What's a Half Marathon Like?
Thursday, March 04, 2010
It’s been a long time since I have actually thought about racing, but I have been asked several times in the recent past, “What’s a half marathon like?” I’ve done so many of them now that they just happen without much thought other than getting across that finish line.
Along with a friend and my husband, I just completed the Rock n Roll Mardi Gras Half Marathon in New Orleans, my 30th half. Because I do so many during a year I am always in training. I try to get in 2 or 3 trainings during the week of 4 to 6 miles each and then do a “long” one on the weekend of 6 to 8 miles. Occasionally, I’ll throw in a 9 to 10 mile walk when I haven’t done a race for six to eight weeks. Yes, I walk. I don’t run, not a step.
Doing a half marathon is about prep, managing the race, believing and then just doing it. The prep includes of course training, but it also includes making sure I have everything I’ll need race day. I have a regimen I follow for every race. Race day I get up usually two to three hours before the race starts. I get dressed wearing almost always the same things – compression shorts, a skirt that I made, and a tank. The only time this changes is when the weather is too cold, then it is my hand painted pants and a long sleeved shirt, but I still wear my skirt. Being the blister and chafing queen I make sure to use my Sport Shield, Squeaky Cheeks and Hypafix tape. Then it’s always the same breakfast – Crispix cereal, raw sugar and lowfat milk.
It’s off to the start line with my pre-race banana to arrive 45 minutes to an hour before the race starts. For New Orleans we walked about a mile to get to the start line shuttle, a nice little warm up along with the walk to the starting area from the drop off point. We were amazed at how few people seemed to be at this race. I usually judge this by how long the porta-potty lines are. When I get to a start area I always hit the potty; then I do it again about 20 minutes before the start of the race. Sometimes we joke that we go potty, then, get back into line. For me, the most frustrating part of my race is needing to go potty after the race starts. My craziest race was Virginia Beach when I literally crossed the start line and went to the porta-potty. About 30 minutes before the race I have my banana, aminos and Tylenol.
I start my races slowly. I have learned NOT to get caught up in the start line frenzy. This has served me pretty well. There are many people who pass me early on because of the start line frenzy that I pass later on when they have burned out. New Orleans was a great example of this. I was amazed at how many people I ended up passing from about mile 6 on. I love walking races. I get to see things that runners never have a chance to see. Early on in the New Orleans race they had some of the Mardi Gras floats along the race course. Walking past them I was able to take pictures and see some of the amazing detail that they had. As we went through different parts of the city I was amazed at the beautiful architecture of some of the buildings. I also saw beads hanging from power lines, fences and even trees covered in beads.
When I start to get tired I start to use my management tools. I focus on someone ahead of me and I push to catch up with and then pass them. There are many who run/walk that I “play tag with” during a race. They run for a short time, then walk and when they walk, many times I can catch and even pass them; then they run again and pass me and it starts over again. They are always surprised when I either say, “Tag” or “Ok, time to run.” What amazes me is that many times I beat them across the finish line and I never run.
Some races have better spectators than others. Spectators can make a race even more fun. Little kids especially offer something others don’t. When I see little ones offering “high fives” I will adjust my path to high five them. It’s partly to show appreciation but more than that, it’s to receive their energy. When we touch hands I can feel their energy pass into me, it’s absolutely amazing.
When the final mile comes I try to push myself. I know that finish line is out there, and now is the time to give what I have left to reach it. I love when the elite or fast runners come back out onto the course to encourage the rest of us. They show their medals and tell us we are doing great, or how far we have until we see the finish line. When that finish line is in view that’s when I know I’ve succeeded in completing another race. Even now, there is an excitement that is hard to describe when I cross that finish line, it is part relief, part gratitude and part elation; relief that I am done, elation that I did it in a reasonable time, and gratitude that I still can do it.
I have been told that I’m crazy to do as many races as I do, and maybe people are right, but the thing is I can do them; and as long as I can do them, I plan on doing them, and I will do them.