On Sunday I raced my first half marathon! Now on the other side of those 13.1 miles, I am pleased with the result and have lots to report…Sunday was a whirlwind of events, and so I haven’t had much time to reflect on the experience and what it means to me. So, here we go.
The race was in Wilmington, Delaware, and honestly, my plan was to drive south and hope we ended up in Rodney Square (bad plan). Fortunately, Brennan was with me, and helped me decide which historical figure in bridge form we should drive across. We also read up on Caesar Rodney, a pretty important guy. It was cold. Luckily there was a bag check area at the start, so we ran around in warmer clothes for a bit prior to the start. Whatever nerves I had had on Friday had seemingly dissipated, and I was now pretty excited. My legs, calves especially, definitely could have felt more refreshed, but they weren’t exhausted. I found my mom and grandmother before the race, and they took some pre-race pictures of us. I was beginning to think I was crazy for deciding on short sleeves, but once we took our outer layers off, it was surprisingly fine. We lined up at the start, apparently seven seconds behind the line, I learned later. Brennan had a mini freak-out when she realized she forgot her gel, so I ended up not starting off next to her.
Brian (co-worker, boss, store manager) was nice enough to let me borrow his newly acquired Garmin 10, which I tested out on Thursday and decided to wear during the race! This helped me so much. I knew I would go out too fast. This was just inevitable. But I felt good. Beep – 6:23. Ha. Okay, don’t panic. This was exactly what I did in the tempo last Tuesday, and that worked out okay. I tried to make myself slow down, but at the same time I didn’t enjoy people passing me. The first part of the race was a loop down by the waterfront. Note: I did not look at this course very closely at all, aside from knowing approximately where the hilly section began. It was windy, not just by the water, but at random points during the entire race. There was a band playing at mile 2, which was cool. I saw some funny signs, such as “worst St. Patty’s Day parade ever,” which is standard, yet I liked it, because it was indeed a parade-worthy holiday! There was a little loop at the third mile marker that allowed us to see runners coming the other way. I saw Brennan and was relieved she made it to the start okay after the gel emergency! I cheered for her, and kept rolling along…
Miles 1-5: 6:23, 6:52, 7:01, 7:09, 7:01.
Running sub-7:10 was feeling very comfortable. My breathing was totally in check, heart rate was not high, but my legs were straining a bit. I recognized this and tried to shift the focus on what did feel good: breathing, heart rate, this tempo. The song Feel Again by OneRepublic, which got me through my five mile tempo and matched my mood the past week and a half or so. How does a three-minute long song stick in your head for miles? Beats me, but I won’t try to understand it. I started to feel really good right before the sixth mile. I have no idea why. That was when the “13.1” felt very doable, and I was ready to take on the remaining miles. I thought back to River to Sea 2011, and how I ran that 7.95-mile leg at 7:05 pace. I could do this – that was the moment I decided I wanted to do this. I was running beside a girl who looked around my age at that point, and we got blasted by wind. “This wind sucks,” she said. I said something like “yeah” and then passed her a minute later…felt bad, but that was when my confidence surge occurred.
I knew miles 6-9 were the hills. I almost sectioned off those four miles in my head as a separate race altogether: there was everything before mile 6 (going out too fast + finding a good pace), then a hilly four miles, then a tempo to the finish. I could tell when it was starting; we ran under an overpass and into Brandywine Park. What was great about this race that I was not expecting was all the spectators with funny signs and cheers. I thought that would only happen in big-city races, or on warmer days, but there was not one street without at least a few people cheering on the curb! So cool!
I just tried to not run too slow up the hills, and keep the same effort. These hills were pretty long and gradual. Coming out of the park was when I wished I had looked at a map more closely, because I was curious as to where we were relative to the downtown finish. Having the Garmin helped me immensely. Each mile felt so short! It would beep, I would glance, the next time I would look down I was usually over 0.7 into that next mile. The feedback really helped me run the mile I was in.
Miles 6-9: 7:11, 7:17, 7:35, 7:31.
For the elevation profile, I was okay with those splits. 7:20s would have required me to work a lot harder than I was the rest of the race and therefore slow my last 4.1 miles down. At least, I think. At the start of the hills, my mental soundtrack had switched to Phoenix’s new song “Entertainment,” for those keeping track…seemed to work fine. The tenth and eleventh miles consisted of this long loop in a neighborhood with a grassy meridian. It was around 11.5 when I made my first face. The face, an expression that says, damn, this is not comfortable anymore, can I stop soon? is an inevitable part of most runners’ races. I had a feeling it would come around then, since Brennan warned me, and also since this was the “hang on ’til the finish after the hilly part” section of the race I had prepared for. I wiped the face off quickly, because the more you make the face, the more the sentiment involved in the face spreads to the entire body. In short: I was trying to stay positive and still run fast.
Miles 10-12: 7:07, 7:10, 7:07.
I was pleased with how easily I was able to get right back to 7:10 pace or under following the hills, and how I was able to kick myself while making the face during that 7:10 and get back to 7:07. I found myself really looking forward to drinking water and bolting into a porta-potty at the finish, since I was dehydrated but doing the first would cause me to want to do the second if I took in water at mile 12. Incentive. In hindsight, I should have ran faster in the last mile and a half. However, I had been warned about the killer last quarter mile…it was all uphill. I wan’t sure of the gradient, though, and therefore how much energy to conserve, if at all. I am not lying when I say this was the most difficult, poorly-placed hill I have ever ran in my life. I am a strong finisher, and could have kicked from a mile out. But this monster of a hill was right at the finish. As in, you were a quarter mile from the finish line on the same, straight street, yet couldn’t see the line because the hill was so steep. Let me share the elevation profile with you again:
Let me clarify: I am not complaining, I really did enjoy the challenge – what is a race without a challenge?! In fact, the ending was a funny story all the finishers have to share with one another. 🙂 I undoubtedly made the face again during the last half mile, as will be evidenced when photos are posted, I am sure. I knew after the halfway point that unless I dropped some really slow miles in the second half, my goal of sub-1:35 was mine. I was still elated when I crossed the line in a time of 1:33:33, putting me at sub-7:10 per mile, five seconds per mile faster than I initially thought I was capable of!
Miles 13, 0.19 (according to the Garmin): 6:52, 1:23.
After seeing my family and realizing I had suffered some major chafage (oops), I ran back down the hill to cheer Brennan up to the finish. “This is the hardest hill ever but it’s shorter than you think! Power up!” <– not sure if that helped or hurt…?
Before major chills happened, we took some happy post-race photos – with the man Caesar himself.
As usual, I couldn’t stomach any food for awhile, but eventually, we took advantage of our FREE MEALS offered in our race bags, and had delicious burgers and $3 recoverosas at Scratch Magoo’s! Bonus: there were two other restaurants where we can get free entrees in Wilmington…and it expires in August! So, I’ll definitely be back to Delaware, if not for anything else, then for that (#runger…). A thought I had while running and driving through the city: Wilmington reminded me of Richmond, VA. Anyone else get that connection? I was there to spectate the marathon in 2011, and I definitely had flashbacks in Wilmington. The finish of that race was the opposite elevation-wise of this one, though! I guess I don’t visit many cities that aren’t major cities like NYC and Philly often, so they seem similar. Anyway, Wilmington > Richmond for the time being, because I had way more fun there!
I finished off the weekend with some St. Patrick’s Day celebrations, and despite having some typical post-race stomach distress (and exhaustion), I enjoyed the time with friends and all things Irish as best I could! An adventure to Woodrow Wilson’s old office and a necessary trip to the campus Wawa for my first Irish Potatoes in years capped off the night.
Feeling lucky. 🙂
I will recap some more thoughts on where this race fits in to my life as a runner soon. For now, it’s off to the pool to stretch out with some relaxing laps, since this became a mad long post.