I just completed my first half marathon, the Silver Strand Half Marathon and the main takeaway I got from running my first half marathon: it’s very hard!! While I was waiting in line to use the restroom, a guy was talking to another guy about how on his last half marathon he said, “Man this is really tough, but I’m almost done. When I finally finished, I thought to myself, wow, I would have only been HALF done if this were a full marathon.” My thoughts exactly. First let’s get to the overall results on the half marathon: 1:38 (6:52, 6:41, 6:48, 6:44, 6:46, 6:47, 7:08, 7:36, miles 10-13.1: SLOW). Placing: 14th in my age group (20-24) out of 72, 181 out of 2600+ overall. It’s sad that I was on pace to hit my goal of sub-1:30, but then just flopped at the end. I’m not going to let that discourage me from running additional half marathons and dare I say, a full marathon!
So I found out (just in the nick of time) that what you eat 2 days before a race is what is important. The reason is because it takes a while for your body to digest the food (obviously) so if you carbo-load the very night before, the food will more or less just be sitting in your stomach while the food you ate 2 days before will have been digested and processed in your body. And so, if you get all carbs you need 2 days before, you’ll really get all the ‘glycogen in your muscles that you’ll mainly use’ come race day. So I heeded my fellow runner’s advice and had a bunch of noodles the Friday before. I even made a race playlist for the half. I made the list extra long just in case I ran slower than expected or if I got picky and skipped certain songs. I got in a mix of popular songs; songs with good beats to run to, and of course my workout music which includes the Rocky soundtrack.
It felt weird not running on Saturday, since I’ve been running every Saturday for the past 10 weeks. But it was the day before race day and that’s what the plan asked for. I also went to bed early because I needed to wake up at 5AM and one big fear I had that would have been very sad/embarrassing was sleeping through the alarm. And that’s why I had about 6 alarms set to prevent that from happening. And thankfully, it didn’t..
I got dropped off at the starting line since the race wasn’t a loop, and the finish line was in another city around 10 miles away or so. I stood around the starting line for about 15-20 min; it was pretty cold, but not too bad. It wasn’t foggy or anything and the sun had already starting to come out. I decided to use the porta potty before I headed out for my warm-up and stretch. However, I noticed a huge group of people near the back of the starting line and realized that people were lining up to use the porta potties! I didn’t even have to go that bad but knew I needed to go at least once before the race started, so I just stayed in line. What was lame was that the lines formed weren’t really fair. There was the first line (which I was in) and 2nd line where the people were waiting for 4 porta potties each. But in the third line, people were waiting for like 20+ porta potties. Oh well, I got to use it before the race started unlike the hundreds of others who were still waiting in line after I finished.
I got a quick jog in and it felt really good to run again. I guess not running the day before made me miss it just a little bit. And because it was cold, it was helping me get warm. However, it didn’t work right away because my knee was hurting a little bit (which never happens). I’m assuming it was because I was running in the cold weather (or I’m just getting old). But after running a little bit longer, the knee loosened up. I stood around the front of the starting line to stretch and make sure that I got a good position so I didn’t have to worry about weaving around other slower runners at the start.
It was around this time where I noticed a runner holding a sign that was extended with stick. The sign simply said: “1:30″ and it was decorated with a bunch of colored streamers. The back of his jersey also said “Official Pacer”. I read that this race was going to have pacers (wonder if all races do), which was a pretty new (but straightforward) concept. I decided to give it a try, but before the race started and in the beginning of the race, I sort of felt guilty for using the pacer. It sort of felt like I was cheating because trying to set your own pace is definitely a lot harder work than just running with someone who is already setting the pace for you. But pacing is one of my biggest problems when it comes to racing, so didn’t want to pass this chance up and not worry about going out too hard so I could just focus on the race.
The 5K had already started and although it was not too long ago that those were the races that I was running, but I didn’t really miss running it. They had someone sing the national anthem while I was finishing up my stretches. The Silver Strand Half Marathon and 5K benefits the Challenged Athletes Foundation, so there were separate races for roller bladers as well as handicapped/disabled people who raced on hand crank bicycles. After those two races got underway, our half marathon finally started.
The race started and instead of taking off, starting too fast and dying out, I wisely chose to hold back and run with the pacer. There wasn’t much weaving around slower runners, which is good because I know how much excess energy that wastes. It also helped that I was near the front of the starting line, so there weren’t that many other runners in front of me in the first place. The first mile felt very comfortable (6:52); it didn’t really feel like I was running in a race at all. Because the race started around the time the sun was coming out, it was shining right in front of us when we started the race, but I spent the whole time looking down and making sure I was sticking to the pacer. The pacer was doing a pretty good job because he was right on track to hit sub-1:30! I learned that running a (half) marathon is very different than running a 5K where you’re nearly sprinting the whole time. 13.1 miles is a lot longer than 3.1 and so the strategy to run each race is completely different.
I was able to run alongside the pacer and other runners in his group for a good 7 miles. But just before I passed the 7 mile marker, I started to hit a wall. And it sort of came out of nowhere, just felt like I ran out of fuel or something. I was getting water at almost every water station, but because it’s so hard to actually swallow water while running, and the fact that it wasn’t that hot (yet), it didn’t seem to help as much as I hoped it would. I was able to run on my own for the next two miles at a slightly slower pace, but everything after that was, for lack of better words, less than stellar. My heart rate pretty much peaked at mile 9, since I was not running as fast after that. My feet were burning and I had a side stitch for the rest of the race. I finished the race with what I would say is a respectable 1:38, but if I would have been able to hang on with the pacer for those last couple of miles, it would have turned out much better. But I can’t really complain, it was my first half, so technically I still PR’ed!
I think one of the reasons why I shut down around 7 miles is because that was the longest distance I ran during my tempo runs. Yes, I did have those weekly long runs that helped, but those runs were always at a pretty easy pace, so I never learned how to run longer distances at that fast, tempo pace. However, it may just be that I got in way over my head when I decided to try and go sub-1:30. It was a very aggressive goal, but maybe a little too ambitious. If I had slowed down during those 7-9 miles, I may have been able to finish the race and a better pace and probably shave off 2-3 minutes off my actual finish time. But I’m not going to let that hang over me; I have many more races planned for 2010, so I’ll have plenty of more opportunities to hit that goal.
I signed up for the Carlsbad Half Marathon on January 24, 2010 and if I plan to use the same half marathon training program, then the first day of that training would be 2 days after this half marathon! I had planned to take some time off run, mainly just to recovery from the race. I am staring at the huge blister that the race kindly gave to me and I forgot to mention that my back was killing me during the race. I never really had any issues with my back while running before, so that was all new to me. But the thing that’s going to make training for my next race even harder is the fact that all of these holidays are coming up. Although it’s a great time to spend time with the family and eat very delicious (but unhealthy) holiday food. It’s going to be tough to get in quality runs during this time, but I’ll do my very best to try and get a run in whenever possible. I’m hoping all of this training that I did for this past race will carry over and still benefit me in my next race.
A Final Word
The last thing I wanted to say is thank you to all the runners who have helped me along the way! It was a very long 10 weeks, but I’m definitely glad I did it. From getting very helpful running tips and advice, to just kind comments via the blog, Twitter and DailyMile. There were plenty of days where I just didn’t feel like running, but I mentioned this to another runner: all you have to do is think about everybody else who did or will run today, it’ll sort of make you feel guilty for not getting out there yourself. I think I was pretty consistent with my training and was able to get those core workouts in for the week. I hope I can return the favor by being more active in other runner’s training and do whatever I can to help that person out, if it’s just a simple running tip or some words of encouragement. Like I said in a previous post, I should have a lot more time to focus on running very soon, so I can’t wait for things to settle down and I could get back into running again!!