I write this post to you in a mild state of delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS), as I have just completed my first (and last) half marathon the day before. (See here for part 1 of this post.)
If a half marathon is an iceberg, the training is everything beneath the water and the race is but the tip. Regardless, the race itself was a new and interesting experience, which, to be honest, I had not properly conceptualized in my head.
On the morning of the race, the temperature was a chilly 30 degrees, but the air was blessedly still, and the skies were a spotless blue. Road closures were already underway, and I had to ditch the Uber about a block away from the race location due to all the traffic.
Finding my way to the starting line was easy as people in athletic attire were trickling in from all sides. Some were bundled in jackets, hats, gloves, and leggings, while others were just in short sleeves and a t-shirt. There were so many bodies along this short city block. People were jumping up and down, doing squats, stretching, and pacing back and forth to stay warm and loosen their muscles The master of ceremonies was already hyping the crowd with his announcements of the day’s events. The announcer gave us a 10-minute warning and called all runners into the starting blocks. This area was divided into three sections (called “waves”). The fastest runners (the white wave) were grouped in front, then came the red wave (where I was), and, finally, the blue wave for the runners who had expected finishing times of roughly 2 hours 20 minutes to 3 hours (3 hours being the cutoff time).
Our racing bibs were colored to indicate our wave. It is suggested that one pin the bib to one’s stomach area (not the chest) and that one use all four safety pins to ensure that one’s bib is not flapping around the whole time. The back of these bibs was (somehow) equipped with electronic trackers that marked when one crossed the start and the finish lines. Through this technology and with the aid of an app, I could receive my finishing time almost instantly and others who installed the app could also see my progress (pretty cool!).
The white wave was called to start and less than a minute later, I was trailing behind with the red wave. There was so much energy in the air that I could not help but run quicker in an attempt to keep up with the people to my right and left. Before reaching mile one, I noticed someone carrying a sign that read 1:55 on it. I recognized her to be a “pacer,” an official who runs the race at a specific speed. Although I have never completed my practice runs in 1 hour and 55 minutes, I got excited by the sign and quickly surpassed it, hoping that I could make this time.
One pleasant surprise for me was the number of friends and family who had gathered at different points along the race route to cheer on their loved ones. People made signs with their family members’ names on them, but also more general and comical ones like, “Worst parade ever!,” “False! Fast ALWAYS wins!” and there was even a young kid holding a sign out to the runners that read “Push for speed” with a little Mario Bros. mushroom on it (I and several others tapped that one 🙂 ).
I was pretty high energy for the first six or so miles. Then, between miles six and seven, I noticed that the pacer with the 1:55 sign was creeping up on me. Every time she would get close, I would pick up the pace as if I were trying to outrun the reaper. However, when I passed mile eight, I just accepted that if I continued going at this speed, I would probably just break down before I hit the finish line. So, low-key internally defeated, the next time the pacer creeped up, I did not speed up and rather allowed her and a pack of determined runners by her side to chug past me.
My speed really began to taper off at around 8.5 miles. I had to remind myself that I just wanted to finish — that was my goal. My legs became stupidly tired, and my hips were sore around mile 10, but I refused to walk. At this point, I did pass by a few walkers and others who seemed to alternate between jogging for small spurts and then slowing down dramatically. At mile 12, I started to get a headache. I was dehydrated. This was my own doing though, as I was purposely not drinking too much water as I wanted to avoid a bathroom break along the route (I felt bad for those that I saw darting into the porta-potties, or worse, for those who had to WAIT to use a free one).
At about 12.5 miles, I made myself speed up again, much to the protests of my calves and glutes. FINALLY, I saw the 13-mile sign and then, just beyond— the finish line. I like most runners sped up to a near sprint before crossing over.
To my astonishment, I saw that my finishing time was just under 2 hours! I couldn’t believe it, as I thought I had drifted too far behind the 1:55 pacer to secure such a time. Also, in my training I had NEVER come close to a sub-two-hour time, so this was truly a shock!
Running such lengths is also a mental challenge. I am a solitary jogger by nature, so I thought all the people, noise, and distractions would hinder my performance. However, the effects were quite the opposite! I felt so much motivation (or pressure) to run faster that I performed to a much higher level on race day — woo hoo!
Runners and spectators gathered in the post-race area just down the street and people (mostly women) were handing out participation medals, water bottles, and fruit (a banana has never tasted so good!). The emcee announced that the beer tents would open in a half hour and all the racers had two drink tickets. My body was in no shape to partake in such activities, but apparently a post-race beer is a tradition (even at 10 in the AM!).
I was just happy to be done (and overly gratified with my finishing time). I ended up going out to brunch after the race and I was happy to see fellow comrades in participation medals all around the restaurant.
Some people love racing — good for them! However, I think I’m one and done. But I’m glad that I participated in this half marathon. Just a few months ago, when I was on Mackinac Island (more here & here), I was bothered by the knowledge that I was not in-shape enough to jog the full 8.2 mile loop around the island. Now, 8 miles is manageable for me! For me, the benefit of my half marathon experience is not the participation medal, the selfies, or even the feeling of accomplishment. Instead, it’s the fact that I can jog for literally two hours without feeling winded and knowing that I was able to kick my rear end into decent-enough shape. I’ll continue a routine of jogging (though shorter runs for sure!) because it’s great exercise. Regardless, I won’t be crossing another 13.1-mile finish line anytime soon (read: ever!).