How I Survived a Half Marathon | (And Lived to Eat) Pumpkin Toffee Ice Cream

You are much stronger than you think.

I repeated this phrase approximately 149 times in my head during the 1 hour, 57 minutes, and 19 seconds that it took me to complete my first half marathon. 21.1 km. Boom.

To say I was nervous going into this race is a major understatement. My training didn’t go as well as I had hoped. Motivation was hard to find at certain points. Life easily got in the way of going for a run (Geez life! Why you gotta be like that?). I overtrained in the final month before the race, leading to terrible shin splints a couple of weeks before the big day. I obsessively googled race day tips. I almost bought a new pair of shoes with 7 days to go.

My uncle gave me some great advice about a month ago. He encouraged me to visualize the race and how it would feel to finish. After our conversation, I spent a few minutes before I fell asleep every night thinking about what crossing the finish line would feel like. The sights I would see. What I would smell. Hear. Every time I would add more specific detail. Standing at the starting line, there was no doubt in my mind that I would finish the race. I had envisioned it so many times.

The thing is, we are all capable of so much more than our minds allow us to believe. My yoga instructor often says “Keep breathing. There is nothing that you cannot breathe through”…often in the third minute of thunderbolt pose, when our legs are burning, ready to give out. “Just breathe,” she tells us. “You are much stronger than you think.”

And so I breathed deeply as I repeated “You are much stronger than you think” over and over. And over.

The first 10km clipped right by. In fact, when I passed the 10km marker, I was surprised. Almost half way! My surprise gave me hope that the next 10km would fly by just as quickly. The next marker I hit read “13km”. I felt like it should have read 15km. You’re over half way there, I reminded myself. You can do this!

And then the wheels started to fall off the bus. One of my water bottles popped out of my fuel belt and bounced around on the ground behind me. I skidded to a halt and tried to quickly grab it without disturbing any of the other runners. I grabbed the bottle. It jumped out of my hands again. I ended up half-lunging, half falling to the side of the course to get out of another runner’s way. She gave me a sympathetic look. I got back on my feet and got moving again. But I was frazzled. I had lost my momentum. My rhythm.

By the time I hit the 16km mark, the kilometres really started to crawl by. I began to desperately wish that I had someone running beside me, encouraging me, cheering me on. Someone who might be able to drag me across the finish line, if needed.

The huge hill at kilometre 18 nearly finished me. It was long and winding. I promised myself that I would be at the top in 20 seconds. Just when I thought I was nearing the top, it wound around and kept going. I attempted to trick myself in various ways. I pretended that I was on a leisurely 5km run through my neighborhood. I told myself that my body felt great! That my legs did not feel as though they were moving independently from my body, like two stiff boards that I no longer had any control over. That my lungs were full of air, rather than painfully tightening due to a lack thereof.

As I reached the 20km mark, I came upon my friends in the crowd of people lining the streets. Thank goodness for my friends. Hearing their voices cheer my name, seeing their smiling faces, reading the neon sign they held above their heads (“Hurry up, my legs hurt!”) gave me that one final push that I so desperately needed. I managed to sprint the last 200m to the finish line. And despite the difficulty of preceding two hours, I felt like a million bucks. I think it’s true. Nothing worth doing is ever easy. 

Feeling good a few minutes after the finish!

I used to think that I would never run further than a half marathon. Anything longer just seemed…crazy. And quite frankly, downright unnecessary. But in the fog of my post-race high, I’m having second thoughts. There just might be a full marathon in my future.

After all, we are much stronger than we think.

And while we’re burning all of these calories, we’d better remember to replace them. What better way than ice cream?! I came across this recipe for pumpkin ice cream by the lovely Leah from Freutcake a few weeks ago. I immediately pinned it for future making. I made a few small changes to Leah’s recipe, adding in a few additional spices and replacing the dark chocolate chips with toffee bits. It’s creamy, pumpkin-y, and studded with little bits of Skor chocolate bar. Perfect for Fall!

Pumpkin Toffee Ice Cream (adapted from Freutcake, originally from David Lebovitz)

I am presently fantasizing about eating this ice cream out of a big waffle cone and drizzled with caramel sauce. Makes about 1 quart.

1 1/2 cups whole milk

1 cup heavy cream

1/3 cup plus 2 TBSP. granulated sugar

1/2 tsp. ground ginger

1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon

1 cinnamon stick

1/2 tsp. ground nutmeg

1/4 tsp. ground cloves

1/4 tsp. ground allspice

1/4 tsp. salt

5 large egg yolks

1/4 cup brown sugar, packed

1 tsp. vanilla

2 tsp. brandy

3/4 cup pumpkin puree

1 cup chopped Skor bar (or other toffee chocolate bar)

Prepare an ice bath by putting some ice and a little water in a large bowl and nest a smaller metal bowl (one that will hold at least 2 quarts) inside it. Place a mesh strainer over the top.

In a medium saucepan mix together the milk, cream, granulated sugar, ginger, cinnamon, cinnamon stick, nutmeg, cloves, allspice, and salt. Warm the mixture until hot and the edges begin to bubble and foam. Whisk the egg yolks in a separate bowl and gradually whisk in about half of the milk mixture (to temper the eggs), stirring constantly. Scrape the egg mixture back in to the saucepan and cook over low heat, stirring constantly and scraping the bottom with a heatproof spatula, until the mixture thickens and coats the spatula (an instant-read thermometer should read between 160º-170ºF). Immediately pour the mixture through the strainer into the bowl nested in the ice bath. Add in the brown sugar, stir until cool, then refrigerate overnight.

Whisk in the vanilla, brandy, and pumpkin puree. Freeze in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Stir in the chopped toffee bar, transfer to a container (or my favorite, a loaf pan) and freeze until firm.

Comments

  1. Great post- I’m not a runner (except for the one JP Morgan Corporate Challenge I did a few years ago because I was pressured by co-workers– longest 3.5 miles of my life!) but I can relate in many ways. You’re 100% right that our bodies can do more than our minds let us think we can. I need to remember that next time I think I’m too tired to go to the gym after working all day, or when I think I’ll cut my workout short because I’m just not into it. I need to remember to push. All the time. Thanks!

  2. wow, the ice cream looks soooooo yummy, especially when I’m totally starving in the university library ^^

  3. oh you are making me miss running!!! Im giving my body a bit of an exercise break at the moment – at first it was brilliant but now Im itching to – especially after your inspirational story. AND did I tell you Ive just started an internship at this tiny artisan ice cream maker?! Its absolutely amazing – so happy I have internet so I can write all about it! AND I think your delicious looking ice cream would fit right in. AND AND I most especially love that top picture – totally gorgeous! Rock on lady! xo ps – have you ever seen those running water bottles that say ‘I run because I like running… and I really REALLY like dessert’. Shall I buy and send you one ? 😉

    • That sounds like a wicked internship Em! I can’t wait to read all about it! I am really getting into making my own ice cream after realizing how easy (and delicious) it is. Any tips would be appreciated. I have never seen those water bottles around here, but they sound AWESOME. 🙂

  4. Wow! What an amazing accomplishment! You should be so proud of yourself. 🙂 p.s. I bet the Skor bar bits were even better than chocolate! Mmmm

  5. Congrats for pushing yourself and finishing the race – that’s amazing! And what a way to reward yourself – that ice cream looks heavenly!

  6. Congratulations, quite an accomplishment!

  7. You look simply gorgeous after finishing your race! Congrats!

  8. Congrats on the race and a well deserved reward!

  9. but i'm hungry says:

    Amazing! (both finishing the marathon and the ice cream!) Adding toffee bits is always a good move, in my humble opinion. 🙂

  10. Thanks a lot for sharing this with all folks you really recognize what you are talking about! Bookmarked. Kindly also discuss with my website =). We will have a hyperlink exchange arrangement among us

  11. Reblogged this on elizabethstown and commented:
    Loved this! SO inspirational and entertaining to read(:

  12. Aww such a great story! I totally would tell myself I was fine, I was on an easy jog, no big deal. Helps get you through!

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