My girlfriend guest-stars in this fun project we completed last year. I hope to soon bring more of these to my seemingly abandoned blog.
Text: Mira Rubiano
Photographs: Eduardo Rubiano
When Eduardo proposed to document the month leading up to my first half marathon, I was skeptical. I’m not an inspiring individual who overcame huge challenges such as substance abuse, a disability or obesity. Instead, I’m an average 5’4” woman in my mid-twenties. I have been a dancer most of my life and try to maintain a fairly active life-style. During college, I took up running for the same reason many people do—to reduce stress and lose a little weight. Indeed, as a subject for a story, I’m a bore. Yet this presented me with an opportunity. By doing it, I would be accountable to someone. I’d be forced to train regularly and more likely to complete the race. So, knowing myself and having lacked discipline in following the twelve-week training schedule up to that point, I agreed. And as with many things, agreeing was the easy part.
After eagerly discussing how to realize the project, we developed a plan. If this was going to be a successful endeavor, the first order of business would be to clearly identify some goals. For me, they were preparing consistently and finishing the race. Though I was based in Washington D.C., a runner-friendly city, I travelled often. As a result, any trip could be an easy excuse to skip a run. To ensure commitment and continuity, we decided to keep a detailed log of each training session. In it, we recorded weather, distance, time, terrain, my weight, how I felt and what I ate. This record proved invaluable to keep me motivated and on track, regardless of where I was geographically, emotionally, physically or mentally.
As a photojournalist, Eduardo, a regular runner, avoids making staged photos. He wanted to capture the real experience, meaning he’d have to run alongside, camera in hand. As for me, I had to learn not to smile or pose to show my “good side.” The first few trials were awkward for both of us. I would force myself to look happy and at ease while he had difficulty anticipating my movements. The resulting photographs showed me obviously holding my breath or appearing to ride an invisible scooter. No good. Nevertheless, he soon got his timing down and I learned to ignore the camera.
My month of training included runs in D.C., Virginia, Minnesota and Florida. I had to fit them into all times of day in order to get the miles in. I left my comfort zone by waking up before sunrise, taking showers between meetings and facing cold or heat for longer than desired. I was never able to get into a regular routine, a perfect reason to give it up, but after struggling for a week or so, it became surprisingly easier. Like showering or eating, running turned into a normal part of my day. It didn’t matter when or where, just that it got done. I wanted to make sure that it remained so, as opposed to being something I could avoid. Otherwise, I'd be finished.
The month flew by. I wish I could report that from week to week the improvement was dramatic. I also wish I had run six days each week. But no. In the spirit of the non-extraordinary, I completed a total of fourteen training sessions and logged just over seventy miles. But it made a difference: I lost four pounds. And I learned new things. I became comfortable with different sorts of terrain and savvy about what that meant for my recovery. I improved my running form. I learned to gauge the weather and the wind with a runner's eye. And in a most inconvenient way, I discovered the importance of pre-race nutrition.
It is recommended that the day before a race one should eat a fiber and carbohydrate-rich meal, with some lean protein and a small amount of fat. So I made a rookie mistake. My last lunch: cheeseburger and fries. By the time we picked up our event packets that evening, I was sick. It may have been race jitters alone, but other unenviable evidence pointed to food poisoning. Determined, from midnight onward, I woke up every hour to sip water seeking to improve my chances of completing the 13.1 miles. Before sunrise, skeptical and weak, I put my running clothes on and headed out. We arrived with just enough time to check in and find our corral group as it crossed the starting line.
Despite the stress, the beginning was smooth. We took it easy as others bolted by, while I waited nervously for my body to protest and rebel. Instead, as the minutes passed, I got more and more confident about how prepared I was. The nausea and weakness left over from the night before dissipated and my system seemed to go into autopilot. I could feel that the training had amounted to something. It was helpful to be among a wide range of people, from professionals, to first-timers to those defying the odds. Even Eduardo had it easy carrying a camera, compared to the chained couples, Santa Clauses and baby-on-board runners we saw. Clearly, anyone could do this. Encouraged, I took on the course, one water station at a time.
Just after hour two, at a steady 10:55 pace, we hit the 13-mile marker tired but healthy. The finish line was near, just up a slight hill. Suddenly, the crowd started to roar. The full-marathon winner was also in the final stretch! Prompted by the cheers and energy in the air, I found strength I didn’t know I had and went into a sprint. In a romantic improvisation, we forgot our plan to make a picture of me completing the race, and instead crossed the finish line holding hands. Dazed and high on endorphines, we hugged and I felt curiously empowered and renewed.
The race was a motivator while all the training was the true work. In the end, both experiences were highly rewarding in different ways. Getting into motion for each run was a challenge that I had to face and overcome. Some days I slept in and others I convinced myself that I was too sick or busy. At times I struggled to finish just three miles. But with each training session, I felt proud and accomplished. So the actual half-marathon, jitters and food-poisoning and all, was really just another run. And when I looked back having crossed the finish line, a sense of satisfaction like no other filled me. I was hungry for more. First, we celebrated with beer and burritos.
© 2008 Mira Rubiano
This project was the first of several we have made together since 2008. Mira, an economist, was finishing her contract with the World Bank in Washington DC when this essay was made. After completing an International Relations Masters degree in Barcelona, Spain, she has been pursuing new ventures as a producer and a consultant in personal development, integrating her passion for socioeconomics, yoga, dance and writing.