One year ago today, my running career officially began.  I didn’t want to run when I started training, but my Dad’s stubbornness about me joining him as a marathoner and running the 2011 Disney World Half Marathon with him would change my life.  What follows is a lengthy reflection on the start of my running career and my first official race.

Some Day, Early Summer 2010 – Nelson Residence, Massachusetts

Dad Nelson: Hey, you guys want to run the Disney Half Marathon with me in January?

The Brothers Nelson: Uhhhh…we’ll think about it.

Some Other Day, Late Summer 2010 – Nelson Residence, Massachusetts

Dad Nelson: Okay, I signed you guys up for that half marathon!

So it began.  At no point in my life was I a runner before that moment (and yes, that’s actually how it happened).  The longest I had ever actually run outside was the mandatory mile in middle school and for high school football (where I was far enough behind the front-runners that I blended in, and my coaches thought I was on the same lap as them, so I ended up with a six minute mile).

But my Dad decided it was time to change that. And he was right.  Signing my brother and me up for the half marathon forced us to run – a necessary evil for me, a guy who was then a bar-back by night, an intern by day, and a lazy slob in between.  The sob story is better saved for another time, but in summation it was a point in my life that brought a lot of change, and running turned into the driving force that made sure those changes were good ones.

I was advised to use Hal Higdon’s Novice Training Guide, which is a perfect 12 week program for beginners.  I stretched that out to 24 weeks and just ran every week twice. I was horribly nervous, so I wanted to give myself plenty of time during training to get injured, get lazy, finish catching up on Mad Men, and still have time to be ready for the race.  I ran up and down Comm Ave. three-to-four times a week for the next few months, with some growing pains along the way:

  • One time I ran three miles about an hour after having margaritas and tacos. “Don’t run after margaritas and tacos” is apparently a lesson I needed to learn first-hand.
  • Another time I ran six miles after work, and then I tried to run three the next morning.  I got through the first mile and had to walk back because my legs turned into stone.  This was the first time I believed my running career was over.  I actually punched a brick wall I was so frustrated.  That took my mind off my cement legs for a minute and put the focus on what a psycho people driving by probably thought I was.
  • The first time I ran 10 miles, I followed it up two days later with a five-mile morning run.  Two days after that, some cheap wine and Just Dance made me forget how much pressure I had put on my legs that week.  I woke up the next morning with the honest belief that I could not walk on my knee, never mind run on it.  This was about four weeks before the half marathon and was the second time I believed the journey had come to an end (turns out it was just runner’s knee, and likely a result of the pressure that comes from going on and off sidewalks…whoops).

My pains were nothing compared to the rest of the Nelson running team.  My brother developed a knee problem so ugly that it stopped him before he really got started with his training.  He hasn’t been able to run regularly since.  My Dad found a bone spur in his foot.  This stopped him from his original plan of doing the Goofy Challenge (which, I kid you not, is running a half marathon on Saturday and a full marathon on Sunday. People do this…for a medal…a medal shaped like Goofy’s head…that’s all they get), and restricted himself to just the half marathon.  Because normal people find out they have a bone spur in their foot and decide to run 13.1 miles on it.

After months of training, race day came.  Given the starting time, I had to be awake at 3:30am to make the bus from our hotel.  I dressed in the dark, grabbed my bib number and pins, put on my running watch, and headed out the door with a banana in one hand and a bottle of water in the other (I had no idea what to eat, and we were out of margaritas and tacos).  The buses, of course, were running behind schedule, so there wasn’t much time for anything but a quick stretch and some bladder relief once we arrived at the start line.  It seemed like the entire world was there, and cheerleader dance routine music (my favorite) was blasting everyone’s ears off.  I had my two hour pace in mind and was ready to rock.  It was then that I realized my watch was dead.

I used that watch to keep myself on pace for every run during my training.  And it slowly settled in that this crutch I had leaned so hard on would be missing for the most important run of my life.  My Dad and I tried to stay together for the first mile, but it was nearly impossible.  The start was narrow, and an unfathomable number of participants were actually walking right out of the gate (if you ever decide to do a running race and know you will be walking at the start, please do everyone a favor and go last). So we were weaving in and out of walkers and mostly running on the grass next to the road for our brief time together.  After about a mile, I broke off on my own, knowing his bone spur would keep him at a much slower pace.

The race itself was a blur for the first half (running through the Magic Kingdom for part of that certainly didn’t hurt), and then it all slowed down.  Well, I slowed down.  I had no idea what my pace was without my watch on, but I could feel myself lag once the double-digit miles hit.  The course wasn’t difficult in the least, but for one on-ramp around Mile 11, which was perfectly timed to destroy my soul.  I kept trucking, likely running something like 12-or-13-minute miles at this point (I expected to be running around nine minute miles), and got my final adrenaline push from an Irish punk band playing on a stage at the entrance to EPCOT.  I felt a quick cramp in the last half mile, but other than that, I finished pain-free at 2h 20m 18s.

I was furious though.  I had a goal of finishing under two hours, and I failed at 2010 Disney Half Marathonaccomplishing that.  But it was my first race ever, and I have no qualms about pushing the blame onto my dead watch rather than take it on myself.  Plus, I crushed my Dad.

The important thing is that I did it.  Two years ago I would have puked at the thought of running three miles, and now I go on four-mile runs at least a couple times a week.  Running has become an integral part of my life, and it’s weird to imagine what I was doing before it (watching lots of Frasier and trying to top all my previous records on Wii Sports Resort).  I usually try to squirm out of things I’m forced into, but my Dad didn’t give me a choice with this.  I’ve never been happier to not have a choice.