It’s been almost a month since I landed in Little Rock and yet it feels like it was just last weekend. I still can’t believe I finished my first marathon. After months of training and years of dreaming, it’s over. But before too much time passes, I wanted to write out my “race report” of the 2016 Little Rock Marathon because this blog has been my place to record my struggles and success and this was a lot of both. However, I am warning you, this post is LONG and I didn’t want to break it into parts.
I spent almost the entire training season in physical therapy working on a muscle imbalance in my left hip/glute area. And I was definitely getting stronger as time went on. My training runs were going great and I was feeling better every time I laced up my shoes.
About six weeks before the marathon, I drove to Los Angeles for a half marathon I was helping at. It was a drop-down week in terms of miles, so after running 18 the weekend before, I would be running 10 to 13 miles, with some intermittent stops during the race. I had a great time that weekend, but what I hadn’t predicted was how driving solo 6+ hours each direction plus running a half marathon would do to my right calf/Achilles. My right calf was where I had injured myself in 2009 the week after the Los Vegas half (in a Zumba class!) – due in part to the tightness and shortness of the muscle. And while I had been caring for it ever since, I didn’t think about how tight it would get driving so far.
After the weekend in Los Angeles, I spent the next four weeks struggling with ankle pain – my Achilles was giving my trouble whenever it was cool. However, as soon as it warned up, it was totally fine! So I worked on stretching and rolling and increasing the flexibility of the region while icing the Achilles and heel whenever I had the opportunity. And then I ceased all exercise a week before the marathon to allow it to rest.
But the damage was already there, and in order to ensure I could finish the race, I told my sister (who I would be running side-by-side with) that I would need to run the race at our training pace instead of a faster pace. We had been training on opposite coasts but had kept a similar training pace in anticipation of running together. She had started experiencing shin pain in the last few weeks of training and was happy to drop our pace back.
Flying into Little Rock, I saw at least a half dozen passengers with various race shirts. I was pumped! Landing in Little Rock, I was excited to see even more runners in the small airport. My sister and I united in the baggage claim area and headed straight to our hotel, which also happened to be the location of the race expo (and finish area!). The expo had opened just a few hours earlier and was one of the larger expos I have been to. While not attracting any major sponsors like a Disney or Rock’n’Roll series expo, it was quite large. I’d venture to say somewhere between the San Francisco Marathon and Disneyland Half expos. Lots of regional races and running stores had booths, and the official race store had all sorts of adorable gear. But we wouldn’t allow ourselves to purchase a finisher’s shirt until we had passed that finish line. I refused to jinx anything less than 48 hours before the race.
A couple of days of light play and lots of rest and on race morning I was pumped and ready to run. We walked from our hotel to the starting line (by the way, after early morning race calls, this California girl was excited to wake up at a semi-reasonable hour for what I considered to be a late start).
The corrals were crowded if you stayed up near the front, so we lingered in the back and chatted with runners around us. Lots of half marathoners in the mix and tons of people who had run the race before surrounded us. After the wheelchair athletes started, there was a couple of minutes and then everyone else started to cross the starting line. There wasn’t a staggered start, which was surprising and meant we were off a lot quicker than I had anticipated.
The first few miles were incredibly crowded as we headed over the bridge into North Little Rock. Lots of people were along the streets cheering and a brewery was handing our beer less than two miles in! My sister grabbed a sip, but I was definitely not taking anything in other than my planned race fuel. We kept our planned pace, sometimes getting a little quicker to get ahead of a crowd. Because it’s a popular local race, there were a lot of groups running together who unfortunately would run four and five people wide. But we had run Disney races together and had our own way of communicating to each other to maneuver through the crowds. I was feeling awesome, like we couldn’t be stopped!
The weather started out cooler, so we were both bundled up. But by mile 7 or so, all the layers were off. It was heating up quickly and we were beginning to feel it.
We were still in the first half, so the hills were small and just rolled together. We were conservative in our pacing, but with stops and walk breaks were averaging about a 5:35-5:40 finish time. However, as the heat and hills picked up, we struggled a bit, and decided playing leapfrog with the 5:45 pacers was in our best interest since we were beginning to learn that we had some differences in our training programs and terrains that meant some irregularities in our planned pacing. So we would run our pace and if one of us needed a quick break to fuel, etc then we would use the 5:45 pacers passing us as an indication to get back to our pace (where we would pass them again since we were slightly faster in our training pace).
We continued to chatter as we approached the split between the half and the full. I had been at this split many races prior and for the first time, I would be taking the less populated route – we split off from the half marathoners (and the audible finish line somewhere in the opposite direction) and headed up the hill to the state capitol building. At this point we were ahead of the 5:45 pacers by a few minutes. Only after leaving the Capitol Hill and seeing the balloon arch ahead up us indicating the halfway point did we see what we were truly up against. Instead of small rolling hills, we were looking up at the incline the “What Hills?” training shirts had warned us about.
The inclines were hurting my sister’s legs and so we slowed our pace and waved at the 5:45 pacers as they passed us for the final time. She wasn’t feeling well and we kept hearing that the first big climb was brutal but short. While it wasn’t as brutal as some of the training I had been doing in anticipation, it also wasn’t over quickly and it seemed to stretch on forever. And it was heating up. By mile 15 I was dumping water over my head instead of in my mouth.
We would start to hit our pace again in the flats but just as we would get in a groove, there was another incline and we would need to slow again. All of the slowing would cool my Achilles and I found myself in a lot of pain by the time we began the downhill segment. We were less than 17 miles in and both struggling with our respective injuries. But a flat stretch was in site and we started to pick up the pace again. Although damage had already been done to our bodies, and some of it I wasn’t even aware of yet.
Passing the mile 19 marker, I started to feel a little funny. My body started cramping up in a way I hadn’t felt before and I started to feel nauseous. We slowed our pace to a jog and kept moving forward (up the barely visible but definitely existent incline). As we approached the mile 20 marker, I started to feel dizzy and my body felt like it was locking up. I bent over, holding my knees, trying to assess what was going on. I was hot, tired, and a little disoriented. I thought maybe some stretching would help and so we moved to the side of the road where I spent a significant amount of time stretching everything on a metal railing. I told my sister that I needed to make it to the next aid station to figure out what was going on, but by this point I was beginning to realize that I had been so focused on her injuries and on my Achilles that I had probably not been following my hydration and fueling plan. So something was off with my blood sugar or hydration or electrolytes. Something I could fix at the aid station.
Bless the biking groups who had a party going at the next aid station. They were handing out towels in ice-cold water, they had Cocacola, cookies, pretzels and trail mix. And water. I am sure they had other items as well, but I had a bite of a cookie, a couple pretzels and peanuts, and a couple of swigs of cola along with water. After signing their “Wall” and waiting for my sister to use the loo, I felt a thousand times better. I felt like I could run the last six miles at our planned race pace – I wasn’t going to attempt it but that’s how good I felt!
Unfortunately, after we tried to pick it up and get back to our planned pace, we discovered that in the two miles I pretty much brought us to a halt, my sister’s legs had all but seized up and even fast walking was hurting her. But she pushed through and would run when she could and would walk as quickly as she could bear the rest of the time. We made lots of friends in those last six miles from all over the country. We were told we were “crazy” for picking this race as our first, learned where all the “flat” races are and I started making a mental list of all of the races I wanted to run. We cheered on other runners and had a lot of time to connect with each other because we weren’t worried about pace at all at this point (aside from staying ahead of the 7 hour pacers which we managed to avoid). I was frustrated and upset with myself for allowing my body to break down, but I also realized that this was my first marathon and things don’t always go as planned and it wasn’t just about the race but the entire journey to get to this point that was important.
Somewhere in the last six miles, I saw something that made me mad. A woman, who must have passed us during my two miles of hell, had something on the back of her shirt:
“If you are behind me then you didn’t train either.”
My sister was my rock at this point. I could rationalize that this runner was probably being self-deprecating. But in the process she was diminishing all of the hard work everyone behind her had put into preparing for this race. Including me. So I looked at my sister and told her that if I wasn’t allowed to give this woman a piece of my mind for making me feel like shit, then we weren’t going to allow her to run in front of us. And despite the pain she was feeling, my sister picked up the pace and I did everything I could to hold my tongue and to try to shake off the negativity I was holding toward this woman and her evil shirt because all I wanted to do was run next to her and tell her ALL about the hours of training my sister and I had put in to prepare for this race.
With less than two miles left, I grabbed a cold beer from a spectator and gulped the Dixie cup down. Best. Beer. Ever. It was cold and carbonated and perfect as the sun beat down on us. It was the best thing ever… for the next couple blocks at least. Then the stomach revolted and I thanked the race gods that we had less than a mile to go. And in that last mile my sister and I talked about our finish. We had super cute finishing photos from our two half marathons we had run together but we had always run it in strong. My sister said she would let me know how she was feeling but she wanted to try to run it in again. And as we rounded the corner, with the finish line in sight, she gave me the signal and we began to run toward the finish.
The finish line and everything after is still a bit of a blur. I was crying and laughing all at once. I wanted to be inside in a chair but I also wanted to stay and savor the finish. We rang the PR bell and accepted our gigantic medals (which after the race we had, the medals almost tipped us off balance). Posed for a photo with water still in our hands and then hobbled toward the finish area to get that finisher gear we could finally don.
By the time we made it to the merchandise booth (we totally missed the free beer and food, not sure where it was), everything was 50% off! Score! So we shopped a bit while my legs seized up and by the time my sister was done, I was laying on the floor with my legs elevated trying to convince my body it could make it upstairs to our hotel room.
We found the finisher food area where we were rushed through and dragged our tired and beaten bodies up for our first ever ice baths. I had never felt more tortured and relieved in a 15 second bath (because that’s about all I could stand). And after a real shower and some stretching and rolling (and wine), it hit me. The marathon was over. I had done it.
It wasn’t how I planned my race when I dreamt about my first marathon. I knew it would be hard. I knew I would hurt. But I had trained for a much better finish time. I knew I wasn’t supposed to have a “goal time” for my first full, but I never anticipated taking almost seven hours to finish the race. But then I remember everything I learned during my experience. Lessons that will make me stronger. And everything I fought through. Struggles where I might not have had the cleanest victory over but where I still succeeded.
Upon seeing the medal in my classroom, a student asked me if I won the race. I laughed and then realized I really had won. Maybe I didn’t come in first, qualify to Boston, or even run close to my planned finish. But there was a lesson I could share with my students. That you can practice and train and work your absolute hardest and not have the conclusion you want. But it is still a finish you can and should be proud of. Less than 48 hours after finishing my first marathon, I was paying for my second. New York City, I am coming for you in November. And I am bringing all my newfound lessons with me!
It wasn’t the race I wanted. But it is a race I am proud of. Little Rock Marathon 2016 is in the books. And I not only made it to the starting line of this 26.2 mile race… I finished it.
Rewind. I want to focus this blog post on my marathon history… Because this was not my first attempt at a marathon. And that’s just one reason this finish was so important to me.
December 2009. I had just finished my second half marathon ever. I was on a new runner high. I had shaved over 30 minutes off my previous half and under 3 hours and 20 minutes. I felt invincible. Like I could accomplish anything. And so I signed up for the 2010 Portland Marathon. There’s more to signing up for this particular race than needs to be detailed here but in short, I was going to train to complete my first full marathon the following year. And less than two weeks after signing up, I injured myself in what would be almost 8 months of time in rehab. Needless to say, while I was at the Portland Marathon for my friends in 2010, I was not a participant. My first DNS (did not start).
Being overweight had significantly contributed to the severity of the injury and inhibited my recovery. I was crestfallen and my desire to ever pick up running again was dampened. I’d attempt to try a shorter race here or there the next couple of years but never really trained, never really felt that love again.
So in 2013, when I started the HMR Diet, I wondered if I could find that passion for running in the process of losing weight. I was so scared of injuring myself again. So I vowed I wouldn’t attempt to run at first. But I walked my first 5k in December (after starting the program only a month before) and felt the same rush I had felt in 2009. I knew I would be back. And so I signed up for some target races in 2014, and as I lost weight, I ran longer distances. Building slowly as to avoid injury because I was still scared of ending up on the D/L and going through the depression and frustration I had felt in 2010.
I grew stronger. I got faster. I ran further. I was on top of the world.
In 2015, after spending 2014 in the gym, the pool, and on the road, I felt ready to try again. Five years later, I would conquer this beast called the marathon and I wanted to try my hand at Portland. This was my year. I would finish my first marathon.
Well I love running and had some serious FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) when it comes to races. So when friends would invite me to do a race with them, I signed up! Only slowly my training became primarily running. I did less and less of the cross-training I had been doing and so as I increased races, I decreased my work on muscular balance.
You can guess what happened.
It started small. I had 12 or 13 miles on my Portland training calendar in mid-June and was in Dallas, so I signed up and ran an awesome half marathon there. I took it slow, running at my training speed and not racing the event. But in the last couple of miles, my knee started to hurt. I chalked it up to the hills, heat and humidity. But later that day, I had trouble getting out of the hotel tub (I had been doing 13 miles without issue for months at that point) and so I iced and wrapped it and decided I would take a few days off training to let it rest. But five days later, while out running with a friend, my leg seized so badly that we had to Uber back to the hotel. I knew something was wrong.
I received a diagnosis at the Urgent Care clinic when I returned home that was basically “rest for two weeks” — so I did. But immeadiately went back to training. Starting with a low milage run which grounded me for another two weeks. But I figured I just needed to increase my cross-training again right? Nope, as I struggled to finish two half marathons in July (two of my worst times on record), I realized I was not okay. And in early August, I accepted that Portland 2015 was another DNS.
I finished (slowly) the half in August that I had fundraised for, walking significant parts, but otherwise ceased all activity other than hitting up some rehab exercises I still had from 2010 after consulting with a specialist. However, I had made a deal with my sister that we would run Little Rock. And I refused to let her down.
So in early October, the day of the 2015 Portland Marathon, I went out for my first run in over six weeks. It was a very slow, very easy two miles. And I felt alive. But I also found a new pain in a totally different part of my body. And unlike previous training cycles, I went to the doctor immeadiately. Got a referral to a PT once the doctor (who is a runner) figured out what was going on. And for the entirety of my marathon training, I have been working with this physical therapist to ensure I didn’t have another DNS.
After two failed attempts to run a marathon. I had so much riding on Little Rock. I knew that if I couldn’t toe the starting line for this race, I would probably never attempt another full marathon training again. I had built it up for so long. Had put so much of my heart (and energy) into training. And my sister and I had made a deal we would start together and would stay with the other through the whole race. So I needed to make that starting line.
Growing up with weight issues and no desire to run, I had finally found something that motivated me. That lit a fire under my rear end. The idea of completing something so big. So difficult. I needed to prove to myself that this was not a pipe dream. That I could achieve this. And while finishing time mattered to me (more than I was probably willing to admit), it was finishing what I had started that mattered most.
As another year comes to a close, I surf my Facebook feed and read through emails attempting to digest and reflect on all that has happened in 2014. Everything that was lost and all that was gained.
I wanted to write that “this is a year that will go down in my history as a special year” but then I stopped myself. Because every year should probably be a special year. In fact writing that sentence reminded me of a short post in 2011 that I wrote when this blog was just a collection of randomness (oh wait, it’s still sort of that way, only more consistent!).
The fact that we highlight a specific timeframe. That we measure things based on a calendar. It’s always bothered me and yet motivated me.
Health class yesterday centered around this idea of timeframe. And more specifically about resolutions. About setting S.M.A.R.T. goals to help accomplish what we set out to do in the coming year. Goals that are specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and time bound.
I set my goals for 2015. I want to run a full marathon (Portland look out!). I want to get under 150 pounds and stay there (the plan is to stick with a Healthy Solutions based diet). I want to journal at least once a week as writing has and will continue to be a release for me. I want to continue to raise money for community organizations. And I want to continue to strive for a better work-nonwork life balance which I will begin to accomplish through continuing to ensure I have “me time” through fitness and journaling.
As I set those 2015 goals out for the Internet to digest, my mind wanders back over everything 2014 brought to the table. I honestly don’t think I had any resolutions for this year. I just knew I needed to stick to the HMR Diet (I was still in the first months of Core) and that I just needed to continue to take small steps that would build upon each other towards the “yellow brick road to Oz” (sorry I just giggled and imagined an HMR class linking arms and skipping down a path to the Emerald City of Healthy and couldn’t resist sharing).
In January of 2014, I took a rare weekend off work. I traveled with friends. And I learned to put my needs out publicly rather than giving in to those who pushed back. Oh and on a whim, I signed up for the Disneyland Half-Marathon in August. I should probably note I had never run a full mile at this point.
In February of 2014, I ran my first mile (hmmm was there a motivation connection to the previous month? lol). It was at 4.0 mph on the treadmill. I stopped after one mile. But I ran a full mile without stopping. I also tried out every single group exercise class my gym offered at least once. And the ones I hated, I forced myself to revisit again later in the year, just to make sure I really didn’t like them.
In March of 2014, I celebrated my birthday at the gym. I invited all of my friends and we did BodyCombat and Zumba and it was so much fun!
In April of 2014, I ran a 10k. And I loved it. I felt strong. I felt empowered. I felt alive.
In May of 2014, I ran two 5ks with friends and learned how social running could be. I hit the 90 pounds lost mark after 6 months on HMR and blogged about it.
In June of 2014, I ran my first sub-30 5k. A number I had only dreamed about. And in a tutu! I also finished in first place in my Boxing Fundamentals class final exam. I LOVE boxing! Oh and I hit the magic 100 pounds lost.
In July of 2014, I introduced my mother to her first 5k. And she finished under her goal time. I ran a 6-mile race with my husband (the self-proclaimed “non-runner” in the family) by my side. I also ran through the streets of New Orleans after an impulsive race-day sign-up. And I stayed in the Decision Free box the entire time I traveled.
In August of 2014, I RAN TWO HALF-MARATHONS and finished both in under two hours and thirty minutes – one of which was the Disneyland Half. What?!?!?!? No but really… WHAT?!?!?! I also transitioned to Healthy Solutions.
In September of 2014, I ran a sub-60 10k. Can you tell how freakishly proud I am of my running? Probably because it’s super easy to measure compared to so many of my other accomplishments and because it’s something I used to try to get out of doing in high school gym class. I also transitioned to Phase Two.
In November of 2014, I hit my one year anniversary since starting HMR. And I ran with friends on Thanksgiving and scored a new 10k PR!
In December of 2014, I shaved some more time off my 5k (post coming in January) at the Santa Run. And I learned a LOT about myself. I spent the holiday season fighting in the gap. And I survived without too many bruises.
I am leaving 2014 on a high note. I know I have a lot of self-improvement still to do. A lot of goals I want to accomplish. But a renewed sense of self-determination and body full of energy (despite today’s 5:15am OrangeTheory class).
So in short, 2014, thank you for everything you taught me about myself and about the world around me. I am truly blessed to have gotten a chance to experience everything you contained and I look forward to jumping feet first into what 2015 has in store!
Last Fall, I wandered into a 6am gym class with motivation to get fit. To lose weight.
I left less than 20 minutes into the class in tears. I couldn’t keep up. I felt like I was dying. I was embarrassed and I swore I would never go back.
Before anyone blames the teacher, it wasn’t him. He was awesome. It was me. I was ashamed at how heavy and how out of shape I had let myself become.
I did this to myself.
No one made me fat. Yes, life happened. Shitty things have happened in my life. Things that motivated me to stuff my face full of fatty foods. But no one sat there force feeding me except me. Wonderful things also have happened in my life. Things I had celebrated by, you guessed it, stuffing rich fatty foods in my mouth. And I had all the reasons in the book why I couldn’t work out. Hello I teach six classes a day, coach after school, and work at tournaments at least half the weekends during the calendar year (many of which require travel). I obviously had no time… except the time I was sitting on a couch stuffing my face or at a bar drinking and (you guessed again) stuffing my face.
So I was ashamed. And guess what I did?
Bought myself a high calorie beverage from Starbucks and drove myself through the McDonald’s drive-thru for TWO sausage McMuffins (with cheese!) and TWO hash browns. And a full sugar soda. You know, to wash the candy coffee drink down.
Here’s the deal. I know someone reading this is judging me. And that’s fine. I am putting myself out there and expect to be judged. It’s the Internet for heaven’s sake.
I know there are people who are out there who think that obviously if we just stop eating like what I described, we would all be thin. But for those who know me, or who have struggled with their weight, once you start packing on pounds, even if you switch to healthier choices, it is still incredibly difficult to shave off enough calories to start the scale moving down. I didn’t eat every meal at McDonald’s. In fact, I ate a relatively balanced diet most days out of the week. But between the amount of healthy food (portion control) combined with the comfort food combined with a lack of activity, my scale just kept climbing.
I was ashamed when I left that fitness class. And I never went back.
November 13, 2013 — I left work and took myself out for sushi. It would be my last meal where I would stuff my face freely and not worry about the consequences. I enjoyed and savored all the foods I knew I would be leaving behind. I was bloated and uncomfortable when I left the restaurant and I drove across the street to the HMR health class.
Nine months into HMR, I transitioned from Decision Free to Healthy Solutions. And six weeks after that I began the transition to Phase Two. I have spent the last six weeks battling life in the real world. And I won’t lie and say it’s been easy. It has been two of the hardest months I have had in a long time.
Losing weight in HMR, if you stick with the plan and don’t give yourself excuses to cheat, is incredibly easy. You are isolating yourself from the real world of choice. It’s safe. It’s easy. And throughout the process, the classes prepare you for life in the real world.
Some people have made judgey comments about HMR because they feel as though they are “better than that” and people should be able to lose weight on “real foods” and you “don’t learn how to manage life” and “the weight will just come back on.”
Here’s my take on those who judge.
Wow. I have been wanting to say that for years. Because I have struggled with my weight since I was a teenager. And I listened to those judgey people for almost that long. And every time I attempted to “just eat healthier” and failed, I would spiral further and the scale would climb higher.
Maybe preparing all of your own food from scratch and choosing healthy options on every menu works for you. That’s awesome! I am not judging your lifestyle so please stop judging those who make the choice to seek outside help in getting weight off and learning to manage that weight.
But I live in the real world of balancing an 80 hour a week job. And I don’t have the luxury of just “finding a new job” or “taking some time for myself.” I have to work. I actually LOVE my work. I am changing lives. I LOVE being a teacher and a debate coach. And that’s not going to change.
So let’s stop the judging and the diet shaming. Because I want to tell you something.
I got the pounds off quickly. I learned a lot about myself and the real world in the process.
And although I alluded earlier in this post that the last six weeks have been a struggle, it’s not because of HMR. It’s because the real world is full of choices and I am battling between the person I was and the person I have become.
I am healthier. I am stronger. But there is still a part of me that wants to override the healthy choice machine and pick the worst item on the menu. So every meal is an internal struggle. But in reality, it has always been that way. Now the healthier side is winning more of those battles and the unhealthy side is protesting.
I will continue to attend the HMR Phase Two classes for at least 17 more months. They hold me accountable. They offer me support. And they continue to teach me valuable lessons about myself and about the world around me. Last night I tried to talk myself out of attending this “Total Athletic Conditioning” class. I needed sleep. I have been incredibly run down as I have not had a day off without teaching, coaching, or traveling with students since the first weekend of October. But then I remembered how I have empowered myself. How amazing I feel after getting in a workout. And how I wanted to celebrate life and not make excuses.
So I woke up and went to this 6am class described as combining “athletic sports drills, weight training and other techniques that are specifically designed to improve your speed, agility, quickness, balance and muscle definition. Start with a cardio warmup – progress into active stretching – move into strength and endurance – then some speed and agility – balance and core and added PLYO… You will enhance your cardio anaerobic threshold.”
Scary description right?
I was scared.
I remember running out of that studio. I remember hiding in the bathroom. I remember crying.
I looked in the mirror and began to follow the instructor’s direction. I felt strong. I felt empowered. I felt alive.
After the class, one of the regulars (who had been there when I ran out last year) approached me and complimented me on how well I kept up for my first class.
I mentioned I had tried it once before over a year ago. But I didn’t mention running out. I didn’t mention the tears. I just ended by saying I planned on coming back.
And I do.
Confession: This is not my first health & running blog.
In 2009 & 2010, I kept a blog where I thought I was anonymous. I was clearly naive. And I shut it down when I found out people I knew were reading it. I was embarrassed. I was slow. I was overweight. Who was I to write about health. My writing wasn’t me, it was a facade I was attempting to create. Which is why when I started Healthy Academic, I knew it had to be different. I had to be okay with being public. And I had to write from the heart.
But the funny thing about the Internet is that you can’t escape your past. And as I began to write my 2014 San Jose Rock and Roll Half recap, I wondered if those previous posts included a recap from 2009. I opened Pandora’s box and uncovered over 200 posts. And while I won’t bore you with many of them… I wanted to flashback to my first half. Forgive me for the writing. And for the choppy transitions. This was multiple posts I have edited to become one:
Oh I completed my first half marathon last weekend… no big deal…
Yeah I am lying…
IT WAS A HUGE FREAKIN’ DEAL!!!!!!!!!!!!!
If you have followed my blog, before my writing blocks the last couple months, you know I was training for this run. You also know I was told I would never run. So my goal this year was to complete a half marathon. Unlike NY resolutions that you have less control over, a half marathon was a concrete goal to work towards.
When I fell down the stairs in August, I lost motivation to blog, to cook and to take care of myself. I felt like I sucked. I couldn’t even walk down stairs for heavens sake! But I had already paid for this half marathon… so with the support of my friends, I started walking. My doctor had told me I was not allowed to jog at all or even walk long distances, especially if I wanted to make it through the 13.1 miles in October. So I spent September NOT training for my half marathon.
Sane people I want you to know that you shouldn’t attempt to walk a half marathon when your doctor says you will only be able to complete it if you DON’T train. I recognize this is not something that makes sense. I did some aqua jogging and lots of strength training that wouldn’t affect my lower body that was still resting.
But how did I make it through 13.1 miles (and that .1 becomes VERY important in this story)???
I set my original finish time at 3:15. That would be a little less than a 15 minute mile which is almost three minutes slower per mile than my latest 5k time but was a reasonable time for me since I hadn’t done one before. But after falling down the stairs, I forgave myself for the knowledge that I couldn’t perform at my best and I accepted a time of 3:30 as my goal. The maximum time allowed for the half is four hours and I was hoping I wouldn’t be bringing up the rear.
When the race started that morning, I had my intervals set at 1 minute jogging and 2 minutes walking. I figured that even though I hadn’t been allowed to really work out for the previous weeks, this was a starter interval so I should be okay.
And I actually felt like I was moving so slow! It was weird to force myself to walk in the beginning (I actually ran for a good five minutes before starting the intervals because I was embarrassed to be seen walking near the start). However, despite feeling slow, my body has improved over time. At mile 3, I was well under my 46:30 pace time if I was trying for a 15 minute mile, like my original goal (I was at about a 14 minute mile).
I felt amazing. Yes people were passing me for those three miles, but I was way ahead of where I thought I would be. AND I WAS GOING SLOW! Or at least I thought I was.
At the 10k check point I had slowed down to a 14:45 minute mile. However, despite slowing down and keeping those beginner intervals (and stopping for a bathroom break at mile 5), I was only about two minutes slower than my 10k in July. Seriously?!?!?! At this point I felt both amazing but also frustrated. I knew I would have to stay consistent in order to make it under my 3:30 time. I had also secretly gotten my hope up between miles 3 and 6 that I could come in at 3:15 or less. Silly overenthusiastic me!
Mile 7 came and went and I felt myself starting to slow more. I had the beginning of a couple blisters on the bottom of my right foot (right under my big toe) and I had stepped down funny on the left foot at some point. My feet were just starting to tell me they were sore and I wondered how I would make it 5+ more miles. Out of no where, a woman came up beside me and commented that we were running a similar pace. I suggested right away that we should stick together for awhile for encouragement.
It turns out it was her first half and she also hadn’t done a full 13.1 miles before coming to the race. We were both having trouble staying motivated and were experiencing pain in areas we hadn’t before (for example, I have never had a blister under my toe!). We stuck together and motivated each other to run when the interval clock beeped and to count down the last ten seconds of some of those minutes that seemed to never end. It felt good to have someone to run with and to keep me going. I felt like if I slowed down I was letting her down and she said she felt the same.
Mile 8 went pretty quickly, and I was feeling motivated. Which is why when I saw the medic tent, I didn’t want to stop and get either foot checked out despite the pain that was increasing.
At this point I will let you in on a secret. I still wanted to quit. I hurt and the idea of another 4 miles made me want to cry. But we kept pushing and pushing and pushing. At mile 10, I was at a 15:30 minute mile… not too shabby! If I kept that up, I would finish at about 3:23. That would be pretty awesome since I had hurt my back pretty badly such a short time before…
Ah yes. The back injury…
So I hit the ten mile mark and my feet and back were dying. I kept trying to remember that it was only a 5k left, but that wasn’t helping. I would have cried but my new running buddy was still with me, although it seemed like the slower I got, the faster she was getting.
At mile 11, I saw the medic. I didn’t want to stop but I needed to make sure I would be able to finish. The previous mile had taken forever and every step was painful. So I waved goodbye to my new running buddy and sidelined myself. Hopefully not for the day…
The medic asked me a number of questions and gave me an ice pack for my back. I was so focused on my back and also subconsciously didn’t want to be sidelined, that I forgot to ask about my foot pain. After sitting for ten minutes, I assured the medic I could indeed finish (in almost a tearful begging sort of way) and she told me I would be on my own as she thought I should probably not be finishing the last 2.1 miles.
She was probably right in hindsight. Those two miles were the most painful period I can remember in a long time. I cried almost the entire distance, continually stopping to stretch for the pain in my left foot, and to take weight off my blistery right food. The ice pack that I had to hold to my back while I walked also made for delicious ice chips to chew on. Walkers were passing me left and right and I felt like I was all alone.
Luckily my friend Zara was at the finish line with her family waiting for me. She had sent me a couple texts while I was with the medic and knowing she had stuck around long after she had finished the race just to be there for me was what kept me going. I couldn’t quit at that point!
At mile 13 as I wiped tears from my eyes, I saw Zara waiting to hug me. She walked with me part of that last .1 until we got to the fenced in finish area where she had to step off the course. With only a couple hundred feet in front of me, I was both embarrassed to be seen hobbling towards the finish and excited to be so close to the end. A woman came up behind me and mentioned she too was hurting and had been behind me the whole last two miles. She said that she knew if I could keep going then so could she. With ten feet left before the finish, I asked if she wanted to jog across the finish line. She agreed and we sprinted to the finish!
When we crossed the finish line we both winced in pain, gave each other props and dragged ourselves to the waiting medic tent. A medic then used saran wrap to attach an ice pack to my back before I headed off to get my medal. I pulled my shirt over the wrap and smiled!
I would go on to set a new PR in Vegas only 8 weeks later that would be my personal best until 2014. I would go on to volunteer at the San Jose Half at the finish line and for two years I made signs to cheer on runners, staying until the last athlete passed my signs. But I would never forget the way I felt during that 2009 San Jose half.