They say that a picture is worth 1000 words and yet these two pictures hardly tell the story at all. The one on the left was taken 40 minutes before the half-marathon; the one on the right was taken about 40 minutes after. The story in between isn’t there at all.
You see the medals, but you don’t see the heat or the water stations without water or the magnificent Danube and its architectural beauties. You can’t hear the sound of dozens of silent runners’ shoes softly hitting the pavement around me or the crunch of the hundreds of white plastic cups underfoot.
I’ve been having a hard time putting the race into words, for an email to my family, while eating Hungarian food on an evening Danube cruise with Rainer, while writing and writing into my journal. The race was hard, but not hard. Hard in a way I can’t put into words with any sort of grace. The phrases seem either too subtle or too melodramatic.
This was the race that changed me into a long distance runner. An off-hand remark from Rainer about a half-marathon in Budapest was laughingly replied to with a spontaneous declaration that “I’d train for a half if it meant running there!” – and who can un-do an inspiring thought like that? So I trained all fall for the base level of fitness to be ready to use the training plan I really wanted to use this spring. All winter I ran on the treadmill, watching a slideshow of the Budapest Flickr group on the computer to inspire me.
The race was hard, but I’d trained hard. The only thing I’d change is the weather. That says a lot to me. It means that I regret none of my choices. But the weather…Oi.
All summer we’ve had rain and cool temperatures. Maybe a total of 5 bathing suit worthy days in 3 months. In Vienna the temps rose and in Budapest they rose again. The day of the race had a forecasted high of 35 degrees. At least 8 degrees hotter than any of my training runs. We had a running belt full of water and a small bottle full of energy gel and we were well hydrated before we even reached the starting line. We hoped it was enough.
7000 runners and a course along incredible sights. The start through the broad and magnificent Heroes’ Square, the Parliment buildings, Castle Hill, Margaret Island, and dozens of architectural treats. Despite the heat, I was confident. We started slowly (still faster than we’d intended) and let them stream past us. Rainer said later that he started to wonder if there were any people left behind us on the course. After 5k, though, we kept to the side and passed people steadily. At halfway we sped up a bit more, and that’s when the heat really started to kick in. But somehow I still felt comfortable. My breathing had changed from ‘comfortable running’ to ‘comfortable racing’ and that made me feel strong.
Things got hard for a while. But not the running. As odd as that may sound.
At the finish line, I nearly cried as the volunteer put the medal on me, but I couldn’t. I wonder if I didn’t have the energy, or the water, or the purity of emotion. I was all mixed up. I was so parched that my throat and mouth were stiff and rigid. I had no thirst, no hunger, just a desire to rest. I ate and drank all through the day without really wanting to. Even on the ship in the evening with Rainer, with a buffet of Hungarian treats spread before me.
Racers had free entry to the Széchenyi Baths after the race. We soaked in the cold bath. It was heavenly. We did a little warm soaking, too, but always back to the cold.
Needless to say, the spectre of the Loser Bus (the name I’d given the bus that picked up runners taking longer than 2:30 to complete and the bus that motivated me to really focus on my speed training sessions on Tuesdays) wasn’t a worry I needed to have. My training pace had let me know I’d be fine and I’d even changed my goal from “I won’t get picked up by the Loser Bus” to “I want to run faster than 2:15”.
And despite the heat I did it. I did it! 2:09:06!
Running has taught me so much about myself. About my power to pursue my goals, about strength and determination and pride. My strength. My pride. I’ve learned a lot about the power of stubborness combined with a succession of realistic goals.
The run was tough, but I was tougher. And I knew it. All the crappy training days, all the struggles with blisters, all the times I had longed to be home and not out in the woods still, all of the training taught me the lessons I needed. I knew them as I stood on the starting line.
In a way, this race marks the end of this golden summer. A summer anticipated for so long, a race anticipated for so long. There’s a little bit left of our time here, but from now on my horizon is full of transitions: back to Germany, back to Canada, back to home, back to routine. But my word for the year, “Adventure”, still promises to lead me along many paths in the next few months.