This weekend, I ran my first half marathon. It was a fantastic day and I lived to tell the tale! The days leading up to the race were unseasonably cold and rainy, so I spent a lot of days last week resting because it was too nasty to run. But the day of the race could not have been more perfect. Cool, sunny and just down right lovely.
At the race expo on Friday when I picked up my number, there were signs posted that said, "Due to the unprecedented number of registrants in the half marathon, if you finish higher (slower) than 800, your medal will be mailed to you within 3 weeks." Boy, oh boy, I had this medal on the brain and was SO worried about not getting one. I don't know why in the world it should even cross my mind. I'm SLOW. I'm not going to WIN. I'm doing this just to see if I can finish in the upright position and didn't even have a time goal. But for some reason, the idea of not getting a medal - that everyone receives - just made me crazy, and I wanted so bad to be in the top 800. (Spoiler alert! I got one!)
The night before the race, I was a nervous wreck. I had spent a considerable amount of time mulling over the perfect playlist, and of course, iTunes completely stopped cooperating when it was time to sync my iPod. So I stayed up way too late fiddling with the computer, then couldn't go to sleep, and tossed and turned until my alarm went off at 5:30 a.m. I had my usual long run breakfast of PB & J on whole wheat toast, but I was careful to only have half a cup of coffee and barely any water. I had been drinking like a camel for days and did not want to have to stop in the middle of the race for a port-o-potty nightmare. I never run early in the morning, so I was A) concerned about how my tummy would respond to early morning shaking around, and B) getting out of the house in a timely manner. Trea and I always run whenever we feel like it, so getting to the race on time was our first victory.
We arrived in plenty of time to get our gear ready and warm up. I met up with my two favorite running Twitter pals, Lori and Jennifer, and we were a giggling mess of nervousness. I love these girls!
It was cold when the race started, so we brought throw-away clothes, and I looked like a yard sale with my 10-year-old brown hoodie and purple gloves. I think it was around 45 degrees or so, which is perfect for running in the warm sunshine!
There were A LOT of runners all squeezed in at the starting line, and we tried to position ourselves in the middle of the pack. We ditched our jackets before the gun went off but hung onto our gloves for a while. When the race started, everyone slowly started shuffling forward. It took us about 30 seconds to get from our spot to the official start mat after the gun. After only doing a super small, manually timed 5K, this was quite a change of scenery for us. I kept my music off for a while because I was entertained enough by the folks around us trying to find their pace in the crowd. I was so excited and wanted to take off and run a pace that felt good, but I kept a close eye on my Garmin and made myself not go faster than 11:30. I knew I had a long way to go and didn't want to make the mistake of bursting out at the start and fizzling at the end. It was SO hard to let people pass me and remind myself to run my own race - especially as Trea kept checking his Garmin and glancing back at me, seemingly annoyed at my slow pace. I know we were both wondering if 800 people were already in front of us.
At mile 1, there was a band playing some '90s favorites, a little "Breakfast at Tiffany's" and Foo Fighters. It was so much fun! Trea and I have been practicing running the course, and it was awesome to see people at the end of the driveways that had been so quiet and empty all these months. Kids and moms were in their PJ's cheering at the edge of their yards and urging us on. And there was a HOBY conference here this weekend so the HOBY kids came out to spectate the race!! I'm a former HOBY kid, so it was extra special to me to have them posted throughout the course, doing all the silly cheers I remember from high school.
I ran with a hydration belt even though I knew there would be water stops every 2 miles. It seemed that an unexpected number of runners had registered for the race and I was worried the water stops would be crazy and crowded. I ran through the first few and only relied on my own water because it seemed easier. But the crowd thinned out considerably after a while, and I came to love the ice cold water offered by happy volunteers and the few steps I got to walk while I drank so I wouldn't spill water all over myself.
I was amazed at how great I felt, but at mile 4, I could feel my energy dwindling, so I had a few caffeinated sport beans. After that, I had three beans every two miles, and it worked out perfectly to get me to the end. I didn't really get tired until mile 9, mostly because of the spectators. They were awesome! I wore a pink headband, pink shirt and pink calf sleeves, and I was so glad to hear strangers yelling, "Go Pink! You're doing great!" There weren't a ton of people along the course, but the folks who were out were full of energy! It was so fun to see kids cheering for their parents. I saw two little kids holding a sign that said, "Go Mom Go!" and she stopped to hug them and then they ran alongside her as long as they could keep up. It was so sweet. There was one husband and tiny curly haired boy who seemed to show up on the course every couple of miles to cheer on their wife/mom. At one point, the husband appeared and hollered, "I got McDonald's for you!" and was waving around a breakfast sandwich. Apparently, she needed a snack.
At mile 7, we had to run by a cemetery, and there was an official race sign that said "Plots Available," ya know, in case we couldn't go any farther. I've learned that races should be run with a camera because you never know what you'll see! There was also a Chevy Tahoe that appeared in two spots along the course BLARING, "Eye of the Tiger."
Miles 10 through 13 were on paved park trails rather than the road, and those were the WORST. I'm sure they would've been hard anyway, but running out in the middle of nowhere after all that entertainment was tough mentally. Our trails are beautiful, thank you very much City of Bentonville, but they don't follow any roads, so there were hardly any spectators along those miles. At mile 11, we had to run by the wastewater treatment plant, which, thankfully, wasn't too smelly that day. There was a sign nailed to a tree that said, "Lincoln Jr. High School Runners Don't Stink!"
At mile 12, I was miserable, and we were just about to climb our own little version of Heartbreak Hill on the Crystal Bridges trail. I've been practicing that hill on my shorter training runs, and I've barely conquered it after mile 3. I was not hopeful about running it after 12 miles. When I came to the steepest part, I decided to walk. When I saw how pitiful my running pace was at that spot, I knew walking wouldn't cost me that much time and I could conserve a little energy for the finish line. As I was trudging toward the top, I spotted a photographer capturing people on the climb up! I immediately put on my happy face and kicked up my feet and ran! By then, I was at 12.5 and almost to the finish! There was a spectator dressed like the grim reaper holding a sign that said, "Run! For the end is near!" So I did.
I ran and ran as much as I could. I just kept looking at my watch and telling myself I was almost there. Some folks from work had said they might come out and see me, so I was anxious about having some kick left at the end so I could run strong across the finish line. All this time, Trea was still sticking with me, and I was so glad to not be by myself. When we came down the final stretch, I spotted my best friends, Laura and Michael, who had come out to cheer us on and take pictures. Laura was trying to get her camera ready, and for some reason, seeing familiar faces made me run faster. Trea was punching me and telling me to slow down and pose. But I waved like an idiot with both hands and ran by them as fast as I could! And then I saw my VP from work and waved like an idiot to him. And then I saw sweet Kelly taking pictures with her phone and waved like an idiot to her without even attempting to slow down for a good shot. She barely got us. And yes, I will be purchasing some longer shorts.
I crossed the finish line in 2:34, which is about 10 minutes faster than I estimated. Someone told me to turn in my chip, so I bent over and huffed and puffed while a kind volunteer cut the chip off my shoe. Then I spotted Jennifer, who was screaming my name and saying, "Good job!" And I saw the medal hanging around her neck and yelled, "You got a MEDAL!!" And she yelled, "Yeah! You got one too! Look!" And then I realized I wasn't done yet and there was another volunteer holding a medal out for me. Meanwhile, Laura was waving from the other side for me to look at her camera, which I'm pretty sure I didn't do. Running makes me delirious and socially awkward.
I got a medal. I finished. I was greeted by my favorite people at the end of a very tough, but happy morning. Kelly brought me a huge bouquet of beautiful flowers. It was the perfect race, and I know that I did my best. I had no leg cramps, no side stitches, and I didn't hit a wall and quit. The sun was warm but not too much, and the wind was just breezy enough to keep me cool. It was a perfect day, and I couldn't be happier about it.
I was so proud that I came in under 2:40!
And I immediately rewarded myself with a 780-calorie banana pudding shake from Chik-Fil-A. It was my first, and it will be my last. But it was delicious!
It was worth every single calorie, and I'm still pleased as punch with our fabulous first race experience. Since then, I've done nothing but ice, rest and relax. I got a well-deserved massage and am taking it easy until after my birthday vacation next week. Also, I learned that volunteers and spectators are SO important to running a good race. I hope to run more races, but I'm also going to choose some events to spectate, whether I know anyone or not. Every runner needs a boost, so I'm going to test my sign making abilities and go do some cheering!