Why I Have More Pride in My Slowest Half Marathon than my Fastest

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A few weeks ago I ran in the Pittsburgh Half Marathon. I ran it almost 15-minutes slower than my Half Marathon best. Despite a significantly slower time I have more pride in completing this race, than I have in any other run.

Why? I averaged a pace about 1 minute and 10 seconds slower/mile than I normally do in the Half Marathon. Why in the world would this race make me happier than the races where I performed better and ran faster? The answer: This was physically and mentally the hardest race I have ever run, and I finished it. literally fell down during the race, and got back up. I had scraped knees and elbows, and had the perfect excuse to quit, but I stood up and kept running. I fought myself mentally when I wanted to walk, and chose to keep running. Even when I knew there was no way I could do my best (as measured by past performance) I chose to keep going anyway.

Preparing for this race and running in it showed me the importance of determination and perseverance. I knew that training for this race was going to be challenging, because it was my first postpartum race. Training with an infant is not easy. Stroller runs add a whole new dimension to workouts. A few people have told me they think running with a stroller is an advantage. Let me assure you, it is not. It’s like running with weights. Especially uphill. Where I live everything is uphill.

Two months before race day: I got sick and couldn’t run for a week. Then my baby got sick, and I couldn’t run for another week. Then my husband got sick, which got the baby sick and me sick, and before I knew it I had done only two runs over the course of an entire month. I started to get nervous, but I still had a month until my race. I knew that setting a new PR (Personal Record) probably wasn’t going to happen at this point, but I knew I still had enough time to be prepared for the race.

One month before race day: During a run I noticed an ache on the outside of my knee. It started around mile 3, but I was only going for 4 miles so I finished my run. Once I stopped, I realized that it really hurt. I limped to my car without bending my knee. I took a few days off, but the same thing happened about 4-miles into my next run. It was IT Band syndrome.

The best cure for ITB syndrome is rest. So I took another full week off of running. I felt fantastic when I headed over to the track for a nice flat workout to test out my knee. I didn’t even make it one lap before the pain stopped me. I took off another week (we are currently at 6 weeks of little to no running for those of you keeping count). I also focused on stretching and got new running shoes.

The decision: My husband kept asking me what I was going to do about the race. I did not want to quit. I was running to raise money for Love146 to prevent human trafficking, and quitting because my knee hurt felt shameful in light of what those children faced every day. At this point I was literally terrified to run. I did not think I would be able to finish the race.

The week of the race: I tried a one mile run, and felt my knee bothering me. I stopped before it turned into pain, and decided to see a chiropractor. I saw her twice the week of the race. I still feared that I wasn’t going to make it through the race, but I decided to try anyway. Even if I had to stop, I was going to show up and do my best. If I got a DNF (Did Not Finish) at least I would know I went out and tried.

Race Day: My sister came down to the race with us to take care of the baby. Jesse ran in the Marathon relay with his friends.  I waited in the race corral by myself to start. I had friends running in the race, but I knew that if I had to stop or felt like I was slowing their pace down that would be mentally harder on me. I chose to run by myself (if you can say running with over 13,000 people is running alone).

I was hyper aware of my knee, but overall it felt okay during the race. I walked through all of the hydration stations so I could drink some gatorade. Usually I only have a few sips of water while running and most of it slops out of the cup and onto my face, but I am still nursing my son so I needed to stay hydrated. As soon as I finished my fluids I was back to running.

At mile 10 I started to struggle mentally. I really wanted to walk, but I was so close to the end that I refused to give up. I felt myself slowing down. I felt like there was a cartoon devil whispering in one ear telling me to stop, and an angel whispering in the other ear that I was able to keep going.

About a quarter mile from the finish line I tripped in a pothole. I face planted, and slid on my arms and knees for several feet. Someone who worked for the race ran over to me and asked if I needed a medic, but I said no, hopped back up and kept running. I had a bloody knee, and scrapes to both knees/elbows, but it wasn’t as bad as it could have been.

I crossed the finish line, and as soon as I stopped running all of the pain in my left knee hit me. I could barely bend it, and walking felt like torture. I wanted to find my sister, and my baby, and watch Jesse finish his race. A race coordinator saw that I could barely walk and escorted me to the medic tent. They saran wrapped a bag of ice to my knee.

Eventually I found my sister and my son, and we headed back to the car to wait for Jesse. His relay team finished 5th out of over 1000 entries. He ran the final leg, so he got to cross the finish line.

Limping post-race.

I often say that achieving your goals (be they fitness or otherwise) is not the result of motivation. It is the result of determination. It happens when you choose to keep going even when things get hard. Success isn’t only about what you achieve, it’s about persevering with your journey. I worked harder, struggled more, and pushed through. Even if the race had ended with a DNF, I knew I would be happier than settling for Did Not Try.

I finished!

Bib: 10639
MELISSA BENDER
Half Marathon
Finished
02:00:24
My Results: Overall 3,637th of 13,072. Female: 1423 of 7820. Female 30-34: 237th of 1,259.
Interval Time of Day Chip Time Chip Pace Gun Time Gun Pace
Start 7:18:23AM
4.4 Mile 7:56:11AM 00:37:48 08:36 min/mi 00:39:09 08:54 min/mi
5.3 Mile 8:04:13AM 00:45:50 08:39 min/mi 00:47:11 08:55 min/mi
9.1 Mile 8:39:15AM 01:20:52 08:54 min/mi 01:22:14 09:03 min/mi
12 Mile 9:08:19AM 01:49:56 09:10 min/mi 01:51:17 09:17 min/mi
Finish 9:18:47AM 02:00:24 09:11 min/mi 02:01:45 09:18 min/mi

12 thoughts on “Why I Have More Pride in My Slowest Half Marathon than my Fastest

  1. Kath

    Congrats on finishing despite all obstacles. I hope that the knee is not permanently damaged. Question if you were told marathon running days are over how would you feel? I see so many people in their 50s struggling to run 3 or 4 x a week like they used to but is it worth it when tje aftermath is not always very good? Its so hard on the body. Again way to go for finishing and DOING IT YOUR WAY

    • benderfitness

      I wouldn’t be happy about it, but I would do what is best for my body.

      My knee isn’t permanently damaged. I talked to my doctor before I ran the race to make sure there wasn’t an issue I wasn’t aware of. 🙂

  2. I know what that feels like, I have been there I have heel spurs and over a year of not running and exercising was hard for me and afraid. Now I’m slowly getting back into it and training for a marathon, Melissa good job on not giving up!

  3. Grace Richards

    Well done!! Take away all the sickness and injury you experienced pre race, it’s hard enough to train with a baby!! I am 8 weeks postpartum so finally able to get back into training properly, and do all the workouts I couldn’t while I was pregnant, but it is mighty hard when you’re battling sleep deprivation and working around a baby’s unpredictable schedule. You’re very inspiring and motivating, and you kept me fit and healthy throughout my pregnancy and I have been able to recover from childbirth (which was an horrific experience for me unfortunately) better than I would have if I neglected my health. I completely agree with the determination/motivation thing too, I often achieve things out of pure stubbornness! Well done and thank you.

  4. Elynn

    Wonderful article, Melissa!
    I recently did the same, (although not even nearly half marathon, it was only 10km & heck, I’m not nearly as cool as a super fit mom like you!). But a week before the run I tripped on an uneven pavement and strained my right foot. I hadn’t notice it was that bad until I worked out at the gym and felt smtg was wrong after doing legs day. It started to hurt – a lot.

    On the day of the race, I hadn’t even decide if I was running or not. In the end, I chose to do it anyway, I limped as I ran and brisk walked, I limped through everything (I’m a beginner for running long distances). And when i finished, I felt the struggles just faded away. It was a calming feeling, one that I did not get in my first two 10km races. I was 20 minutes behind my previous timing, but I’m fairly surprised I even did it anyway! haha!

    Reading you do it just makes me happy, and thank you for writing about it! If I ever feel like giving up, I’ll just visit this article again, =D

    Lots of love from Malaysia,
    Elynn.

    ps: hope you recover soon!

  5. Joanna

    Great Job, I am always tel my children, what I love is when I see them struggle, and I see them recover and keep going. That is great Perseverance! What a great example for Maverick as well all of us!!! Side note, even with all of your injuries you can still run faster than at least me!!! 🙂

  6. Trina

    I’ve been doing your workouts for about 3 years and have so enjoyed watching your family grow. Your determination to not only show up but to finish this race is so inspiring! And you are such a good momma 🙂

  7. Leah

    I had to laugh about your comment regarding running with a stroller. I totally agree with you. Running with a stroller is SO NOT an advantage!!!!! I ran with all three of my kids in strollers. I find it to be way more difficult. The movement is just not natural. Not being able to get your arms going… Ugh. I hated it. Congrats on completing the run despite all your setbacks! You are truly an inspiration.

    • benderfitness

      I’ve never understood that one! I saw a woman do a 5K two weeks ago pushing TWO babies! I cheered for her like crazy!

  8. It’s fantastic that you shared this with us. It’s one thing to be proud of yourself that you did an intense run/workout, but it’s a whole other feeling of pride when you’re tired or in pain and think “is there even a point to me doing the low impact, or less intense version of this?’ and do it anyway. Sometimes, my muscles will still ache the next day and I’m reminded that something is never nothing. You can still work hard and be smart about which muscles you use and how. Thanks for confirming, it’s better to do what’s perfect for the moment, not for what you might have once envisioned.

  9. KANANI SUMMERS

    Proud moment for me too!! I tripped on my most recent marathon Nov 19 Route 66. I was going at a descent rate of speed and there were about 6 miles hills, in which I was not really prepared for. Needless to say, I think I had some fatigue in my legs.
    I am grateful that I was able to finish the race and bones were not broken in the fall. My time was slower, but I finished the race running.
    Thankful for the ability to run!

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