As a rule, I never listen to music while I run. I prefer to hear my breath, the sound of my feet turning over, to be aware of my surroundings. But, at a (not so) recent half marathon I broke my own rule. Listening to music was a mind game really – a last ditch effort to inject a little something extra into my race plan to make up for un-run training miles.
My training dropped off almost entirely the six weeks before the race. There are reasons, always reasons – travel and then jet lag, a rolled ankle, this and that. None of the excuses were particularly compelling and so I spent the first mile of the half marathon feeling little other than sheer frustration with myself. I knew I could put together 13.1 miles, but I had hoped to PR. I had begun the training season with such consistency.
Running with music was an entirely new experience. Running felt slightly more insular, as if I were a degree removed from the other runners. The experience was more introspective; I couldn’t hear the heavy breathers or the loud talkers. I listened to music and I ran and I watched: two young girls running together in matching neon green tank tops, one girl more experienced than the other coaching her friend through water stops; a fellow in his mid-sixties plodding serenely along sporting a well-worn Paris Marathon t-shirt; volunteers picking up discarded water cups; the back of a woman’s shirt that read “I run in honor of: Dad!”; my family cheering like crazy at mile 12.
And slowly my grip on my own frustration started to loosen and my perspective shifted as I watched the people around me. Really, in the end, running is such a gift. The gift of being outside and watching the sunrise, the gift of choosing to race, the gift of having the ability to run, the gift of being alongside other runners as you share a few miles together, the gift of being cheered for and rallied around.
As the miles ticked by, I waited for things to fall apart, but they never did. I still felt great at mile nine, so I picked up the pace and really started to run. I ended with a negative split, a strong finish and a race I was proud of. The PR I wanted? No, just the gift of a really, really great run.