Dear readers, I am officially a half-marathoner! After a training cycle fraught with injury, I wasn’t sure I’d be able to finish 13.1 long miles, but I did – even faster than I thought! I just wanted to recap the race for those who are interested, and if you haven’t been interested in my running posts, never fear! They are over after this one. (Until the next race I get the harebrained idea to sign up for!)
5:00am: This is the actual time I woke up for this race. The upside: it was the first day of standard time (the clocks “fell back”) so it felt like the normal time I would wake up. The anticipation helped get me out of bed as well. I ate my standard long run breakfast: plain toast, coffee and Pedialite. I checked the list of things in my gear bag about a million times.
6:00am: My friends who were also running the race came to pick me up. It was still pitch dark outside and sprinkling a little, but it was warmer than the forecast had predicted, so I liked that part. The race began at this ginormous outdoor store (like, a store for outdoorsy stuff, not an actual out-of-doors store) in my city, so we went inside to use the civilized bathrooms and get all our stuff organized.
6:30am: We checked our bags (how cool is it that you can check bags at longer/bigger races?!) and warmed up. My friend who is a seasoned runner danced and I may have moaned and yelled at her. The anticipation was crazy. We used the bathroom one last time before lining up.
7:00am: We lined up at the starting line, along with a few thousand other people. The marathon and half-marathon started together, so yeah, the crowd was large. I was SO nervous at this point, but I knew that once I started running, I would feel better.
Mile 1: When we first started running, I had a rush of the “oh my gosh! I’m really running a half-marathon!” feeling, but I was actively not letting the adrenaline talk me into running faster than I knew I should be going. The marathon and half-marathon courses didn’t split off until almost the end of the first mile, so there were tons of people around at first, which was kind of cool. Once we got to the split-off point, I read the signs carefully to make sure I didn’t accidentally start running a marathon. Ha!
Miles 2-3: The first part of the race was the hilliest, and since I was dealing with a knee injury, I forced myself to go really slowly and walk the steeper grade hills – especially the downhills. Even though the crowd had thinned somewhat, there were still lots of people around and it was fun to listen in on their conversations/check out what they were wearing and the gear they had.
Mile 4: I had anticipated beginning to hurt by mile 4, and I still felt pretty good, which was amazing. The craziest thing about mile 4 is that the course took us through the parking lot of this awesome microbrewery, and they were handing out beer to the runners – and runners were actually taking the beer. This is the most insane thing to me. I waved at the guy handing out the beer and tried to say something like, “I wish I could! I love your beer, but my stomach can’t take that during a race,” but it probably came out like some incoherent mumbling because I had just run over four miles and had many, many more to go. Also around mile 4, a friend who I didn’t realize would be running the race came up behind me and patted me on the shoulder. We chatted a minute about how great of a day it was and how I was just trying to finish the race because of my knee, and then I told her to have a great race as she pulled ahead of me. The pacing group that was going to finish the race in 2:30 also came up behind me around here (they started way behind me in the line) and I knew I’d have to let them pass, even though it had been my (secret) goal before the knee injury to try to hang with them.
Miles 5-6: It was registering with me that my knee still wasn’t hurting, which I hadn’t anticipated at all. This is the sweet spot in my long runs where I feel great physically, so I just sort of shut my brain off and enjoyed the beautiful fall foliage along the course. There were also a ton of people out cheering the runners on, and it was really fun to wave and thank people for coming.
Mile 7: I saw some friends cheering along the course that I had no idea would be there, and they got my picture, so that was really fun. It sounds silly, but when you’re running like that, it’s a huge booster just to know that someone cares about what you’re trying to do. I had a huge smile plastered on my face because I was feeling good. And then, just after the 7 mile marker, I spotted my friends – the seasoned runner and her husband – just ahead of me. I think they were just as excited to see me as I was to see them, because I warned them that I would probably finish long after them. As I started to pull ahead of them, they gently reminded me to pace myself, because we were, after all, just over the halfway point.
Miles 8-10: I was still feeling pretty good here – taking lots of water in, fueling, and enjoying all of the support along the way. There were official aid stations every two miles along the course, but some organizations had set up additional water stations as well, and I decided my best strategy would be to take water at all of the stations (I walk when I take water to avoid getting it all over myself) even if it’s just a couple of sips. I think this strategy really served me well because I felt like I got a lot of breaks along the way and never felt dehydrated. My friends passed me again somewhere in here, but I didn’t care because I knew I was doing awesome.
Miles 11-12: This is where I remember beginning to hurt. My long run experience was that this is really where I hit a wall, too, and I sort of did, but it was so much easier to push through with lots of people around me. There were a couple of downhills that I had to walk because of my knee, but mostly felt alright aside from my body getting really tired. On long runs, I tend to forget things and scramble things in my brain, so I jumped out of my skin when a supporter I didn’t know called me by name, until I realized (several minutes later) that my name was printed on my race bib. Kudos to her for pronouncing it correctly, though!
The last part: The last part was so very difficult. I was tired, and my knee really hurt. But I knew I had come way too far to give up and start walking now. There were people walking all over the course so my strategy was to focus on a walker’s back until I was able to surpass that person. It actually helped a lot. There was also another runner who was right about at my same pace, but we kept passing each other, especially when an aid station was involved. I was determined not to let her leave me behind (we never actually talked or acknowledged each other, but when you have come almost 13 miles mostly together, I think you reach an understanding). The end of the course had lots of turns, because it was in a residential neighborhood, until after the 13 mile mark. I had lost the ability to determine exactly where I was, so each time we turned a corner, I would reassure myself that the next one could be it. And finally, it was – when we turned onto one of the more major roads, I spotted the finish line and realized that the crowd was thickening. I’m pretty sure I was grimacing and I know I was limping a bit, but I managed to pull myself together and ran into the finish.
I ended up finishing in 2:33 – WAY faster than my estimate of 3 hours, and just three minutes behind my initial (secret) goal, and my friends. I was elated, and I had this weird euphoria that felt really, really strangely similar to the headspace I was in right after I gave birth to Baby I. It was this feeling of, “I can’t believe I really just did that. That’s something that other people do, but I just did that.”
The runners were corralled into an area with lots of race sponsors handing out free food. I took some water, a piece of bagel and banana, but my friends were bee-lining for the Mexican food and pizza. They encouraged me to eat, but I was having trouble with the food I had already grabbed. We got our medals and I ran into a couple of people I knew before spotting my friend who had come to support me at the finish line. Not only had she come to cheer me on, but she made me an absolutely fabulous Breaking Bad-themed sign:
After meeting up with her, the food hit me and (sorry for the visual, but this is the type of info I was looking for when I was preparing to run the race): I had to run to the Port-a-Potty, which is something I really had not wanted to do. Part of me wanted to stay and enjoy the vendors there at the race some more, but the larger part of me knew I was exhausted and that my stomach was hurting, and I really just wanted a warm shower (with a cold shower finish, of course, to help my muscles recover faster).
I did end up having tummy troubles the rest of the day, but the sense of accomplishment was so worth it. It was a wonderful race, and it will stand out as one of the biggest accomplishments in my life. Definitely my favorite athletic experience (and I have actually had a lot of athletic experiences in my life) and while I’m planning on taking a few weeks off of running, I do plan to return because I have fallen in love with the sport. There’s nothing like the long runs, the cool gear, and the insanely supportive running community.
Well, dear readers, that’s it. Thank you so much for letting me blab, and thank you to those of you who supported me along the way. It has meant so much to me!