“Remember: no one’s watching,” and other lessons from 50+ half marathons

Photo by http://mcguiremade.com/

This year I accomplished my personal goal (the one I co-opted from my better half) of completing 50 half marathons before my 50th birthday with the Bridge of the Gods Half Marathon in August. This was over a period of about 12 years (the overall goal, not that one run), with the majority of the events happening from fall 2011 on, after I got serious about the idea.

The goal was about quantity over quality. If I thought I’d be required to do any one of these events with any more speed than it took to come in some place other than very last, I’d have thrown in the towel. I may talk tough, but I’m a couch-potato at heart, really. My participation in most of these events could be considered neither particularly pretty nor fast. I keep a pace of between 11:30 and 12-minutes per mile.

Just so we’re clear I’m not breaking any speed records.

But I finished every one of ‘em, plus a few relays and other events. And because I’m a giver, here’s a list of things I’ve learned about running over the course of this little endeavor:

First, cheap shoes are a bad idea. I am the master of making do. The aficionado of the off-brand and the discounted. I can make a dollar holler, you guys, but if I have learned one thing, it’s to spare no expense on my feet. Running shoes are not inexpensive, they wear out and should be replaced every six months to a year or so depending on how many miles you put on them and how heavy you are.

Speaking of gear, running clothes are the best clothes. Crazily enough, clothing made to be comfortable when you’re running is also comfortable when you’re not running. It’s like a science thing. Now if science could make running clothes look like work clothes, or maybe we could make running clothes the new professional image standard, life would be just about perfect.

It matters what you eat. Pre-race fuel is kind of a big deal. The longer the run, the bigger the deal. I used to be annoyed with Mike when he had a regularly scheduled long run on Saturdays, because Fridays was our designated pizza night, and he said pizza made him feel sluggish the next day. Since taking up a Saturday long run habit myself, I’m more sympathetic. Pizza can be any other day of the week. Friday night dinners are lighter fare these days.

There’s also such a thing as under fueling, which we found out by scheduling a couple half-marathons during a month we were also on the Whole30 diet. Turns out my body needs more carbs for a long run than I can take in while forgoing grains and sugars.

And it only took one pre-half marathon Chinese take-out dinner to teach me a lesson about fuel as it relates to GI issues. I won’t go into the gross details, so I’ll just let you know it was no bueno, you guys.

And, contrary to popular sentiment (and whatever I want to believe), I can’t just eat whatever I want just because I run. Running burns about 100 calories per mile. A meal of a plain hamburger, small fries, a side of fry sauce, and 12 oz. IPA is going to cost me about 8 miles. I don’t eat a lot of hamburgers, but I do like my beer, and cheese, and a whole bunch of other stuff I’m not likely to burn off as quickly as I’d like to think I can.

Oh, and for the love of … whatever, don’t look at the race photos if coming to grips with the fact you look anything other than Runner’s-World-cover-photo-ready is not your thing. Almost everybody hates their race photos. I’m pretty sure my feet actually leave the ground when I run. In fact, in my mind, I’m pretty sure I look like Cheetara when I’m hitting the pavement. But in every single race photo it looks like I’m a manatee doing some weird kind of forward moon-walk. And my face is melting. And I might have just dragged myself out of a pool, I’m sweating so much.

Nope. No race photos. I’m going to resist the urge to click on the link and keep that mental image of me as Cheetara intact.

Midlife Sentence | What I've learned from running
Image by elobrerodelarte

Finally, there’s a whole, wide range runner bodies, and mine is one of ‘em. While it’s true the running community is full of ropy-muscled slender folk, there are those of us who jiggle in places we don’t want to jiggle, have the gait of a Sasquatch, or who sweat so much I’m sure more than one well-meaning soul has wanted to stop me because I look as though I could have a stroke any minute. Running has taught me to understand and appreciate what my body is capable of. Even if that list no longer includes maintaining either a 60-second plank or control of my bladder when I sneeze.

So what’s next? First of all, I don’t feel like stopping (I’m now up to 53 halfs and counting). Having a running event on the calendar keeps me moving and gives me an excuse to buy more comfy gear. My knees and hips seem to be holding out, so as long as I’m injury free, I’m going to stick with this distance, even if I am getting progressively slower with age.

My 2019 race calendar is still taking shape, and no I’m not doing every single one of the 11 events listed below this year, but here’s what we’re looking at as possibilities so far:

  • February, 10, 2019 – Rock and Roll Half Marathon, New Orleans – This will be Mike’s 50th before 50. We’re registered and have hotel/air tickets and are taking the kids with us to check out the Big Easy for a long weekend. Woo Hoo!
  • March 9, 2019 – Boise Spring Run – This one’s a maybe. There’s a registration link but no info. I’d kind of like a little more confirmation the thing is really happening before paying. The timing is good, since there aren’t a lot of spring events around here.
  • April 20, 2019 – Race to Robie Creek – Another maybe. It will be my 14th consecutive event if I run it, but I’ve just about had my fill. It’s a steady climb of about 2,500 feet over the first 8.2 miles, with a steep descent, and at no point in between is it a ton of fun. Do I want to risk heatstroke (again) for bragging rights and the opportunity to stand in line for a couple of hours for a beer, and then a bus ride? I know any sane person would say “no.” … But those bragging rights … I mean I do like bragging …
  • May 4, 2019 – Boise Women’s Half – Yet another maybe. The date’s listed on their website, but no registration link is available. Are we a go, guys?
  • May 11, 2019 – Spirit of the Magic Valley – I just found this one and it looks like a fun out and back starting at Shoshone Falls (about two hours away), following the Snake River, past the Evel Knievel Jump Site and through Twin Falls. The weather should be great in May and the timing works really well.
  • July 20, 2019 – Fit for Life – This one is sometimes grueling depending upon the summer weather and smoke from area forest fires, but small and well run and there’s beer at the end.
  • August 3, 2019 – Run for your Life – Yet another maybe. I’m not a huge fan of late summer runs for the reasons listed above, but I love the course and last time I ran it I placed third in my age group. The event benefits Camp Rainbow Gold. Another plus.

Then we have the Fall Gauntlet (4 halfs/6 weeks). I may just settle on one or two of these, ultimately, depending on how the year goes:

  • September 28, 2019 – Fit One – Big, well run event on a fun course partially through downtown (I really like holding up traffic). The half marathon and 5k courses merge at the end, which is motivation for me to finish faster before I have to weave my way through walkers pushing strollers as big as mac trucks, carrying their ginormous go-cups of mocha-choka-whatevers and giving me the stink eye as I pass spraying sweat and cursing.
  • October 13, 2019 – City of Trees – A small event, consistently well run and one of my favorites, with beautiful fall weather.
  • October 27, 2019 – Onward Shay – A great time of year for an event and a party at Payette Brewing at the end.
  • November 2, 2019 – Zeitgeist Half Marathon – A scenic course, one of the few that doesn’t follow the Boise River Greenbelt, and a personal favorite. The weather can be pleasant or miserable, which will factor into whether or not we stay for food and beer afterward. Another plus: the start/finish is about 2 miles from our house.

(feature photo by Ryan McGuire)

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  1. You go, girl! I’ve done a handful of halfs as well three fulls and I do salute you. My son is prepping for his first marathon and is discovering that yes, good shoes and running shorts are key. I’d warned him about “black toes” and “extraordinary chafing” but nothing hits home better than experiencing it. And yes, I’m with you on the photo front. My one pic that my mother insists on displaying has me looking as if I’m on a dog walk, minus the dog. What’s with that? I was blowing through the course. Surely.

    1. Thanks! I’ve not yet done a full, and not sure I’ll ever be interested in that kind of training. Mike did one and I just remember he’d be useless for a whole weekend after a long Saturday run. Not sure I’m up for that …