I generally feel more pressure registering for a half marathon than a shorter ultramarathon, as for the former my finish time and progress matter. Due to the seemingly never-ending COVID-19 restrictions, until recently I had not been as active in racing as standard, and I posited my body to not be at its peak shape for a swift 13.1-miler. Upon arrival at the Labor Day Donut Dash Half Marathon, taking place at the eponymous date in 2020 in Cumming, Georgia, I asked the staff about the hilliness of the course, which one member confirmed without elaborating. Running with bib #333 felt fitting for my 33rd half marathon, as one of them commented post-race.

The blonde lady to my right is a beast! PC: North Georgia Running Company
PC: North GA Running Co.

Still oblivious to the elevation gains and losses throughout, I had no choice but to go with the flow. Factoring in the heat that made its entrance only a few miles in, I felt relieved I remained on pace to easily finish under two hours for nearly the first half of the race. Then I met a vicious hill that resembled a ski slope and stretched for 0.3 mile. I refused to walk and continued running with an exaggerated arm motion, immediately draining a large portion of my endurance. I recovered this time and found my ideal pace again, but similar relentless hills never ceased to appear one after another, which forced me to change my goal to simply running the entire way, no matter the time, without a walking break. At a certain point, I stopped looking up but rather kept my head down, as I figured much of hill running to be psychological. I repeatedly thought of positive activities to do after, particularly receiving a foot massage, which boosted my morale.

PC: North Georgia Running Company

In most of my races, thanks to my perfectionism, getting lost or even inadvertently barely getting off track wins my primary concern. Especially when a running event includes countless cones, because I have witnessed and personally experienced how confusing they can be, I feel uneasy the entire way. Here, this perhaps irrational worry was justified, as I misinterpreted the cones twice. Around ten miles in, when I made a wide left turn, I moved all the way to the far right of the road and proceeded forward until a faster couple who made the same mistake earlier coming back from a turnaround directed me inward; apparently a car was coming my way. Likewise, on my way back, I redirected a slower couple making the same mistake. With about half a mile left, I made a sharp right turn and saw two minute tunnels (or paths) side by side, the farther one of which had laid out wide apart two cones and the nearer empty, and I took this to mean run through the two cones. As I entered, I saw a volunteer (or an employee) on the other side who calmly told me to just turn right when I exit. When I came out, seeing a sign of a right arrow on the other side, I realized I indeed had gone through the wrong one of the two and yelled, panicking, “Wait, what?” The volunteer again told me to just go through, after which I saw another runner coming out of the same false tunnel and looking confused. Although I probably only took between ten and twenty additional steps with these two minor mishaps, each felt so demoralizing and rapidly sapped my energy that I did not even bother trying to finish strong. I brought this up, how confusing some of these cone layouts could be, to some of the workers of the race, one of whom thanked me for the feedback. I see similar issues relating to cones in almost every race, so I certainly would not call this an anomaly.

All things considered, a 2:03:21 finish did not feel like a total failure, considering how mind-numbingly, both literally and figuratively, hilly the course ended up being, in the heat, contrary to my expectations when I signed up. If anything, this performance gave me confidence I still have that half-marathon speed that has consistently progressed prior to this pandemic debacle. With the conclusion of my 60th race since March 1, 2012, I have surpassed 1,000 miles in race mileage. I am still bewildered that I, who used to despise long-distance running more than anything, became someone who cannot imagine living without running. I thank Jesus for carrying me through this milestone without any serious injury.