That which does not kill us, makes us stronger. - Nietzsche

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

USAF half recap - the journey to 13.1

I know this is long. You don't have to read it. But if you want to know what it feels like to finish your first half marathon, keep going....

My husband woke up the morning of the half marathon before me, and before the alarm. I can't stress how weird this is. It's the only time I can think of that it's happened. Good thing, though - it gives us plenty of time to stop at Panera for breakfast (I really wanted Starbucks oatmeal, but we couldn't find one - but as it turns out, the power sandwich, coffee, and three aleve is a good pre-run breakfast), navigate traffic, park, and get to the starting line with time to spare, thus saving me from one of the freak-outs that happens when I'm pressed for time. I joke with him that we're pretty much doing a full marathon, when you count the distance we have to walk from our parking space. Holy crap.

We find our place near the 2:15-2:45 finish time sign. We wish each other luck. I look around at everyone else's personalized bibs - it's great fun for me to know everyone's names - and mention my nerves about 50 thousand times. Military planes fly over us, and then a huge bang makes me jump. It takes a good minute before I realize that's the starting pistol. We walk toward the start with the rest of the crowd...and we stop walking. I wonder out loud if that really was the starting pistol, and then we walk again. We cross the start line almost 5 minutes after the race started.....and we're running!

Mile 1: I settle pretty quickly and happily into a comfortable pace. Husband is right with me. Due to the size of the crowd, we separate a few times and then find each other again. A soldier in camo is running with a huge pack on his back. Someone asks him how much it weighs - 90 lbs. I think to myself that there is no. frigging. way. I could ever do that. We go under a bridge and I lose my husband somewhere behind me. I look back a few times and don't see him. We made an agreement that we would both go at our own pace, whether together or separately. I was hoping we could hang for at least a mile, but no. There's a hydration station and I break my own rule of stopping at all of them - come on, this one's not even a mile in.

Mile 2-5: I'm in my happy place. I keep thinking how much fun this is. The scenery is pretty, there's a rock band at one point, and I amaze myself by managing almost exact 11 minute miles. This is amazing because just over a year ago, I ran my first 5k. I ran the first mile in 11:06. That was the fastest mile I'd ever ran at that point, and I could only do one at that speed. Now I bust out five in a row, and that's my comfy pace. (My official 5 mile time turns out to be 55:10.) I tell myself that if nothing else, I am totally proud of that. I walk at the hydration stations long enough to down a cup of gatorade, since I have yet to master the art of drinking while running without at best showering myself, and at worst, getting that painful stomach bubble that comes when you gulp down too much liquid. My plan was a 1-2 minute walk break at every mile, but I feel way too good for that. I run right on pace with members of the 2:30 pace team and even catch up to the 2:20 team for a while.

I distract myself from the fact that I'm running by being a comedian. When we pass mile marker 19 for the full marathon, maybe 2 miles in, I yell "Holy ****, we just ran 19 miles!" People laugh. I had pinned a homemade patch to the back of my shirt that said "13.1 Virgin!" I'm glad I did; people comment on it and offer high-fives. A fellow first-timer strikes up a conversation with me close to the 5 mile point. I forget that I'm not at all used to running and talking, and, yes, I tend to use a lot of air when I talk. I start hyperventilating and have to walk for a minute. My conversation partner apologizes profusely. I catch back up to her to give her a thumbs up, and she pulls ahead of me. At the 5 mile mark, I become aware that maybe I'm pushing myself harder than I should be pushed, and take a walk break to regroup, drink more gatorade, and suck down the gel packet I had in the tiny pocket of my pants.

(Note: Where are all the affordable women's workout clothes that have decent pockets???)

Mile 6: My walk break lasts until the end of "Lovegame", however long that is. Thanks for the motivation, Lady Gaga. Two middle-aged gentlemen comment on my virgin status, and tell me I'm going to hit a PR that day. Haha. I ask the one guy how many races he's done, and he tells me 13-14, and that at each one, he learns something about himself. I wonder what I have to learn today. I hit the mile marker at 1:11 and change. This is significant for two reasons: (a) my first attempt to run 5 miles, back toward the beginning of this year, took me 1:11. (b) My 10k time in May was 1:11. Also, my real time, based on when we crossed the start line, would actually be around 1:06. So, 4 months later, not only am I beating my 10k pace, I'm doing it as my half marathon pace. YES.

Sometime after this, my issue-ridden left knee rears its ugly head. It feels like someone is stabbing the side of it. In my delusionally positive mind, I imagine that the little stabs are injections of painkiller and tell myself that my knee is about to feel just fine.

Seriously - I tell myself whatever it takes to just freaking keep running.

Miles 7-9: I hit mile 7 and I'm feeling a bit sluggish. My knee is starting to feel like a balloon. I pull back and tell myself that I'm going to do the next two miles at a nice jogging pace. I don't know that I slowed too much, but that mentality made it much easier. People ask how I'm doing. I respond that I think I'm still running. I hold up metal fingers for a rock band playing. Somewhere around 8 or 9, I forget, there is a FREAKING HILL. Flat and fast, the website said. I manage to run - not walk - up it. I'm proud of myself. My knee buckles once or twice. I have an entire conversation with it in my head, telling myself that it's not going to win today.

Miles 10-12: I hurt. The sun is now out and it's baking me. I decide this is ridiculous. I think this is the hardest thing I've done in my whole life ever. My "one more mile" mentality turns into "until the next water station" and then "until that stop sign just down the road". I thought that once I got to mile 10, it would be easy, because then there's only a 5k to go and I run 5k all the time. When I see the 10, all I can think is "I can't believe I have to run THREE MORE MILES." There are mile markers for the full marathon and I get mad because they're not MY mile markers. I consider stopping to stretch, like some are doing, and I'm worried that it will make my knee worse. I consider stopping at a med tent and I'm afraid they'll make me stop running. If I stop moving, I'm done. I keep putting one foot in front of the other.

There are good moments that keep me from completely losing my mind. I hear a "pace team, coming through" behind me and I get a sinking feeling as I think the 2:30 team is passing me. Instead, it's the 8:27 mile team for the full marathon. I think that I can maybe run ONE mile in 8:27, and then collapse, and that's on a good day. "Good job, first timer," says one of the fast people. Some of the 2:30 pace people pass me while I'm taking one of my now-more-frequent walk breaks, and comment on my patch. I tell them to be gentle, it's my first time. One of the hydration stations has a revenge of the nerds theme, and everyone handing out water and gatorade is dressed like a nerd. A middle-aged guy in a beanie and bow tie is making ridiculous arm gestures and yelling "Push! Push!" I crack up. He tells me to keep smiling. Members of the 2:20 pace team are now behind some of the 2:30 people and I just hope that I'm still within reach of my 2:30 goal.

Mile 13: I hit mile 12 and tell myself no more walking. I don't even realize that I'm now officially running farther than I've ever ran before. I manage to make myself run until the end of each song I'm listening to, and then tell myself one more song. There's a final water stop, and I wonder why it's so close to the end, but I'm parched so I stop. I've had gatorade at every one, and now the thought of gatorade makes me want to throw up, so I grab a water. The men I was talking to somewhere around mile 6 come up to me out of nowhere and tell me that we're almost there. We're on base now, but I'm so disoriented that I have no idea where the finish line is from here. Then, out of nowhere, is the big number 13. "No effing way," I say out loud, and then the sign blurs as my eyes fill with tears. I'm actually going to finish this.

.1: That was the longest 1/10 mile I've ran EVER. People are cheering like crazy, and they're all happy, so I resist the urge to yell "Where the **** is the finish line?!" We round a corner and I finally see the balloon arch. My legs don't want to work anymore, but how ridiculous would it be if I walked NOW? I turned my ipod off to listen to the crowd, and I hear a little voice somewhere yelling "Go mommy, go mommy, go mommy!" at someone. At some point, the finish line feels reachable, and without meaning to, I break into a sprint. I feel like a freight train, even though I probably looked ridiculous. I'm a little disappointed to see the time, but as soon as I cross the finish line, I start jumping up and down. When I reach a serviceman with the medals, I reach out to take it from him, and instead he holds it above my head to put it on for me. More tears.

My husband, who hadn't even trained, crossed the finish line a mere 24 minutes after I did. When I saw him, I was almost as excited as I had been when I crossed it myself. We recapped the race together and compared owie knees. We didn't even remember to get a picture together.

So now I can officially call myself a half marathon runner. I need to work on making those middle miles more doable - probably by controlling my pace better early on - but overall, I wouldn't change the experience a bit (except maybe making my knee not suck.) Knee aside, though, it pretty much rocked. :)


  1. wow great race recap. Felt like I was right there with you the whole time. I can't wait to run a half then start working on a full. Congrats on your finish.

  2. Woman, you are an inspiration to so many people. Honestly. We're damn proud of you and your hubby. Wish I could've been there to jump up & down w/ you!