Despite weather, holiday and head-cold related setbacks to my 10-week training plan, I successfully finished the Hilton Head Island Half-Marathon on Feb. 9.
At 2:28:32.2, my time wasn’t an improvement — in fact, it was about 24 seconds slower than my November 13.1-mile time — but I still consider the run a success.
First, the course was an out-and-back that was not exactly flat and involved winding bike paths. It also spanned the bridge over Broad Creek, which I mistook for a low, flat structure.
Boy, was I wrong. The bridge was a bear to get over, but that made the climb the most scenic part of my journey as the sun rose over the water, casting its warmth on houses, boats and, of course, cold runners.
Knowing that the bridge was coming — and would require a return hike — also heavily influenced my running. Whereas in my first race I allowed excitement to accelerate my pace at the beginning, I was much better at keeping a slow, steady speed throughout this race.
I first crossed the bridge at mile six, and I was especially vigilant about appreciating the view. That was a lesson I learned during the Enmark River Bridge Run in December; then, I was so focused on conquering the climb that I didn’t lift my head enough to appreciate the view of River Street and the Savannah River.
After descending the bridge the first time, I felt great and even considered picking up my speed. Knowing the bridge would rear its head again, though, I chose to maintain.
There was one point where the course wound through wood-covered bike paths where it was hard to see those who were not in my immediate vicinity.
Several times through that stretch, I looked back over my shoulder to see whether anyone was behind me. I swear I ran for two minutes with no one in my rearview, and that thought scared me.
“Oh my goodness, what if I come in dead last in this race?” I thought. “How embarrassing would that be? And it probably means I won’t beat my time.”
Then the other side piped in. It helped that I thought of people like Charm Reed, a socialite who told me that she follows my column and finds it inspirational. (Charm, if you’re reading, I’d like you to know that that short conversation at the Liberty County Chamber of Commerce Annual Banquet has given me the strength and courage to push through several runs since.)
“You’re crazy to think that way. Given the sedentary life you broke out of, finishing any race is a big feat — and even coming in dead last in a 13.1 mile run is something to boast about.”
While my running experience was gratifying, and I’m proud to have more miles under my belt, I learned upon crossing the finish line that my companions also came out of the event with some bragging rights.
My fiancé, Firth Rixson engineer Jon Besser, and our friend, P.C. Simonton engineer Matthew Barrow, both finished third-place in their respective age groups for the corresponding 10K race.
Matthew, who began running recently, is a speedster. He’s concentrating on completing a 5K within 20 minutes, so we all knew he was hoping to place. He said he’d like to work up to a half-marathon.
Jon was much more surprised — the guys and Hinesville Downtown Development Authority program assistant Katrina Barrow agreed that Jon was caught off-guard when the announcers called his name.
“It felt great, I was thoroughly surprised,” he said.
So what keeps him running?
“The camaraderie of being a ‘runner,’ the free food and the cold beer after a tough race,” he said. “I travel a lot for my job, and one of my favorite ways to explore new places is on foot, in the early morning when the rest of the city is still asleep.”
Katrina, who is very new to running, also improved. She said she shaved two minutes off of her 5K time.
Hearing everyone else’s thoughts going into the race humbled me and brought me back to my own trepidation last April as I prepared for my first 5K. Yes, you read that right. My first 5K was last April, and I since have run two half-marathons. I’m learning that with a little discipline, we can accomplish great feats.
Again, skimming the crowd, I was amazed to be surrounded by people of all shapes and sizes. Regardless of our motivators, everyone’s success is another testament to what we can achieve.