs settled and my breath caught, but it was great to meet Steph, Haley, Brennan and mom and dad there at the finish line. My time was right in the range of my expectation, but I know I can push for more in the future. Hopefully next time will be soon. As I said, running has been an awesome adventure for me and one that I’m incredibly thankful that Steph has shared with me. We are blessed and thankful for our healthy bodies that allow us to take on such exciting challenges. I’m looking forward to her and I pushing one another to longer distances, better times, and enjoying every stride together along the way.