In March of 2006, I ran the Knoxville half marathon (http://www.knoxvillemarathon.com/). I was in pretty good shape (for me), as I was coming off of the New York Marathon the previous November, and had continued running after.
It's important to know that I'm too slow to run 5k's and 10k's effectively, and I don't have enough endurance to run marathons effectively (I always run out of gas at about the 20 mile mark). The half marathon is my best distance. I think it is the most fun distance.
Good sprinters have a lot of fast twitch muscles; Good distance runners have a lot of slow twitch muscles. My nickname on a running website is "No Twitch Muscles". I think that appropriately paints the picture of my abilities.
So, the Knoxville half starts downtown, winds its way through the University of Tennessee campus, then later enters a fairly hilly neighborhood (Sequoyah Hills), before crossing a major street (Kingston Pike), and coming back to downtown via a rolling greenway.
I've always loved this half. It is my favorite of any half marathon I've ever done. Lots of sights to see, a beautiful neighborhood to run through, dogwoods in bloom, good crowd support.
Anyhow, I navigated the first 8 or so pretty hilly miles in good fashion, crossed Kingston Pike, and started back to downtown via the greenway. And then? A funny thing happened. I started passing people. Up and down the tiny rolling hills. I felt good, and I could feel myself getting stronger - this never happens! I usually start to fade at about the 10 mile mark, 'cause, you know, I suck. But not on this day. It's no exaggeration to say that I passed about 75 people during a 4 mile stretch on the greenway.
The last 2 miles or so run through the Fort Sanders neighborhood, I usually just gut those out (they are sadistically hilly), and watch as people pass me by. But not that Sunday. That Sunday, I not only held my own, I continued to pass people.
About a half a mile from the finish (which, by the way happens on the 50 yard line of Neyland Stadium - granted, that was more impressive before Lane Kiffin and Derek Dooley came to town), I thundered (in my mind) around a curve, and a volunteer said:
"Looking good #1501"
This is the first time that a volunteer has ever said that to me without the accompanying look of pity, driving home the absolute lie just spoken. THIS GUY MEANT IT!
I rounded that curve, down a hill, then triumphantly entered the stadium - passing one more person as I entered.
Didn't I look good?
A big selling point of this race is that not only do you finish on the 50 yard line, but your finish is on the Jumbotron and your name is announced for all of your throngs of admirers to hear.
I finished in 2:05:xx, my best time ever - so far (I realize that is not an impressive time - the world record is an astounding 58:23!!!, but for me? Pretty damned good.)
On that day, I ran the best race I could, I ran a negative split (!), and I felt that rare euphoria that a runner feels when it is his or her day. Doesn't happen often, but runners reading this know exactly the feeling I'm trying to describe.
So, on that day, walking out of the stadium with my medal around my neck, watching other runners coming down the final hill into the stadium, I felt like a runner.