Sneakers, spreadsheets, and slowing the clock

Age 30: it had always been a scary milestone to me. It’s the point at which I imagined I would be an “adult,” and with it, would start doing “adult” things like eating kale, regularly contributing to my 401(k), sending thank you notes via snail mail instead of text message, and resoling my shoes.

I was scheduled to turn 30 this year, and in an effort to stave off this doomsday birthday I decided to fabricate a fitness challenge: I’d run 13 races in 2013. But not just any races: 13 half marathons. I’m a slow runner and half marathons take me forever so I figured this was a way to prevent my 29th year from “flying by.” I even created a hashtag to track my progress on Twitter: #13x13.1in2013. (Unfortunately the “.” in the middle makes the hashtag not quite work… oops! Don’t tell anyone I work in tech.)

Over the last 8 months I slogged through 12 half marathons that took me from my home in New York City to Knoxville, TN; Lansing, MI; Boston, MA; Virginia Beach, VA; Providence, RI; Chicago, IL; Washington, D.C.; and beyond.

I’ve had the chance to run with my roommate from freshman year, a violinist from high school orchestra, my best friend from college, a dear friend from business school, and the father of the kids I babysat when I was 14. It turned out to be a good reminder of how far I’d gone in 29 years and how many people have touched me along the way. (I also had time to reminisce, process any lingering emotional baggage, and plan my grocery lists in the hours I’ve spend pounding the pavement. Seriously, I’m slow.)

Running in Times Square is awesome, but the NYC Half was f$*%^@&! cold

Throughout the challenge I tracked my results in a Google spreadsheet, along with temperature and humidity on race day, number of hours slept the night before, what I ate before and during the race, difficulty of course, and recovery time. I was hoping to unlock the secret to my best times with a rough statistical model, but after twelve races the best correlations I could find were to cooler weather (50 degrees is ideal) on flatter courses (the Providence Rock and Roll Half Marathon set my Personal Record of 2:25:58 this year) after sleeping a solid 8 hours and eating 2 Gu gels during the race.

So, duh.

In late October I was nearing the completion of my goal when the Federal government shutdown triggered a race cancellation. Instead of calling it quits early, I decided to bump it up a notch: thanks to a deferment from Hurricane Sandy, race 13 would be the ING New York City Marathon. I had never run more than 18 miles at a time and was more than a little nervous of how I’d hold up. But it turned out to be one of the best challenges of my life.

The weather was downright brisk, but the cheering spectators from Brooklyn to Queens to the Bronx and all throughout Manhattan kept the energy high. Instead of listening to music I decided to live-tweet the race and ended up being buoyed as much by my online cheering section as the one along the course.

I finished the race — and the challenge — injury free, and never bothered to check my time. I am a former fat kid who can now call herself a marathoner. That is my prize.

After an absolutely essential massage at Bliss Spa the next day (the Blissage75, for the record, is heavenly and includes a hot wax foot wrap — exactly what my tired feet needed) and a large helping of both Goldfish crackers and coconut water (huzzah electrolytes!), I successfully survived my first marathon. And more than that, I was excited to celebrate turning 30 two weeks later.

A quick observation from the first month in: some things have definitely changed (my knees ache a little more than they did at 20) while others have stayed the same (I still can’t discern between my “inside” and “outside” voice; I regularly eat cereal for dinner), but no matter what, I’m elated to be here. Because, really, the alternative is *not* being here.

Now I just need to find time to make kale chips and buy some proper stationery. 2014 challenge accepted.