Yesterday was the first of 3 races I signed up to do this year. It was the 33rd running of the AFC Half Marathon here in San Diego; it was my second time to do it. My first time was in 1999, and my time was *almost* 3:05. My goal was to not only beat that time and set a PR (personal record) but to also come in under 3 hours. I realize that doing a half marathon, which is 13.1 miles, in under 3 hours is easily achievable to a lot of people. I have lots of friends who run that distance anywhere from the 1.5 hour range to 2.5 hours. However, as I have talked about before, I am slow. My pace is slow, I take walking breaks when I need it, and I am totally ok with that (although I secretly love to be faster).
I was very excited and nervous about this race. I've been training since January, and felt ready. My dad and step-mother flew out to race with me (my step-mother did the half marathon, and my dad did the adjunctive 5K). They were picking me up at 4:45 in the morning, so I set my alarm for 4:15 and went to bed very early. However, my anxiety was so high that I tossed and turned most of the night, getting little sleep. I was up way before my alarm. I got dressed, triple checked that I had my gear (iPod, sunglasses, hat, Gatorade, and of course my race bib and timing chip). I ate a Clif Bar, was picked up, and we headed down to Balboa Park where we were instructed to park; shuttles would take all the half marathoners to the start of the race at Cabrillo National Monument in Point Loma.
When we finally arrived in Point Loma, it was still pretty dark. Thousands of racers milled around with a lot of pre-race excitement buzzing around. We quickly got in line for the porta-potty...although there were lots of them, each stall had a line with at least a dozen people. Ironically enough, we got in line directly in back of A's physical therapist, who was also running! And while we were in line another friend of mine saw me and came over for a hug. It was her first half marathon, and it was good to see her to wish her luck. Finally it was my turn for the potty and I went. Afterwards, I searched for and found my friend who is training me for the half marathons and the triathlons. I had a few more friends running that I would have loved to have run into, but seeing how there were over 8000 runners, seeing 3 was actually pretty good!
Finally the race started. We started toward the back of the pack, and walked our way toward the starting line. Once I hit the start line, I started running. My step-mother and I had agreed to start together but to run our own race at our own pace. She quickly was ahead of me (a rock star!) and I turned on my iPod to listen to tunes. Adam Lambert kicked me off on a good pace. The weather was perfect; a marine layer covered the sun during the entire race, and with the combination of the bay breeze blowing, I stayed cool during my entire run.
The first several miles were wonderful. The excitement of the runners was palpable, and I soon settled into my pace. The residents of Point Loma are amazing; several families were seated on lawn chairs cheering on the runners. I loved that! After a slight incline in the beginning, the road began a nice downhill for several miles. I ran pretty much non-stop (save for one quick walk break to drink some of the Gatorade I had with me) for the first 6 miles of so.
Some of you might be wondering why I brought Gatorade with me. Yes, water was provided in many aid stations on the course, and they also offered another sports drink. But I subscribe to the theory not to do anything new on race day. When I do long runs, I always bring Gatorade, not water with me. And although they did offer another sports drink, I was unfamiliar with it and I didn't want to take a chance with it not agreeing with my tummy. So, I brought one bottle of Gatorade in my running belt, and drank this to hydrate (supplemented with water from the aid stations when I needed it).
After about 6 miles, when we started to run by the airport and around Harbor Island, I started to lose a bit of steam. I decided to eat one of the Clif Bars I had brought with me to give me more energy. At mile 7 I started getting sciatic nerve pain in my leg (which happens periodically when I run). I took a Napraxen (which is what my doctor gives me for sciatic nerve pain) and hoped it would kick in soon. Taking the pill made me feel a bit nauseous, but not terribly so. Still at mile 8 I began to hit a bit of a wall, and began doing more walking than I had planned. I took my one and only bathroom break. I knew I was not feeling great when even the music on my iPod, and the podcasts I had downloaded, started to irritate me and I had to turn my iPod off for a while! I always run with music, but I was suddenly not in such a great space.
At around mile 9, I started to feel better, enough so to turn my music back on. However, I had bonked enough that from miles 9-13.1 I did a lot more walking than I wanted to. I'd run for a while, then my legs would start to hurt, so I'd walk for a bit, etc. I took in about 1/2 a packet of Gu for more energy, but it tasted too sickly sweet for me to finish the packet. The aid station manned by OMBAC cheered me up; they had a shower set up with pipes that was fun to run through. When I saw the mile marker for mile 11, I was so happy! I knew I was doing ok on time, enough so that if need be I could walk the next 2 miles and still make my goal. Of course, I didn't walk the next 2 miles, I did my run/walk combination, but it was nice to realize that in a worst-case scenario I would have most likely made my goal anyway.
Miles 11.5-12.5 are notoriously hard in this race. It is a mile uphill. Not terribly steep, a pretty gradual incline, but nonstop for about a mile. Everyone around me (all the back-of-the-packers!) were walking it. I ran/walked, and was thrilled when it was finally over and the course turned toward the finish line in Balboa Park. On the hill the Front Runners Club gave out ice-cold washclothes---boy did those feel good!
When I finally saw the finish line I ecstatic. People were lining both sides, but I easily picked out my family. J was there with D on his shoulders and A in a stroller. I saw D's beautiful face above the crowd, cheering me on. I also saw my dad, and high-fived him on the way in. My step-mother, who had come in several minutes before, was there and ran with me to the finish line. I had done it---not only finished but met both my goals. My time was just under 2:55. I not only did a sub-3 half marathon, but had broken my previous time by a little over 10 minutes. I had set a PR.
After the race, I convened with the rest of my family. D told me that I was the best racer out there, and that he wished he could make me a trophy as tall as I am. This set me to tears; I really want to be a good example for my kids, and I hope they remember me training and racing.
I am very proud of myself. Not just for meeting my goals, but for the way I did it. I really trained! When I did the half marathon in 1999, I trained too, but not as well. Back then my longest run had been 10 miles, and I only did that once or twice. This time around, I did SEVERAL 10 milers, and even did a 12.8 and a 13.3. I had been training since January....doing lots of runs and more recently adding in the biking and swimming while training for my triathlon. Even if I HADN'T met my goals, I would have been disappointed but okay. I had put my time and paid my dues.
Now onto the Disneyland Half Marathon, which is in 3 weeks. I hope to PR again, but even if I don't it's ok. I need to figure out why I hit the wall so early; I don't always feel like that in my long runs, so it was odd. I am loving the experience, the training, and the feeling of being so fit and healthy.
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