Runner Buddy Helper Angel

Back in 2012 I was on a journey – an actual one of distance, not just spiritual. I called it the Journey of 1500 miles because I was tracking all my walked and run miles until I completed 1500 of them. Why? Because I needed to get healthy and who doesn’t decide at least once in their life to track themselves for 1500 miles? (I recommend doing it at least once!)

I recently decided I need to jumpstart my physical fitness again and do another 1500 mile journey. It got me reflecting on a special Half Marathon I did when God sent me a man who I call my “Runner Buddy Helper Angel”. This man was a stranger. But he journeyed along side me in my last miles just motivating me and encouraging me and helping me along.

I like thinking that God sent me that special angel that day, just because He loves me and wanted to show me He is always there along side me. He supports me. He helps me. He is journeying with me. And knowing that is so comforting – that God is present with me, He is a friend supporting me, and He wants to help me on my journey.

When I reflected on my experience and blogged about it I was long-winded as I am wont to be. But I am glad I did document that journey in detail so that now I can look back over my words and re-live the feeling of comfort I had when God sent me my Runner Buddy Helper Angel.

What follows may be too boring to read in its entirety, but I am including it all in the event you like to read. I’ll bold the best parts for you though so you can just get to the good stuff if you don’t have much time.

Sometimes you have moments in life that just stick with you and make you feel so warm and fuzzy inside because you get a glimpse of how much God loves you. This was one of those times.


Just A Short Run Half Marathon: 1:52:35!


After a good night’s sleep I awoke at early and made my way to North Park in Pittsburgh for the Just A Short Run Half Marathon where I met my friend Darcy. Today I was going to attempt to reach a Milestone in the journey as well as accomplish a Life Goal: Run a sub-2 hour Half Marathon!

After much deliberation over whether to wear pants or shorts I opted for pants. And then I put my T-shirt over top my 2010 Pittsburgh Half Marathon long-sleeved shirt. With the temperature at 45 degrees with a “Feels Like” of 43 degrees with 7mph winds the long coverings were needed. I pinned on my race bib, put my shoe laces thru the timing chip, and we waited in line for the shuttle bus. Eventually we made our way over toward the starting area and got in line for the restroom. It took the remaining pre-race time to get thru the line. We parted ways and Darcy went to the 30K start area and I jog/walked .3 miles to the Half Marathon starting area.

Until I got settled into a spot between the 9:10 pacer and 9:55 pacer I was nervous. But once there I was all set to go. I stretched a little and waited a few minutes. The race people played some music and sent us off with some Ozzy Osborne “Crazy Train”. The first part of the 3-ish miles were a windy uphill, downhill, then up a super hill bit. I did the first mile in 9:23 – a tad behind the needed 9:13 average pace in order to hit the 2:00:00 mark. But the 9:10 pacer was close by and I overheard a man (who was off to the left behind me) tell his running partner: “Some people stick on the pacer and run with them the whole time. I know that is some people’s strategy but it seems a bit much. If you can see the pacer you can always catch the pacer.” Helpful advice! I decided I definitely needed to keep the pacer close in front of me at a minimum.

After Mile 1 you got to go back down hill. After noting my time I told myself I needed to make up a few seconds and so I focused on keeping a good pace and I reached Mile 2 at 18:08. After a water station I was right with the 9:10 pacer and it was then I decided that I needed to pass the pacer. 1) I felt good. 2) I was really starting to come into a steady, comfortable pace. 3) Somehow that pace happened to be faster than 9:10. And so I went out in front. I told myself: “If I can get in front of the pacer and gain some ground now then worst case later the pacer catches up to me and at that point I just need to stick with the pacer to meet my goal.”

After Mile 3 you went thru the Finish Line area and got a 5K (3.1 mile) split time. My official time: 27:24). At the time I had no idea exactly what mileage this time was for and on the clock I saw “28:10”. I figured it was 3 miles since we’d be doing 2 laps of the lake and each lap was 5 miles. Two young guys beside me commented on the time: “That took about 30 minutes and we’ve gone 3 miles. This is going to take forever!” I chuckled to myself and thought: “Yes, running 13.1 miles usually takes a long time.” So at the time I was thinking the split time was for 3 miles and 28:08 was a good time. Not wonderful but at least I had gotten myself mostly back on pace (if I subtracted about 30 seconds which I thought was my approximate delay before actually starting the race).

The course phased into the lake laps at that point and I was ready for two nice trips around the lake. What made it awesome was that I saw plenty of fluid stations. They spaced them out perfectly, and never once did I go thirsty. I got to Mile 4 at 36:06 – so I felt good. I got to Mile 5 and looked at my watch and to my shock I had pressed some button on my watch that apparently paused the time and so I missed tracking a whole mile! Fortunately it had a running “split time” of a little over 9 minutes. And so I unpaused it and told myself that I would just add 10 minutes to the time to know my real time. (I cushioned it so that later in the race if I wasn’t yet done and my watch said “1:50:00” I knew I would have to book it to meet my Life Goal).

It was at this point I started to get nervous since my watch wasn’t going to be exactly right but sometime before Mile 5 I over came that worry and decided I would enjoy having to do math. Though it was also around this point I started to not be able to tell if I had just gone 6 miles or 5 miles as my watch reflected 5 mile time and if it really was 6 miles I was in good shape, but if it was only 5 I was off by a lot. I decided to stop worrying as I was pretty sure I was now at Mile 6 and with a time of 43ish watch minutes if I plused 10 minutes I was still ahead of a 2 hour pace. (Phew!)

I went 4 miles and felt perfectly wonderful and like I hadn’t yet done any running. This made me happy and relieved that I really had a shot at accomplishing my goal. Between Mile 4 and Mile 8 (and at many later miles too) I thanked God a lot for the opportunity to run, the ability to run, and the wonderful day. I reflected on how lucky I was to be healthy enough to be out enjoying the day and running like this just 3 years after breaking my ankle. I thought about a walk I went on with my uncle and sister Bridgette around this very lake last summer (when the lake was just dirt) and the one run I did with Darcy and Nikki one chilly fall day. I thought about how nice it was to have those memories there and to be making more. I sometimes remembered to actually look at the lake to take in the beauty. But mostly I looked at my feet, the ground, and the backs of people and zoned out and just ran.

As I neared the loop path to get my second split time (Official: 8.1 miles in 1:10:22) I still felt really great – and like I had been running some but I was not tired. I was amazed that I did feel so good and told myself that today was going to be the day that I ran a Half Marathon in under 2 hours. It was at this point too I told myself that I was going to go – not only for a sub-2:00 time – but for a really really good time. And I would find out what that time was when I got to the Finish but for the time being I just had to keep going strong and steady – to keep a comfortable pace but to also push myself to make sure I wasn’t slowing down. The few times I felt like I was slowing down or starting to feel my steps I told myself: “Good foot strikes!” and I focused on running right. After a few steps I was back on track. The few other times I just felt my feet I also shouted inside my head “Good foot strikes!” and I jolted myself into Good Form Running.

For the final 5 miles I told myself: 1) Keep going no matter what. It is not enough to finish under 2 hours. Today you are going for a really good time. 2) Even if you have to force yourself thru the final miles if you feel terrible you will force yourself thru those miles and not stop running. You will suck it up and run. 3) Woah! I still feel really good! Thanks God!

Right after the split time I came up on a small group of people running together. They were talking and said something motivating – one of the girls said “I am still on pace; 8:57.” and another girl said “I have 8:54”. I thought: “Thanks random people! Now I know what pace I am running! Let’s go faster.” And I continued on. Some time later on the far side of the lake a guy and girl were running and I gladly overheard the guy say: “We’re doing good. 8:35 pace.” I thought “Woah! 8:35 pace? And I just past you? Sweet! Ok, proper foot strikes, steady and comfortable, keep going.” And soon they were behind me.

Somewhere between Mile 9 and Mile 10 (which at the time I was calling “Just over 3 miles to go”) I entered a group of runners and kept pace with them for a while. I didn’t mean to keep pace with them it just happened that we each individually were running at that pace. I had run across my proper time niche. It was at this point that I started hearing one set of footsteps that stood out among the 8 or so people I found myself running with. I didn’t think much of it other than the steps were noticeable. I kept going and started to get out in front of the group. And the footsteps kept up with me. Then the footsteps passed me and I saw it was a middle-aged man. Then I passed the man. Then he passed me. Then I ran a bit harder and ran right beside him. And he stayed there – we matched paces. I said, “You are a really good pace setter. So thank you.”

And then I looked at him and noticed two striking things: 1) He looked so much like my Uncle Frank, just maybe 15-20 years younger. 2) He wasn’t wearing a race bib. I asked him, “Are you running the race or just out for a run?” He said he was just out for a run and was going to do 15 miles. There was some more small talk though it was mostly him talking, and I was paying as much attention as I could afford between me internally telling myself “Good foot strikes!” and “Don’t worry about this guy, just keep going.” and “Don’t let him distract you. You are an individual and doing this for yourself. You owe this guy nothing.” I then thanked him again for helping me keep a good pace and said that with a mile or so to go that I thought I’d pick up the pace and so if I left him behind thanks again for the help. But he stayed right with me. It was a very comforting company and not a worrying thought crossed my mind, like “Who is this guy?” or “Why is he running with me?”. But rather I just ran and he ran and we ran separately together. I think his looking like my uncle put me at ease and it was like my uncle’s spirit was being channeled thru this random helper running buddy angel guy. Everything he said was encouraging or a statement about running and how nice it is.

It took me some time but I finally realized that I hadn’t worried about whether or not I could finish or go hard the whole time he and I were running together. I forgot this guy was a stranger. He said, “Up there [he pointed around the bend thru the trees to a random place] is about half a mile out.” I thought “Okay, good to know.” and ran and then thought “Wait a second. How does this guy know where the half mile remaining point is?” But we kept running. I am pretty certain I picked up my pace for this whole portion of my run, but I didn’t look at my watch to really know. I passed the final “Mile” flag and re-told myself my mantra “Good foot strikes!” and then “Want to pick up the pace?” I did pick up the pace but didn’t push myself outside of being comfortable. I thought, “I’d hate to go hard now and crash before the finish line. I feel good, but who knows if that will last.”

This helper running buddy angel guy stayed with me and told me a story: “Late in races a game you can do is to do a Plus/Minus.” I didn’t speak, but I looked over at him (he was on my right) with a face I think expressed “Go on”. And he continued, “You keep track of how many people you pass versus how many people pass you.” (Pause) “You are doing really well.” I noticed a few runners pass me by – the ones pushing out that full final mile, and I chugged on passed a few people. I told the man, “Thanks again for all the help. I’m going to push this out.” And I did. But he kept up with me. And he stayed there until the area they had set up with cones to split the people left who were doing the 30K and those doing just the Half. The guy said, “There’s about a quarter mile left.” with a feeling in his voice that urged me on, like a bird encouraging it’s baby bird to fly. And my helper running buddy angel guy faded away and I went down the home stretch. I felt fast. I was fast. I saw the clock and it said “1:53:08” and I said “Finish before 1:53:30!” And I ran. I think I finished with a “22” on the clock. I crossed by myself, not in a pack and not with a running buddy. But I am sure I crossed with some angels urging me on. I think I smiled for the camera but who knows what kind of face I actually managed to make. (Update: I did smile! Glad I got a picture of the moment!)

I eased down my run, received a medal, and then walked over to the food station – grabbed bags of cookies and chips and water and a banana and an orange slice. Then I went to the Finish area and set up a spot where I paced back and forth cooling down and waited for Darcy to pass. I encouraged runners onwards as they passed me. And as I waited for about 15 minutes until Darcy came by I finally paused to process what just happened. I looked and watched the clock get closer and closer to 2:00:00 and stood in awe of myself that I wasn’t still out there trying to beat the clock. I relished that I got to watch the clock pass 2 hours and enjoyed that I was done. And in 1:53:30 at the most!!! And then I processed what else just happened — that some random guy ran with me til the end and then disappeared! I looked around for where he could have gone and I couldn’t figure out where he kept running to unless he ran thru the parking lot which had a bunch of people or thru grass and around a building and somehow back onto the course. So I decided not to think about it and chuck it up to the guy being a “helper running angel buddy” who most likely was real but if he wasn’t that was okay too, and Thanks God!

As Darcy came by I cheered her on and she asked me how I did. I told her and she high-fived me. I then jogged around the perimeter and talked to her as she kept going and then she went off to do her final 5 miles. I then walked to the bus, rode back to my car, drove home, then excitedly told Ryan my time. And I then had him take my picture so I could get a picture of me at the “moment” (or close enough) when I not only accomplished my life goal but killed it!

I did 13.1 miles in 1:52:35 (average 8:35 mile pace!)!!!

Overall Place: 192 out of 561 finishers.
Class Place: 18 out of 57
Split Times:

Mile Split Time Average Pace Sub-Average Pace  
3.1 27:24 8:49 N/A  
8.1 1:10:22 8:41 8:35 (5 miles in 42:58)  
13.1 1:52:35 8:35 8:26 (5 miles in 42:13)  
Yay for Half Marathons !

New Miles: 13.1 (Half Marathon!) + .3 walk to the starting line + .2 more walking to bus/car, at least = 13.5
Total Miles: 793.5
Miles Remaining: 706.5
Weight: 131.4


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