Rocking and Rolling in Providence

The half marathon in Providence last Sunday reportedly attracted about 5,000 runners.

When a race volunteer tells you the finish line is just around the corner, they’re not lying, but they are being selective with the truth.

That’s because they know it would be extremely demoralizing for you to learn the full story: that after slogging through thirteen picturesque miles around the city of Providence, there is chocolate milk, a banana and a medal waiting for you—but not until you conquer the hill in front of the State House.

My quest for glory had begun some months earlier when I signed up for Providence’s Rock and Roll Marathon. I was never a serious runner growing up and have had an on-and-off relationship with it since. But several years ago, a race-happy friend encouraged me to run a 10K. It wasn’t easy, but I kept a steady pace and got it done. After the race, she proclaimed my time “respectable.” I’ve held onto that finish and word ever since.

Since then, I’ve also run a 14K, so the distance of Providence’s half marathon made sense. I liked the idea of running through the city and knew I’d get out and run more if I faced the possibility of crawling across the finish line. I got some inspiration and advice from my colleague and friend Jamie Coelho, who ran the Boston marathon for charity earlier this year. She decided to run the half as well, and as the date got closer, we’d talk about how we both needed to get some more training runs in. (Clearly me more than her.) Using a map of the route, I started to run parts of the course in the midst of the sticky summer heat.

The night before the race, I slept fitfully, nervous about sleeping through my alarm. After it went off, I thought I’d sleep for just another couple of minutes, but overslept and scrambled to get over to the race, tiny bagel with peanut butter, water bottle and race number and tag in tow. I lined up in Corral 11, designated for people who expected to finish the race in about two and a half hours. Definitely pretty far back from the elite runners in the front, but I was clearly among my people.

It was a beautiful, sunny morning and the race announcer and the mayor greeted the runners. Corral 11 eventually made its way to the front and off we went. I’m always surprised by how when you’re in a race, even though you’re now surrounded by all these people, it still comes down to doing what you’ve done all through your training runs: putting one foot in front of the other and not stopping.

The race wound through downtown, across Benefit Street and over to the East Side, which I had never before considered a mountainous region (I’m looking at you, Stenton Avenue!) By this point, spectators had started to pop up along the route, and honestly, I’ve never been so glad to see cheerleaders in my life. My favorite part of the course was the peaceful (and yes, rolling) stretch along Blackstone Boulevard and down by the river, where we even managed to catch the occasional light breeze.

Heading back toward downtown, I appreciated the bands and people with signs like: “Feet don’t fail me now!” and “Why do all the cute ones run away?” Around mile ten, I wondered how we could squeeze three more miles in downtown. Turned out there was lots of back and forth. We’d watch the faster runners pass, then pass the slower runners on our way back.

Then finally a volunteer told us we were almost there and the finish was just around the corner. We headed toward Providence Place, but I didn’t really think much about the hill. Then I turned the corner and there it was. With throngs of spectators on each side. I put my head down and kept chugging up the hill. Not the most graceful finish, but what a relief to cross. I caught up with Jamie, who had finished the race in just over 1:54. As for me, I completed the race about ten minutes before the time I allowed for myself: two and a half hours. And I know I won’t let as long pass between races again. 

"It is not the mountain we conquer, but ourselves."–Sir Edmund Hillary, explorer (quoted by Runner's World).

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