Dear readers, meet Jenna:
Hello! I was so excited and flattered that Dorry asked me to write a guest blog about our half marathon adventure…this blank page, however, is a tad intimidating!
My running experience has not been the most conventional, a metaphor for my life, I suppose. I can say that my journey towards this half marathon probably started a very long time ago, but the most obvious beginning would be last summer.
I’m a 34-year-old wife and mother of two darling daughters, 6 and 2. I have been a happy and grateful stay-at-home momma since 2004, which has become an all-consuming and self-defining role.
And last summer, after 6 years of tending to little ones, plus my sweet husband, David, who works from home, I needed a little something that was mine. And with all four of us (plus Cooper the cat) in our house alllll the time, leaving the house alone sounded pretty appealing! I am a person who adores, amongst other things, solitude. Any of you mothers out there know that can be a rarity!
David, who is a runner himself, and whose beloved father was one of those gods-of-running (56 mile races in his 40’s were a common occurrence) suggested I should start running outdoors. I had always run on a treadmill, too much of a wimp to try to “real” running. It was something I told myself I could NEVER do.
But I was in a rut, suffering from some hyper-exercise and disordered eating habits, and a clouded sense of self-worth. I had nothing to lose. So out the front door I went, unsure if I could even run a few miles, yet fairly desperate to avoid the sting of failure.
To my surprise, although running outside was hard, it was also something I could do! It hurt, but felt good at the same time. It was my opportunity to be completely alone, listen to whatever I chose, and focus my heart and spirit on what I wanted.
We live in a suburb of Dallas, and our neighborhood is very hilly!
To tackle the hills and the heat of a Dallas summer, I started to get up earlier and earlier in the morning so I could run (and so David and I could take turns running/ watching the kids), maybe 3 days a week.
David was training for the White Rock Marathon (his first marathon—and Dorry’s first half) through the next several months. As he trained, and especially on race day last December, I remember thinking over and over that what he and Dorry and Billy were doing was something I could NEVER do.
But standing with Dorry that day, after she’d finished her half marathon, and then watching David cross the finish line as a marathoner, I realized, with tears in my eyes, that I wanted to know how that felt.
Through the next few days, even though I kept that desire to myself, David, on his post-marathon high, began suggesting that we run a half marathon together. At the time (early December), my longest run was 4 miles, and I kept insisting I could never keep up with him, but he said he wanted to run together, and would run at my pace.
So somehow (must have been delirious) I agreed to sign us up for the Rock ‘N’ Roll half marathon on March 27th. That seemed forever away, and was further justified by the money going to charity, and maybe, I would somehow cross that finish line.
Mid-January, David started to talk to me about training. I did not read any book, article, site, blog, nor download any app, or really even discuss running at all with anyone (except occasional complaints to my sister ). I just increased my mileage and ran more often.
I did have one bad run, the first and only time I had to stop and walk home. I just could not breathe, and I cried the whole way home. I told myself I was too old and could NEVER do this. You cannot teach an old dog new tricks. Discouraged…
A few days later, I quietly put my running shoes back on and tried again. Listening to songs that strengthen my faith and allow me to spend time in worship, through the next weeks, I ran 5, then 7, then 7.5. I was running around 9:30 pace/mile, and the thought for the race evolved from “just finish” to “maybe I can run 10 minute miles.”
One day I left the house fully intending on 8 miles, and as I wound around the blocks in our neighborhood, it became clear to me that I could just keep going. I ran 10 miles that day and with an average 9:20 pace, and I truly could not believe it. Busting through another “I could NEVER do that” obstacle started to feel a bit surreal.
I had no real sense of pacing myself nor fueling for long runs. I truly just had prayer, praise, solitude and putting one foot in front of the other.
10 days after my first 10-mile run, with some shorter runs in between, I ran a second 10 miles. And somehow, I ran 8:24 pace for 10 mi?! In just ten days I had shaved almost a minute per mile off my time. I had no intention of doing that, nor any idea that was something I could ever do. I was certain this was some kind of isolated incident that could never be repeated. Deep, deep inside though, I started to entertain fantasies of breaking 2 hours for the race.
The entirety of the race day was surreal, but all of a sudden we were off. David and I so rarely get to run together because of our kids, so running with him was such a treat! I knew he would pace me well and help me “respect the distance” I was about to run (he was also carrying my energy chews because he’s than kind of guy ).
Additionally, living the experience with Dorry by my side was just simply something I never really dared to dream of. Thanks to photographer Billy, you know they both graciously insisted on stopping with me at mile 3 for a port-a-potty visit.
I was flying higher than high through mile 10. And up to this point, David had to keep telling me to slow down. I was excited when we passed the 10-mile marker, knowing that moment was the furthest I had ever run. But by 11, when I saw Dad and Billy for the last time, I was starting to feel annoyed that I was still running, and by 11.5, my feet hurt, and by 12, I was starting to be aware that it was hard to focus my mind.
David was, of course, just as dandy as can be. I remember him telling me we had half a mile left, but half a mile felt unattainable in those moments. I was able to focus enough to realize that I needed to take in these precious last moments.
I started to high five the sweet kids lining the last 200 yards or so, and as we (FINALLY!) saw the finish line, David said, “If you have anything left, let’s go!!” And so we did! He grabbed my hand and we held hands as I gave it all I had and crossed the finish line.
Our time: 1:48:04 for 13.21 miles.
I wish I had some interesting “running-minded” thoughts as to why I was able to run that pace when I had really never accomplished it before… certainly training on hills, the cool weather, and being injury-free all contributed. But the “bigness” of running with so many other people (14,040 started the race—biggest half marathon in Texas), an ironic contradiction to why I started running in the first place (solitude) carried me farther than I could have anticipated.
And being supported by my family along the way was the most deliciously sweet treat (thank you Mom, Barry, Dad, Billy and precious Lyla and Meli).
But most of all, running side by side with my sister and my husband was a gracious gift. And the truth is I could never ever have done it, nor would even have tried without my sister’s and my husband’s support, encouragement, and examples.
They both outshine me in a million ways, including running, and honestly I count their presence in my life nothing short of miraculous. God is so so so good to this Sister Bird. This race experience is a spot-on metaphor for the abounding grace He has showered me with over and over and over again. Grateful.
Other than delivering my babies and marrying my husband, few days could compare to this day for me. Thank you, family, for sharing it, and Dorry, for letting me share my memories here! Will I ever do it again? Unlike my race partners, who are sure things to race again, I am not sure.. There are other things I would like to do that would prohibit racing…at least for a while. But I am interested in training for speedy 5K, or a 10K… stay tuned!
Thank you, Jenna!
I’m honored that the memory of this experience can have a permanent home on Living with Healthy Hunger. I’m so proud of my sister for a million reasons, including her determination to overcome the self-doubt about her ability to run. And she beat my time by 3.5 minutes, so I’m recruiting her to be my new running coach.
Do you have siblings?
If so, are y’all competitive with each other?
I’m thankful that my sisters and I have truly never been competitive with each other. We focus on supporting, loving, laughing and singing made up songs.
Please give Jenna some comment love below!
And have a fantastic Friday!!