“Most people never run far enough on their first wind to find out they’ve got a second.”
William James, Philosopher
A little orange sign courteously reminds me that I’ve traveled 8 miles so far. Just under the number, the sign reads, “Ocean City Half Marathon.” How many more? I try to think. Five? I’m now entering new territory, and, surprisingly, I feel fine. Doubts over the fact that the furthest I did in preparation for this race was 8 miles are pushed to the back of my mind. My stride is easy and relaxed. My lungs, while challenged, aren’t feeling overly taxed. And my legs haven’t at all lost their springiness. I keep a brisk but challenging pace. Then again, I feel too good not to. Famous last words.
. The course has runners charge up the Ninth Street Bridge’s steep causeways then back around into the city. At this point, a majority of the race is spent running on the boardwalk. With a relaxing ocean breeze, partial cloud cover, and temperatures suggestive of autumn’s encroachment, the day could not be any more perfect for running. The race itself, with over 12,00 participants according to philly.com, has a friendly lighthearted vibe.
Before the race, and absolutely by chance, I bumped into a man I often see at local road races. After striking up a conversation with him, I learned that he is a part of the Road Runners Club of Woodburry. After telling him I attend Rowan University, he kindly invited me to join the club on one of their weekly group runs. He jovially adds that running with others, as opposed to alone, provides great advantages. Although he denied my request for an interview, I was left with a curiosity about the running community in and around the South Jersey area. I’m certainly going to take him up on that invite.
The race itself started with much excitement. With enthusiastic spectators lined up at various spots around the course, it is tough not to find yourself bubbling with excitement as well. Maybe too much excitement. Before reaching 8 and half miles, my only goal was to reach the next mile marker. Until this point in the race, the finish appeared too far off to think about. Feeling the tail end of a first wind, I dig little deeper for a solid pace at which to complete the next 4 miles with. However, for the first time as a runner, something happened. I slam head long into a wall, hard. I once heard this compared to running waist deep in pudding. My legs feel as heavy as cement. My stomach is a series of knots. What was once an easy, relaxed stride, is now hampered by a deep lethargy. Worst off all, the thought of stopping became all consuming. This lasts right up until mile 11. And as another in a day of many firsts, I am filled with a feeling of complete numbness. A second wind. Although my legs feel heavy, they’re no longer a hellish burden to move. I gradually increase my pace, wanting nothing more than to be done. Finally, the once faint fantasy of finishing now seems a reality. At 800 meters down the board walk I finally see the finish sign rising from the spectators. As light at the end of the tunnel appears, I push hard for the end. With every muscle screaming, I finish with long strides.
Every runner will tell you about it. It’s nothing short of awesome. Although it was my first half-marathon, the high after finishing was intense. I’m in a happy, almost giddy fog for the next hour. Despite the moments of discomfort, I now understand why people do this. I certainly want to do this again. Now how about a full marathon? We’ll see. Now if I could only get some training in with that running club.