The alarm clock went off well before dawn. Actually, several alarms went off, because I am a little neurotic and paranoid about oversleeping. I woke up a bundle of energy, some nerves, but mostly excitment. Race day was finally here … Towpath Half Marathon here we come!
We (my husband and I) had to leave early because in addition to the 45 minute drive, the roads leading to the race parking lot would be closing one hour before the start. It was kind of fun to stop at the Turnpike rest area and be able to immediately spot fellow runners. They were the crazy ones wearing shorts when it was barely 50 degrees, and making a beeline for the restroom in hopes of avoiding the port-o-potty lines!
We sat in a long line of cars winding through the pre-dawn fog, and finally turned in to the ski area that served as the race’s starting point. Something about empty ski lifts blowing in the mist was a little creepy!
No need to do an extensive warmup since I was planning on starting out pretty slow, but I did walk and do a few dynamic stretches to loosen up. We lined up right in the middle of the crowd, which was both 10K and half marathon runners, and soon we were off! The first couple of miles I kept a slow pace … so slow my husband felt the need to mention it a couple of times. But I knew that I needed to save my legs and not go out too quickly, so I told him to trust me. I had decided not to rely on my watch or calculate pace, but instead go by “feel” … but I’d estimate we were around an 11-minute mile pace.
It seemed like almost no time had gone by, and we were already at the 3-mile mark. We sped up just slightly, but still made sure to take occasional quick 30-45 second walk breaks. This race gets an A++ for aid stations, which were plentiful. I alternated between water and the Gatorade that was provided, although I didn’t feel the need to consume a lot because the weather was still pretty cool.
In fact, I don’t think you could have chosen a better day for a half marathon! Here in northern Ohio, October weather is a real crapshoot, and somehow we hit it just right. A little cool, no rain, almost no wind, and a lot of sunshine. And running along the Ohio & Erie Canal Towpath Trail as the leaves were changing made it just about perfect. I kept my head phones off and just listened to the sounds of hundreds of runners crunching along the gravel trail, and chatted with my husband off and on.
Around the halfway point, I started to feel really tight in my left hip flexor. I have no idea why, since I don’t normally have trouble with that area at all. So I slowed down just a tad and waited for it to work itself out. Miles 7 and 8 were probably the toughest because of this, and I started to allow little trickles of doubt to creep in to my mind. That’s when I decided to finally turn on my iPod and listen to music. That small amount of mental distraction was just what I needed to keep going, and eventually the cramp just worked itself out.
As mile 10 approached, I was feeling pretty good. My husband, however, was not. His training had not quite gone as planned, including a severe shortage of long runs. And now he was really hurting and wanting to walk more and more. (So much for his comments about my slow pace!)
I tried my best to encourage him, reminding him that all of those early-morning alarms and hot summer evening runs were all preparing him for this race. He did not seem to appreciate my Pollyanna attitude, perhaps because it was relayed a tad bit loudly since I was still wearing my headphones. After a brief exchange, I left him with, “See you at the finish line,” and took off.
Now to many of you, that may seem heartless. But I knew at that moment what I had to do to finish, and which was focus and RUN. So I switched to my playlist that I’d made for my spring 5K and set off on those final three miles. Over and over I focused on passing the runner in front of me. Sometimes it was easy, sometimes it took a few minutes. Each pass was like a tiny victory, boosting my confidence that I had saved enough in the tank to finish strong.
My final time was 2:20, or an average of 10:43/mile. But my goal at this race wasn’t necessarily tied to a finishing time, it was more about the sense of accomplishment. Three things I am the most proud of about that morning:
#1 – I finished the last three miles before reaching the end of my spring 5K playlist. That means I ran miles 11 through 13 of a half marathon FASTER than I raced only 3 miles just five months ago, at around a 9:00/mile pace or less.
#2 – Not a single person passed me for the entire last three miles of the race. Not one. My own personal victory!
#3 – I crossed the finish line with a huge smile on my face, and I felt great. A little stiffness here and there, but I was back running again just a few days later.
One of the biggest surprises, however, was how I felt as I crossed the finish line. I had anticipated an epic struggle, and a feeling of supreme satisfaction of having achieved a monumental task. Instead, I felt a small shadow of disappointment that it was over already. It had almost felt … dare I say it … too easy?!?
Ok, maybe not easy. But instead of providing closure and feeling like the end of something, it felt more like a beginning. Perhaps that is a good thing, because too much closure may have sent me right back to the couch stuffing my face with potato chips. “Yep, I ran a half marathon, it was great. Please pass the dip.”
Instead, I found myself wondering about a new challenge. Would a full marathon push me to that limit? What about working on my speed for a 5K or 10K? Or maybe a triathlon?
That very afternoon I sat down to look at the 2012 running calendar. And that’s the great thing about running. There’s always another race!