by Dante Zappala

It’s five days since I raced the half marathon, and I’ve stranded myself out by Smith Playhouse. As much as I’d willed my body to recovery over the past days, it just hadn’t happened.

I’d even taken off the day before and eaten churros. Apparently, neither of those things nourished me back to normal. My legs were still shot. I’d reached the apex of my lunchtime loop, so turning around was futile.

I headed down towards Kelly Drive and let my mind wander back to the single thing that put me here: chicken fried rabbit.

The night before the race, I found myself in one of the nicest restaurants in Birmingham, Ala.: the Hot and Hot Fish Club. I’d traveled down South to run the half- marathon, a tune up for Boston, and visit with my dear friend David, who moved back there from Philly a number of years ago.

This spot won a James Beard award. But because it’s the South, it’s not that much more expensive than Iron Hill. And David was treating. So, I’m looking at the menu and I’ve got quite a few competing options. It was at this moment that I had to really decide how seriously I was taking this race the next day.

We’d already been on a bender the night before. David makes a killer Manhattan and I had two. We ventured out from there. I was in Birmingham to prepare, sure. I wanted to travel, sleep in a different bed, get comfortable somewhere else; basically everything I’ll have to do the weekend of the marathon.

But I was also there to have fun and commune with an old friend. The last thing on the menu was the chicken fried rabbit, and that’s exactly what I ordered.

I’ll go out on a limb and say this is not the most highly recommended pre-race meal. And as tasty as the Good People Brewing Pale Ale is, beer is also not the best thing to consume the night before either. And chocolate soufflé, well …

I did get to the starting line feeling surprisingly refreshed and rested. Still, most of my choices up to this point suggested that I would treat this race as a glorified training run. And that would have been perfectly fine. Getting in a half marathon eight weeks out with many of the miles at marathon pace is an excellent primer.

I started out briskly. The adrenaline inevitably got me going, and the light rain was invigorating. But by mile six, as we approached the hills, I felt reality set in, and I was pretty content to pack it in and cruise to the finish.

But something funny happened on the way down those hills. I started to feel incredibly strong, better than I did at the start. I’ve been doing a lot of aerobic building, and that base just opened its eyes and said, “Hello, world.”

Suddenly, I was struck with another choice. Do I want to keep this in check and continue on my structured path to Boston or let it loose right here and see what happens?

These moments are as unexpected as they are rare. The calculation was simple. If I bust it, I will be out of commission for a few extra days, days I could use to better prepare for my ultimate goal. I never really tapered for this race either. I could pull something. And then there was that thing with the rabbit the night before.

But I might not ever be here again. Funny things happen. Unfortunate things happen. Much of it is out of our control. “Go get it while you can,” is what I tell myself a lot.

I changed gears and took off. I came through 10 miles a good minute faster than I’d ever run Broad Street. Running alone, I whipped a small crowd into a frenzy as I passed through their water stop. “Let’s go!” I told them, as if they should get out there and finish this race with me.

I knew I was on pace for a PR. But then I did a little quick math in my head, and with a mile left I realized that I could get below another minute barrier. You see, when you give your time for the half marathon or the marathon, seconds don’t matter. When I ran 2:52 back in September, it didn’t matter if it was 2:52:01 or 2:52:59. I ran 2:52. And that number for the half marathon was going to sound that much sweeter if I could just dig a little deeper.

I got that number. And I got some sore legs to go along with it.

As I made my way down Kelly Drive, the sun was shining bright, and the air was calm. It was still in the 20s, but it felt like a preview. This was also a moment.

And once again, there was no expectation leading up to this moment. It was mine to decide what to do with.

I could run as slow as I wanted.