Race Recap: Harpers Ferry Half Marathon, May 19, 2018 – Part 1

This race has a lot of meaning for me. I’ll start way back in the beginning. When I first started running, I did my first 5K in March of 2013. In May of that year I signed up for the 4-mile event at the Harpers Ferry Half. It would be my second race ever, and I hadn’t ever run more than 4 miles. The day turned out to be also a million other things for me: I was having my first postpartum period, my aunt had just died unexpectedly, and I was going to leave the next day alone with my kids to go home for her funeral. I also agreed to write a freelance story about the race for a local paper, marking my return to writing after being a stay-at-home mom for about a year. For all those reasons my run was miserable. I walked – or I could say dragged myself – up the hill to the finish line, and then I watched the half marathoners tackle the same hill during their 13+ mile race. I remember thinking some of them didn’t look all that different from me, and I just could not even begin to wrap my mind around such an accomplishment. I was very nearly on the brink of never wanting to do another race.

Somehow I kept going and eventually I did finish two half marathons. But the Harpers Ferry hills still seemed pretty out of reach. When 2018 began and I pondered what my goals would be, I kept coming back to this race. Then Two Rivers Treads, who sponsors it, put out a call for ambassadors. Those chosen would gain free entry. Without hesitation or overthinking anything I applied and was selected. So I trained for the Harpers Ferry Half. I did my first bonafide trail runs this year, and weekly hill workouts on the treadmill. I ran more than when training for any other race, though admittedly I feel like I slacked a bit in the home stretch.

My husband agreed to do it too, and in his last month a busy work schedule meant he didn’t get in much training at all. We made a pact that he would stay with me (I’m much slower) and we would finish together.

Race day dawned chilly and rainy, and with the forecast we knew there was no escaping getting wet.

Now let me tell you an important thing about my running philosophy: I really can’t stand the major name brand races that cost a ton of money and are all for profit. The Harpers Ferry Half is NOT one of those races. It’s a hometown event, money goes to support local organizations and the medals are handcrafted and GORGEOUS. As all the runners huddled under the tent at River Riders, Dr. Mark, the founder of the race as well as Two Rivers Treads (more on him will come in future posts!) advised us all to not think of it as a race but as a fun run, especially with the wet (near flooding!!!) conditions. He said we should be thankful we can run, and think of those affected by recent tragedies including the latest school shooting. These words really got to me, and I was feeling pretty choked up with emotion as a local girl took the mic to sing the National Anthem. I was deep in thought when I realized she was fumbling the words or losing her place, and that’s when she stopped singing and apologized. She explained it was her first time singing in front of a group and she was nervous. She asked to start over. Then a really cool thing happened: all the runners, wet before the race even started and about to head out for 13.1 waterlogged miles on a dreary morning, sang with her. I totally admit to being the biggest sap ever, but it was really a special moment. This community of runners that I felt so out of place in before is just such an awesome group of good people, and I was so proud to even be standing there among them.

When it ended, we shuffled to the start line where with little fanfare the race director counted us down and we were off.

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Great Greenbrier River Race 2018

So it’s been a full week since this year’s GGRR – a run, paddle, bike triathlon held in Marlinton, W.Va., on the Greenbrier River Trail and Greenbrier River. It’s hard to believe that just one year ago this race seemed like such a big new challenge and now it feels like a staple of our family calendar. Last year my husband and I trained for this race by running and biking as much as we could – weather doesn’t really permit us to paddle before the date of the race! On the day of the race last year our parents took the kids downtown to watch al the festivities and cheer us on. Something struck a chord with our oldest son right away. He’d had his own kayak already for a season or two and takes naturally to the water. He REALLY wanted in on this race.

We talked about being a family team this year from that point on, but the rules are a little funny and as a team we can’t do the race together. So we decided to all sign up as solo competitors and each complete the entire race. We would stay together and help him through at his pace.Tucker is 8 1/2 and this was the first race he’s ever signed up for. We did some couch to 5k runs, but really only just a few times, so he didn’t do much training at all.

But he finished the entire thing! Running was super hard for him, he got side stitches almost immediately and struggled but was determined and ran as much as he could. By Craig’s watch we finished the run portion in roughly 40 minutes – running across that mat to our boats I got really emotional because my son was being so brave and tough – just that part was a huge accomplishment. On our boats we faced the wind and moved slow, but Tucker was having an awesome time. We finally made it to our bikes and by that point I think we were behind all the other racers. We got on our bikes and made it a few easy miles before Tucker really started to wear out. He started breathing fast and losing his composure, saying he was too tired and he couldn’t do it several times. Craig cheered him on, and he continued to struggle. Finally I made him stop his bike for a pep talk – we had I think 4 miles left of the 10, and I explained that he would be so proud if he just kept going but it would feel awful to give up now – he was almost there! He looked straight ahead and started peddling his heart out. I turned a Fall Out Boy playlist on on my phone and rode beside him, and we finally rounded the corner back into town a little while later. I don’t think he could believe his eyes! And once again I was all tears. He’d never done a 5K before but managed to do one (in close to the same time as when I ran my first 5 years ago!), then paddle for 4 miles, then ride his bike for 10 more!

Just last year I took this challenge super seriously and now he had conquered it. We were the last finishers, but he was the only 8 year old to complete the entire race. Tucker sat down right away, and we got him some food and lemonade and he bounced back to life almost immediately – and said he would do it again next year!

I later found the race director to confirm that he was the youngest finisher, which she did, and she gave me a 1st place coffee mug for him and said the were proud and expect him back next year. You should’ve seen him when I awarded him with that cup back at our truck in front of all our family. The whole thing was such an emotional experience, and I’m so glad we went for it.

Notes about the race: they have the best atmosphere of any race I’ve done. The whole town participates, they do a fun warm up pre-race, the food is amazing. Love this event so much. One weird thing I don’t understand is the timing. The men start, followed 5 minutes later by teams and then 5 more minutes later by women, and your timing chip doesn’t account for the different start times really. Each year we’ve started with the teams wave so we could run together and our times have been incorrect. A plus, is this year we didn’t even show in the results at all, but when I emailed an inquiry they fixed it within maybe an hour and emailed me back right away.

That evening we celebrated our littlest boy’s 4th birthday to round out the weekend. We love this little getaway, and I think it’s officially a family tradition.

Thoughts on Boston

The Boston Marathon bombing happened the year I started running. At that point I didn’t really consider myself a runner. I definitely didn’t follow marathons. This year for the first time somehow I found myself googling results and reading profiles of the winners and tracking a few locals who I knew were running.

So many impressive stories came out of that windy, cold, rainy race this year! Des and the other top American women were such awesome examples of perseverance and hard work and dreams coming true. I also followed “Fat Girl Running” author Mirna Valerio as she posted of her own dreams.

All super inspiring! And it’s gotten me to thinking about my own goals. Way back when I started I had pretty simple goals – lose weight, be able to keep up with my kids. I later made a bigger list: run a 5k, run 5 miles, run a 10-minute mile, run for a full hour. I’ve checked off all those goals and more in the past five years. I’ve set new ones. Some have eluded me. I can honestly say the Boston Marathon has never even been a consideration. So what is my goal now? What am I shooting for? I feel like I spend every day trying to figure that out.

Since my “fitness journey” began I have crossed paths with so many other people who are also figuring out their own goals and making progress in many different ways, from getting to the Boston Marathon to raking in major dough selling shakes. I never wanted fitness to take over my life, and it definitely hasn’t. There are many ways I could improve … things I beat myself up about for not doing more successfully. But I also don’t want to quit or drop out of the game simply because I haven’t always given 100 percent. I see a lot of people who don’t ever sign up for the race because they feel like they won’t do it fast enough — and where’s the accomplishment in that?

So I keep making goals. They change and evolve. I don’t always achieve them.

This year at least in part it’s to run more often, consistently and farther: more miles versus faster ones. I am signed up for a half in May and for an endurance run in July. But I feel like the goals closest to my heart don’t necessarily have to do with running at all. I want to say yes to more things, experience all that I can and include my family whenever possible. My boys are now doing rock climbing, which I also tried for the first time. With warmer weather kayak/canoeing and backpacking season is coming I want to get out on the river in new spots and backpack with my family, truly backpack, for the first time. With my youngest of three boys turning 4 next week, I feel like I’m standing at the starting line of countless new possibilities.

I accidentally ran across a book at the library that outlines different trips along the Potomac River. We’d done a few of the chapters with regularity over the past years and my husband and I are very excited about tackling as much as we can of the rest this year. We’ve looked at a few other trails we might be able to do on bikes, too.

Long story short I am not the personality or physique to become a top runner and I know that. I enjoy just the doing, just crossing the finish line, just trying. And after Boston Marathon week, I needed to take a moment to remind myself that I’m actually right where I want to be and with more patience and more work, I can go wherever I want to go from here.