half marathonIt’s 8:50 in the morning and I’m sitting here eating a Clif protein bar. Do I want to be eating chocolate chips and oats and soy at 8:50 in the morning? Answer, colon, no, period. But the protein bar is absolutely non-negotiable since in about an hour I’ll head out for a six-mile run, the first I’ll do this week.

I’m 11 weeks into intensive training for two half-marathons I’m going to run in November. The decision to do these runs was made way back in the summer when Nov. 16 and 23 were still way far away. I’m pretty sure I was sitting in the porch at the time and I’m pretty sure a cocktail or two might have been involved.

Then, doing two half-marathons seemed entirely reasonable. I’d get all trained up for one and then, a week later, just run another one. Because, honestly, how far is 13.1 miles? On the Interstate, you can drive it in under 13 minutes. Easy peezy.

Now with the dates just a month away, I’m realizing that, maybe, this wasn’t my smartest plan. I’m constantly checking my toes to see if I have new blisters. At least an hour of every day is taken up with working out. I’m hungrier than I’ve ever been. And I’ve become acquainted for the first time with sports bra chafing, an angry line of rubbed-away skin that hits right along your breastbone. For those of you still unfamiliar with this, enjoy yourselves. For those of you who can commiserate, wow, no fun, right?

Still, I’m in so deep now, I feel I’ve got to follow through. And so I’m eating protein. Lots and lots of it.

The protein bar is something I rolled my eyes at for a very long time. My husband William, though, was a quick convert, and as I saw him chewing on bars in horrific flavors like strawberry shortcake and pistachio I told him again and again my life is too short to put any calories in my mouth that I don’t truly enjoy.

Then we participated in a 5K race, the night before which unfortunately involved a pot of split pea soup. It was fall 2010 and it seemed like the perfect comforting meal to welcome in the moody season. Until we both woke up at 5 a.m. with some pretty serious consequences from ingesting all those pulses. By the time we got to the race, I was pale and about 5 pounds lighter than I’d been a few hours before.

“Here,” William said, handing me a Parrillo bar. “Just try it.”

I clamped down onto the hard bar, tasting an intense rush of fudge brownie flavor before it was replaced with a disturbing texture I can only liken to hardened Styrofoam. But I chewed and swallowed, just praying that the pea soup was done with me and wouldn’t double me over in the middle of the race.

And it didn’t. In fact, it was the best run I had ever had, the first of which I completed and actually felt like doing over again.

Powered by protein bars, these will be my fourth and fifth half-marathons. The first I ran in Winnipeg in 2002 and trained intensely for six solid months, so scared was I that I wouldn’t complete it. Given that the race was in June and snow was on the ground until May, that meant all of my training occurred around a tiny track inside the steamy YMCA. But it paid off and at mile 8, I experienced runner’s high for the first time, which enabled me to sprint the next 5 miles to the finish. The second time was also in Winnipeg, with the route winding past my dad’s old house. As I ran past, he was there clapping away, and, today, I blink away tears thinking about just how long he probably stood there waiting for me to pass. Last November, I finally made my first attempt running long distance in Kentucky. The hills were what scared me and I trained intensely again. The run was in Louisville and was on a great route, which I’ll experience again on the 23rd this year. The other race will be in Mount Vernon, the Renfro Rock & Run, which will probably be the hardest route I’ve done with a 1-mile hill in the middle.

When I run I’m not especially fast and I’m not especially pretty, but I can say I never stop. If I ever do, even to tie my shoe, starting up again feels so much like walking through water that it’s not worth it. So I just keep trucking thinking about nothing except the next hill and the road in front of me and whether I’ll be able to conquer it.

So I’m going to chew this Clif bar (which tastes a lot better than Parrillo) and tie up my sneaks and head out. Because, in the next month, I’ve got a lot of ground to cover.

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