This was my first long distance race—I’ve run a few 10K races before this and one or two 5K races. Running 13.1 miles is a whole different race altogether.
In an earlier post, I talked about my 2 big concerns on the race: The mountain and the distance. In my training, I was able to tackle each of these 2 aspects of the half at different times. But I had never put them together until race day. That turned out to be the kicker that really made this race live up to its moniker as “America’s toughest Road marathon.”
We got to the start around 7AM, plenty of time before the start to stretch and get ready for the start of the race. My wife hung around with me until they called the runners to line up. We were waiting for the 6 "double marathon" people to come in, so they could start and run the course again with the normal pack. They had started at 2:30 AM to run through the course the first time. Crazy.
After the race preliminaries, they started it right at 7:30. My goal was not to go out too fast and try to just take it easy. I have a strong tendency to go out too fast and then not have anything left at the end of the race. I just kind of laid back and go easy.
We hit the mountain at mile 1. There are 2 steep hills and then it steadies out into a long uphill that just keeps going up and up for several miles. Fortunately, since I had done this before, I knew what to expect and I knew where I was going to need to walk. But I just kept thinking of how much farther I still needed to go, and so I tried to walk a little more than I needed and conserve my energy as best as possible.
Right at the beginning of the long uphill, somebody had put up a bunch of signs similar to those Bermashave signs, except they were along the lines of: “You know you’re a runner when…”
I don’t remember all of them, but a few that I did recall:
- "…your running partner knows more about your bodily functions than your spouse does."
- "…you know the meaning of obscene running words like ‘fartlik’."
- "..when you check the weather outside to see how many layers to wear."
- "you’ve lost a toenail. And you tell people, ‘It’s not that bad.’"
- "you say ‘only 5 miles’ and ‘easy run’ in the same breath with a straight face."
- "(..something about a snot rocket.)"
I went by too fast to read them all, but it was a fun diversion for a few minutes up the hill.
When we finally reached the top of the mountain, there was a man with a stuffed parrot on his shoulder, and as I passed him, he announced: “You have reached the Top.” What a relief.
A short lived relief. There was a steep downhill, which was nice at first, but after running like this for a couple of miles, it was tough on the legs and knees. It was a relief to get to the bottom and run on a flat part of the greenway. It was only about mile 6 and my legs were getting tired. In my training, this is where I had stopped before. But now, I still had another 7 miles to go.
I was able to hook up with my wife at this point and swap water bottles. A short exchange of words and I was off again for the second half of the race, climbing another smaller hill section that seemed tougher than expected, mainly because my legs were getting tired. We ran through a few neighborhoods and past elementary school. At one point they were handing out Gu, so I grabbed one and stuck it in my pocket, because I didn’t really need it at that time.
Heading back toward the River’s edge area, there was a neighborhood hosted waterstop, with 2 little girls handing out water. I really wasn’t thirsty, but so appreciated the gesture, that I took a cup of water. And plugged on.
Soon I was on the greenway and the course got pretty flat. But by mile 10 my leg started cramping in earnest. I had been able to ignore it up until now, but it seemed that my calf muscles stopped firing altogether, leaving me with a gimpy, lopsided gait. I stopped and stretched, which helped…for a while, except for the lead boots. I didn’t remember putting those on.
I finally ate the Gu that I had in my pocket and by now I was ready to be done, realizing I still had more to go, and there was nothing left. I started negotiating with myself about when to walk and when to run:
"Ok, just run until you get across that bridge and then you can walk."
"…ooo thats pretty far…Oh, too hard, I’ve got to walk, NOW."
"Ok, but only a short break. Just to that post."
"Just a little farther, I can’t run yet."
By mile 11, we were back on roads and winding our way to the downtown. It seemed like I was walking more than running, but at this point, I just didn’t care. I just wanted to be done. A 10 year old(!) boy that was running the half passed me and kept going. Earlier in the race, I might have tried to beat him, but I just let him go.
At mile 12, some of our friends were waiting at the downtown Y to cheer me on. That really boosted my spirits and helped to push me on. It was getting close to the end and I was ready to just be done.
Not the sub 2:30 that I was hoping for, but at that point, I didn’t really care. I was just glad to be done.
It wasn’t pretty, but I finished my first half marathon. And that was enough.
Later on in the day, we celebrated with a “half” party. My boys had made a “half” sign and decorated “half” the room. My wife made “half” BBQ sandwiches and a “half” cake for dessert.
Overall, a fun tough challenging day. But I’ll be thinking twice before signing up for this race again. I’d probably like to get some more experience running the distance, before tackling such a challenge again.