Twelve weeks ago, I decided to put down the weights and transition back to my roots of long-distance running. While I had a blast spending last year learning the basics of bodybuilding, my heart ached at not being able to go out and do what I loved most. So I decided to dedicate this fall season to making my running comeback at one of the biggest races in the Carolinas: the 2016 Charlotte Half-Marathon.
Believe it or not, this is my third time running this race (which was formerly known as the Thunder Road Half-Marathon): I first ran it as a baby in 2007, then I ran it a bit more competitively in 2010. But since I’m no spring chicken anymore, and I haven’t run a half-marathon in over four years, I knew going into this that my long-distance legs would have some cobwebs to shake off.
However, I totally forgot how much dedication and commitment it takes to get your body ready for this kind of distance: every Saturday morning for the last 12 weeks was reserved for a grueling long run. And four days out of every week required a combination of speed-work, medium-distance runs, and cross training. By the end of this 12-week training, you get used to the active schedule, but in the first few weeks, I definitely fought a battle with burnout.
But the universe aligned for me and somehow I managed to check off all 60 workouts and 212.4 miles leading up to this big day. No injuries, no quitting-fever, and therefore no pressure to kick a$$ at this race, right!? Riiighhtt…. because petrified is the only word that describes how I was feeling the night of November 11th.
Well come Saturday morning, I felt like I had no time to even think about how nervous I was, because before I knew it, there we were. All 4,057 of us huddled together at the starting line, jumping up and down, partially out of excitement and partially in an attempt to keep warm in the freezing 40 degree winds. A beautiful anthem serenaded us and the most adorable countdown was lead by the young Alana, a patient of the Levine Children’s Hospital. Her precious voice and inspiring story warmed the perfect amount of love in my heart to kick my race off with the right neighborly but competitive foot (AKA, I decided not to bulldoze anyone while making my way to the front of the pack).
I don’t know if it was the 24k Magic blaring through my headphones or the ridiculously long downhill stretch through Uptown Charlotte, but I had the goofiest grin stuck on my face for the first two miles. I was feelin’ myself, I was high on life, and so was everyone around me. 🙌 But unfortunately my clown turned upside down when we started climbing into the Myers Park neighborhood. I’ll tell you what, those Stepford-esque homes dwell on some of the sneakiest hills in town. They. Kicked. My. Butt.
But then I blinked and the first 6 miles were behind me. I couldn’t believe how fast this course was flying by! Although, I thought this a bit too soon, because the real fun was right around the corner…. that Providence Rd. mountain nearly put me in my grave, and I needed every sidewalk fan cheering at the top to get me through that misery. (My favorite sign from that gracious bunch: “Why do all the cute ones always run away?”😂)
Around mile 8, my energy levels started to plummet. I downed a handful of energy chews, but even those couldn’t bring life back to my aching legs. I knew it was way too early in the race to be feeling this beat up, so I quickly prayed for a miracle. And soon after, the good Lord answered my prayers: I rounded the East Morehead St. corner and I heard my name called out ever so faintly over my excessively loud headphones. I looked to my left and there he was. My sweet boyfriend had the biggest smile on his face, while holding up the most laughable sign that read, “Let’s Geeeee Nathalie!” (Matt is known for his creative twists on ordinary words). And that clever misspelling paired with a few seconds of his warm embrace was the only power boost I needed to get through the rest of this race. 4.5 miles had nothing on me if they meant I would see that handsome boy again at the finish line.
So I kept trucking on. I ached, I huffed, and I puffed, but I kept my body in motion. The longer I went, the more painful it became, but I kept telling myself, “Nat. You’ve worked too damn hard to quit now.” And somehow, that indestructible self-assurance propelled me.
Around mile 10, a runner’s high overpowered my runner’s knees. I picked up my pace, and made the decision that I was going to take home a PR. I pushed through that beast of hill on Mint St. and I soared back into Uptown. When that magical F word was in sight, I sprinted my heart out until those 13.1 miles were behind me.
I earned every millisecond of that PR: 1 hour, 46 minutes, 29 seconds. And I left my old half-marathon time in the dust by a whopping 10 minutes. (Can I getta HELL YEA!?)
I started the Charlotte Half-Marathon with butterflies and I ended it with goosebumps. And no, those goosebumps were not the result of showing up slightly underdressed on a wintry morning. They were the kind you get when your pride washes away your pain. When your camaraderie for your fellow runners overcomes your sense of competition. And when you experience one of those top 10 moments in life that you will never forget.
Today was everything to me. It was the icing on the cake for 12 challenging weeks of training and I couldn’t have asked for a better outcome. Congrats to everyone who ran and a huge thank you to everyone who cheered us on this morning. What a beautiful day to be alive and active in Charlotte!
1:46:29 finish time
8:07 average pace
75th place female
13th place F25-29
294th place overall