(I originally posted this on my other site on November 19, 2017)

My mind was a back and forth between self-doubt and compassion all day. It was the day before the Madison Half Marathon. 5 months and 19 days since my kidney donation.

Part of me was excited to be back in a race environment (even though I typically loathe road racing), ready to pin a race number on, and eager to feel like a real runner again. Then another part of me was hating that I was toeing the line without being in race shape. I was nervous that I’d feel differently, or that I’d maybe pass out, or that my dizziness would creep up and I wouldn’t be able to reign it back in on the race course.

Then the nicer version of myself would speak up and say ‘Have some compassion for yourself Trace! You gave away an organ less than six months ago – just enjoy yourself and cover the miles!’

When I woke up race morning I was my normal race day self. Calm and focused. I was completely peaceful as I woke before the sun, got dressed, and headed to the starting line.

I walked around the Square to soak up the environment. There was nervous chatter from the other runners, pre-race warm-ups, pep talks, bathroom lines, and high fives. I was back in my element. Finally.

A good friend of mine was the pacer for the 1:50 group so my plan was to hang with him until mile 9 or 10, then if I still felt like I had gas in the tank I’d slowly move ahead. I had also made a deal with myself that if I felt like I was grinding I would dial it back and listen to my body.

I knew this was a milestone kind of day. I kept remembering how not that long ago I was getting winded walking around the block, and how I had to have a chair in the bathroom so I could rest while getting ready. And now I was about to run 13.1 miles like a normal person!

I had planned on wearing something to promote the Donate Life program, but I felt a little weird about that. A news story was run on a local tv station about my donation and my running in the week leading up to the race. The added attention really made me squirm. The message was great, but it still pushed me way outside of my comfort zone. I wanted to just fly under the radar during the half marathon and quietly savor the accomplishment.

Promptly at 7:10am, the gun went off and I was on my way. The pace group was nice to have – I could just relax and let them lead. It was crowded and I spent a fair amount of energy jockeying around people, but I enjoyed every second of it.

At mile two I was chomping at the bit and ready to go… so I did. I didn’t drop pace significantly, but I wanted to run what felt natural, and running right around the 8 minutes per mile pace felt great – like I was home again!

I had different friends pop up on the race course which helped keep me going, and I started my favorite running playlist at mile 6 which kept me feeling strong all the way through to the end. As I weaved my way back into downtown Madison I tried to be present in every second – smell the restaurants, high five the kids, embrace the burn in my quads – I had worked HARD for this! Fighting to get my endurance back was no joke, and here it was paying off.

I crossed the line at 1:47.46, 16th out of 194 in my division. This is where I wish I could say that I was elated, proud of my accomplishment, and on cloud nine.

But I wasn’t.

I appreciate the work I put in, but when I finished and got my medal and finisher food, it felt empty. I recently went through a break up with someone really important to me, and the magnitude of that split hit me full on at that moment. It hadn’t really dawned on me that I’d be experiencing my first real milestone without him.

I sat on a curb with my banana and water and watched the other runners. Their smiles, hugs, celebrations. And it felt terrible.

I quickly gathered my things and went straight back to my car to head home. There’s an emotional release that can often come with crossing a finish line – I emotionally bubbled over at the end of the Athens Marathon a year ago, and also fought back tears of joy the last two miles of my 50 milers just two months before that.

That emotional spectrum comes out like a mother fucker in running for me, and that’s a big part of what draws me to it. Running has made me more human. It makes me tougher and softer. Strong and tired. Brave and scared. Running is the catalyst for me to grow into a better version of myself with every mile I cover. Every skinned knee, wrong turn, and scoop of Tailwind brings me to a more fully lived version of myself. And even though I experienced a pretty intense emotional low after the half marathon, it’s part of the spectrum. The beautiful spectrum of feelings that can serve as a map to what I want, and what’s important to me.

I may have half the kidneys, but I have twice the heart.