Obese. 57. Half marathoner. Really? Half marathoner? No way. That was the challenge my daughter Val posed to me after I told her I had walked for hours all over downtown San Francisco on February 20th. On 2/21 I said “Okay, I’ll do it!” and the training began. I more or less followed the Intermediate Half Marathon Training Schedule on the http://www.marathonwalking.com website. If you’re a beginning walker and want to try it, there’s an easier schedule.
Val and her husband Jerry are long-distance runners. Val has run around 23 marathons and recently completed 50.29 miles in 12 hours and Jerry ran a 50k (31 miles) a few weeks ago on trails and is training to run a 50 miler in July. (My other daughter Julie is also a marathoner and she and her husband are triathletes.)
To make it fun and to be supportive, Val signed up to run the marathon…and I’d walk the half…at the May 2nd Avenue of the Giants marathon. It’s located in Northern California and you walk or run amongst the giant redwoods.
Before I moved out to the San Francisco bay area near the end of December 2009, I sold my car. I decided that walking everywhere would help me get in better shape and if I needed to go longer distances, I could use the great public transportation. So far it has worked out great. I love the freedom of not having a car and I have definitely built up stamina with all the walking…sometimes carrying groceries. Still, walking a half marathon – 13.1 miles – in a decent time seemed daunting.
My son-in-law Jerry asked me what my time goal to finish was. 4 hours 30 minutes. That’s about a 20 1/2 minute per mile pace. I thought I’d be doing good to finish in that time since it’s a long distance. But as I stepped up my training to 5 miles at a time…6…7…8…9…10…12…I began to believe I could do it faster. 4 1/2 hours became 4. Four hours became 3 hours 45 minutes. And in the back of my mind was my dream goal…to finish in under 3 hours 30 minutes…a whole hour faster than I first thought and a 16 minute per mile pace.
I bought new walking shoes, shorts, a top, and socks. I began using Blister Shield powder to protect my feet on the longer walks. I started stepping up my pace. I took on the feeling and actions of an athlete…following a training schedule and tracking my time and was really happy when I shaved a minute off my time. I posted my long walk victories on my Facebook page and delighted in the cheers I received from friends.
May 2nd came. Val, Jerry, 8 1/2 month-old Sebastian, and I spent the previous night in one hotel room and left early the next morning for the race. Val started first with the marathon and I had an hour to mentally prepare. It was a crisp morning and perfect weather for the race. And we’re off! The first few miles I was so mesmerized by the beauty of the redwoods that I forgot about my time and was headed toward that 4 hour finish time. I was shaken back to remembering that this was a race and I wanted to do my best.
I kicked it into high gear about half way through the race. I had been trying to catch this one woman (and pass her) for several miles. Finally I decided to go for it and passed her at mile 8. She was on my heels for an entire mile as I fought to stay ahead of her. I was determined at that point to not let anyone pass me the rest of the race.
For the next 4 miles, no one did except for one person who took off running with one mile to go at the end. I realized at mile 9 that it was possible for me come in under 3:30 – my dream goal – if I gave it everything I had. So I gave it EVERYTHING I HAD. I focused. Every step was calculated…do I go on that side or the other one (which one is faster) of the next runner? How much can I stretch out my legs on this downhill section?
My legs felt like jelly…like they would buckle underneath me…but I kept on going. Jerry called when I had a mile to go and asked if he should come pick us up. Yes…and “I have to go…I’m almost done!” I was breathing hard and walking faster than I’ve ever walked in my life.
And then…there was the finish line. Tears came to my eyes. I had done it. I beat the woman I passed at mile 8 by 4 minutes. And my daughter (who later was so proud of me) was off getting food…she wasn’t expecting me for another 15 minutes and wasn’t there to see me when I came across the finish line. When my official time came in, I had finished in 3 hours, 29 minutes, and 52 seconds…exactly 8 seconds under my dream goal.
This obese, 57-year-old woman who WALKED the race came in 30th place out of the 54 women in her age group (55 to 59) and 973rd out of 1178 people overall in the half marathon. I wasn’t the winner on paper, but in my mind, heart, and body, I was a winner… a real ATHLETE.
And as an athlete, I’m already signed up and training for my next half marathon on August 29. My goal? Mmm…3 hours 20 minutes?
UPDATE 9/3/10: I walked the Santa Rosa half marathon on 8/29. I didn’t quite make the 3 hours and 20 minutes…was 3 hours and 26 minutes…but still, I took 4 minutes off my last race. That’s a 15:44 pace per mile…not bad for walking!
UPDATE 1/22/12: Since writing this, I walked a marathon in training, walked a 50K (31 miles), and walked the Portland Marathon. I am currently training to walk the Oakland Marathon and will do at least two more races of marathon length or longer after that in 2012.