Last Saturday I made 475-mile drive from Ithaca to Columbus, Ohio for the Nationwide Children's Hospital Half Marathon. Last Sunday I drove back.
For the mathematically challenged, that is a 950-mile round trip so that I could get up early and run 13.1 miles as fast as my spindly legs would take me through the streets of Columbus. I did this not because I am a sadist but rather in service of a larger goal. A couple of years ago I decided to run a half marathon in all fifty states. Last week's race in Ohio marked the completion of state #14. Since I committed to the goal, I have managed to average 4 states a year. At this pace I should reach my goal roughly in the year 2022.
The genesis of the goal was a race I ran in Portsmouth, New Hampshire in 2009. It was called the Seacoast Half Marathon and it was run on November 8, 2009. I was running it as a birthday present to myself--(a tradition I had started the year before with the Monson Half Marathon in Monson, Massachusetts.) It was a cool, sunny morning and I got to the start way too early, as is my habit. I was killing time walking around the parking lot of the high school that was hosting the start, stretching and warming up my leg muscles. I saw an older woman standing by herself, also stretching and warming up. I am not sure what possessed me to go over and start a conversation, but I did. Actually, it wasn't much of a traditional conversation where the participants alternate talking. She said roughly 90% of the words, but she was very interesting, so that was okay with me.
I found out that if she finished the race that day, it would be the last of the half marathons in her goal of running a race in all 50 states. I filed that fact away, ran a respectable 8:12 per mile, looked for her at the finish, and then drove back to New Haven. During my drive I pondered my impending 44th birthday and the bad physical shape of my parents--(heart attacks, joint replacements, Type-II Diabetes)--and I decided to adopt the old woman's goal for myself.
I named my pursuit, since all good programs need a name, and Erica took that name and put it on a shirt along with a graphic and a checklist. I called it Going Half Hog. (You can see the shirt below.)
Earlier this year I ran races in North Carolina, Maryland, and Maine. My times for these races varied greatly, from a low of 1:44:40 to a slow of 1:59:00. In the meantime we have moved to Ithaca, New York and my regular runs have grown quite hilly. About a month ago I started to think that this race in Columbus just might be my chance to go for a new personal best. I had been training well, the course was flat as could be, and the weather was forecast to be 40 degrees and clear. Perfect conditions for me to run fast.
I didn't say it out loud to anyone but my daughter and wife, but in my heart of hearts I decided to shoot for a time close to 1 hour and 40 minutes. This felt like a time that was right at the very edge of what I was capable of. The race was huge, with 10,000 runners finishing the half marathon, and there were timing clocks at every mile. This allowed me to track my pace accurately and kept me on track so that when I got to mile ten I could decide how hard to push through the last miles. I felt great at Mile 10, so I kept going hard.
I was still doing well at mile 12--(somewhere around 1:32:10)--and reached deep to run the final 1.1 miles in around 7:30--pretty darned fast for me. I kicked in under the finish banner at 1:39:46, for my fastest half marathon ever. And then I showered and drove away, hoping to get back to Ithaca for a meeting I had that night at 7:30. It really feels like I will not ever be able to run a faster half. I am still entirely committed to finishing a half marathon in the remaining 36 state, but while driving I set another goal.
It's one that will take at least 43 years and 11 days to reach and I am fully committed to getting there. I am going to say it out loud here so that anyone who is around then can ask me how it went. My goal is to be the fastest 90-year old half marathoner ever. There. I said it out loud and now the pressure is on.