Well you guys - I DID IT! I'm half way there and I have the Finisher's Medal to prove it. I ran my first Half Marathon.
Start to finish, this couldn't have been a better race for me. I feel like I did everything right. And what's that you ask? Well - here's the breakdown:
The Inaugural Chicago Women's Half Marathon - June 24, 2012 - Official Race Report
Those of you who have been following my training blogs know that getting to this week hasn't been the easiest task for me. But I knew that I had done as much as I could, I went into my taper week confidently, put in exactly the miles that were prescribed and then behaved myself and stayed on schedule for the rest of my time before the big run.
In a 4-3-2-Rest-Rest pattern, I gave my legs and my energy a run for their money early in the week and actually awoke on Friday night with muscle twitches in my thighs - a good sign actually to say that my quick release fibers are firing rapidly and that my legs are craving the output that they usually get on my long-run weekends. I saw my chiropractor on Wednesday as per usual on my off-weeks and had her do a deep tissue quad stretch for me. Ohhh, so good. Since I had been having back issues of late, I have seen her more than usual, but I didn't want to miss seeing her this week because I wanted to make sure everything was in line for Sunday.
I had less sleep this week than I wanted, and I will say that the other stressors in my life boiled to a head on Friday night and I needed to come home and have a good cry to get it out of my system. Nerves plus stress plus lack of sleep is never a good thing leading up to something this big, but the catharsis helped immensely and my advice to anyone who is feeling that pre-race pressure is to just let it out. Rent a sad movie, talk to a friend, do what you need to do - the stress needs to go so you can focus on the task at hand.
Which for me was clearly eating :) I'd like to step out on a ledge here and say that my food choices for the weekend were pretty near PERFECT for my body's rate of fueling and metabolism and function. Friday I stuck to a lean protein diet - breakfast sandwich with ham, egg & cheese, tuna for lunch with veggies and fruit, and a falafel plate from my favorite Mediterranean restaurant for dinner to bulk up on that fibrous lentil protein. Saturday I focused more on meat and healthy fats with a breakfast of a berry smoothie and pretzel bread and cashew butter, a lunch of a footlong Subway grilled chicken sandwich with added avocado, and a dinner of steak, potatoes and a full bag of steamed spinach with butter (topped off with ONE beer of course for added carb benefit). Sunday's pre-race fuel was my "superstition breakfast" of loaded oatmeal (a mix of steal cut and rolled oats with chocolate almond milk, flax seed, coconut, cinnamon, and trail mix topper), coconut water and a banana. I couldn't eat all of the oatmeal - nervous stomach won over - but I felt confident that I had fueled sufficiently and had enough time to empty what was in me pre-race (haha! always something to consider!)
Nikhil graciously allowed me to stay at his place on Saturday night, and since he lives right beside the start line I was able to get some extra valuable sleep in on Sunday morning. At 6:15am I was out the door and walking up Columbus Drive, arriving at gear check by 6:25am. The one "improvement item" that I will say about running a race with 4000 women is that next year, they need more porta potties! At least double the number please. I ended up waiting in the potty line for about 25 minutes before heading over to check my gear. I know I was only staying 10 minutes away, but it's another superstition thing with me I suppose...or maybe just something mom engrained in me hard as a kid - gotta go pee before you set out to go anywhere. But once that was accomplished, I headed to the start line and immediately found the 2:45 pace group.
As they sang the National Anthem, I took a deep breath and looked around me. 4000 women all grouped together is an amazing site: #1 - because it's a racing event and it doesn't happen that often, and #2 - because we have DAMN CUTE tech gear. I think most of my time standing waiting for the gun to go off was spent chatting with the other girls around me about where we all got our cute clothes!
I had made a decision earlier in the week to do this race "naked". Not that naked - trust me, I had on some pretty cute gear myself, but without my Garmin, my heart monitor or my iPod. Just me and the road and 3999 other females celebrating the 40th anniversary of Title IX - the day that women were officially allowed to participate in "men's" sports. I was worried about whether I would be able to stay in my head that long without distractions, but I will tell you, it's the best decision I ever made. As the first wave of women started to run and the crowd surged forward, instead of listening to my warm-up tracks, I was listening to the whooping and cheering of the women around me and the men who came out to support us. I was listening to calls of "You got this girl!" and "Way to go Mom!" and "You can do it Ladies!" from everywhere around me. I have to admit - I got a little teary-eyed at the level of support I was feeling, even though I was running alone.
Before I knew it we were down the shoot and through the first bottleneck around Shedd Aquarium. I knew the Lakefront Trail well, I've run this section a few times before, and I KNEW where we were all going to slow down. But honestly, besides that one place right off the start, the rest of the path worked really well in both directions and once the crowds thinned out, I had the path to myself for a large part of the race.
Even though I was racing alone I never felt alone. I had no problems making running buddies along the way. A friend team that was running together sidled up beside me to comment on my running top and ended up staying with me for about 5 minutes. We chatted back and forth about my motivation to run a Half and that of them, one was also running her first, but her friend had already run about 6 and that's why they were doing it together. I had another, older friend team behind me who were doing a run/walk interval, and every time they would speed up an get behind me they'd say "there's that bright yellow shirt again that we love so much!" Around mile 5 I ran beside a girl who was labouring hard to breathe. We had just crested one of a number of hills on the trail and she seemed to be having a tough time of it already. I called out to her - "how are you doing girl? You're lookin good!" She replied by pulling out one earphone and saying, "I'm ok - just wish it weren't so hot!" We then exchanged a few pleasantries and she asked me where I was from. It was her first Half too. As I pulled ahead of her about a quarter of a mile later I realized that I was feeling REALLY great going into mile 6, and I had to smile to myself about how far I've come to even be able to run and carry on a conversation at the same time. Kinda blew myself away with that one - it was a proud moment. Meanwhile, I'm watching the clocks at every mile and I know that I have been maintaining a perfect 12/mile pace, which also makes me happy. I knew I didn't need my Garmin as long as I trusted my body - and sure enough, I was right.
One more big hill into the turn-around and at this point we're seeing the faster runners who went on to win the race on their way back. Another really lovely moment of everyone being supportive and cheering each other on. It was like a sound wave to hear those faster runners passing everyone on the way back. I could hear the women in front of me starting to cheer and yell about a minute up ahead and then my group all cheered as they went by and so on down the line behind me until it faded out in the distance. I can only imagine being that girl and having that constant support all the way home. Would make me want to run a 6:30/mile too!
I was happy to see the turn-around point. My knees had just started to tell me that they were getting tired, and I knew that there was a Gatorade stop coming up soon that I had planned to hit. So at mile 7 I got my first fuel boost and was definitely glad for it. At this point, the sun was out in FULL force and the temp had risen from 74 degrees at the start of the race to about 80 degrees with a warm lake breeze. Strategically placed misters along the way were a welcome oasis for sure, as were the shadier parts of the trail. A brief walk break through a particularly hard sun patch saw me into mile 9.3 and the 15K aid station for some more water that I poured most of down my back. I made a deal with myself to run full to mile 10 and then we could talk about more walk breaks.
I made it to mile 10 and another Gatorade station. It wasn't part of the plan to fuel twice, but my body was telling me it needed the push, so I went for it anyway, hoping that too much liquid in my stomach wouldn't bog me down. Between 10-11 miles was at least a .75 mile stretch of full on glaring sun which I paced myself through most of and then had to slow to a walk when I started feeling a little light-headed. Most everyone was walking at this point, so I followed suit and still managed to cross the 11 mile marker on schedule. I made up some ground on mile 12. Not exactly sure how since I ended up walking through the 12 mile marker as well, but at this point it's a bit of a blur. What I do know is that at this point my mantra was "DO NOT push" and every time I felt like my breathing was getting too fast or too laboured, I would slow myself down again to an easy jog. Everything in me just wanted to finish, but I knew I had to keep pacing myself through that last leg of the race, or it might mean having to walk over the finish line.
Despite NOT pushing, at mile 12 I made the deal with myself to run full out to the end. Which I did, for about .75 of a mile. Then "Heartbreak Hill" - an upswing on the path that leads from an underground tunnel up to street bridge level. Yeah. Not gonna happen. There were tons of people on the sidelines at this point cheering us on to "show this hill who's boss" - but I'm gonna be honest - at that point, the hill owned me, and I walked it shamelessly. Cause from that point out it was all downhill to the finish and I turned on the boosters and just DID IT. Aw yeah. I'm sure my Garmin would have clocked at least an 8 minute mile for that last .3 cause I knew I was gunning it home. The finish line was right there. And then - I was over it. And I had done it. And they were handing me an ice-cold towel and water and frozen kefir. Holy crap - I just ran a Half Marathon. And I felt GREAT!!!
I fought some nausea while standing in line for my finisher's photo, newly minted medal hanging around my neck. But the cold towel helped immensely and was definitely a nice touch. Once through the line, I found Nikhil in the crowd. He had been waiting at the finish line for me, but didn't see me cross because I came in faster than he thought I was going to...and faster than I thought I was going to!
My final time was 2:40:48. Perfect. My goal was to finish. My secret goal was to finish in under 2:45 and somewhere around a 12/mile pace. I ran 12:17/mile. I couldn't be happier. I know now that I can do the full. It's going to be hard work, but with that race pace and with continued training at this level, I can assume that I will finish the marathon in 5.5 hours.
After picking up my gear and receiving my souvenir yoga mat (great race packets with all kinds of goodies!) I collapsed for a bit on the grass and called my parents. Obviously they are proud. That makes me happy. My mom actually started to cry. You know - maybe someday I might get her to run a 5K with me...we'll see.
After lounging around on the lawn for a bit and hearing the top 3 winners announced we headed back home for a nice long shower and a nap, followed up by a lunch feast at Lou Malnati's (I never usually eat Chicago Pizza, so this, if anything, was a damn good excuse). And yes, I then had ice cream for dinner. I so earned it.
Next step? Back on the road. I'm taking a bit of a breather this week with a vacation home to Canada for the Canada Day/Independence Day long weekend. But I'll still be running and swimming and water skiing, so the hard work doesn't stop here. We've just passed the start of Chicago Marathon Training - it kicked off officially on June 18th. But I am well within my goal range to continue to take it slow and steady to get to those higher miles. Moving on up!
Week 11 Schedule (Completed):
Mon - Rest
Tue - 4 miles
Wed - 3 miles
Thu - 2 miles
Fri - Rest
Sat - Rest
Sun - HALF Marathon, 13.1 miles, completed in 2:40:48
Total Weekly Miles: 22.1
Total Weekly Calories Burned: over 3500
Weekly Weigh-In: 185.2 (back up again, but today I was down to 182.2 again, so I'm gonna go with that)
Week 12 Schedule:
Mon - Rest
Tue - Rest
Wed - Rest
Thu - 3 miles
Fri - walking around Toronto
Sat - 5 miles & swim
Sun - Rest