Monday, May 30, 2005

The Half Marathon - May 1, 2005

It has been a while since I’ve written. Last I wrote I had started Hal Higdon’s intermediate half marathon training program. I pulled it off of his website, printed it out and it became my running “bible” for the next 12 weeks. This training program served two purposes for me: 1) It was going to prepare me for the half marathon through a gradual mileage build-up over twelve weeks; 2) it would determine if I could train for a full marathon following a similar training program on my own.

Anyway, back to the half marathon. After three months of training, the weekend had come. I had my carefully planned dinner of wheat pasta, spinach, marinara sauce with garlic bread. For dessert, two slices of carrot cake. Why carrot cake? I went running one morning after eating some and felt like a running rock star. So I definitely needed the carrot cake!

The weather report for May 1, race day, was sunny and mild. It had been raining the entire day before the race. I woke up the morning of the race and looked out the window to see dense fog. Not a big deal, it will burn off in the next couple of hours, I thought. I drank some Gatorade, had a piece of leftover Italian bread with jelly for breakfast and allowed myself to relax a bit before heading out.

I stepped out the door of my apartment building and cool splashes of raindrops were hitting the ground. Rain? RAIN! NO! I didn’t see the rain outside my apartment window earlier, I thought it was just foggy. I sat in my car, staring straight ahead, thinking to a few years back when I ran a half marathon in the rain. That day was cold and damp. The raindrops came down like piercing ice drops on my thighs. The wind made the rain even colder on my body and my muscles were screaming from the cold dampness.

This stunk (for lack of a better word!). I really didn’t want to go through running another half marathon in the rain. After the one a few years back, I swore I’d never do that again. But then I started thinking about how I hauled myself out of bed early each morning, five days a week, to prepare for this race. And the speed work I did once a week; I had to know if it would make a difference this year. What a wimp I would be if I didn’t run this race. If I chose to stay home and the weather cleared in the next hour, I’d be very angry with myself.

Off I went to Eisenhower Park. It was the first time I was going the race start by myself, which felt a bit lonely. Upon my arrival, I headed straight for the porta-potties. Back in my car, I hung out listening to the radio, watching other runners stretch, chat with each other, pin their race numbers on and all the typical pre-race activities. The rain had stopped, but then droplets began to hit my windshield once again. I put a long-sleeved shirt on over my sleeveless shirt in an attempt to shield myself from cold raindrops. It was time to head over to the start line.

On my walk over to the start, I felt the urge to "go" one more time. I glanced at my watch, realizing I only had about ten minutes. The porta-potty lines would be long. But I had to go. I kept walking, right past the start line, listening to that same voice I hear every year on the microphone counting down the minutes to the start.

The bathroom lines were long, as I suspected. People on line were bouncing around, looking at the porta-potties, then at their watch, then asking the person next to them if they’d make it in time. With the rain falling, there was no room for me to be a pessimist if I wanted to make it through 13.1 miles successfully. So while waiting on the line, I told myself I’d absolutely get the chance to relieve myself and make it to the start line on time.

The race started at 8 AM. It was about 7:57 when my turn for the bathroom was up. I ran into the porta-potty, did what I had to do, and literally ran out and kept running to the start line. I ran so far I up in the start line that I was at the 7-minute mile pace-marker, a pace I only wish I could run. No time to turn back now because the race was starting. I pressed play on my MP3 player and started my run with “Beautiful Day” by U2. Beautiful day? Not really if you based it on the weather alone, but being out there with all those runners definitely made it a beautiful day in my eyes.

This rain was different from the last time I ran in the rain. It wasn’t cold and piercing. It was actually warm and humid out. Not too far into the run I had to take my outer layer off. The rain was hitting my arms and legs, but I didn’t mind. At this point, I was very happy I didn’t bail out on the race.

The rest of the race went well. My energy was up. I didn’t get any side cramps, which is pretty remarkable. I paced myself for the first 5-6 miles, then kicked it in at around mile six. A bit past mile six is where my parents always wait to cheer me on. Although I only see them for a few seconds, it makes all the difference in the world.

Whatever the reason, mile nine is always tough. My legs start to feel tired. I start thinking about oranges. And then I think – 4.1 miles to go. I try not to think of what lies ahead, but it’s hard not to when you pass the mile markers. I immediately tried to retrain my thoughts. You cannot be tired now. This is where you really have to kick it up a few notches. My ultimate goal was to finish this half marathon in two hours or less. If I slumped now at nine miles, I couldn’t accomplish my goal.

The twelve mile marker was fast approaching. My speed felt faster than usual and I was unsure if I should keep this speed going. Would I fade out in the last mile? Would I hurt my leg again? The twelve mile marker was now in clear view and I saw the time, but I had to blink a couple of times. I did some quick math. Then the realization hit me. If I continued at this same pace or faster, I would definitely finish in two hours.

That one thought propelled me faster through twelve miles and on to the finish. My feet were soaked from splashing through puddles but I was pleased to feel no sign of blisters. Must have been the Body Glide I slathered all over my feet that did the trick. As I got closer to the finish line, I saw my parents again and my husband. I think they were a bit surprised to see me at this point, since last year I finished around 2:10. My husband looked at me then pointed to the time clock as if to say, “You’re gonna make it in under two hours!”

Now I could see the finish line. I sped up so fast I thought I would be sick. I saw the clock was approaching 1:59 and I took my speed down a notch because I knew I’d make it at this point. I crossed the finish line at 1:59:18 – a 9:07 pace. After crossing the finish line, I was elated. I couldn’t believe it. I had not only met my goal of finishing in two hours or less, but I finished about 10 minutes faster than last year. Does training pay off? Absolutely!!

What’s Next???

I am waiting to see if I make the NYC marathon lottery. If not, I have a few other back-up marathons in mind for the Fall of 2005, such as Philadelphia or Chicago. Oh, and I probably will train solo – it seems I’m destined to be a loner in this sport!

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