I’ve run races where I had a time in mind I wanted to finish in and I’ve run races where I simply wanted to finish. And it seems like when it comes to running, these personal records (PRs) are the two most common goals. Since running my first half marathon nine years ago, I’ve discovered there are other kinds of goals. They may not come with the same outward glory, but in a funny way, they can have a bigger pay-off.
The 2019 Akron Marathon marked my fifth half marathon and it was big for a couple reasons. First, it was the first half marathon I’ve ran since having two kids. Second, it was the first half marathon my husband, Levi, has ever ran.
Over the past ten years Levi has joined me on countless long runs—on his bike. He is an athletic guy but long-distance running was something he simply wasn’t drawn to. He did, however, know running was important to me. So, he kept me company and gave me peace of mind as I logged early morning runs, cheered me on at every race, and wrapped ice around my legs afterward.
We’re not entirely sure how we ended up registered for the Akron half. Levi swears I asked him to run it and I swear he asked me to run it—funny how that happens. Somehow, we said we were going to do it and spent the next three months training.
As I was training, I knew I wasn’t likely to come close to my half marathon PR time. When I hit my PR of a sub-two hour half I trained hard, had a goal time, and running was a high priority in my life.
But, a few years and kids later, my priorities shifted.
Levi and I jammed training runs into odd hours of the day—in the dark, in the heat, pushing our one-year-old and three-year-old in strollers—wherever and however we could squeeze miles in around caring for our kids, working, and summer travel.
I was happy to be running long distances again, happy my body could run long distances after having two kids in less than two years, and it didn’t bother me that I wasn’t going to PR. Run your race I’d tell myself when starting out on a long run, and I let my body and how I felt guide how fast I ran.
As summer stretched on Levi and I were able to do a few of our long training runs together. For the first two, I ran faster than him. On the last one he was running faster than me, but at mile 10 he looped around to finish the final mile alongside me. When I saw him sweep around and start back toward me, I was both relieved and happy. I can do this. I thought. I’m not in this alone.
Race day came and we tiptoed out of our house at 5:45 a.m. to not wake our sleeping babies or my parents, who graciously volunteered to babysit. It was unseasonably warm and humid for late September but we were glad race day was finally here and we were both looking forward to crossing the finish line.
As we waited with thousands of other runners in the start corrals we agreed if we were within sight of each other toward the end of the race, we’d finish together.
We were separated early on but the crowd support and constant hills kept me distracted and propelled me forward. At mile seven I heard a voice behind me. “Where have you been?” Levi flashed a smile and fell in stride alongside me.
By mile eight Levi and I were both struggling more than we had on any of our training runs—the hills and weather were taking a toll. At mile nine we came to the biggest hill of the course and as we crested it we agreed we’d finish out the last four miles together.
With the biggest hill behind me and only four miles ahead of me, I felt good. I was hitting my stride again. And at the same time, Levi hit a wall.
So, I slowed down to stay with him.
He repeatedly told me to run ahead, but to me, a 10-minute difference in my finish time wasn’t as important as finishing a half marathon alongside him. If you had floated the idea to me a few years ago to intentionally run slower in a race, I wouldn’t have considered it. But, at this race, where I didn’t have a goal time and I already knew I was going to be crossing the finish line, staying with Levi was easy. My goal was to stick with him like he stuck with me on that last training run.
People passed me and I didn’t care. I read spectator signs, drank a Dixie cup of warm beer from a block party at mile 11, and when Levi’s quad cramped up and he had to walk some more I walked with him and offered up my best pep talk.
When I think of the younger version of myself—the one who would have never considered slowing down her pace in a race—I know I had more to learn. I didn’t get a personal record in this race but in a lot of ways I am more appreciative of the outcome. My goal wasn’t about my finish time or whether or not I’d cross the finish line, but about the people I love. It was about running this race with Levi after we spent the summer training together and caring for our young family.
Sometimes, it’s not about the miles, minutes, or medals, but who you are running with. And that rings true on and off the course.