So, a Half-Marathon, 26.2/2, t h i r t e e n and one-tenth miles.
I registered for the Bird-in-Hand Half-Marathon back in the Summer, with a couple of months to train up for it in front of me. Running had been going well, and I was up to comfortably finishing 6 miles at a stretch. Given the time to train and focus, doubling that, plus some, looked reasonable.
Registration completed, I went in to my running store to get new shoes. "My running store", A Running Start, in West Reading, is actually (to me, anyway) a lot like the Bar, Cheers, from the TV show. I walk in and everybody there knows my name! Friendly and familiar, they know I'm no ultra-athlete, so when I told Joel that I'd registered for a Half he responded excitedly, "That's great! Which one?" When I told him I'd chosen the Bird-in-Hand, his immediate reaction was, "Wow- that's a tough course! Hills!"
Smelling salts were not actually needed to revive me at this point in our conversation.
Armed with this information, I resolved to train for tough hills. Where, O where might I find some hills? Oh, I know, right outside my front door! We happen to live right on top of a hill, and just about any direction I choose to run from my house will involve hills of one degree or another. Any run I take will have
a downhill near the beginning, and an u p h i l l near the end.
So for the next many weeks I not only went out with friends for distance runs on nice flat rail-to-trails nearby, but I went out twice a week to tackle those hills. Maintain pace on the uphill, drive it, push it, feel the thighs burning, push, push, push... Open the stride for the downhill, let the gravity work for you, fly, pump it, lift the knees, kick back, land strong, feel the adrenaline zinging through your veins, fly, fly, fly!
By the end of my training I was running up entire hills for which I'd needed walking breaks earlier on.
Then the distance. Here's where the rail-to-trails came in wonderfully handy. Not owning a fancy GPS watch, (Christmas list anybody?) I really appreciate having distances measured for these trails so that I can have some confidence in knowing how far I'm running. I ran these mostly with a friend who has already run half-marathons. Janet employs the Jeff Galloway method for her distance running, in which she runs for 4 minutes and walks for 1. Since this was a whole new adventure for me, and old ladies like me need to be careful about injuries, I liked this approach. (It also helps conversationally when running with a friend, after all, I can barely finish a sentence while I'm running- breathing is my bug-a-boo.)
Two weeks before the race was to be my longest run before raceday, according to the training schedule I was following; 12 miles. Two weeks before raceday also happened to be the day we were expecting a hit from a hurricane/tropical storm. Janet and the gang I'd been running with not being available that morning, I joined the Running Start group for their weekly run on the Thun Trail, (pronounced "tune"). They all run faster than I, so I expected to end on my own, but it was neat to begin with them and see them at different passing points along the trail. There were LOTS of people out that morning, running and biking, in order to get the weekend workout in before the storm. With knowing the distances ahead, and some back and forth, I finished my 12 miles, in the process gaining confidence that I actually could finish a half-marathon.
Long Run- check
Race Day arrived at last. I carpooled down to the race with Clarissa and April who were also running, as well as Erin who came along with her bike and my camera in order to record the event. We had picked up our race packets the day before so we already had our numbers pinned to our shirts and our chip-timers laced to our shoes. I had picked up a new, lighter-weight shirt, since the humidity in the recent weeks had me finishing runs completely sopping wet and I was hoping not to be hampered in the end by being "grossed out" over carrying a pail-full of sweat in my shirt. I ate in the car so that I'd have something nutritious and energizing in my tummy an hour before starting to run- as I'd done all summer.
Something else we had done the day before, after picking up our packets, using the map of the course we were given, we drove the 13.1 miles over which we'd be running. Getting a look at the course was informative in two ways; we saw in advance the beauty of the farmland through which we'd be running, and we saw firsthand that what are considered HILLS in Lancaster County are mere bumps in the road compared to what I'd been running all summer! Somebody give me an AMEN!
So, back to race day. We arrived, we parked, we unloaded, we scoped out the start line and the porta-potties, (Very Important). Erin had a map of the course so she could navigate where to go for shots of us running at different points along the way. We stretched and rubbed our arms in the chilly morning air. There were announcements made, the National Anthem was played, and then there was a solemn moment of reflection of the events of 9/11/2001. This race was, after all, supporting the local fire company.
And then, we were OFF!
The first 4 miles we ran toward the rising sun, which we couldn't see for the thick fog which blanketed the region. It was actually lovely. Surrounded by a wide variety of runners, from hard-core, (well, actually, I had only seen them at the start...) to average folks, to even Amish guys- in their Amish clothing, April and I paced together until we reached the first water stop. There, waiting eagerly to serve the crowd of runners, was a line of barefoot Amish children calling out, "water, water, water! Gatorade, Gatorade, Gatorade!" as they held out paper cups of the precious fluids to us. Adorable. I said "thank you" and smiled- who couldn't smile?- as I gratefully accepted, spilled, and finally swallowed my drinks.
After this point April and I gradually separated and I ran ahead. We had agreed that we would run our own races, freeing each of us to keep a comfortable pace.
As I ran, mostly on my own, now and then with others as they or I slowly passed, there were occasional comments shared, mostly encouraging one another along; we were in this together and the camaraderie was genuine. Since we were running on roads which were not entirely closed we were passed by a few cars and the occasional buggy. Cars, I was accustomed to, buggies, not so much. The challenge with the buggies was hearing the sound of the horse's hooves pounding out a rhythmic beat on the pavement and struggling not to match it with my own pace. Keeping to a comfortable speed was crucial to avoid crashing later in the race.
Farther into the race I felt comfortable with my pace, but the morning fog had transformed into a blanket of smothering humidity. It was becoming a lovely, warm, September day... if one wasn't running 13.1 miles. The course being through the rolling farmland meant that there was little or no shade. So, while my legs, knees, and joints felt basically fine, my breathing and the oppression of the atmospheric conditions became a strain. The water points became a focus for me. "Just get to the next water stop" became my mantra. At each stop I'd drink a cup of water and pour a second over my chest and back. I was also eating a couple of energy chews right before each water break, and these helped as well, if only psychologically.
After mile 8 I took a brief rest stop at the available porta-potty, (oh, the blessings). By now my clothing was indeed soaked completely through with sweat. It was as if I'd jumped into a swimming pool- without the benefits of how refreshing that would actually be. At the mile 10 water stop I heard a familiar and loved voice, "Go Mom!" Erin was there with the camera, shooting away! Her cheers were more invigorating than the water, and I tried to smile, (grimace?) for the camera as I passed by.
And, wait, 10 miles already?! This meant that I only had a 5K to go- and I know I can run a 5K comfortably! I fell in beside a young lady who seemed to be feeling the distance as much as I and we cheered one another with words of encouragement for a mile or so. An old familiar strain was beginning to pull at the sides of my knees and pull at the flexors in my hips. Don't stiffen up now!
As I approached mile 12 I saw a runner running back to tell one of the course deputies to call an ambulance for a man who'd fallen. There had been ambulances at many points along the course and firemen- as well as Amish folks- with walkie-talkies at many of the turns to keep an eye on the runners. By the time I passed the man on the ground, fallen exhausted, he was being attended to by many people, giving him water and evaluating his condition.
The final mile may have been the hardest and the best of the whole race. I could see the tent at the finish there across the fields, there was absolutely NO SHADE, the sun was shining brightly and the heat was beginning to radiate up from the pavement, a wagon pulled by a team of 4 draft horses passed by, a course photographer was snapping photos. And I picked up my pace... I think. I had settled into a sort of shuffle and was trying to break out of it. Only 10 minutes to go- I told myself that a good effort now and I'd soon be finished. Focus on stride, open it up, push off behind, land mid-sole, upper body held strong, almost there.
And then, there was the finish! Not on the road, but a turn into a field and the final dash across lumpy earth and grass. (Who thought that was a good idea?!) I finished the race looking carefully at my footing, not ahead at the finish line. Erin, Clarissa, and April's husband Bill were cheering me in, and over the loudspeaker I heard my name and hometown called out. (Okay, that was a neat idea.) As I heard my chip-timer beep across the line I stopped my own watch; 2:26:49, 3 minutes and 11 seconds under my goal! As I passed through the finish point I was given a finisher's medal- not a "Everyone-who-plays-gets-one" medal, but a "Everyone-who-runs 13.1 miles-gets one" medal. Earned.
Bagels, bananas, cookies, and water bottles were available for the runners. Exhausted people were suddenly revived and refreshed with the common achievement- We Did It! I found Erin and Clarissa and we watched for April to come in. Erin hopped on her bike after a few minutes and rode the course back to find her, returning to assure us that she was indeed coming, and when she crossed the line with the two fellows who had joined her for most of the race we were all thrilled.
Post-race medals and announcements, blah, blah, blah, and then it was over.
What did I learn?
1. I am no Kenyan when it comes to racing.
2. Turns out, the "hills" weren't what made the course tough, it was the thirteen-point-one miles that made the course tough.
3. Buying a new shirt in which to race the very next day is a Bad Idea. I ended up with a necklace of rubbed-open skin from the ragged neckline seams. That shirt skipped the wash and went straight to the trash can.
4. Running 12 miles along a shaded trail is wholly different from running 13.1 miles in the direct sun on a humid day.
5. A cup of cold water can be life-changing.
6. Looking cute while running may not affect my performance, but it surely will affect how I view the photos after the race... (I know, it doesn't matter, but still... ugh.)
7. Knowing that I have friends in the race is uplifting.
8. Everyone in a race is my friend for whatever distance we run.
9. I'm still running on my own two legs, with my own two lungs, and my own mental obstacles- it's my race at the end.
10. Meeting a goal like this, running a half-marathon before I turned 45, was exhilarating, and the "high" from it carried me through the next few weeks.
11. The next 5K was a piece of cake, and a PR- Boo-yah!
12. I'd like to try another half-marathon, in cooler temps, maybe October, yeah.
13. I don't need to be a Kenyan, I am me, and I can run a half-marathon and finish!
13.1. ..."the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to to the strong... (yet) let us run with endurance the race that is set before us..." ~Ecclesiastes 9:11, Hebrews 12:1