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!
Last Thanksgiving I was two weeks into the HMR Core program and planned on waking up early to cheer on the runners going past my apartment complex. Instead I stayed curled up on the couch enjoying a shake and watching the parade on television. My family went on a one mile walk that evening and I thought that was a lot of activity.
This year was going to be different. Several coworkers and I planned on running the Turkey Trot when our school had made the announcement we would try to get enough registrants for a company tent (we didn’t unfortunately) and a number of friends also signed up to run or walk either the 5 or 10k.
As debate season stretched on, I made my goal just to finish the 10k giving it my absolute best but my primary focus was having fun, not trying for a PR. I started talking to friends and was excited to have several friends who wanted to run with me! I have always felt too slow for most of my runner friends so it was exciting that I might start and finish with people I knew.
I worked the parking lot for packet pick-up the day before the race, so I already knew to expect an insane number of people on race day. Luckily the 10k started 40 minutes before the 5k which meant most of the crowds would arrive after we started.
My friend Susan met up at my apartment and we did a slow mile jog to the starting area in order to warm up for the race. We met up with our friends Julie, Pete and Kim. Susan and Kim were running the 5k and Pete and Julie and I were running the 10k. We met up in the front of the 8-9 minute pace area. There weren’t walled corrals and it was self-seeding but wearing bright colors and identifiable head gear made it easy to find each other. Check out my turkey legs!
The race started and somehow we ended up near the very front of the 10k starting line (less than a minute between gun and chip time). I was hoping to keep a sub-9 minute for as long as I could without making it impossible to breathe because I knew I had been doing it on my own time and now I had friends who could help me. In fact, every time I felt myself slowing down, one of them would pull slightly ahead which helped me do an internal check and realize I was totally capable of maintaining the faster pace. Gotta check the internal laziness sometimes!
We race along folks holding signs and weaved around those slowing to a walk. Most of the 10k felts very similar to the Rock and Roll half course (well for the first segment) which helped me feel confident in my pacing.
When we reached the SAP center, we saw hundreds of 5k folks who had arrived who were trying to walk to the start line. Unfortunately it meant traveling through the height of the 10k runners as there wasn’t another way to get to the start from where they parked! A friend later told me she felt like she was playing frogger to get to the 5k (her first time at the Turkey Trot as well).
My shoe was untied at mile 5 which definitely meant a quick safety stop. But that quick pause helped me assess my energy level and I picked up the pace as we wound around through the neighborhood I call home.
During that 5th mile, Julie reminded me where I was at one year ago and suddenly I felt alive. I tried to hold back tears (don’t want to get dehydrated!) and instead funneled the momentum into my legs. I continued to push through in mile 6, shaving over 30 seconds off the previous mile and running my fastest mile in the race!
As we got near the finish, I wanted to push for a finishing kick but didn’t think I had it in me. Julie kept up the positive cheerleading she had been giving throughout the race and told me to follow her. She picked up the pace and I followed as we pushed through and finished strong.
I looked at my Garmin when we crossed the finish and I had shaved over three minutes off my 10k PR from September! I couldn’t believe it! I also shaved 5 seconds off my 5k PR from October! My official finishing time was 54:59!!!
Aside from needing water right away from the cold dry air (I didn’t bring my own hydration on the course like previous 10ks), I felt amazing! When we walked through the finishing chute area and saw the start for the 5k, I almost wanted to join friends there and go around again!
We made our way to the finishers village where we found a plethora of supportive snacks and then wandered out the other side to cheer on all of our friends at the 5k including my husband who rocked the race (and almost missed seeing me cheer for him). It was so much fun and I stayed and cheered the runners and walkers until the last few folks at the end passed by.
The group that puts on this race also puts on the Santa Run 5k on December 14. I can’t to dress up and enjoy another holiday jaunt around downtown San Jose!
Now that you have had a chance to flashback with me to my first half marathon in 2009, let’s talk about taking this race back and owning it!
First, a quick side-by-side that I posted shortly before the race started. My Instagram post proclaimed:
Some races are about setting records. In 2009 I ran the #SJRnR half and finished the last three miles with ice Saran-wrapped to my back. Today isn’t about a PR (although that would be a nice bonus) — it’s about taking on a journey I started in 2009 and finishing it strong!
Let’s be honest, I still wanted that PR! The San Jose Rock and Roll Half Marathon course is know as one of the flattest and fastest courses out there. And it was my hometown which meant I could fuel the way I needed and sleep in my own bed. In other words, it should be perfect conditions.
What I didn’t anticipate was how hot it would get on race day. It was predicted to be unseasonably warm which meant extra hydration and the possibility of needing to slow down.
When I originally signed up for the race I predicted my time to be 2:45. In September I had already proven I could run a sub-2:30, so when I went to the expo I requested a corral change. And on race morning, after spending some time with coworkers and some of my students, I went to my new corral.
Now at the expo they had a booth for the PacWest pacers who would be pacing the course. They had pacers for 2:30, but I knew I could do that on my own. The next pacing group would be 2:15 which would mean shaving over 11 minutes off my Disneyland PR. I thanked the runner working the pacing table and said “maybe next year.”
However, when I got in my corral, I apparently entered the one in front of my new corral by mistake. And I ended up directly behind the 2:15 pacers. I did some quick mental math. I had run a 10k at a pace that was almost a minute faster than the time I would need to hold for a 2:15 finish. Could I really keep the necessary pace to finish in 2:15? I knew I had issues holding a steady pace, going out too fast for many of my races this year. So maybe I would just *try* to stay with these pacers, no shame if I ended up falling behind. It would just be fun to see what it was like to run with a pace group for awhile!
The two women pacing the 2:15 group were super nice. A number of people talked to them during the first couple miles but I held back, right behind them, not wanting to commit to getting to know them since I didn’t know how long I would be with them. However, as we passed the four mile mark, I began to realize I could stay with them. And after the 10k mark, I was embarrassed at the thought of falling behind.
By mile 8, I really wanted to slow down. It was getting hot and I knew I could still PR even if I added a couple minutes to each remaining mile. But then I did a mental and physical check. It was all mental. Physically I was doing fine. And I took a moment to reframe — did I want to see what I could really accomplish? Or did I just want to shave a few seconds off my time.
I began to reflect on my journey to get here. From 2009 when I initially attempted this race. To the 130 pounds I have shed over the past year. I have become so much stronger physically and mentally. I pushed through and when we hit mile 10, I knew I had more energy in the tank.
So I pushed ahead of the lovely pacers who had prevented me from going out too fast and who served as a motivation not to slow down when I wanted to back off.
I began to pick up my pace, not wanting to burn out but knowing I could go faster. Miles eleven and twelve were two of my fastest miles during the race! But it was getting hotter and I was feeling the burn. Mile 13 was hard. The quicker pace got my lungs a little cranky and mentally I was struggling as I remembered how much pain I was in during this mile in 2009.
Then my trainer showed up alongside me! She was there running the 10k and stayed to run me (and her husband) in for the half finish. She started yelling motivational chants and telling me to kick it. I pushed so hard for that last tenth of a mile and finished smiling!
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.
In 2009, my first half marathon ever was the San Jose Rock and Roll Half Marathon. I had committed on New Year’s Day to run it. And, well, I finished it.
When I saw a special for registration for 2014, I knew I had to take this race back. And so I signed up again. And I will get to that race recap in my next post. On July 18 I was still riding a high from my new 5k PR at the SHE 365 5k, which meant that when I saw the ReMix Challenge introduced for San Jose’s Rock and Roll Half, I HAD to sign up! After all, it *only* meant adding a 5k on Saturday, the day before the half.
First, I recognize a total shift in approach to racing from my first races. In 2009, I remember being alone at my first 5k. It was a local trail run and I spent weeks, if not months, obsessing about being prepared. I had signed up for this May 2009 5k in order to help build for the San Jose Half. And I was scared about finishing the 5k. Ultimately I did. It took me around 50 minutes, but I finished. But in 2014, I thought nothing of adding a race the day before a race? But this wasn’t the first time I just signed up for a race without trepedation.
In 2013, I convinced one of my friends to sign up for the Santa Run. There was some random sale on Facebook (I clearly have a problem when it comes to race sales!), and I thought signing up for it might be a great motivation. I had no intention of running for many months, so the plan was to walk it. And we did! It took us about an hour and my feet were killing me by the end! I was about a month into HMR and down about 30 pounds. I was so happy to finish, but determined to do better.
For the San Jose Rock and Roll 5k, I met up with several coworkers who were also running. We hung out before the race, shared stories, and agreed to meet up at the end. We chatted all the way until the starting gun. No obsessing about time at this race, I decided I would push as hard as I felt like since I knew the more important race for me would be the next day. No pressure to be quick, this was just a chance to get some energy out to keep me balanced for the half.
When the gun went off, I felt that surge of adrenaline, and I just let it take me away. The course started near the convention center and went through the streets of downtown San Jose. I had actually run about half of it during training runs without knowing it, so knowing the streets and where the finish was allowed me to figure out how much of the course was left without checking my garmin or the mile signs.
The course support seemed lacking compared to the half course support I have come to expect from Rock and Roll. There was a DJ about a mile in and a band about two miles in. Both were good but lacked crowd energy, and I realize a 5k is a lot shorter than a half, but I guess I anticipated more. There were also several cheer groups who were fabulous, as our local teens are. Overall the spectator level was minimal, especially for being downtown.
One of the reasons for the lack of course spectators may have been how underplayed the 5k was. It wasn’t advertised locally the same way the half was, and the participation was significantly smaller. Official results have only 1867 participants in the 5k!
About a mile into the race, I realized I was running much faster than I had anticipated. 8:13?!? I did a body check – I seemed fine and it didn’t seem too hard – but I slowed myself down a bit as I reminded my body that it had a lot further to go the next day.
I kept a consistent pace in the second and third miles although it was a push during that last quarter mile or so. When my Garmin beeped at the three mile mark, I started to push but didn’t want to go all out because I wasn’t sure if I had added extra distance weaving earlier in the race. I never saw a three mile marker and so even though I knew the finish was close, I never figured out when to get that finishing kick in. I am learning that visual cues are definitely an important part of the mental game for me.
When I saw the finish, I pushed hard. And finished with the official time of 26:51! A new PR! I was 284th overall, 16th in my age division, and 91st in my gender division. Compared to December where my time was 1:00:03!
So I finished part one of the Remix Challenge. Next up? Taking back the half.
With debate season in full swing, I have a lot of posts I have started and finding time to finish them has been difficult! I remember how frazzled I was last year at this time and I didn’t have to try to fit in physical activity and meal planning then!
The Giants 10k was part of a series of races celebrating running, community, and the San Francisco Giants franchise. I ran the San Jose Giants 5k in June and completed the “turn two” challenge to ear a special pair of Giants earbuds.
The 10k was held the same day as a half and a 5k. I opted to sign up for the 10k because the Disneyland Half was the weekend before and I signed up in the spring, before I had done many races. So I wasn’t sure how well I would be conditioned.
I opted to raise money for Project Open Hand instead of just paying the race fee. This gave me a unique purpose for the race and it ended up becoming something bigger than just a 10k. I think this organization does awesome things for our community and worked to raise far more than the minimum required. I apparently raised enough to even have access to a special lounge at the race. I have to admit that having a warm place and private bathrooms was a luxury I could definitely get used to having!
Because I registered early enough, I had my bib and shirt mailed to me. This meant not having to drive up to San Francisco for the race expo. While I missed exploring all the fun the expo, I definitely appreciated the convenience.
The 10k had a combined start with the half and released in several waves. There were lengthy breaks between each wave which kept my nerves building as I had listed a predicted finish time that had me in one of the last corrals. Just as I had realized the weekend before, I knew I would be doing some weaving based on where I was starting.
I had decided I would try to push myself as long and as hard as I could. I had a secret goal in my head but I was scared to share it because I didn’t know if I could take my sub-30 5k time from mid-summer and go sub-60 with double the distance. And I was going to be okay if that couldn’t happen. But I figured I would try.
The course was incredibly crowded and there wasn’t enough room on the street to sort everyone out. I ended up on the sidewalk for a significant portion of the first couple miles. I felt bad for the poor pedestrians but people were walking three and four across and there was no way to get around the large groups. Rather than get angry, I just worked my way through. I definitely expended a lot of energy weaving but I let it go and just enjoyed pushing myself.
I was shocked when I looked down at my Garmin and saw my first two miles were under a 9:30 per mile each despite the weaving. And as I started to assess myself, I knew I could push a little faster.
At the turnaround I suddenly found myself facing the massive pack I had been weaving around. The lanes were so narrow that I ended back up on the sidewalk to avoid running head first into the masses spilling into the return lane. I pushed through mile four with sheer force but when the road opened up more in the last two miles, I felt some of that energy go away. Suddenly I wanted to slow down. I had proven I could go fast but my body wanted to chill and take it slow.
I began to review why I was running. Why had I started running (for my health) and why I raised money for this run (to help the health of members in my community). I started crying (which doesn’t mix well with sweat and sunscreen and contacts!) and I seriously felt the invisible hands of all of those friends who donated to support this cause were pushing me forward to keep up my pace.
Mile One – 9.25.8
Mile Two – 9.22.4
Mile Three – 9.13.9
Mile Four – 9.06.0
Mile Five – 9.21.3
Mile Six – 9.24.1
Last .28 – 2.21.8
Garmin Finish: 6.28 miles at 58.15.2
Official Race Finish Time: 58.10
I RAN A SUB 60 10k!!!!!
The finish line was on the field and once you finished you could stretch out on the grass before picking up a variety of treats on your way out. I enjoyed the fruits and veggies and then went back to the lounge to rest and watch the 10k and half finish before going out to cheer for a friend doing the 5k.
I also signed up to raise money for Project Open Hand again in 2015. And this time I am running the half!
Apologies on the delay! The race was fabulous and then it was back home to teach all week followed by another weekend of races. But more on those later.
First the spoiler… I FINISHED THE RACE! And I finished in under two hours and twenty-seven minutes!
That’s the short version. Below is a much longer accounting of my experience of the 2014 Disneyland Half Marathon weekend.
I spent a lot of time anticipating this race. I signed up for it in January, before I could even run a mile. And then spent seven long months learning to love running.
For those of you who may not know, I attempted this whole “running” thing in 2009. I made it a goal to finish a half-marathon. I worked a little but never really committed to training. I did intervals, which was necessary for my body at the time. I was about 60 pounds heavier than I was for this race when I set my personal best in December of 2009. My time to beat would become 3:19:50 and it would stay that way until August 2014. Shortly after the half in 2009, I injured myself. And spent most of 2010 recovering from multiple injuries which spiraled into never really getting into running again.
Until I signed up for this race.
The race was at 5:30am on the Sunday morning of Labor Day Weekend. I had been preparing for the early start by going to bed earlier and waking up earlier all week. I even continued the trend by waking up early on Saturday and cheering on the 10k runners as they ran past my hotel!
We spent the Saturday in the park. I had read you should try to stay off your feet the day before a long race but I wanted to enjoy all the weekend had to offer. Which included riding Cars for the first time and doing multiple trips on California Screamin!
As the sun rose overhead and things started to get extra hot in the park, we headed back to our hotel where I enjoyed some HMR Chicken Pasta Parm and bananas. I ate a LOT of bananas over the weekend and not just the free ones in the concierge lounge! Then I took a nap. Which ended up happening until about 8pm when I woke up, laid out everything for race morning, and went back to sleep!
It’s a good thing I went to bed early because I was awake before my 2am alarm even sounded! I got dressed in my finery and ate my HMR oatmeal and drank 8 ounces of Via coffee at room temp because, well, the water in my water bottle was room temp?
After nervously dancing quietly around the room and making sure I had everything I needed, I woke up my husband to drive over to the Disneyland Hotel where we would park the car and head to the start. It was 3:15am and parking opened at 3:30 and I am never one to be late! My husband had not gone to bed early so he was probably a bit cranky but I don’t think I even noticed!
We got to the hotel, hit up the lobby bathrooms, and then wandered around near the finish line. I met up with some Team #runDisney folks for a group photo and at about 4:40am, headed to my starting corral (with a quick portapotty stop on the way!).
Once I got to corral H, I knew I was in for a wait. We had about 30 minutes at that point until the sent the first corral off, but my corral wouldn’t start until 33 minutes later. I was a bit cranky with my corral placement going into the race because all of the earlier corrals had finishing times no greater than 15 minutes apart. Corral H had finishing times from 2:30 to 3:15 and of course my 10k in late May had me finishing right at 2:31. The secret I learned is that everyone pushes to the front of the corral, especially if you are anticipating being slower, so you can stop for photos without being swept. I had no desire to stop for photos (they have professionals!) and I could do character stops at some of my later Disney races — my goal was to stay strong and give the race my best, and I was worried I would spend forever dodging folks (I would later make peace with the dodging as I started at the front of corral H only to catch up to and dodge folks from earlier corrals).
While waiting in the corral, I got my last bit of pre-race fuel in! That’s right. I stayed in the Healthy Solutions box all weekend, including my race fuel!
The start was less thrilling than I imagined. I had read so much about Disney races where they set fireworks off for each corral. But that didn’t happen at Disneyland. And there was so much chatter from the hosts, I didn’t have time to get excited. Instead I just wanted the host to stop talking and let me run already!
Finally my corral started and I was off! I kept repeating “go out slow, you have a long way to go. start strong but slow.” and while I was slower than my 10k pace is now, I was still faster than my planned pace by over a minute! I was one of the leaders coming out of our corral and quickly caught up with corral G within the first mile. Oh and speaking of that first mile, there were TONS of spectators. It was super cool to see so many people supporting the runners. Except for maybe the guy who yelled “you’re almost there!” in mile one. I didn’t like him so much ;o)
The course itself ran outside the perimeter of California Adventure before turning into the back driveway of the park. It was there I saw the mile 12 sign. I joked out loud that we only had one more mile. Yeah that went over really well. I blame the “almost there” guy hehe.
There were bands all along the course, including in the back lots of California Adventure. I love the live music – never needed my headphones (which stayed tucked away for the whole race) between the attractions, spectators, and live music!
From the back road we entered the park. I expected it to be crowded through the whole race and I was not let down by that expectation. I have no photos from California Adventure because runners without manners were running crazy diagonals and hopping in front of all of the cameras. Literally jumping. Like stopping suddenly and jumping in the air. Next time I am just running into them. I saw someone else run into people stopping suddenly to pose for cameras. It’s not safe! I am all about walkers and I am all about people having fun. I get it. But it’s absolutely inconsiderate and UNSAFE to stop suddenly without looking around or to dart in front of people just to mug for the camera.
We ran through most of California Adventure which was super cool since I had been there with my husband the day before. My arms were starting to get warm as the sun rose and I knew my husband would be cheering along Main Street USA, so I took of my arm sleeves which were dripping wet at that point.
The area between the two parks was a super narrow path and both sides were slammed with spectators. It was crazy! I remembered reading the pacer guide which warned runners to not speed up from the thrill of the experience in those first miles and so I kept reminding myself to SLOW DOWN, enjoy the experience, run negative splits later when the course opened up more.
Seeing my husband along the course gave me a whole new shot of energy. I ran over, gave him a kiss, and handed off my dripping arm sleeves to a confused yet amused husband who would wander around after I passed and pick up a couple thousand steps during the race.
Disneyland itself was a neat experience. Although I had run through it for the 5k in 2009, it was still a fun experience. This is the part most people enjoy the most. However there weren’t many spectators outside of the employees (who were very very sweet) and I didn’t feel the same energy I feel running the city streets or along nature trails. It was a little weird but not in a bad way. I also think I still had a bad taste in my mouth from the negative experiences running in California Adventure which I tried to shake off for the next couple of miles.
Once we hit the streets of Anaheim, I felt myself getting my groove back. The streets opened up and there were still so many people along the course. It was super cool to see locals and tourists turn out with signs both for specific people but also for runners-at-large!
One of the highlights for me was running through the stadium where the Anaheim Angels play. I had been there for a game with my husband a few years ago, so I was somewhat familiar with the park. But it was a whole new experience to get to run the field and even cooler that the stands were filled with cheering spectators!
I purchase videos from MarathonFoto which included one of my running past the first base dugout. However I wish it included the audio when I was exiting. The announcer was saying that when we exited the stadium we only had… and then the entire audience in the stadium yelled “THREE MORE MILES!!!!!” I WAS PUMPED!
The last three miles were probably the hardest. I had stuck to my pacing and fueling plans and was on target to beat my practice half time which was slightly over 2:28. I hadn’t gone into this race with the intention of beating the practice time because I knew the course would be crowded and I just wanted to enjoy the race. But with three miles left and open streets ahead, I knew I no longer had an excuse. But those last few miles is where the crowds thinned and my energy wained. I took my third banana-squash Gerber (fourth for the day if you count the one in the corral) and allowed myself to walk the water stations a little longer than before.
That last mile seemed to go on forever. Part of it was a repeat of the back lot of California Adventure and then through Downtown Disney. The crowds picked up again and my energy picked up as well.
When I could finally see the finish line, I picked up my pace. I lengthen my stride and really pushed that finishing kick. I knew I could beat my goal and now there was an incentive to get that time as low as I could. The crowds were cheering and apparently I still had fuel in the tank!
Remember how I mentioned people should look behind them? Well I crossed that finish line pushing my legs as hard and as fast as I could. Except now I needed room to slow down… so I shot for the opening I saw along the finish.
Except the two people in red shirts did not need time to slow down. The young boy walked in front of me and I had a choice of hitting the boy, the photographer taking this picture or applying the brakes as I went the opposite way. Where the woman in the red shirt would slow immediately to a walk. So I tripped over her and apologized. She didn’t seem happy with me touching her but I had no choice. I stumbled between them and managed to regain control without falling on the pavement. I laugh about it now but one of us could have gotten really hurt. But it’s funny in hindsight. And since I bought the videos…
In the end, I finished. I finished faster and stronger than I ever dreamed. I am a runner. I am strong. I am healthy. And I have never been more grateful in my life of all of those who have supported me through this journey.