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Thoughts — and charley horse — from a marathon

As a I lept from bed Sunday morning, I performed what I can only hope will be a new dance move: The Charley Horse Shuffle.

I hobbled around the room, my left leg locked at an awkward angle from the cramp in my calf. I think some four-letter words were tossed out, too.

I fell back in bed and thought about how the line between determination and stupidity is pretty thin. I thought this often Sunday and Monday while gingerly descending stairs, wincing as I leaned my thighs against anything, standing and sitting, and just walking.

What did I do to incur this pain? My brother-in-law and I ran the Stillwater Half Marathon, my first half marathon.

After my last running column inspire a few conversations with people around town, I wanted to share a few thoughts from the experience:

Be as comfortable as possible

A half marathon is a long time to run.

After my last column, someone told me a story about starting a long race feeling great and looking around to see they were in the lead — meaning he was using his energy and messing up his usual pace.

So I started my run sort of slow before realizing I had the energy to push my pace. I finished in less than two hours, which was my pipe-dream time I didn’t think I’d accomplish.

I rested up well before the race and felt good on race day, so I got into a good, comfortable pace early that didn’t feel like overdoing it until the last third of the race. In short, I saved the real struggle for the last few miles.

But pace is just part of it. Clothing is a big part as well.

This is all about comfort and little about fashion. A half marathon is a long time to be jogging, which means it’s a long time to be repeating the same motion and out in the sun.

Needless to say, wear clothes that are comfortable — socks, undergarments, shirts you’re used to. A sock that rubs against your skin awkwardly is going to cause a mighty fine blister over two hours.

For these reasons, I wore an old workout shirt instead of the cool Stillwater race shirt, because the fit felt a tad awkward.

That also comes into play when eating and drinking the morning of and day before race day. To be blunt, for runs over an hour the big goal is to be well-hydrated and have food for your body to burn … without needing to stop at a port-a-potty along the way.

Know your weak spots

I’ve run three races in the last year or so. And I’ve stood at the start line of each thinking about how much better I’d be if I could have done x, y or z in training.

But this time I knew one big thing; I knew when the hardest part of the race would be: the last few miles.

I routinely trained at 10 miles, but I’d only gotten to 13 miles once before the race with a few other 11-mile or so runs.

So I knew going in that miles 10-13.1 would be a weak spot. That’s when I knew the mental battle would start, but there was one hitch …

Do your research

Hindsight truly is 2020.

My brother-in-law and I both underestimated one main thing: the hills.

Believe it or not, the hills are not alive with the sound of music. They’re alive with the groans of its defeated … and maybe the hills laughing at their victims.

From looking at course maps, I knew there’d be hills. But they don’t look that daunting on a chart of a 13.1-mile course.

The first hill at mile five wasn’t too bad, but then three large hills from miles 7 to 12 seemed like cruel and unusual punishment for someone already running on fumes.

As many people around me started walking, I kept telling myself: “Just keep jogging. Just jog slowly.” I managed to only walk two steps on the last hill before I forced my aching legs to jog again.

Mind games

Each run and each race is a bit of a mind game.

For me, it comes down to shutting off certain parts of my brain, particularly ones that just say, “You’re so tired, right?” or “Your pace sucks today.” or “Isn’t there something better on TV right now?”

I managed to stay occupied through mile 10, as I listened to an Audiobook of “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.” Books are usually great for this, but in hindsight, I wish I’d gotten to a more exciting part of the book. I was stuck listening to middle buildup of the book, while the latter third would have been far more engaging.

I switched to music at mile 10 for a change of pace, which helped as I thought, “Will this hill end me.”

Water

Sweet water, we never really can have enough of you at the right time.

Like I said, I drank enough to be hydrated without having to worry about stopping for the bathroom. I think took advantage of each water stop but getting a few gulps of water at each.

But I always underestimate how much water is needed after 10-mile plus runs. Case in point, a run app I have estimated that I burned more than 2,300 calories on that run — that’s a lot of water and calories to replenish.

So after a big run, drink up.

Support

Lastly, it pays to have some good people in your corner to cheer you on.

My family — my fiancee, parents, sisters and nieces — was there to cheer my brother-in-law and I on at the finish. Honestly, I didn’t see them as I neared the finish. I was too busy trying to muster up my remaining energy while telling myself repeatedly, “DON’T TRIP.”

But it was great to share the experience with them and see a “Harry Potter”-themed sign my fiancee made calling me a “run wizard.”

Not to mention, it’s awesome to have someone to steal you a second complimentary water at the end of the race after you’ve already downed yours.