Strip at Night

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On Sunday, November 17th, I accomplished a feat I didn’t ever deem possible. I ran my first half-marathon – the Rock N Roll Half Marathon in Las Vegas, Nevada. It was 13.1 agonizing yet exhilarating miles. I set quite a few personal records for myself: I ran the longest distance I’ve ever ran, as my longest distance was around 7.5 miles. I ran along The Strip in Vegas at night with all of the city lights and the drunken crowd cheering me on. I crossed the finish line injury-free. And I did it all in 2 hours, 55 minutes, and 56 seconds.

I’ve never been an athlete, much less a runner. But for some reason, I made a rash commitment nearly a year ago and paid my dues for this half-marathon in Vegas of all places, so I knew I had to follow through with it. We went out the night before, got a table at Light, danced in high heels, took Patron shots with strangers, danced to Alesso and cirque de soleil acrobats, ate ridiculously late night pho, and stayed up until 6 AM. Woke up the next morning, carbo-loaded at a buffet, changed into running gear, and off we went! Probably not the most advisable pre-marathon regimen, but I don’t regret a thing about it. There is something to be said about about being twenty-something and making irrational, spur-of-the-moment, YOLO decisions and being able to get away with it. 

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The half-marathon itself was surreal. Miles 1-6 were fairly doable, as adrenaline was high, the night was still young, and the distance was short. I kept a slow but steady pace and just kept slow jogging – never ran, rarely walked, just kept slow jogging. I realized that as soon as I walked, I was caught my breath but it felt harder on my joints and muscles. Miles 7-10 were painful; the desert weather really started to kick in, and the course started getting windy and dark in a residential neighborhood full of potholes. It was during this midpoint that I lost sight of the finish line (literally and figuratively). My knees started giving out on me, and I became acutely aware of every little bit of pain on my lower extremities. Then something miraculous happened around Mile 11-13.1. A stranger started running next to me and kept pace alongside me. We started talking, and I learned that he was a 67-year-old man with a pacemaker who was running his 4th half-marathon. He had depth perception problems due to nearsightedness, so it was difficult for him to see potholes, but he was still running faster than me. He kept glancing at his stopwatch, so I asked him how we were doing on time. He shared that he wanted to run under 3 hours. Fair enough. So for the last 3.1 miles, I ran with him. 

At one point, he walked to catch his breath. At more points, I walked in huge steps just to catch my breath and keep pace with him. I didn’t want to let him down. I cautioned him when he got too close to unexpected potholes and reflectors. He told me that I didn’t train or hydrate nearly enough (both stark realities that, by this time, I was acutely aware of and kicking myself for). He told me to read a book once in awhile, regardless of how busy I am with school. When the finish line was close enough in sight but still far enough from reality, he reassured me, “It’s in the bag.” So I felt it only fair to cheer him on when we were 15 minutes away from the finish line. “RUN!” “This is what you trained for.” These were the lines plastered on the asphalt that I read in coach-like fashion. Just before the finish line, I lost momentum and he maintained his pace. His drive and determination was palpable, even from behind. Even though he was 41 years my senior, he beat me by 4 seconds. We both finished under 3 hours.

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For a moment in time, I experienced my real-life version of Tuesdays with Morrie. An inspirational story of a 67-year-old man with a pacemaker who still outpaced me. At 26 years old, am I not supposed to be at my life’s prime? Sure, I beat him in age and ease of running, but he lapped me in time, in wisdom, and in drive. What excuse can I possibly give now, as all my lame excuses pale in comparison to what this man has so diligently trained for and achieved.  I tried to find him after the finish line, but wasn’t able to with the frenzied crowd.

After the race, I was determined to reach out to him and thank him for inspiring me and helping me finish under a time I didn’t even consider feasible. Thanks to Google, I located him on LinkedIn. We emailed back and forth and turns out, the feeling of gratitude was mutual. So what is the takeaway from all this? Be yourself, be strong, be awesome, be genuine – you never know who you are inspiring. Take advice – accept it with an open heart and learn from it. And lastly, reach out and give thanks – because life is too short to keep all the gratitude to yourself.

Years from now, what I will remember most from my first half-marathon was the man I met at the end of the race who coached me on running and life in less than three miles’ time. And that, my friends, was my Sunday with Bob.

Best,
Phoebe

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