Last Saturday night, I slept like crap. It was already one of those nights I knew would be a hard night to sleep. Going into my first half marathon had been a trying time, filled with nerves, excitement, and anxiety. Renting a hotel room within walking distance of the start/finish line was intentional. I wanted to be able to sleep in a little longer than I would be able to if I stayed at home. It’s about a 45 minute drive from home, not counting time to find parking and navigate the people to get in place on time, so I was looking forward to a rest-filled evening. it did not help that some yahoo decided to run through the halls at 2:00 a.m. knocking loudly on every door…twice! Ugh. What I had not taken into consideration was the need to turn off the text and notification features of my cell phone. All the friends and family sending me texts and commenting on my Facebook posts with words of encouragement coming in through the wee hours of the night were appreciated for their intent…next time, though, I think I may turn the phone off and read them in the morning. 🙂
So, after a pretty restless night, I was up at 5:30 a.m., which is WAY early for me anyway. After some good stretching and a couple cups of coffee, we were off to the race. A half mile walk to the start line, we remarked on how nice it was…cool but not chilly, and a little warmer than the forecast predicted, it was shaping up to be a great day to run. We walked the site the day before, and while I knew there were 20,000+ runners registered for the event, I was not prepared to see such a mass of people in one place. With the band playing and the excitement of the atmosphere, I can see how it would be easy to get wrapped up in the day’s events and lose focus. As the race was starting at 7:30 with the runners at the front of the line, I was able to focus on my race, remember my preparations and training and get in a zone to set out on a 13.1 mile journey of a lifetime.
At about 8:00, 30 minutes after the initial start for the front corrals, I was off and running. Having your mom walking alongside me outside the barrier right up to the start line was encouraging. The first few miles were pretty easy, as I was distracted with the mass of people running with and around me. Weaving in and out of thousands of runners while making sure not to cut someone else off is not an easy feat, and it served to keep my mind off the pain my body feels when it starts adjusting to running as I first start out. At mile 2, I looked up in time to see your mom taking this picture of me:
Seeing her was the encouragement I needed to keep pushing. At the 5K mark, my time was 39:48. With a pace of just over 13:00/mile, I was on target to reach my goal of finishing in under 3 hours, and feeling really good. The next three miles, I settled into a groove and hit the 10K mark at 01:23:02. Calculating that I had slowed in that second 3 miles, I tried to pick back up to a 13:00/mile pace and hold it. As I was in the middle of mile 9, I could see it off in the distance. It was creeping up on me slowly but surely, and I knew it. At mile 10, I hit it.
They say there’s a point in long distance running when all runners hit it. For some, it creeps up sooner than later. For others, they find it later in their run. For me, it was at mile 10. The wall is that mental and physical barrier that jumps up and bites you in the butt. It hit me like a ton of bricks. My lower back was hurting, and my hamstrings were killing me. Even my shoulders and arms were tired, which was a first for me in my running. I’m not sure if it was a lack of sleep, improper pre-race diet/hydration or something else that brought it on so quickly and with such force, but as I crossed the 10 mile mark, I was right in the middle of it. I’m sure most of it was psychological, but nonetheless, I lost the battle. I had to slow down to a walk for about half of mile 10, running every now and then, but never more than about .10 mile at a time for that mile.
In my training, the most I ran was 10 miles. The experts say that in training, you never really run the entire race distance beforehand. The theory is that on race day, the adrenaline and excitement of the atmosphere around you will keep you pushing and carry you through that last 3 miles. Yeah, okay! As I finished 11 miles, I was receiving texts from your mom and other family, encouraging me to keep pushing. I got emotional in that 11th mile, and was able to kick it up to a steady jog for the last mile and a half. I was disappointed in my finish, in that I wasn’t able to find the strength to finish strong. I crossed the line pretty slowly, not with the rush of emotion and energy I’d hoped for. I finished with a time of 03:10:02, 10 minutes slower than my 3 hour mark, but still faster than my couch. The emotion hit me when I saw your mom. I almost cried like a baby. Almost. 🙂
In no particular order, some of the lessons I’m taking from this first half marathon:
- Turn your phone off the night before the race. Get in your zone and focus your attention on the task at hand. If you want some encouragement from friends, read it in the morning after you’ve slept all night to a quiet phone.
- Eat more than a bagel with peanut butter for breakfast when running 13.1 miles or more. I should’ve eaten the banana too. I had a huge carb-filled meal the night before, but that was at 6:00 p.m. The only other food I ate was the bagel in the morning about an hour before the start. I fought hunger from early on. In mile 5 or so, I could start feeling the energy drop as my sugar level dropped. Take a sports drink with you instead of water. They’ll have water on the course, and while some races have energy drinks, you need more than water. Take it with you. Also, take a snack for the post-race. I was relying on what food would be provided. An apple and a few orange slices were not enough to carry me through the next 2 hours until we got to lunch. As we got to the restaurant, I had a sugar crash and almost puked. I didn’t, but came close. Treat yourself to a nice meal afterward…feed your crave, whatever it is. Mine was a gourmet burger and fries. Best burger I’ve ever eaten.
- I need to strengthen my core and major muscle groups. My hamstrings tightened up pretty quickly, and my back was killing me. Strengthening the abs and back will help hold my frame up better, which will lengthen my endurance and tolerance for pain as my running posture holds up where it should be. My knees held up pretty good, so the stretches I’m doing are working.
- My running stance sucks. As the full marathon runners were passing me in the last couple miles, I would notice their posture. Their shoulders were pulled back while their chest was pushed forward, almost exaggerated in appearance. But their stride had bounce and energy. I’d try to mimic it, but my lower back was already hurting so badly from my poor posture that I couldn’t hold it for very long.
- Along those lines, the extra weight of the cotton shirt when it gets sweat-soaked is weighing me down. I need to either learn to eat better and lose more weight or get over my self-consciousness about how I look in the tight-fitting, moisture-wicking shirts. They’re designed to be worn by people with fewer curves than me, and having my fat jiggle as I run is not something I’m prepared to put on display to the world. Haha.
- Until I can fit in the moisture-wicking shirts, I need to apply more Vasoline to my nipples. The sweat-soaked shirt runs the Vasoline off within the 13.1 miles. They weren’t bleeding, but they were close. In the shower afterward, I could tell they would have been bleeding within another 20 minutes of running. The extra set of dry clothes in my gear bag to change in to after the race was a good call.
- There’s no shame in stopping to stretch for a minute when you hit the wall. I could have used it, and I should have done it. Looking back, I think it would have helped.
- Take some single-use ice packs with towels and tape with you in your gear bag. I would have loved to have ice on my knees and ankles for the ride home.
- Spend the money for a good post-race massage, within a couple days. I did, and I won’t do another long distance race without one afterward. It works out the soreness and speeds the recovery process.
- It’s easy to get caught up in the moment. With the excitement of the event and adrenaline pumping, the atmosphere can quickly envelope you into losing focus. You have to run your race. Do what you’ve trained for and what you know is right. In life, it’s not much different. The world around us demands our attention, distracts us from our race, and competes for our time and attention. It can be easy to get caught up in it and lose sight of the end game…the prize waiting for us at the end of our life when God calls us home.
Mostly, I was reminded that God has a plan for my life. I don’t know the full extent of His plan, or how He intends to bring all the pieces of the puzzle together, but it’s there nonetheless. I’m moving forward in my running journey and already looking at four long distance races for next year. Two are local, and two are within a day’s drive. While this race did not end with the euphoric high I was expecting or the strong finish I’d hoped for, I’m happy with my effort and the result. I set out with one goal…to complete a half marathon. I did that. Not in the time, i was shooting for, but within a respectable time for my overall physical condition, running history and level of training. I can say with certainty that completing this race has been the single most rewarding personal accomplishment of my life. Not to be confused with experiences like the birth of my children or marrying your mother…those are things I either experienced or accomplished with someone else’s effort. Running is a solo effort. While the encouragement and support of friends and family definitely helped me find the motivation and resolve to get through the tough times, when you find yourself in the back stretch of a 13.1 mile run, hitting a wall like no other…it’s all you and God at that point. You either have to find the resolve from within or from above, but no one can do it for you. There will be days I don’t know if I can do a Half Marathon. There will be a lifetime knowing I have. The reward was not waiting for me at the finish line. The journey is the reward.