Thursday, December 27, 2012

Done! My first half-marathon (Blue & Grey Half)

Merry Christmas! My gift to you (or myself?) - this long-awaited recap of The Race. I figure that almost a month later is plenty of time to have gotten myself situated and found the right words for this one. You be the judge.
I still can't exactly believe that I ran a half-marathon.

New hot pink laces, because, duh, pink makes everything better.

That seems like such a huge deal, yet, at the same time, not a huge deal at all. My brain is thinking “SERIOUSLY?!” but simultaneously, “no big!” 13.1 miles – done.

When Suzann and I first started talking about doing a half before the end of 2012, in June or July-ish, we had a lot of contributing factors to finding the right race: it needed to be close(ish), it needed to be on a Sunday (she teaches on Saturday mornings), it needed to be early enough in December that it wasn’t -36 degrees. It seemed unlikely that we would find just the right race, and that was ok… I don’t think we were too convinced that we could do it yet (speaking for myself for sure, here – I was pretty sure there was no way I could run 13.1 miles in just a few months). Lo and behold, though, I stumbled across a link for the VA Runner Blue & Gray – a half-marathon, in Fredericksburg, VA (just down 95 from us), 2nd weekend in December, on Sunday. It was meant to be. We started planning on doing it – running longer runs, talking about “our half,” but FYI, we never actually SIGNED UP for the race until… 5 weeks out? It wasn’t real yet, we weren’t committed… until one fateful afternoon as we sat eating lunch at Panera, and we got a burst of dedication and registered on the spot. On my phone. Fees paid, no reimbursement. We were running a half-marathon.

Keep in mind that this was in the midst of my injury saga – I wasn’t running fully yet; in fact, I wasn’t even cleared to resume exercise fully yet. The longest I’d run in weeks was 3 or 4 miles – my longest training (11 miles) had been done in September (and stayed my longest training; the most I did up till race day was 7 ½). Nonetheless, I was in. I knew I could do it.

Suz and I decided to stay in a hotel in Fredericksburg the night before the race – it just seemed easier to give ourselves a relaxing night than try to fight our way down 95 at 4 AM and pray we didn’t hit any traffic or anything. Instead, we spent Saturday evening having dinner, wandering the mall, and eating Sweet Frog (our fave!) before getting into bed early. I couldn’t have asked for a better pre-race experience – we were relaxed, happy, and just 5 minutes from the race start. It was perfect!

We woke up on Sunday and we were both wide-awake, energetic, ready to go. We were completely unsure about the weather. We’d both packed for just about anything: rain, cold, warm, whatever. The forecast was for drizzle all day, 100% chance, but the temperature was supposed to be in the 50s. Granted, at 6:30 AM, it was only in the 30s, but when we got out there, it wasn’t raining, just overcast. Perfect! We dressed in our layers, ate hard boiled eggs and drank coffee, and danced around the hotel room. I’d requested late checkout, so we didn’t have to pack anything up, and we got ourselves to the VA Runner parking lot, where the race was starting, at about 7:20. We had ten minutes till kickoff. That wasn’t exactly the way we planned it (time flew while we were getting ready!) but it turned out for the best – we didn’t leave ourselves much time to get nervous or anxious. We were just heading out for a regular long run. Normal.
Blooper - but I kind of love it.
Pre-race nerves. We can do this!
The gun sounded and off we went – I’d like to give a major shout-out to the “Shuffle” feature on my iPhone for knowing that I needed to start the race with a little Britney Spears. I am unashamed and very vocal about my love of Miss Spears, and no less that 1/3 of my race-day playlist was comprised of her music. I started off my first half marathon listening to some great tunes, and I knew it was going to be a good day.

Miles 1-6 were relatively uneventful. Suz and I puttered along, chatting and occasionally checking our Garmins. As it turned out, we both felt that we dressed perfectly for the weather – just enough clothing, the right layers, etc. I ate some Sports Beans around mile 3.5 and 6, aiming for every 3 miles as I’d planned, purely because I wanted to maintain my sugar levels, not because I was feeling off or anything. I didn’t want to risk having my sugar drop and blowing the whole thing, so I just went with a few beans every few miles. We walked through the water stations, having a few sips and taking it easy, which I felt was really helpful for me. I felt totally ON – I don’t know how to describe it, but everything about the race just felt right.

Miles 7-8 was where I started thinking “OK, I’m ready to be done.” Too bad we still had 5 miles to go… There wasn’t really anything wrong, I just started to get bored. Is that weird? My mind was wandering and I was thinking about all the things I needed to do to get ready for Christmas and such. I had a little mental battle about how much longer I still had to run, but got it together after a few minutes. I started feeling a little pain in the arch of my right foot – not sure what that was about, but it continued for the rest of the race, then immediately ended and I haven’t felt it since. It was a nagging irritation, though.

Suz decided to slow down just a tad, and I was feeling a fresh burst of energy, so she encouraged me to go on ahead. I picked up the pace by just a bit, and ran the rest of the race alone. Miles 9-10, I tried to really concentrate on my breathing, speed, overall status - I knew I'd push too hard if I wasn't careful. In hindsight, perhaps I should have just stayed at her pace, because I really could have used the company and support during those second-half miles. What’s done is done, though.

Special shout-out now to Mike, the guy that I accidentally paced myself with exactly for Mile 11, who chatted with me for a good ten minutes about a variety of things. He was a savior, because I really needed a friend right about then. He was running his first race in 15+ years, and getting ready for a St. Patrick’s Day marathon. He was awesome! His friendliness could not have come at a better time. (Side note – I ran into him after the race, and thanked him profusely for letting me run with him and chat with him. That felt good!)

Mile 12 was some sort of sick joke: it was uphill. No, really, uphill. And it was hard. The race course info on the website had mentioned this tiny factoid, but I was seriously not ready for the 90-degree vertical incline of this mile (slight exaggeration, perhaps, but trust me) (but really - the description on the race website says, "Mile 12 goes back up from 50 to 250 feet on what is known as hospitalization hill. This is the same hill as part of the USMC Historic Half where the runner in 2009 had the heart attack." Oh, OKAY. Sure.). Anyway. I tried to very, very gently jog it, but it just wasn’t happening. I ended up doing a walk/jog alternate thing, and probably walked ½ a mile. Not my proudest moment, but it had to happen. My knees were starting to ache, and I just had to give myself a few moments of rest. The last mile and a half were pretty torturous – everything hurt, but I was SO CLOSE. iPhone Shuffle to the rescue AGAIN – the last song that I listened to, as I pushed my way through Mile 13, was Britney Spears. Seriously, how did it know?! I started mentally repeating my go-to mantra: “I can do anything for five more minutes. I can do anything for one more mile. I can do anything for half a mile.” And I did.

Crossing the finish line was the most amazing moment. As I came around the final corner and heard people cheering and clapping, I decided that this was it, and I pulled all my energy from I-don’t-know-where and sprinted the last .2 of a mile. I pushed myself so hard in those final few seconds (and pretty much felt like throwing up immediately after) but it felt so good to cross that line. It was over. I’d run my first half marathon. I expected to have lots of *~*EMOTIONS!~*~ but really, I was exhausted, and all I wanted was water (which took me an obnoxiously long amount of time to find). Not so much in the way of feelings – I was just done, and that was that.

Suz was just a few minutes behind me, and we found each other and hugged and laughed and collapsed onto the sidewalk before asking a nice man to take our picture. Necessary.
Finishers! So thrilled.
Best. Beer. Ever.
We did a little shopping at VA Runner (hello new hot pink compression sleeves and Brooks running jacket, happy birthday to me!), and got our 13.1 magnets, which you better believe were immediately applied to our cars.  

The moment where we remembered that we had late check-out at the hotel and could therefore shower before driving home was amazing. Such good planners!

When Suz finally dropped me off at home later that afternoon, I proceeded to inhale a Five Guys burger provided by my sister and take a three-hour nap. Both very, very well deserved.
Nap partner.
Originally, way back when, I set my personal goal to run this race in under two hours. Then I got injured, and couldn't run, and blah blah blah. My goal shifted its way to "just finish the race!" but I held onto a glimmer of hope that I could do it in under 2 hours and 10 minutes, which would be a pace of 10:00 minutes/mile(ish). That seemed doable. Well, ladies and gents, I am pleased to present my official time:



Obviously, I have my goal for the next half - I'm determined to shave at least a few minutes off of that. I'm pretty sure that, had Mile 12 not been so ridiculously hard, I would have done a lot better. But I'm still pretty proud of that! 

I’m giving myself some time off from running – just until after the holidays, because I think that I need a mental break. This is a bit odd, given that I wasn’t running very much before the race due to my injury, but it just felt like I needed to take some time and say “enough for now.” I’ve literally run two miles since the race, and they were on the treadmill at Gold’s one day when I got there too late for the class I wanted to take. Come January, though, I’m raring to go – after all, have to put all the running-related gifts that I got for Christmas to good use!


alison said...

Congratulations on your first half marathon! What an amazing accomplishment! I've heard very scary things about 'Hospital Hill' and it's so very mean for them to throw that in at the end of the race. Enjoy your time off from running and best of luck as you start back up again in January.

elizabeth @ chronic venture said...

Congrats!! Running a half marathon is such a great accomplishment! All of us hokie runners will have to coordinate on a race one day soon!