Wednesday, December 14, 2011

I came, I froze, and I hustled my butt off! (AKA My first half marathon race report)

First of all, if you're reading my blog, you probably already know that I'm long-winded.

I predict that this race report is going to be wordy and full of tangents.

If that doesn't really appeal to you (I'm talking to you, Michael and Justin...), here is a quick re-cap of the Santa Hustle Half Marathon that Matthew and I ran last Sunday:

Just the Facts (And in case you're a runner/math wizard, some of these numbers might not quite make sense b/c though a half marathon is technically 13.1 miles, this one measured 13.20 miles. And, yes, that last unneccesary tenth of a mile might have been the hardest stretch!!)

Matthew finished in 1:29:32 (chip time, a PR--personal record)
His pace was 6:47/mile.
He was 16th (holy crap) overall (out of 634 runners). (Only one woman beat him, by the, and she was FAST.)
In his age group (30-34-yr-old men), he was 4th (out of 35 runners). He came in 52 seconds after the 3rd place 30-34-year-old man, meaning he was *this* close to receiving a special medal. Not a huge deal but kind of disappointing.

I finished in 2:27:13 (chip time, a PR obviously, since it was my first half)
My pace was 11:09/mile. (My goal was 11:30/mile!!)
I was 443rd overall (out of 634 runners). (I beat 40 men...Yes, I counted on the list...)
I was 47th in my age group (30-34-yr-old women) out of 74 runners.

And, now, the rest of the story...

A few days leading up to this race, I was starting to get nervous and a little prematurely discouraged because the weather was supposed to be freezing.


It was predicted to be 28 degrees, feels like 22. (In actuality, when we were sitting in the car at 8:15 in the parking lot, waiting on the 9:00 start, my phone said it was 26 degrees, feels like 18. It probably warmed up slightly before 9:00, but not by much.)

I went through a slight panic as I realized I didn't really have proper cold-weather running clothes. I didn't want to spend lots of money that I wouldn't really need except for this race, but I also didn't want to get hypothermia during the race, or worse: For my first race to be forever tainted b/c I was too cold.

Also a concern was that when you're all bundled up, you run more slowly. At least I do. And I *hate* to have to carry ANYTHING in my hands when I'm running.

A couple of days before we left, Matthew went to Goodwill and Walmart and got some cheap "throw away" items for us (meaning if you warm up and throw them to the side of the road, volunteers will get them and donate them, but you'll never see them again): a scarf and hat for me, and sweatshirts for both of us. I planned on wearing my long-sleeved technical Santa shirt (provided w my race entry) underneath a vest with pockets (for placing my gloves if I needed to, and also to carry chapstick and a Gu), my TekGear running pants w ankle socks and my running shoes. On my head, a $3 red earband (or whatever they're called) that Matthew got at Walmart originally as a throw-away item, but I loved it too much and just double-wrapped it around my arm when I got too warm. On top of the earband, my cheap Walmart toboggan. Then I was going to wear my big Goodwill sweatshirt over my other shirts and throw it on the side of the road when I got too hot.

Matthew planned to wear shorts (he's a lunatic), his long-sleeved Santa shirt (same size as mine--woo-hoo!!!!), his throw-away sweatshirt, and then his provided Santa hat and beard. (I left mine in the car. No way was I wearing those things while running.)

We dropped off the kids at my mom's house and left at about 12:15 p.m. on Saturday. Sevierville is about 2 to 2.5 hours away, so it was a nice time to listen to music, talk about our race plans, and for me to read aloud from my July Entertainment Weekly (the special Harry Potter issue).

I was full of excitement and anticipation. Plus, KID-FREE FOR 30.5 HOURS!!!

We got off the Pigeon Forge/Gatlinburg exit and headed straight to the Wilderness at the Smokies Lodge to pick up our packets. There were people everywhere!!

As we drove to our hotel (5 miles away, and directly on the race route), we noticed every hill that we'd have to run the next day. There were about four hills total, most of them long and gradual. And going down a hill never feels as good as going up a hill feels bad. (Does that make sense?) Plus, I don't train on hills. So I was a little worried that it might affect my goal time.

We checked into the Fairfield Inn & Suites. Those of you who are familiar with the area will recognize this view from our hotel room balcony.

Tanger Five Oaks! (We never actually went here, though...)

We tried on our gear just for a photo op.

As we walked into our room, I noticed that it had two queen beds instead of a king. Matthew called down and asked if they had a king available, but they did not. (Probably because we used Marriott points and we weren't eligible for an upgrade.)

So we each had our own bed, and it worked out for the best b/c we got a great night's sleep before the big race!

We had plans to meet up with my friend Aishlea and her husband and son in Gatlinburg for a carb-loading dinner, but we still had about an hour before we had to leave. (Aishlea was running the race as her third half!)

Matthew decided to take a quick snooze, but I was too geared-up to sleep! So I laid out my race clothes, pinned my bib on my vest, and put my timing chip on my shoe.

Then we drove up to Gatlinburg and met Aishlea, Brandon, and their adorable son, Cohen, at Best Italian for dinner. It was cooooold, but I kept telling myself that it's always colder when it's dark outside; that the bright sunshine the morning of the race would help a lot.

Here are some shots outside the restaurant after dinner.

Before retiring for the evening, Matthew checked at the front desk to see if we could get late-late check out. By that I mean this: Normal check out is at 11:00. They had already told us we could have a late check out time of 1:00.

Ummm...the race started at 9:00, and my goal was 2.5 hours. That's 11:30. And Matthew knew he stood a chance to get a medal for placing in his age group (Sorry, Babe!), so we planned to stay afterwards for the awards ceremony. That puts us leaving the race area no earlier than 12:30. We still had to drive five miles (sometimes tricky in Pigeon Forge traffic), shower, and pack up our things. So we needed more like 2:00 or 2:30.

The guy at the front desk said that it wasn't possible at that time for him to authorize it, but to check back first thing in the morning with Ashley.

And with that, we were off to our room.

Matthew fell asleep right before 10:00, and I fell asleep at about 10:15. Matthew was up naturally at about 6:00, while I soaked up every second of sleep until the alarm went off at 6:45. While I got ready, Matthew went and secured us a late-late check out of 2:30. Woo-hoo!

When we arrived at the race site, it was COLD. We sat in our van for as long as we could, soaking up the heat, and talking about our race plan. Once we got out of the van, all bundled up, and started moving around some, we each quickly shed our extra sweatshirt and left them in the van. It was cold, but we were active enough not to need them.

Here we are before moving to the start line. (I left my hat and beard in the van, as planned!)

Matthew moved up to the front of the line, and I went to the back of the 10-11/mile portion of the line. I saw Aishlea and her friend Alison, who was also running her first half! We chatted for a few minutes, and then the line started to move!!! I barely had time to be nervous! I had to quickly remove my gloves in order to start my iPod in time to put them back on to start my Garmin at the start line! Whew!

And just like that, we were off.

I was off.

For my first half marathon.

I've heard it said that a lot of people cry at the end of their first big race. Whether from emotions or sheer exhaustion, the tears sometimes flow easily.

I cried at the very start of mine. Well, almost. But I was thoroughly overcome by emotion as I rounded that first corner...

...seeing hundreds of runners dressed in red, bobbing up and down...

...knowing my husband was at the start at the pack, kicking butt...

...realizing that all my months and months of training had led me to this moment...

...hearing Grieg's "In the Hall of the Mountain King" blaring in my ears...

...I literally had a lump in my throat and I had to choke back the tears.

It was awesome.

After we got on the main road, it was Game Time. I tried to find my pace and not go too fast. But as I checked my Garmin, I kept seeing that my pace was in the 9s. That's too fast for me. I tried to slow down some, but I was feeling so good!

The temperature was cold, but the sun was bright (and right in our eyes), so I got warm quickly. After only half a mile, I threw my scarf to the side of the road. The first few miles were great. My music kept me going, the volunteers were plentiful, and the spirit was high. There were hills, but I was able to push through them without slowing down much.

I threw off my hat at about 2.2 miles, and took off my earmuff (wrapped it around my arm) at about 3 miles. I took off my gloves at about mile 4 and shoved them into the pockets in my vest.

At this point, my pace was in the 10s and 11s. I was still feeling great; I was running quickly while saving some of my energy for when I would need it most.

The course was an out-and-back (meaning you run halfway then turn around and run back). After 48:08, I had run 4.32 miles, and the first guy passed me. He was on the way back. MAN, he was fast! Other fast runners started trickling past me, and then I had the great idea that I could pass off my gloves and earband to Matthew when I passed him! (They were heavy in my pocket, distracting me, and slowing me down!)

So as I ran, I started looking for him. He was one of the few people wearing shorts, and as soon as I saw his gait, I knew it was him. He waved at me from afar, and it was so wonderful to see him!!!! I held out my stuff, and he snatched it up! Score!

I got water a few times at water stops, but I never stopped to get water. I just grabbed it and drank it as I ran. I even got a cookie at one of the cookie stops, but I just took one small nibble to say I ate a cookie on a race. :)

I finally got to the turn-around spot, and I immediately felt relief because the sun was now at my back and not glaring in my eyes. (The wind was also slightly colder, but it was a fine trade-off.)

At about mile 8, I started to feel it.

The resistance.

The struggle.

And before I knew it, I was at a crossroads.

I wasn't injured. I wasn't unable to run. I was simply tired.

As I glanced at my Garmin, I could tell that my pace had started to slip into the 11:30s and up.

And I thought, "I can either let this beat me and give in and finish at a slower time or I can push through it no matter how hard it is and meet--or even beat--my goal."

And that, my friends, is exactly what I did. I ate the chocolate Gu that had been in my goody bag, I got some water at the next water stop, and I just put one foot in front of the other.

I thought of my friend Diana, who just ran her first half in September. I thought of all my encouragers. I thought of Matthew, who was already finished by this point.

At mile 10, I started to get my second wind. My body kind of went on autopilot. And my last three miles were all in the 10s.

As I was in mile 11 or 12, I had several thoughts:

--I kept thinking of the Riverwalk (where I do my long runs at home). I thought of the locations where I knew I'd be if I were simply doing a long run at home. "Oh, three miles left? I'd be passing over the train tracks," etc. Putting the distance in perspective helped me a lot.

--I thought of the SATs. When I was in high school, I took the SATs three times. And my best score was my first attempt. I realized that I was running this race really well, and that even though I am already signed up to run two more half marathons very soon, I might not beat this time. I'm okay with that.

--I had the thought for the hundredth time: "If I can train for and run a half marathon, anyone can." I honestly believe this. It took months of dedication and preparation. It took running at times when it was the last thing I wanted to do. But I am not kidding you--15 months ago, I could NOT run for more than 45 seconds without stopping. And I didn't WANT to run for more than 45 seconds without stopping. But I was tired of sitting on the sidelines of my own life. I was tired of making excuses.

And as I rounded that last corner, searching high and low for the finish line and for Matthew, I thought, "You only have one first half marathon. This is mine." And I pushed through the soreness and the fatigue, and I smiled for the camera as Matthew and his Ragnar friends were cheering like fools for me at the finish line. (Ignore the fact that it looks like I'm walking; I assure you, I'm running.) :)

Here is a lovely back shot of me turning off my Garmin as I passed over the finish line.

And here we are!! CLOUD NINE!!!

After waiting to see if Matthew won an award (sooo close!), we went back to the hotel to shower and pack up. I tried to take a short nap but couldn't fall asleep. I was too pumped (and too hungry!!)

We checked out of our hotel, went quickly to the Nike outlet to see if there were any cheap running shoes (nope), and then headed to FIVE GUYS!!!
Best. Burger. Ever.

The drive home was great. Our legs were tired, but we were excited about seeing our boys. Too bad they weren't very excited to see us...(Just kidding--it's just a bad shot. lol)

My first real finisher's medal!! Woo-hoo!

Many people say that they're glad they ran a half marathon but they never want to do it again. At least that's their gut reaction as they pass over the finish line.

Not me! In fact, as I was at about mile 9, the thought occurred to me that this was just a long run in preparation for my next half in about a month!

I welled up with pride as I realized what I had accomplished. I'm honestly a lazy person at heart. I usually take the path of least resistance. Those who know me well can attest to this. But I did it. I ran a freakin' half marathon. And no one can ever take that away from me.


Shannon said...

yay angela!!! i am so proud of you!!! amazing job!!! you rock girl!!!! can't wait for you to come up to boston!!! :)

Winnie Spann said...

So proud of you and thankful that you have detailed it for all of us to live vicariously through you - our hero! You make me excited to return to running (and actually run more than a 5K) after this baby is born! Can't wait to hear about Half #2!!!

Todd and Courtney said...


The Wood Family said...

Loved every single word. Ive been following all of your runs and training on FB and just couldnt me prouder of you! Loved your line about being tired of bing on the sidelines of your own life....

Don't know whtether to start humming the theme song to Chariots of Fire or singing r. Kellys I Believe I Can Fly or Whitney Houston's I'm Every Woman or Ain't No Stopping (Her) Now...

Immensely happy for you!


Whitney D. Allison said...

You had an awesome time! Woo Hoo!!! Hope to see you at 5 on New Year's Eve??? :)

Whitney D. Allison said...

You had an awesome time!!! I hope you've already signed up for your 2nd half!!! :) Woo Hoo!

Coco said...

I've been reading your blog for quite awhile now, but stumbled upon because we both have children with DS. I have always wanted to run a 5K, but I hate running. You really are inspiring, maybe 2012 will be my year. Congratulations.

Lisa Connally

Aishlea and Brandon said...

Loved reading this recap!! You have worked so, SO hard for this and you did it!!! I'm super inspired by you and absolutely had a fantastic time with you guys! :)

Can't wait to read the recaps for the next two (and more!) that you have coming up!!!

You rock! :)

JILL said...

I loved reading this report!! Congratulations on finishing your first half!!!!
Michael and Justin missed out on a great story if they stopped after only reading the facts!

Laura said...

WOOOOHOOOO! Loved the long story :0)!!