To Comprehend a Nectar (at Kaiser San Francisco Half Marathon)

Kaiser San Francisco Half Marathon 2017

I found myself alone, in the middle of the road, running south along the Pacific. It occurred to me that I was at that point in the Great Highway where the dunes weather away to uninterrupted views—of everything. Brightness broke through the overcast. The southerly breeze came with it. It was the first time I looked at the ocean, even though I had been running next to it for over a mile. Breathed in, breathed out, and saw the rows of waves breaking.

The breeze picked up. I could not see the end of the road ahead, or the next runner ahead. The sunlight made me squint. I tried to lean forward a little and lower my arms. I had never run this hard for this long before. My watched buzzed: 5:44 for the last mile. Slower than I wanted. 6 seconds slower than the previous. I grunted and shortened my stride.

Each step was one into the unknown. The thought occurred to me that I had no idea what I was doing. What was it supposed to feel like? Just hang on? My watch buzzed: 5:46. I grunted and lowered my head. Wiped sweat out of my left eye. Tried to stay on my toes into the wind. I tasted my mouth. The air was salty. Was I too ambitious? What if I die with miles to go? And the watch said, current pace: 5:51 per mile. Shit. I knew I had risked a lot earlier in the park. The road hugged the beach more tightly. The sound of my foot strikes eroded under the crashing waves. What have I done?

Many consider running itself difficult enough and often wonder “Why do you race?” It’s easy to see their implicit point when you’re not going to the Olympics and could be considered middling by international standards. However, the point is easy to refute once you’ve run enough yourself. As long as running has purpose, we will race.

There are likely as many reasons to run as there are runners, but I see three as essential. 1) To compete and perform. Like with any skill-based activity, measured improvement adds to the enjoyment. Races provide the measure (distance and time) and the opportunity to be challenged and perform at one’s best. 2) To be healthy. Whether we are just trying to get in shape or specifically stronger for other activities, running for fitness is certainly a good reason to run. Many struggling to be healthy have found running transformative. 3) To be outside in the world and assert oneself. There is no substitute for the salubrious effect of physical and emotional fortitude, especially when expressed within the same act. These reasons keep bringing us back to race, no matter how many good or bad races we have, but the quality of the race does matter and can affect its and our meaning.

A perfect race in many ways is like the pinnacle of running. It is the goal for which we endure so much fatigue and bullheaded work. It is the reward for our obstinate dedication to never give up, to train hard and consistently, to push ourselves, to recover, and to improve. It is the exercise of a heightened self, one that is physically, mentally, and perhaps spiritually attuned to the movement forward, the torque applied, the cycle of landing, transition, push off, and then float, through space and time, before coming down and doing it again, with rapidity. It is when we become at once our most graceful and our most ugly in pursuit of something greater than the everyday can offer.

A good race is a promise, a promise that there is improvement to be had through training, that the hard work does pay off, that the road to perfection is not elusive, even when it seems so, and that all the travails along the way are worth it. That running hard, enduring the pain is worth it, is actually fun. A good race is worth it, even if it is not perfect, and can fan the flame of desire to keep returning. You don’t need to win to have a good race, but you’ll know when you have one. By mere definition, a runner will have many more good races than perfect races. An abundance of both is rare.

A bad race is a defeat. A defeat handed down by others. A defeat we hand to ourselves. Defeats provide opportunity, too, but to wallow. Defeats provide opportunity to learn. Defeats provide opportunity to redeem and not lie defeated. A result of self-sabotage, improper execution, or insufficient preparation, a defeat lays bear how one is weak. A defeat exposes the deficient. A defeat can reveal just how bereft someone truly is. So much time and effort goes into a race that a bad one can dash the desire to continue. Over the past three years of running while anemic, I feel like I’ve only had defeats. I have only had bad races.

There was the mile road race out on Long Island, NY, for which my leg speed took me through the first quarter in 65 seconds (pace for a 4:20 mile) but my breathing pulled me back to finish in 5:10, the slowest I had run for the mile since middle school. I glided to the finish with no force behind me. Eschewing the post-race congratulations among my fellow racers, I walked back about a half mile on the vacant side of the street where no spectator would congratulate me for nothing.

The week before, I finally decided to start seeing some doctors, acknowledging after a summer of difficult running that something might be wrong. Until then I just felt restricted throughout my torso, like my ribs wouldn’t expand, the consequence of back spasms and pneumonia in the winter. The tests escalated all the way to a CT of the chest, which lead me to examination by a pulmonologist in Central Brooklyn. He was aged, carried himself as if he had seen it all, asked a lot of questions, and decided to do more tests. He sent me to a cardiologist, who did more tests. Aside from some abnormalities of the lining around the lungs, the pulmonologist told me he couldn’t see anything majorly wrong, couldn’t confirm I had had pneumonia, and couldn’t do any intrusive test of the tissue due to my low platelets and the risk of bleeding. He deemed me healthy enough to go about my business. “And should I not keep running?”

He said, “Well, if you feel bad and too out of breath, stop. Run when you feel good.” He didn’t understand that I didn’t feel good most of the time. I left his office, through the waiting room filled with white-haired life-long smokers, coughing into their oxygen masks as they hobbled forward with their walkers in hand. I left crushed. Really, nothing can be done? I just want to breathe better.

I had trained hard for that mile race, and I did a workout after, a tempo around a dirt track, by myself, because that was good training and I thought maybe I’d race better in two weeks. Such dedication was not unusual for me. Nonetheless, I did not race better in two weeks, two months, or even two years. I tried, though. I relentlessly tried different stretches, somatic movements, and yoga poses to loosen my torso so I could breathe normally, freely, and enjoy running once again. Nothing came, at least with lasting effect.

When I moved to San Francisco, I wouldn’t stop and start over; I continued to try. Saw a chiropractor, saw an acupuncturist who made a killing by selling me herbs in addition to the treatment. Both felt good, made me feel closer to being free, but I still couldn’t breathe normally. I swore off doctors, since I had had such uninspiring experiences with them throughout my life. They were only good when they could get me something, give me something. More and more I felt they left me with nothing.

Persistent massaging, twisting, and working on my musculoskeletal self eventually left me feeling looser. At times I felt like I could take a whole breath while running and not have it all collapse on me the next second. So, I kept training, and I kept racing.

I got excited about a cross country 5 kilometer race up on top of a dusty hill. Times don’t matter as much in cross country because of the often difficult terrain. Only effort matters; only grit means anything. Cross country takes away the clock and asks, “What are you really made of?” I started out decently, quickly to avoid getting sucked in a crowd and falling. A mile in I wasn’t near the front but thought I felt pretty good about what was happening. Then the course turned a corner into a half mile uphill span, which knocked me down to a jog. I was sucking wind like I couldn’t get any in. Everyone was passing me. So, I stopped, and then walked. It was the first and only time that I have stopped in a race and walked. It’s very taboo, considered failure by most, especially in a 5k. I started jogging after a few seconds. We were up on a mountain with sweeping vistas of the Bay, and I looked at the ground the rest of the way. I sprinted on the downhill finish out of spite to deprive the youngsters behind me the satisfaction of out-kicking me. It’s a stupid point of pride for even those in the back.

I stopped wishing people good luck at the starting line. I stopped congratulating my fellow competitors after races in the chute beyond the finish. Outside of races, I didn’t want to talk to anyone about my running, hated it when they asked the question, so cheerily, so naively. I felt separated from my old running friends, new friendly runners I crossed paths with. Because I couldn’t breathe and I couldn’t race, I did not feel a part of any running community.

As a ritual at the end of the year, a certain running group would run straight up a mountain following the shortest distance on a couple trails. Teresa and I joined them, old friends of hers. It’s always a lot of fun for all, and all are welcome. One tried to talk to me on the way up. I offered one word sentences, couldn’t manage any more than that. Halfway up, I stopped and walked to catch my breath. And I walked, and I jogged, and I stopped. I lost site of everybody and didn’t care. I turned to a view of the setting sun’s light strewn across the Bay and couldn’t care less. The group went on. Teresa came back. The sun was gone. I thought I knew the way back, but didn't. A wrong turn here, a half-start there. Teresa took over, I acquiesced, and she lead me down through the darkness.

Race after race of feeling lost, dropping my head, letting it sway, realizing at the end that I had barely even been lifting my knees. Some ended with me ready to move on. Others ended me. These weren’t even races anymore but processions of the faithless. I felt like I had no control over my life and what I wanted to do with it. I was having bad races even when I wasn’t racing. Fatigue crept in daily, more than ever. Easy runs left me grumpy instead of refreshed. Jogging downhill to the beach was a chore, because doing so meant I had to push the boulder back up. Some might consider my situation some sort of disability, not being able to breathe. I did not so much feel disabled as unable. I could do, but I could not do well, no matter how hard I tried.

Running, the simple act itself, is creative. Asserting oneself through the world around, in harmony with its parts, moving how we were made to move, with force, can create meaning. Each stride with each leg is as much a deliberate conscious act as it is a subconscious reaction to what just passed and what is immediately ahead and all the whats that are around. There is cause and effect, but there is also agency and identity—expression. Our training of these decisive movements and tests of our organic apparatus build to a race, the highest creative expression for a runner. Steve Prefontaine knew we weren’t just spinning our wheels when he claimed, “A race is a work of art.” My art was pulp, my actions inhibited, my creativity sapped. My strides felt like brush strokes with no paint, my breathing like a pressed accordion with leaky valves.

I wasn’t so brash as to ignore that the downward trend of worsening results should be investigated. There must be a reason. Maybe if I saw a better pulmonologist, my lungs could get figured out; I hadn’t seen a hematologist in ages for my asymptomatic ITP, so I figured I would “re-establish care.” I admitted myself to Pulmonology and Hematology at Stanford, Teresa's suggestion, researching which doctors were the experts. I approached them with a fury of knowledge, would not let them dismiss me like the others. I made clear my main objective: to breathe normal again, and to be able to run, to race.

The new pulmonologist was nice enough, thorough, gave me something to do, to try. An elimination diet to see if allergies were the source of my breathing issues. I followed it religiously, but diet didn’t appear to fix anything. The new hematologist, who spoke with an accent from where I didn’t know, told me straight away: “You are anemic.”

“OK, well, I know with my ITP maybe my spleen is overactive and has always killed off blood cells a little quicker than it should. From high school to now, whenever I’ve had a CBC I’ve usually been right at the lower limit allowable for red blood cells and…”

“You have the hemoglobin of a woman!” Her two female assistants looked down. She nodded slightly. “Yes, OK.” I hadn’t really considered hemoglobin before.

We did more tests. I took iron, even though my ferritin was fine. I stopped the elimination diet. We did more tests. My hemoglobin fell further. The other results that came back were strange. She inspected my blood cells under a microscope. No answer.

A couple days before I learned my hemoglobin had dropped to 11 g/dL (3 full points lower than the normal minimum for males), I had signed up for a 1500 meter track race that was a couple hundred miles away. The track was exposed to the sun and the wind. I had done some workouts that were encouraging. I told Teresa, “If I were anemic, would I be able to run 8x400 meters at 68 seconds each?” My right metatarsals were hurting, and I debated racing in flats or spikes, did a stride in each, decided to wear spikes—with compression socks. And sunglasses. Why, I still don’t know. I realized pretty quickly after the gun that I didn’t have the energy to fight the wind and run well, so I jogged the last half mile, finishing in 4:58 or more. I let people out kick me—didn’t care. I had nothing telling me that I should care and plenty telling me I shouldn’t.

I had the worst kind of anemia, I think, because I was still able to carry on everyday activities. I had enough hemoglobin, enough oxygen to bike to the train to get to work, to go shopping at the grocery store, to climb the stairs to my apartment. I could continue unchanged and live a normal life. I was even able to run somewhat. This false sense of normalcy kept me from looking completely sick. I was told that you could only really tell something was wrong when I tried to run hard or race. And so I gave up racing, which meant I gave up training, which meant I slowly started to give up running.

For two weeks I stopped completely, because the hematologist wanted to rule out march hemogloburina. I still biked like a madman at the gym to not lose any sort of aerobic ability I might still have. If you don’t use it, you lose it, and I didn’t want to feel weaker than I already did. After that experiment ended without a solution, again, I started doing short easy runs again. They became warm-ups for lifting weights or an excuse to watch baseball at the gym while on the treadmill.

A genetic test, which took two months for insurance to approve, showed nothing. The hematologist finally acquiesced that she had no idea what to do next. Come back in 2 months, 6 months, they all say. I realized I should be doing something else with my time but couldn’t muster enough energy to create momentum.

A panel of hematologists got together, a last ditch effort: a marrow biopsy. Other tests showed my marrow was healthy, but it was the one diagnostic I had yet to do. I balked at the idea when we first started tests; now, I acquiesced. If no semblance of an answer could be found here, I would forego doctors once again, and I would give up running for good, knowing I had tried everything.

The registration assistants in the Infusion Ward treated me nicely, like everybody else there. Elderly people with walkers, tubes, and masks sat in the waiting area. Behind me was a young man in a wheelchair, dressed in a gown, head shaven and ghostly pale, nearly emaciated. He was the only other patient my age I ever saw in the Cancer Center. A student nurse called my name and took me to a room with a white sliding door. She told me everything she knew and asked if I was OK. I explained that I sometimes run and wanted to know how long I would need to recover before doing so again. She said 24 hours. Yet another blood sample was taken.

A resident surgeon replaced the nurse and greeted me. I refused opioids, knowing. A researcher came in and wanted me to authorize that some of my marrow and blood sample be kept for genetic studies. I asked questions to confirm. I signed. The surgeon had me pull down my pants and lay flat prostrate on the bed. A lab technician was there to confirm the samples would be suitable. The surgeon numbed an area on my back hip with lidocaine. Jabbed a long needle in. Nudged it up against the hip bone. The metallic whir of the drill to test. Clipping it to the needle. The metallic whir of the drill into me. Moderate discomfort, but the anesthesia can’t numb the inside of the bone. The sample was taken. A voiceless squeal radiated throughout my body. It felt like life was being sucked out of me. The second sample was taken, a second squeal. I turned my head back over my shoulder to see her push purple chunks of blood from a tube into a petri dish the lab tech was holding. I put my head back down, closed my eyes, and tried to keep myself from weeping. They let me wait until I was ready, and then I shuffled out about a foot at a time.

I took more than 24 hours off, but began jogging a little bit here and there. Two weeks later the results came back, and I had to get more blood tests, special shipment to the MayoClinic. Another two weeks. I read up on what they were testing for: Sitosterolemia. There was a chance we had found something. I met with the hematologist to view the results. Sitosterol levels over 580 mg/L, campesterol levels over 130 mg/L, 55 times the highest normal limits. The cause of my anemia. Treatment exists, but its full effect not guaranteed. I began immediately.

Gradually, I increased everything. My diet became the most selective and restrictive to avoid ingesting phyotsterols. I started taking pills, and then even more pills to get the phyotsterols out of my system. I was monitored. I began to run again, to train to see how I would feel—nothing guaranteed. I did some workouts, finished a promising Turkey Trot 5K that still wasn’t a good race. I trained through the winter. I took on challenges and ran some really great workouts. Teresa pushed me. I pushed me. I ran up a quarter mile hill faster than I ever had before, on the 10th repeat. I had a breakthrough in an LT run. And eventually I lined up to stare down my past and race the Kaiser San Francisco Half Marathon.

Our goal was to run 5:43 per mile to about a 1:15 half. At the starting line I had mentally settled for anything under 1:20. Still, I would try, even though racing was such a foreign feeling to me by now. Teresa and I started together. While the leaders ran away, she said, "Relax. Relax." I tried, even effort. We crept up behind a pack of people and followed easily, let them work.

Everything was going according to plan until around 2 1/4 miles. I could feel the pack start to slow down a little and checked my watch. Projected pace for the 3rd mile: 5:51. My eyes got big. I didn’t want to have to make up that much time, even with the downhill ahead. Excess seconds become additional minutes, mile after mile. I thought about it one last time, felt fine, and so I took off.

Back out of the Panhandle and into my beloved park, I was only looking ahead. Within half a mile only one guy was still around. Projected pace for the fourth mile: 5:30. Way too fast! But I didn’t feel like slowing much. “Whew, downhills are deceptive!”

“Yeah. What are you trying to do?”

“ :43s the whole way, which should lead to a 1:15.”

“OK, well, I’m not officially racing this.” I was surprised to see he had no bib on. “But maybe I can pace you guys.” No one else was around.

“Oh, OK cool.” I didn’t know how serious this bandit was about pacing for the long haul, with his hat backwards, so I didn’t say anything to him or draft at all. I tried to run several yards to the side.

We weaved through the museums and rolled uphill to begin a gradual descent about 2 miles long. Another had joined us, huffing hard. I looked back to see Teresa was still close enough. She was there, but the break had already happened.

Teresa had only ever known me since I began struggling back in 2014, had never seen me run healthy. Though she had no empirical evidence to suggest I should be able to run better than I was, she always would cheer for me as if I should be. Having struggled with running before herself, she understood. She would always offer constructive feedback, no matter how many bad races she witnessed. “You looked better, but you didn’t look like you were trying in the second half.”

“It’s not a matter of trying or wanting it more. I’m trying.”

There was only one race after which she was excited, “There you go! Good job. That’s the first time I saw you kick.”  Always looking for the positive, always supportive, Teresa likes to see people gut it out. Still, I thought it was a bad race.

She learned to stop saying much after my races, partly because there was nothing new to say and partly because I conditioned her against it. I complained on many runs we did together, would stop and let out my frustration, get angry at a lot of things, get angry about how unable I felt. I’d get angry at her without reason. I’d snap at her, be mean, but I truly felt in those moments that no one could understand my enervated plight—and fear.

After it was clear that anemia was the cause, and it seemed that after so many tests and doctors that nothing could be done, that my malady would remain mysterious and unresolved, that my health, my running would not change, Teresa still believed I could come back, that something would change. On another miserable easy run one day, she encouraged me to not give up, “The doctors said more genetic tests might become available, right? And it's likely genetic, right? So, you might just have to wait a couple more months.”

“Haven’t I waited long enough!” I huffed between truncated breaths. “They’ve done every test they can think of. They’re ‘experts,’ have seen it all and don’t know what to do. Come back in 6 months is all they say. Nothing will change—nothing.”

“I’m thinking of quitting. Because why? Why keep doing it? There’s no reason to train or try to run hard. Like I could be spending my time more productively doing so many other things!” I could perceive that it hurt her to hear me give up, see me give up. We stopped going on many runs together. I told her “no” a lot. I justified my acerbity by believing that whatever her hurt about my running, mine was tenfold. It was tough. She couldn’t deny the reality she witnessed, and yet she still stood by me.

She had faith when I didn't. She was strong when I wasn't. She kept hope alive in me, however minimally, through her own running, her own tenacity. Hers was the only running I could care about, and I loved watching her race. She embodied a testament to the transcendent I sought in running. Through her love and support of me, too, she kept my spirit alive. If not for her, I likely would have given up long ago.

Running mostly downhill was fun. I let the legs turn over and clocked a sub-5:20 mile. My breathing seemed fine. I was striding meters at a time. It was still early. Crossing the half way point (about 6.5 miles), I understood that I was quickly approaching the distance of my longest hard run leading up to the race. A glimpse of the uphill I’d have to climb to the finish passed in the periphery.

The course deposited us out of the park, left onto the Great Highway just before Ocean Beach. A gathering of cheerers fell behind us. Only our footsteps were audible now. I understood that I might have run too fast to continue for over another 6 miles. It was still a very real possibility to me that I might fall apart, a possibility I was choosing to ignore. I was running faster than I had trained yet did not feel reckless. I remembered so many of my running compatriots past who ran races to challenge themselves and not do what was smartest, most practical, safest. Sometimes they fell apart, sometimes they achieved glory. I had tried to race the safest way possible for years in hopes of alleviating my struggles, in hopes of breaking through. I was done playing it safe.

The bandit was still next to me, as we faced the gauntlet of three miles straight ahead. The southerly breeze whipped up off the pavement and into my face. I slowed my stride to tuck in behind him. I said nothing and looked at his feet, kept pace like a metronome. Predicted pace: 5:38 for our next mile. I forget how long I followed before saying between breathes “Hope you don’t mind.”

He turned his head a little back, “Mind what?”

“My drafting.”

He almost laughed, between breathes, “That’s why I’m here.”

“OK, thanks. I haven’t run a half before, so it’s all new to me.”

“Oh, wow, well this is a good pace.”

A few strides later he said, “Don’t know how much longer I can do this, though.”

“That’s cool. Thanks a lot. Thanks a lot.”

He peeled off at a water station and wished me well. The chants of eager kids holding out paper cups, “Electrolytes! Electrolytes!” fell behind. Silence again, except for my feet touching the pavement and my lungs drawing in then expelling air.

The turnaround was ahead, I could finally see it. Dots of people gathered around, cheering. Each stride felt like it was lengthening the course. I was prepared to fall apart there and then. I told myself just make it to the turnaround and see.

A slight incline crept up and brought agony. Agony before mile 10—too soon. My head was now wagging side to side, and I grunted. Hands clapping to my left and my right. A race official stood just beyond where the line of little flags ended and was waving me on before I even got there. I would not back off. I would go down in glory. As I made the hairpin turn left, the official yelled, “Good job, now enjoy that tailwind!” It hadn’t occurred to me yet that there’d be a tailwind. In a couple strides I came out of the turnaround hard, as if the race had just started. It all started to make sense again.

I could see runners behind me approaching in the other direction on the other side of the road. Teresa was there; she was still there. I was glad to see her. It was clear she was too far behind to catch up but was still running hard. I had wanted to tell her “Thank you” so many times throughout the race. We crept close to the line of flags as we approached each other. I wanted to say so much but couldn’t talk, had to breathe. She said something I couldn’t entirely make out over the waves and the cheering. I held my hand out, and she hers, and we touched.

Back on the highway, all by myself. Everything makes sense. Keep lifting the knees. Lower the arms, keep driving. I think I feel good—reasonably. People called out my name from the other side of the highway. Some of them I could make out. I could only point with my finger in acknowledgement. More and more strangers had populated the eastern walkway and they cheered, too. I pointed. Conserve energy. Be ready for it all to fall apart at any second. You know what that’s like, don’t forget. My watch buzzed: 5:36 for the 11th mile.

I couldn’t pretend, couldn’t question anymore. Each stride was an answer. I was running faster and farther than I ever had. I was racing again. It was working. Everything I had done to get better, feel better, be better was coming to fruition. The diet, the pills, the tests upon tests, being told there was nothing I could do, insisting to do something, anything, anyway. I had almost given up, but now I finally felt like a runner again.

Without breaking my stride or slowing my arms, I cried. I started to choke on my own air. I tried to blow my nose and ended up with snot streaming all over my face. I wiped it away with both hands and wiped them on my shirt. I couldn’t help it. I was back. I was more than back. It felt too divine, this exhausting ecstasy, for me to control myself. OK, calm down, there’s another mile and a half. Breathe, breathe. Look ahead.

To Comprehend a Nectar at Kaiser San Francisoc Half Marathon Mile 12, 2017

The sun disappeared behind the clouds again, and the breeze stopped. My watch buzzed: 5:40. I waved off overeager teenagers yelling and holding out paper cups. My legs started hurting. I kept pointing to those who cheered. I started to lose a little sight. I made guesses about my final time but let them go. Don’t grunt so much. Push the air out. Stay fluid but forceful.

The park, the blessed park. I made a sharp right and headed up, uncertain where the finish actually was. I could barely see ahead, could not hear my own thoughts over the cheers. My watch buzzed: 5:38. Some old guy in a hat and glasses yelled “ALRIGHT CHARGE THAT HILL!” All the hill repeats I had done came back to me, and I charged up. I could see nothing but the road before me. My head wagging. I kept checking my watch. Where is the finish?! I kept checking my watch. 6:05/mile pace, 6:10. I spotted the banner around a bend. The digital clock with the bright red numbers jumped straight into my eyes: 13:58, 13:59…

The fatigue was grand. In one stride I eased up figuring my work had been done, and in the next decided to reverse course and sprint. You haven’t earned it yet. Earn it. Head down, then up, all the way. Arms pumped. I didn’t look at the clock but crossed the finish, slowed to a walk, veered off to the side, away from the cameramen.

I had envisioned breaking down if I were ever to achieve what I just had. I thought I’d want to be alone. I pictured huffing and balling to the pavement, unable to stop, letting out all the pain and the hate, cursing away the effacement of me. I had teared up thinking about it before, but now, I didn’t even lean over with my hands on my knees. I just walked around, back and forth. I didn’t know what to do. I couldn’t celebrate; I hadn’t won the race. My eyes were teary but they were tired. I wiped them away and turned to the finish again to wave home Teresa.

She crossed. She won, rightfully so. She was exhausted. She stumbled toward me, regained her composure, and we hugged in our own little world. I too would believe, from now on.

Instead of wishing to bury my head, I lingered and chatted with running friends in the finish area, like people do at these things. Those who finished behind seemed to look up to me. We asked about our times and congratulated and encouraged each other. I estimated mine, seemingly self-possessed. We changed our shoes and went for a painful but fun cool down jog, waving at people we knew.

Official result: 1:14:26. A pace of 5:40 per mile, for 13.1 miles. Faster for farther— I can’t say it was a perfect race. I told people I thought I could have pushed a little more in the last 5K, and I believed it. Nonetheless, it was a great race.

I didn’t win, nor have I ever won a race that has meant so much to me. But after the years of unbecoming a runner and then racing this half marathon, I feel like I understand what it truly means to triumph more than those who place first. To no longer be forbidden. To be back.

To Comprehend a Nectar at Kaiser San Francisoc Half Marathon Mile 12, 2017 Finish

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