Technically speaking, this was really only my second half-marathon to "race" . . . I ran my first half in 2009, after being in India for a few weeks (Read: not much training), I was 30 lbs heavier than I am now, and it felt awesome! You think I'm kidding. Really, I finished and literally thought, "wow! Sign me up for another one!" Maybe it was because I didn't expect to do well, or I just let loose and didn't care. Who knows. I loved it, and finished in 1.50, which in my eyes, was great, considering I hadn't trained much and my goal was simply to complete it. It was a great feeling. To be honest, I was totally clueless as to what my pace even was. I didn't wear a watch. I didn't race it. I didn't "compete" with myself or those around me. I just ran. My second half was 3 years later. I was much more fit, but I had no idea how to race a half. IM A MILER FOR CRYING OUT LOUD. So, I raced the half like I would race a mile, it's all the same, right? LOLLLLZZ. Wellll, let's just say the last 7 miles of the race I cried the entire time, and my "goal" of running 7:30 per mile went out the window when I got the chills/cramps ALL over my body. I could barely pick my feet up, and swore off running the rest of my life. So dramatic. Wait, you mean to tell me drinking coffee instead of water the entire week leading up to the race is going to affect my performance?! Yeaaa. I really don't wish that 1/2 marathon experience on anyone, even the girl who bullied me in 6th grade. Terrible. I ran a 1:43.
My third half occurred on accident last November during the middle of a normal long run. I said to my friend Beth, "Hey! I think I am on target to get a 1/2 Marathon PR." We cruised to a 1.39, which was a 4 minute PR for me. Unexpected, fun, but not "official."
There you have it. Although, I only had 1 experience "racing" a 1/2 marathon under my belt, I knew I was way more capable than what my times show. So, I went for it. Let's take a look at how all that played out in last Saturday's Andrew Jackson 1/2 Marathon in Jackson, TN. From my first disastrous experience racing the half, are you shocked to hear me say the race last Saturday SUCKED? You shouldn't be. Well, it sucked. I hurt the entire 13.1 miles.
FRIDAY, March 21. The race was in my hometown. In my opinion, this is a huge advantage. No major schedule changes. I worked on Friday, did my normal routine, yada yada. Friday evening was marked by packet pickup, taking care of my parent's zoo while they were out of town (5 dogs in 1 tiny house. yes, it's NUTS. Love you, Mom and Jeff!), and driving past the town carnival. Trust me, the town carnival was not as magical as this filter makes it look. (Read: creepy old men at the ticket booth), BUT, I do love a good funnel cake. (I didn't eat a funnel cake, promise). Moving on. I laid out my racing kit for the next morning. Wasn't sure whether I would need the arm warmers at 45 degrees, but they ARE JUST SO CUTE! (I didn't end up wearing them. Good decision). Also, let me say something about that Nike sports bra: it is one of the best things to happen to me (exaggeration, but really). Hold's the girls in like a glove. Great for high impact, and no chafing. If you have any sort of blessing in the form of breasts (read: larger than a B cup), go for this bra. SATURDAY, March 22: RACE DAY! I don't eat before races. I realize I need some substance. But, I just can't stomach it. I feel sloshy (you know that feeling I'm talking about--everything inside you is on a roller coaster ride), and will 100% get a cramp. Doesn't matter if I eat 4 hours before the race. Also, my training runs start at 5:30a.m. every day, so I'm used to training on an empty stomach. I'm not opposed to pre-race meals by any means, but for now, this is what we are going with.
Got to the race at 7:00 am just in time to see the gun go off for the full marathon. I wished Beth and Audrey (my training partners) good luck, and made my way to the starting line. My worry going into this race was that I wouldn't be able to sustain the goal pace for the entire 13 miles. "HOW THE HECK AM I SUPPOSED TO RUN 13 MILES AT 6.52 PACE?!" My nerves were ALL over the place. I didn't do much of a running warm up, mostly because I was about to have to run 13 miles, and was scared I wouldn't be able to finish (DUMB. I should have warmed up at least a little bit.) I did my normal dynamic stretching warm-up, though, and before I knew it, we were off.
Miles 1-3 (Splits: 6:50, 7:06, 6:52) WEllllll, as fate would have it, the satellites on my watch were lost exactly 5 seconds before the gun went off. HAA. Not the end of the world by any means, but, I couldn't start the watch until close to a mile into the race.
Felt a side stitch cramp almost immediately. "GREEEATTT. This is going to be a looonggg morning." Instead of breathing deep and trying to relax to make it go away, I lost all form of logic and just decided to embrace it. The cramp would continue the rest of the race. Besides a couple decent climbs, the first four miles are actually downhill a bit. I knew the familiarity I had with the course would help. It did.
Miles 4-6 (Splits: 6:53, 6:47, 6:56) By mile 4, the cramp really started to get in my head, but I was in second place for the females (!). We all know that competitiveness kicks in and sometimes we do crazy things. So, I kept at it, despite feeling absolutely awful. And then....something magical happened right as we got to aid station numero dos. This angel by the name of Rob reached me, started to pass me, and I went with him. I held on for dear life, and uttered "I'm hurting," to a man I had never met. His response was, "I can tell. Breathe, put your hands over your head, and let's go catch that girl." So that's what we did.
We passed the first place female during mile 5. My cramp subsided a little bit. During the minor climb between mile 5 and 6, I decided it would be a good time for the gel. Heck, if my stomach cramp wasn't going away, it's not like a gel is going to make it worse. I sipped on the gel between mile 5 and 8...haha, I have no idea why I couldn't just down the whole thing (it's not like it's very big), but I liked taking little sips every half mile or so. Weird.
Here's Rob. Literally, he was my saving grace. We ran together from miles 4-10. He's from Chicago, and was down in TN visiting friends. Can't thank him enough. He went on to run a sub 1:30!
Miles 7-9 (Splits: 6:51, 6:50, 7:08 [big climb]) I knew these miles were going to be tough. It's basically a steady 3-mile climb with no break, and I was ready. I kept my focus on the aid station that would be at mile 9, as well as seeing my fiance and his mom. Mile 9 was going to be good in the sense that I could get a mental break. Rob was still by my side, and from what I could see when I looked back, we had a pretty big lead on the second place female.
Seeing them and grabbing a sip of water felt great, and at that point, although we slowed a little coming up the hill, I felt strong (even with the omnipresent cramp still lingering). And then....it hit me.
Miles 10-13 (splits: 6:53, 7:14, 7:13, 7:10) My fear going into this race was that I would get to the last four miles (the most challenging of the race), and bonk. I'd get off track and start running 8 minute miles because I was dead. This was part of my reason for contemplating going out slower (7:15 pace), but in the end, I stuck with my game plan of running 6:50-7, and being BOLD. I don't regret that decision at all, but I definitely paid for it in the last few miles.
They. were. tough.
We winded through some residential neighborhoods, I still had a lead on the second place girl by a lot (couldn't see her at this point), and my cramp was all over the place. Hurt so bad. "C'mon Katie. You can do this. 3 miles. Make it up this hill," was my mantra. Rob pushed on at the pace we sustained for the first 9, and I fell back a little. I knew at the mile 11 aid-station I would see my old teammates volunteering, so I kept that in mind and focused on making it to mile 11. It was not easy.
I got to the mile 11 aid station, and for the first time in the race, I stopped running and talked to my team and college coach for a few seconds. He said, "You look so strong!" HA. My response: " Good Lord, I feel terrible." I sipped some water, and said to myself, "Just 2 more rolling hills of miles." Look at the elevation below of the last mile. You can see it's the opposite of mile 1. We got the joy of the downhill in the beginning, but what goes down must come up, so the last mile was pure hell. I shuffled my feet up the hill, just wanting to get to the finish line. I didn't even look at my watch going up the hill. It was sloooow.
I came through in 1:31.23. First place female, and honestly, a little surprised. My ultimate goal this spring is 1:30, but I didn't think I would get that close at this race. I didn't taper, and it wasn't the easiest of courses. It was a phenomenal test of strength (helooooo 13.1 mile stomach cramp), and I learned a lot during this race. The half-marathon is an animal I'm trying to figure out. It's an ongoing process of trial and error, and although it seems like I've had a lot of error, I'm keeping at it, not backing down. Looking forward to another half here in a month in Missouri. I'll toe the line and test my strength again. I'll change what I believe didn't work last weekend, and tweak it to see what works and what doesn't. It's a process full of changes and adaptations to trials, as is life.