My First Half Marathon — I did it
Oh, the excitement. I honestly had no idea the excitement would run so high in this event. I was not anticipating the camaraderie and the overall supportive vibe that surrounds all the runners. So yes, that caught me off guard. But back to it. It was a cold November Sunday (11/10/19) and I was running my first half marathon. I was excited, nervous, happy, apprehensive. Feeling all of the feelings. The race started at 6:50 am, which means I was up since 5:15 am getting ready for it. Fall weather, on that particular morning, was not so inviting. It was cloudy, and the air was chillier than I would have liked to. At least for running purposes.
A little background. I was in charge of my training. It was a mix of Google searches, husband’s input, and my gut. My husband is a much better (and faster) runner than I am, so I listened to his ideas for a good half marathon training plan. And my first lesson about training for a half marathon was that you do need some sort of plan.
Long story short, I didn’t stick to my training as much as I would like to. I’m a Jazzercise instructor. And right when my training was supposed to be ramping up, one of my fellow instructors traveled, and I took on more classes. That alone changed my whole training schedule. There is no way you can teach a Jazzercise class and go on a good run on the same day. At least not if you don’t want to overwork your body.
But since Jazzercise is a great way to keep your cardio needs in check, I was not too worried about not putting in as many miles as I wanted to. My gut was telling me I would be ok. Until I got a bad stomach bug the week before the race. Yikes. I have no clue what happened, but I do know that nothing would stay inside my stomach. Nothing. Nada. Zero. And the whole thing lasted for a couple of days. It took me a while to keep even crackers, cheese, or water down. So with that, I didn’t run at all on the last ten days before race day.
And oh boy, that is an excellent way to get you nerves going about running a longer distance. Let me remind you that this was my first half marathon. I was getting ready to run my first 21 km (13 mi). My longest run to date was 14 km (8.6 mi), so yes, I was worried. My mind was getting out of control and I had to pull it together and keep cool, reminding myself that I did part of my training and that I should be fine. But still, at this point, my new goal was to finish the race. Simple as that. While planning my training, I had two goals: finish under 2:30 and not walk. But after the schedule change and the lovely stomach bug, I was happy with the idea of just finishing the half marathon.
And that is why, to a certain extent, I was counting on all the technological help I had at hand. I had my iPhone and Apple watch ready to go. My Nike running app — a long time running companion — was good to go. I’m one of those runners that rely on apps to check miles, pace, and keep the motivation going. I wanted to keep track of my pace and make sure that I started slowly. Not that I’m fast at all. But the plan was to make sure I had a pace I could hold during the race. I wanted to avoid the good’ ol starting too quickly to die off sooner rather than later.
All-righty. On your mark, get set, go! I mean, start that run on the Apple Watch first, then go. Half marathon here I come, lousy training, stomach bug and all. My iPhone was on my leggings pocket to make sure all the apps would work smoothly. I had my tank top on, arm sleeves, Nike shoes. Perfect researched outfit to avoid being too warm or too cold. I was looking like a pro. No one could ever tell that I’m not a lover of running, and that, most times, I need to convince myself to go out and run. So I surely need the app, stickers, cheering and everything else technology provides.
After I started I quickly noticed how the overall excitement of the crowd gets to you, and you feel like you can conquer the world. So in my head I was thinking: running 13 miles in chilly weather? Piece of cake.
I start pretty well. My pace is good, breathing is good. Everything seems to be working properly. I have to keep going — one stride after the other. No biggie. I’m not using headphones since I wanted to feel the vibe around me. This way, I can soak in the experience, feel the excitement, the cheering.
I ran the Monterey Bay Half Marathon in California. And if you are familiar at all with the area, you know that it is a beautiful place. The course of the half marathon is gorgeous. You run by several known spots. You start at historic downtown Monterey, go along Cannery Row, Monterey Bay Aquarium, and Pacific Grove shoreline. The scenery certainly helps you keep your momentum going way longer than you would ever think.
As any other race, there are water and first aid stations lined up along the way. And from all the tips I heard from all sorts of different runners, you do want to drink something while running. So I got to it. Who knew drinking from a small cup while running could be so challenging. I was blown away by how some people can, while running, grab a cup of water and, drink it without spilling it. Repeat, while running. These people got this part of racing down to a science. I tried that without success and learned quickly that I had to walk to be able to drink my water. So the first water station was a miss because a good amount of my water was spilled. And I’m a nice racer, so I had to properly put my cup in the trash, and not throw it in the middle of the road like I actually had any chance of winning the whole thing and couldn’t waste time.
Another important lesson. On the first aid station, I saw a volunteer on the sidelines holding this massive cardboard thing with vaseline on. You could run by it and smear your hand on vaseline to spread it on whatever body part you wanted to. I didn’t get why so many people were so focused on the “huge vaseline board,” as I called it. I didn’t get the point of that during the race. But when I was done and could barely put my arms down because the chaffing under my arms was so bad, it clicked. Note to self, use the vaseline board on my next race.
Back to the running. I was somewhere on my 5th mile when we started seeing the top dogs already on their way back to complete the race. What? Yes, you got that right. I was starting mile 5 while the elite runners were on mile 10. First I was shocked. I thought, really guys? Can’t you change the freaking route, so the underdogs don’t get to see this? But after a while, and with all the cheering, I was cheering for them too. I was motivated, you know? If these guys can run like this and cruise by like they are just running an errand, I can do it too. So c’mon legs, we can do this.
I have to say I was holding up pretty good. Every person cheering made me feel stronger. People sitting by the sidewalk. Wrapped in blankets, holding their coffee. Cheering for all of us crazies out there. The crazy people that pay a good amount of money to wake up at the crack of dawn to go on a run on a chilly day. So I kept running and absorbing everything around me.
When I finally saw the turn around point halfway through mile 7, I got excited and started to run a little faster. I was still keeping track of my pace. Things looked good. The time frame was looking really good, and I had the feeling I would not only finish but do it under my goal of 2:30. Oh, that was all I needed to keep going.
I kept that momentum all the way to mile 11. Then, my friends, things started to get ugly. My body and mind started to try to play tricks on me. I began to pay more attention to the discomfort under my arms from all the skin rubbing. I felt super tired and ready to walk. I slowed down my pace, took some deep breaths, and started to focus on the mind over matter rule. Yes, this was the longest run of my life so far. So I keep pushing and checking my watch every couple minutes to check my progress. Which honestly is not such a great idea.
And then. Out of the blue. Technology fails me. My watch freezes. Just like that. Stops working, and my running app goes crazy. I get my iPhone and guess what? The phone is also frozen. Nothing is working. Darn it. No, no, no. Where is my data? My pace? My distance? I really wanted that Half Marathon sticker from Nike running you know. I wanted to see my progress during the race.
At this point, mile 12 comes along. I thought, hey, even if I did throw my towel and walked to the end, I would have accomplished something. I ran the longest distance in my books. But nope. That was not the first goal. So let’s keep the focus here — screw data.
While I’m running and swearing like crazy, blaming technology for all things wrong in life, and thinking about what kind of complain I will send Nike, Apple, and everyone involved in this technological mishap, a random stranger screams “almost there, keep going.” And just like that, I snap out of my head. I see another water station, and I know that it will be my last chance to walk…I mean, drink water. So I take it.
Now I can feel it in the air; the excitement is rising again. Smiles are wider. We are closer to the finish line. Legs around me start to move faster. Our path gets narrower and runners encourage each other. I begin to run a little faster again. At this point I can see the finish line, or at least I could hear it. And I totally forget about apps, pace and data. I remember that I only need my legs to finish and I pick up my pace. Don’t be tricked into thinking I’m ramping up to Usain Bolt speed here. But for my snail standards, I’m keeping a steady pace.
I see the 13 miles sign and know it is the last stretch. And that is when I see my husband and daughter by the side of the road cheering for me. Talk about perfect timing. In a mix of emotions and tiredness, I find extra energy, and I finish the race.
I did it! I did it in 2:16:06. So yep, I beat my goal. And the feeling of finishing as I had planned to — even with some hiccups along the way — that made me incredibly proud. Main lesson learned: stick to your gut feeling and don’t give up that easily, put in your hard work and get to that goal. The feeling of accomplishment will make it all worth it.