Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Madison Spring Half Marathon Race time – and the longest post to date

I was 19 years old when I first contemplated running a half marathon.  I was physically fit, and in the best shape of my life.  The time to train couldn’t have been better.  Then as it often does, life got in the way. 
Fast forward 9 years and even I got sick of hearing myself say, I’m going to train for a half marathon.  I finally sat down and couldn’t think of one thing that was stopping me, or had stopped me for the last 9 years.  In a previous blog, I noted the programs and website and people I went to for advice and how to’s.

The best advice I received from any blog, website, running magazine, or person, was on a website called the daily mile.  The daily mile provides you the ability to input how many miles you ran, how long it took and it allows other runners to offer encouragement/advice.  It also tracks your “lifetime” mileage.  I love it. 
A 45 year old mother of two, daily-miler Mary, who had recently run her 26th, yes you read that correctly, 26th half marathon, advised me that “when you don’t think you can go any further, dig deeper than you ever knew possible – when your limbs are screaming and your stomach hurts, and your feet are cramping, mentally tell them, I can’t hear you – right now, you don’t exist.”  This advice didn’t really mean much to me at the time, and I while I sincerely appreciated her encouragement, I mostly thought, what does someone that has done that many runs know how I feel.  Then I realized that to get to 26 half marathons, you have to at some point, have struggled through your first, so she knew exactly where I was at.
After my longest 10 mile training run, it was taper time.  Now, any runner that races can tell you that taper time is awful.  You go from 7, 8, 9, 10 miles runs to 2 and 3 milers.  It changes your whole sense of accomplishment from previous runs and makes you feel heavy and unprepared.  While there were some days that I wanted to just stride out and go farther, I knew that the training programs worked so I stuck to the miles I was scheduled to run.  In the week leading up to the race, I made sure to always have a bottle of water or powerade on me at all times, even if I was just walking from the bedroom to the kitchen.  Hydration is SO important – it really can make or break a run.  Ben was forced to carbo-load right along with me in that week leading up to the race and mainly, we subsisted on water and whole grain or whole wheat pasta with grilled chicken and veggies.

The race was on Sunday so I had the whole weekend to prepare.  Thursday night, I packed a separate bag with my running gear and little extras that other runners had said they wished they had remembered (i.e., extra batteries, extra water, bandaids, etc.).  I had to work Friday so I went to bed really early Thursday night (as I had all week) so I would be well rested.  Friday after work, I checked and double checked and triple checked to make sure I had packed everything, and began my drive to Madison.  As I drove, I reflected on how far I had come and how much work I had put in.  As soon as I got to town, Ben’s mom and I went to the Madison Half expo so I could pick up my race packet and a few other freebies they provide for registered runners, and Friday night as much as I wanted to stay up and have fun with my friends, I went to bed early.

I had planned to sleep in a bit Saturday morning and just generally relax all day, except for the two mile walk scheduled on my final training box.  I woke up and headed to the Madison farmer’s market for a little fresh air and fabulous munchies.  I bought some awesome homemade granola bars that I figured I could nosh on before the race.  I also picked up some of Stella’s fabulous spicy cheese bread to go with dinner.  Completely forgetting where I had parked, I ended up walking about two miles (which is what I had planned to do later around the lake) to get back.  Oh well!  I went back to Sue’s and since the day was generally cloudy and dreary, I relaxed with a good book and lots of water.  As I had picked up my race packet the night before, I again checked that I had everything I needed for the next day’s race.  We had planned to eat an early dinner of lasagna and spicy cheese bread so I could go to bed early and get some rest.  Dinner was fabulous and afterward, I spent some time lacing my race chip into my shoelaces, pinning my bib number to my shirt, and yes, taping “my first 13.1” to the front of my race shirt.  I went to bed around 9:00, because I knew to be ready in time for a 7:00 a.m. race start, I would have to be up by 4:30 a.m. 

I slept surprisingly well and woke up pretty refreshed on Sunday morning.  I took a quick shower to warm up my muscles and wake me up a bit and went downstairs and enjoyed a delicious breakfast of banana, oatmeal and a small cup of coffee that Sue had prepared for me. 

Fast forward to race time.  We parked and walked up to the Capitol square to where the race started.  As I walked around a bit, I noticed a lot of other runners and I started to get really nervous.  I tried sipping water and doing a quick restroom break to calm my nerves.  Finally, I just plugged my headphones in and ignored everyone else around me.  Listening to The Script’s, Hall of Fame, really calmed me down J  Lining up by the pace sign, I just breathed in and out and waited for the start.  As I felt the other runners around me start to move, I realized that everything I had done up until that moment was all for this.  I could run this, and no matter what, I could finish. 

The first mile of the race took us away from the Capitol, and down towards campus.  Miles 2-3 took us down Observatory Drive, and I realized that my 5k time (3.2 miles) was too fast and it worried me a bit because I know going out too fast is detrimental at the end.  Mile 4 was rejuvenating as the race course took us past Camp Randall and mile 5 was a slow gradual hill toward Madison Edgewood College.  By mile 5, I was really sweating and when I saw my “cheering section” at mile 5, I removed my headband and my stopwatch since I didn’t really need it anyways. 
I was still feeling good and kept running on pace.  The GU station at mile 6 was nice to see, and I took in an orange GU and a cup of water.  Miles 7 – 9 loop around the Arboretum, which to be honest, was not much fun – it was swampy, the smell was bad and it was just hot stagnant buggy air.  Right between miles 8 and 9, I was running next to a group of 3 girls who were just chatting with each other and all of a sudden, one of them just collapsed.  One of the medical bikes was there and immediately called for help.  As I kept running, I began to realize just what the health risks of doing this are, if you come unprepared.  It was, to the say the least, a very sobering moment for me.  I kept moving, lost in my thoughts, and around mile 10, when I was really starting to struggle, came up on an older man who spent about a half mile simply encouraging me.  He didn’t say anything profound, or particularly important, but his words of encouragement made me not give up, even when we came upon a hill that was about two blocks long, straight up.  Now, I know, you’re thinking, two blocks isn’t that much….and normally I would agree, but not after already running 10 miles, with several hills already in my rearview.  That hill was the moment I realized that to finish the race I would have to walk up that hill.  So I did, I walked.  I got to the top of the hill and again saw my cheering section.
The timing couldn’t have been better – I was in pain, I wanted to give up and just lay on the side of the road.  Their cheers and signs kept me moving.  To be honest, I don’t really remember much of miles 10 – 12.5, but I can remember the physical ache in my legs.  I saw two of my good friends cheering at mile 13 and their cheers gave me the strength to push myself to far beyond my physical limit to finish the race.  The last .2 miles of the race, I felt as if I was running through jello, with overcooked noodles for legs.  I physically had nothing left, and had never felt better.  When I crossed the finish line and I saw someone holding out a finisher’s medal for me, the feeling I had is indescribable.  It made anything I had accomplished previously pale in comparison. 
Never once during the race did I say I would never run another half marathon.  The inability to walk like a normal person for the next couple days, the pain I felt when trying to bend down to tie my shoes, having to walk backward down the stairs was all worth it.  I finished my first half marathon in 2 hours, 40 minutes.  I finished my first half marathon before my 29th birthday. 

I learned all the things I need to do differently for my next race.  I simply ran flat miles and did no hills to prepare, and then had to run a hill in the race every other mile.  I have learned that I need to choose my running shoes based on their functionality, not their style.  I learned that when I wanted to be done after ten miles, I still had three more miles in me.  Most importantly, I learned that pain is only temporary, but my race results are forever.  They’re permanent – those numbers are something that no one can ever take away from me.  Most people believe that the accomplishment is finishing the half; but for me, the pride came from training for the half in order to finish it.

Now that my first race is under my belt, I have to first and foremost thank my fabulous fiancé, without whom I would still be saying “when I finally run a half marathon.”  He put extra bottles of water in the freezer when there was nothing left but warm bottles on the table.  He willingly ate, without complaint, the “healthy test” recipes that I believed, because the internet said so, would make me a better runner.  He grudgingly swallowed the whole grain and brown rice dishes, and bread that tasted similar to cardboard without complaint.  He patiently listened while I voiced my opinions on the pros and cons of everything from running shoes to energy gels to breathable sports bras.  He never said a word on the days when, after a long run, I would cancel our plans simply because I was too tired and sore.  On the day that my quads/calves were so sore, I could barely move after my run, and I went to the kitchen and got the rolling pin out to use on my exhausted muscles, he simply looked at me and said “guess we’ll have to get a new rolling pin.”  He listened to my frustrations and anger when my runs didn’t go as well as I wanted, or when the weather was too cold/too hot/too Wisconsin, and I would ask why we lived in a state where I could go for a run and come back with ice chunks clinging to my shoe laces.  So thanks Ben, for being my biggest cheerleader. 

I would also like to give a shout-out to Ben’s mom, for knowing my training schedule and texting me before every Saturday run saying, “Run Amy, Run.”  I would also like to thank her for going to the running expo with me before the race, for driving the half marathon route the night before, for the fabulous carb-filled dinner the day before the race, and the amazing barbecue at her house after.

Lastly, I would like to thank my parents for waking up at 2:00 in the morning the day of the race in order to make the 2 ½ hour trip to Madison just to see me run.  I would like to thank them for their encouraging cheers and for teaching me the “I can” and “Never give up” attitude (and also for the Congratulations gift of a signed Ron Dayne poster J). 

Even as I write this, the pride I feel for training and finishing is as strong as it was on the day I ran that half.  My next half is in MY city, and I can’t wait.

No comments :

Post a Comment