Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Hello there August! I finished a half marathon!

Hello there half marathon.
Hello little healed muscles.
Hello there dear sweet neglected blog.

I did it!
All 13.1 miles of it.

Here I pause to breathe a little deeper, and share the story of my July 31, 2011, half-marathon adventure!

It's true, I did complete a half marathon once before. Detailed here. So I suppose I went into this race knowing that it was possible.
But this one felt different. I had actually done (at least a little) training. And I was feeling really nervous for this race. Maybe because my training had totally been neglected. Or it might have been because for my first race I had my Autumn with me. She and her dad ran the race and even though we didn't run it together, I still knew I'd have her at the finish line cheering me on.

This race though, I'd be all on my lonesome. Coleen, my good friend (and reason I signed up for this race) got the flu! Talk about bummer! I know she was so disappointed that after all of that waiting and anticipating, she'd be sidelined. I missed you Coleen!

I woke up to some pre-race encouragement a la blueberry muffins from my roomie!

I'll be honest, there was just one moment pre-race when I actually did think about backing out. But as soon as I got to the race expo and saw all those... runners... I knew I was in. That is until I didn't have a race bib number.

Coleen had received an email confirming her bib number and wave start time. I hadn't.
Once in the expo, I found a helpful looking volunteer that directed me to some computers where I could look up my bib number and sign a waiver. Turns out they did have my name in the system, assigned to bib... zero.

The volunteer then directed me to the "solutions station". A group of stanchions to weave the line through, and tables to direct our questions to. An overwhelmed, but friendly, woman looked up my information and declared that yes, I was assigned to zero, but only as a place holder. She handed me a bib and a waiver form to sign. I didn't have an attachment to some other bib number, but I was bummed I wouldn't have my "B getting Hot" personalized bib as I'd expected.

I got my bag (empty), my safety pins (for bib pinning), and my shirt (Mens XXL- yet still inexplicably small and too fitted for comfort). Then I went over to the info table to find out what exactly the "Wave 1" meant. Can you tell I'm a rookie?

The man, Joe, at the info table asked me without hesitation, "Really? Wave 1." He explained that my wave assignment meant I was in the "Elite" category. As in elite, elite. The people flown in and paid to run this race. He walked me through the map and my list of prep for the morning. Apparently the only way he thought I'd be put in elite would be if I'd miscalculated my finish time. But I really hadn't. It was all a fluke. But really? Elite? As if I wasn't nervous enough! After consulting with a few runner friends, it became clear that I should not run with Wave 1. That's right, I'm a rookie and didn't even know what a "wave" was. According to official race rules you can start in a later wave without a problem.

As I walked out of the expo, everyone's bag seemed so full. Did I miss something? Was I supposed to pick up something other than my bib and shirt and map? I asked a woman with a particularly full looking bag, but she said I was fine, she'd bought a bunch at the expo.

That night I tried to relax, knowing that my roomie had graciously offered to drive me to the start line, and that I had my chip, my bib, my shoes, etc. Still I was SO nervous!

My attempts at pre-race self-portraits

I was up (30 minutes later than I'd anticipated thanks to my propensity to push the snooze button). I made oatmeal, drank some coffee (only a little), some water and snacks. I made sure I had all my gear and then I woke up my roomie. We made it about 10 blocks from the start line, even though the map indicated we could get closer. I walked the rest of the 10 blocks, declaring this walk my warm up. As I approached I saw groups of runners, huddled together near heat lamps, waiting in line for the bathroom, and doing all sorts of stretches. The wave signs beckoned and I walked over to Wave 1, just to check it out. The wave 1 elite runners were running faster for a warm up than I have ever run in my life! I knew I'd be starting later, but it was pretty amazing to check out these pro-athletes. A very very fit girl eyed my "wave 1" bib suspiciously and I resisted the urge to explain that I hadn't miscalculated my finish time, but instead it was a fluke in the system. I stretched, tried to look friendly, and took a lot of deep breaths.
See how they have all the elite folks in their own little section?!

They started wave 1 folks, and we all cheered as they rocketed across the start line.


Then I watched wave 2 and 3 begin the run. As wave 4 started I knew I just needed to start (though wave 5, the last wave, had been my original intention). I was too wiggly and anxious to wait even another minute. And so, I began running. The guys next to me looked at each other and declared, "Alright buddy, here we go, this is what we're doing for the next 2 hours." I smiled, but thought wow, I'm doing this for the next 4 hours. I found someone going close to my pace to run near, but passed her when she stopped to stretch. Then I found the one; a girl wearing all neon and bright rainbow socks. I knew I'd be able to find her even if she got ahead of me. But after a mile or so, she stopped too and since I still wanted to run, I just kept going.

The first 7 miles were through Golden Gate park. You'd think I would be excited about it, but after a while even the beautiful park felt claustrophobic. I overheard a man say, "does this park ever end?" And then just like that, we were out, onto Haight street. The same run I'd done here. We ran down Haight, past the landmarks and tourist destinations, through the Mission, Potrero, dog patch, and then finally, the Embarcadero! I'll admit, I hadn't really studied the map. I did know though, that as soon as I got to the Embarcadero, I'd only have about 3 miles left.

My favorite sign during the race: "Your feet hurt because you are kicking so much ass-phalt!" Haha

Why are the last 3 miles the hardest? At that point the thrill is definitely gone, the feet are hurting, and the body is exhausted. I hadn't run the whole thing. Not by a long shot. I ran the first 1.5 miles and then ran and walked it, little by little, mile after mile. I hadn't gone in with a set pace, but after the first 2 miles, I had decided I wanted to keep about 15 minutes a mile. If I could do that for the first 7 miles, then I would be able to just walk the last 6 miles if I really needed to and still finish under 4 hours. Four hours was significant to me because anything over that and I think they'd come by and scoop me up.

Mile 10, mile 11, mile 12. I was so close. As I approached mile 12 though I saw this group of folks cheering loudly, bottles in hand. Throughout the course there were several groups with kegs or shots being handed out to runners. Of course this was unofficial and not an actual part of the race. I'd avoided these tempting treats, I was an official wave 1 elite runner after all. But by mile 12, geez, this woman, with her devil horns, boa and bottle of bourbon... As soon as a woman behind me shouted out "heck yeah!" and ran towards the bottle, I followed. One large shot later... I came to my senses. Did I really just take a shot of alcohol at mile 12? Really? I mean really? I spent the next 1/2 a mile feeling queasy and apologizing to my body. "You've done SO much for me body, got me through 12 and 1/2 miles. I'm so sorry. Ugh... bourbon... ugh...."

As the finish line approached and I avoided barfing, I re-focused. I could do this. (I should add here that throughout the race, there were these little signs with SF trivia throughout the race and also inspirational quotes. One in particular by Mohammad Ali totally inspired me and included the phrase "I believe in me". I said that to myself mile after mile, even post bourbon).

Then, just like that, I could see it! I could see the finish line! I ran across it with so much gratitude and relief! I did it!

The training program had a post-race hospitality tent with food and a barista making us espressos, yum! I even got this active release technique massage for my sore hip (it totally saved me).

Then like a knight in shining armor, my roommate (did I mention how much I appreciate her?) came and picked up my exhausted self. I went home, napped and woke up realizing I was done! I'd really done it.

So, here's the thing. I did it, but I wonder what it would have been like if I had really really trained. It's worth it to find out, that's what I think. So here a week and a half later, my tired muscles have recouped and the only evidence of the race is my bib and a tiny bit of a tweaky ankle (at one point I thought I was getting a blister, so I think I overcompensated by walking on that foot a little unbalanced.)

Goal accomplished! And it's true, I do feel proud of me!

Onto the next? Anyone else tackling big goals? Is pre-race nervousness a "normal" thing? Seriously I had the jitters for real!

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