I ran my very first half marathon last Sunday. And you know what?
I killed it.
Like, not just, “Oh, I ran a half marathon and I’m proud of myself,” but “I fucking killed that race to the best of my motherfucking abilities.”
You guys, I was so scared for that race. I never thought it would go as well as it did. I finished in 2:35:11, which is really a million years for many half marathoners, but for me? It was a motherfucking VICTORY.
The distance: I do a lot of math calculations when I run. I divide time by distance to figure out my pace, I add and subtract to determine how many miles I’ve run and how many I have to go, and sometimes I figure out what the distance I’m running is in kilometers. It keeps my mind busy and passes the time and miles. Or kilometers, whichever you prefer.
It was about mile five in last Sunday’s race that I figured out that a half marathon is about 21K. I instantly forgot the answer, but I assure you that I did have it at one time. Also, Google can do the calculation in, like, a millionth of a second.
The Fear: Prior to running this race, I was scared to death. In fact, it had taken great courage and probably five or six trips to the registration page to even sign up for the thing in the first place.
Thirteen miles seems like a lot of miles when you’re on the starting end of them.
That Fear continued through pre-race eavesdropping on thin people in running tights (“I’ve only run four times this week,” “I’m using this as a training run for my marathon training”) right up until the first couple of waves of runners had set off and I realized that if I didn’t hit the porta potties, the next thirteen miles would become increasingly uncomfortable. Fortunately, after the race has started, there are no lines for the bathrooms and I was able to pee and get back in the corral before my wave (the last one) was released.
Once I started running, the Fear dissipated. That is the great thing about racing. Once you’re in it, you’re in it and even though I was well aware of how brave I’d been to register and force myself to show up that morning, after the start line the Fear goes away. I spent the next .74 miles without any fear at all.
The Captain Clumsy part: So, I ran 13.1 miles all in a row, but I did it in probably the ugliest way possible. I was three-quarters of a mile in when I fell flat on my face, toes to nose on the asphalt. Seriously, people, it was like I was diving for first base.
Frankly, considering how packed in all the runners were at the time, it is a MIRACLE that I didn’t take down a bunch of other people with me. As you know though, I jumped right back up. Then I spent the next half mile trying not to visibly cry because, Christ. Really?
You may be thinking, “Oh, well, at least she got that out of the way early on so she could get down to business and run the rest of the race without being a complete buffoon.”
How wrong you would be.
Fast forward to mile 12.6. I trip on a rock and do another nosedive to the ground, this one coupled with a slight roll to the side. I popped up, assured the two nearby runners that I was fine and had, in fact, already fallen once in the race and set off running again.
Then I realized that even though I felt fine, every time I inhaled, I made an involuntary gasping sound. I kept running, going over possible reasons for this weirdness. This is what I came up with: (1) I was in some sort of shock and was panicking, (2) I had somehow inhaled a chunk of gravel and it was busy killing me, or (3) the wind had been knocked out of me.
I stopped to walk and concentrated on taking slow breaths. A few seconds later the gasping stopped and I continued on my way.
It is quite obviously awesome to be me.
The injuries: Fortunately, other than some bruising, abrasions, and a big chunk of skin that ripped off of the palm of my hand, I escaped from my falls unscathed. This is fortunate, because I was already facing down enough aches and pains—a trifecta of injuries, if you will.
The hip injury: Remember my hip injury from last year? Well, it’s on the other side now. I’m steadfastly ignoring it.
The wonky knee: This isn’t actually a running injury. I have a wonky knee. It’s been wonky for a long time and it actually feels better when I run than when I don’t. A couple of weeks ago, I sat on a couch with my knee tucked under me the wrong way and ever since it has hurt to do such strenuous things as walk up or down stairs. Fortunately, (1) there are no stairs in (most) half marathons and (2) “resting” by not running and going to Disney World instead seemed to have let it get a lot better. I am encouraged that ice and rest obviously helped so much.
It isn’t completely healed though, as I discovered when I could feel it slowing me down on some of the uphills. Not a lot, but there’s definitely something going on there.
The peroneal tendonitis: This is what my doctor called it. He said it was painful, but not harmful, which pleases me because I don’t care if it hurts (see: hip); I just don’t want my ankle to blow out. I went on a five-mile run last week and it fucking hurt. Like, I’m tough, but damn. I was worried that bad things were going to happen to it on Sunday.
I made sure to stretch and loosen it before the race and I KT taped it as well. I was not just happy, but astonished that it didn’t hurt even a little bit during the whole 13 miles. Honestly, it was a little weird. But I’ll take it.
The pace: I’m still not a super fast runner, but I’m getting faster. I even ran a 5K this summer at a 10:30 minute pace, but there is a big difference between 3 miles and 13. My speed tends to drop off dramatically after a few miles. That is why I was so surprised to finish with an average 11:51 minute/mile pace.
Honestly, I was hoping to finish this race just ahead of the official 12:26 minute/mile cutoff pace. I just didn’t want to be swept off the course because I wasn’t running fast enough. Never would I have imagined running an 11:51 pace. The best average pace I’d allowed myself to hope for in this half marathon was maaaybe12:20.
I remember passing 10 miles well under two hours and marveling that I’d covered that distance nearly 15 minutes faster than when I ran my ten-miler in early March.
I have no idea how that happened.
Actually, I do. It probably has a lot to do with the hundreds of miles I’ve run this year. That’s probably how it happened. But still. It was surprising.
The mood: Somewhere around mile four, my stomach started to hurt. I was really bummed out because no other part of me was sad. My feet didn’t hurt, my legs weren’t tired, and my mind wasn’t fatigued. Happily, the stomach pangs went away after about a mile and I spent the rest of the run feeling pretty damn good.
I’m not sure what helped me run these thirteen miles in what felt like the most effortless long run I’ve had in a long time. I think it helped that the course is familiar as well as pretty flat/downhill, but I was prepared to be in pain and I never really got there. I somehow managed to fuel exactly right with the Gatorade and water stations set up every two miles and a few energy chews I’d stuffed in my waist pack. I didn’t spend the majority of the race thinking about how far I still had to run, something that often happens.
Everything came together perfectly.
I’m not saying this race was easy. It was a lot of running and there were points when I wanted to stop and walk (but didn’t!), but I was really proud of the way I managed it. Maybe someone can tell me why I could do this race, but it is so goddamn hard to run three continuous miles on a treadmill.
The cheerleaders: One of my lower points came at around mile nine. I was tired and the distance I still had to cover was just long enough to be a little bit demoralizing. The thing that kept me going was knowing that my family was coming to cheer me on just before mile ten. My family rarely makes it out to races, so having them on the course was a big deal.
“I can run to my family,” I told myself. “I can run to my family. I can run to my family.”
I knew where they were going to be standing and once I was close enough, I strained my eyes looking for them. I was so happy to see my babies jumping up and down with hands out for high fives. “HI, BABIES!” I called, slapping hands and smiling so big. I felt really special having a cheering squad out there. I don’t think they have any idea how far their presence carried me.
Standing just past my kiddos was Alex. And he had chosen to wear the shirt I had bought for him at Disney World. This shirt:
I had my mantra for the next three miles.
I am unstoppable. I am unstoppable. I am unstoppable.
And I was.
The finish: At some point I realized that I was on track to finish in under two hours and thirty-six minutes, which was, like, a super stretch goal. The desire to beat that time kept me going through that last terrible mile. Ugh. That last mile. It sucked. I think that is the nature of last miles, but let’s be honest here, mine was particularly gruesome what with my unplanned trip to the gravel less than a half mile from the finish.
It was all worth it when I crossed that finish line though. I feel really proud of myself. Since starting to run again a couple of years ago, I’ve done a lot of things that I’m proud of, but this one felt really good. It feels like a real accomplishment. I feel brave and strong and proud. It feels great.
I also earned a beer glass that unfortunately came without beer, a situation I was able to rectify.