Half - marathon teaches the value of patience

SOUTHWEST ASIA -- "Just keep running, just keep running," was all I could think of to get me through the final 5 miles as I ran the United States Air Force Marathon, Sept. 14, 2013 at an undisclosed location in Southwest Asia. This remake of a line made famous by Disney's Finding Nemo character Dori, replayed in my head. Only, I wasn't swimming, I was running. As exhaustion kicked in, and my muscles started to hurt, I wondered if I could finish the race.

I didn't know what to expect when I signed on to run my first half-marathon. The longest run I have ever completed was six miles non-stop. Thirteen miles is something different, seven miles longer than I have ever ran, seven more miles my body needed to adjust to, seven more miles to possibly injure myself. I would need to be patient with my training, patient with my body and patient with the run in general.

Although patience is an old concept, it feels new. Our society has grown to expect everything at their fingertips. Internet, once accessed solely from home or work, can now be connected to from anywhere thanks to Wi-Fi. In a "go go go" kind of world, it feels like there is no longer a need for patience. This run taught me differently.

I signed up for the AF Half-marathon in the beginning of August 2013. I wanted to test myself. I had one goal in mind, finish the race without stopping. I built a workout regimen. It included sprints; distance runs where the distance increased each week, and the occasional weight training to strengthen my legs. By the time the marathon came around I should be able to run 10 miles easily and the remaining 5K would be no problems. In a perfect situation this would have happened, but a deployment work schedules and other extra-curricular activities took a lot of my time away from my training. The longest run I achieved was still only six miles.

Having to juggle work, a six-day a week training schedule, intramural sports, and other extra-curricular activities, training for the marathon became a difficult task all on its own. My regular pace was around seven to eight minutes per mile, slowing down my pace to 10-11 minutes became an issue. The slower speed affected my body differently than expected and made the training difficult. During my training runs my legs felt sore earlier and they cramped more than usual. Mentally it was even more difficult. When your run app says you are running three minutes slower than your normal pace, it takes a lot of discipline to not speed up. Little did I know, getting accustomed to the slower pace would ultimately help me finish the race.

The 14th of September came unbelievable fast, and before I knew it, it was 3:45 a.m. and the race was about to begin. I had only reached half my training goal, I felt a little under prepared. I wouldn't be running alone though, my wingman Tech. Sgt. Adonis Cabarle, 380th Air Expeditionary Wing Equal Opportunity director, said he would run alongside me. We started out in front and the moment the race started I sped up. It's hard not to get caught up with the crowd running at a fast pace. Cabarle stops me and tells me to be patient, slow down, and to go at the pace I trained for. It took only minutes for us to be one or two groups in front of the trail vehicle, and when I say in front of the trail vehicle I mean my shadow was cast due to the vehicle's headlights.

"Be patient," Cabarle says. "We will catch them; mile eight we will pass a lot of them."

The first few miles were probably the hardest, running at an 11 minute pace was something I still wasn't used to and watching the rest of the runners continue to gain ground mentally disturbed me. Be patient, I had to remind myself.

At the fourth mile we picked up our pace, I noticed my legs had adjusted to the slower pace and I no longer felt pain in my calves. I hit what is called the "runner's high." Some describe this feeling as euphoria, feeling like you're able to run forever and losing all sense of time. I reached this point a little earlier than I wanted but I took full advantage of it. As our pace picked up I noticed most of the people had started to slow down. We were catching up to other runners , and passing most of them with ease, no shortness of breath, no pain in my legs, it seemed like patience really did pay off.

When we approached mile eight we slowed down just a little bit, never going slower than the 11-minute pace I had trained at. Still at this slower pace we were passing other runners. At mile nine and 10 we continued to pass runners who sprinted out during the start of the race.

We increased our speed again at mile 10. All that's standing between me and my goal of running the half-marathon without stopping or walking is 5 Kilometers. I started to pick up my speed a little faster. As I continued to pass other runners I began to see the worth of having patience. A lot of them might have gotten off to a fast start, but many were unable to maintain their pace.

Mile 12, I started to feel my left thigh tighten, my calves started to feel over worked, and my feet started to ache. My runner's high was gone. I slowed down slightly just so I wouldn't overwork my thigh, which felt like it was about to cramp up at any moment. Judging I could push through despite the tightening of my legs, the exhaustion left my body, my muscles ceased to hurt, and the finish line was within sight. I felt I could finish the run strong; I sprinted the last 500 meters and completed the half-marathon with an official time of 2 hours, 20 minutes and 17 seconds.

I realized that if I had started out at a fast pace like so many of the other runners, I wouldn't have achieved my goal. I likely would have felt the physiological effects earlier. My legs would have started cramping at mile eight and I would have gassed out at mile 11. The Aesop quote "slow and steady wins the race," comes to mind, and it showed. I achieved my goal in a respectable time. In this fast-paced world of today I have learned that sometimes it's better to slow down and approach goals at a slower pace. The patience I developed during my training for the half-marathon and came to understand as well as respect during the race, is what helped me finish. I will use this better understanding of patience to accomplish future goals and "just keep running, just keep running" toward them.