Lessons from a half-marathon (miles 4-6)

(This is part 2 of a 5-part series. If you’d like to start at the beginning, click HERE)

[Therefore] …let us encourage each other, and all the more, as you see the day approaching…”

After the big start to our race, and after a natural separation occurred based on the speed of each runner, miles 4-6 are where Traci and I established a real rhythm. Whereas the start is filled with energy and enthusiasm, stage two is focused on sustaining a pace.

During our race, the Sleeping Bear Marathon, Traci and I found a very comfortable stride as we came out of mile four and began mile five. Mile four ended at an aid station after a pretty steady uphill climb. I grabbed my first cup of water from this table and as we ran past, the lady handing me my water said, “You have a great downhill stretch ahead of you. Enjoy!”

Race medal

Yes, I did wear my medal to go get pizza for the kids. My friend Evey, a very accomplished runner, told me I earned my medal and could wear it for as long as I wanted. I would have slept with it if Traci would have let me!

That downhill stretch nearly lasted through the turnaround at the halfway point (6.55 miles). It was a steeper downgrade at first, but leveled out slowly so that we could enjoy the pace all the way down. It wasn’t one of those downhills where you feel almost out of control, but it was strong enough that you felt like you didn’t have to work so hard to keep the momentum going. It was a very comfortable time in the race.

An other occurrence started happening at mile four: Traci and I began to be passed by people on the other side of the street; passed by the people who were on their way back to the finish line. We were just crossing mile four while the fastest runners were crossing mile eight. Made me laugh to think they were running twice as fast as were!

Here we were given a real unique opportunity: We started cheering on and encouraging the runners who were coming back up the hill towards us. It was fun to watch their reactions. The first few people didn’t realize we were cheering for them as we ran past in the opposite direction, so I started calling out their bib numbers to make it clear: “Great job 353!” or “Looking good 230!”

People’s reactions were great. Traci and I got some big smiles, thumbs up and several people hollered encouragement back to us. We saluted everyone coming back toward us, which, since we weren’t setting any speed records on this course, was about 75% of the field! As we cheered for groups of people, they cheered back and miles 4-6 were, without a doubt, the easiest miles we covered on Sunday.

Here are three lessons I learned from miles 4-6:

  1. When Traci and I were recounting our experience to fellow racers, Clay and Lisa (Clay finished 1st in his age group, 15th over all, and Lisa was similarly fast!), we described miles 4-6 (where, incidentally, we saw Clay and Lisa both pass us on the opposite side of the road!). Afterward Traci made this comment, “Miles 4-6 definitely went by the fastest, and they were the easiest.” What made those miles the easiest? First, it was the most downhill part of the course, but secondly, and I think more importantly, we were focusing on encouraging other runners. While we were finally getting into our stride, it was [relatively] easy to encourage other runners. As racers, it’s easy to put your head down and run (and there is a time for that!), but when you do, you miss out on the people right near you who might need your encouragement, and who might be able to encourage you. Once you pass the starting phase of a project or lifestyle change, and you get to where you’ve established a bit of your stride, remember to look around you and offer encouragement to those who are racing near you. Maybe they’re along side you, or maybe they’re blowing past you on the other side of the road, either way — your encouragement may be just the boost they need in their race, and you will find that it helps your journey, too.
  2. I wasn’t very far into mile two before I started seeing some runners who had come out of the gate too fast. The adrenaline and energy of the starting line can deceive us into believing we’re faster than we’ve trained, or that we have a 13.1 mile sustainable speed boost. One lady in particular blew past us in the first 1/4 mile, but just beyond the 2 mile marker, she was walking and trying to catch her breath. After a short walk she started back into her run at a much more regulated pace. She was a good runner and I’m sure she finished well ahead of our pace. But she was strongest when she found her rhythm, not when when she was surging on adrenaline. Use the starting energy to get out fast and to build momentum, but remember that you usually (never?) can’t sustain that pace for long. You will be strongest in the rhythms of life, not in the surges.
  3. We really enjoyed miles 4-6, almost as much (more?) as we enjoyed miles 1-3. Remember to enjoy the rhythms of life. There are going to be uphill parts of the path, you will experience the flat lands and you will experience the wind, the rain, the sun and the cold and heat, but during the rhythms, take time to enjoy the route. Sometimes we can get caught up in the pace of others, comparing ourselves to them, instead of just embracing the race that God has put us in. Traci and I easily could have been discouraged by people running more than twice as fast as we were, but instead, we chose joy and encouragement on our way.

Once you’ve started moving toward your goals and dreams, once you’ve started tackling the journey that God has put you on, look for the pace that will help you sustain for the long haul. I think all of us want to believe we can go full throttle for the entire event, but reality says it’s not possible! In running events, injuries occur when racers take to a speed that’s too fast, and rarely are goals achieved.

One woman was running the marathon and when she ran past us at mile 11 (she was on mile 24) I said, “Great job…you’re doing awesome!” She replied, “Not really. I led this race until mile 20…and then I lost it!” She was not happy. I was surprised to hear she had been leading (for the women) because several women had gone by us at that point, one probably a mile or two ahead of her. After the race I heard her lamenting to a supporter, “I just started out too fast.”

After you ride the momentum of a start, find your rhythm and enjoy the race. Too many people get burned out in life, burned out on pursuing their God-sized goals and objectives, in part, because they never find a rhythm. What about you? Are you in need of finding a rhythm? Are you in the rhythm right now, and struggling to enjoy it? Maybe you need to look up and encourage others who are around you, behind you and, yes, even ahead of you! Maybe you need to just see the scenery and take it all in while you keep plugging along? Find your rhythm and you’ll find your strength.

Go ahead and take the plunge, life is always better on the water!

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4 Responses to Lessons from a half-marathon (miles 4-6)

  1. Tom Tanner says:

    Enjoying this series and the correlations to life. (You know I will never apply it to running!) Thanks for sharing, and I am certain that I will take this example of physical discipline into another arena soon. Just not running… Never running…

    I did wonder when I saw the pic though. Miles 4-6 couldn’t be that hard if you were riding in a car… 😉

  2. Andy Hartfield says:

    Good insights, Joe.

  3. Pingback: Lessons from a half-marathon (Miles 7-9) | The Overboard life

  4. Bee says:

    Good thoughts here! One of my favorite parts of walking the Portland Marathon in 2006 was the part early on where the walkers are around the 1-mile mark and the runners are already blowing back on the other side of the street. You get to see all of the race leaders, which is fun. Several times I heard runners yell across to us, “WALKERS ROCK!” and those of us who’d heard about this tradition hollered back, “RUNNERS RULE!”

    Thanks for the reminder to always save a little breath to cheer each other on.

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