On Saturday I raced my first half marathon in over a year. Don’t get me wrong… I have run the 13.1 distance a couple times, including last Saturday, and even did a 25 k trail race in November but Saturday was the first time I’ve pushed myself to the limit, testing my endurance and thinking competitively. When I originally thought about writing up this blog post, I was going to talk about all the usual things, what I ate the night before, what I ate the morning of, port-o-potty mishaps, etc. But I decided instead to focus on the actual race, and the moments afterwards.
This race was part of a series called Going the Distance by StartLine Racing, a local running organization in AZ. They are small, and their races are small, but they put on a great race. Saturday’s half was my first experience with them, and wow – talk about a night and day difference between the big “A list” races and StartLine. The differences were all positive, but we’ll get back to that a little later.
At the start of the race I didn’t have the same pent up race energy that I normally do, because the field was so small – 100 runners; compared to the 4,000-40,000 of some other races I’ve done. So at first I kind of felt like I was doing a big group run… in the first mile it was really easy to keep an easy pace, almost too easy! I got a little worried that I wouldn’t have any umpf to get up and go when I needed to pick up the pace in the second half. I always like to start the first mile slow, hold a steady pace for the next 6 and then push harder for the last 6.1, especially in the last mile to half mile.
Soon after, I ran into fellow Run Eat Tweet AZ CRO, Emily. We chatted a little bit, ran side by side for a little bit and then she disappeared on one of the downhills. Oh yeah, I knew this race was on a canal path, so I assumed it was going to be flat as a pancake the whole way and boring, boring, boring. So I trained with music leading up to race day, and also trained on flat paths! Well, as it turned out there were approximately 8 (or more) total underpasses on this course, which meant heading down a steep, short hill and then up a steep, short hill. My ankles and knees were not ready for this, but I plowed on nonetheless.
Around mile 2 or 3 I saw the other RETAZ CRO, Jaime; she was grabbing her upper hamstring and heading to the side of the path. Oh no!!! She just ran a full marathon the week before, so I was thoroughly impressed she was even out there running! I took a moment to mentally send some positive energy her way and then regained focus.
I was slowly starting to get into the groove of the race and was realizing it was really nice to be in such a small race — and somewhat more intimidating. In a large race, you can pass by what seems like hundreds of people (or they pass you) and you never pay much attention to each individual, because there are SO many – it’s a race and you need to focus on your own goal. But in a small race like this one, I would pass a single person here or a single person there and sometimes it would take me up to 5 minutes or more to truly pass or catch up to someone. For me, that was the most motivating part, but at the same time you think to yourself, “I better be able to maintain this pass!” There is just something about being caught again, that really messes with your head when racing. haha
Around mile 5 I saw the first place runner, who had already reached the turnaround point and was heading back. So I started counting each female to figure out how far back I was. I was 14th and the gal directly in front of me was 13th. We stuck together for the next mile and at the turnaround point she was starting to pick up the pace a bit, but I stuck with her. We had both caught up to two males, about my age and I just kept hoping I had enough in me to keep the pace or pass them. It was about at this point that I realized this girl was my doppelganger (see above)! She had my same body type, had a single braid in her hair, and her running stride was exactly the same. As the morning heated up, and I was getting delirious, it became a race against “myself”. haha I wasn’t gonna let “me”, beat me so at the next underpass I dropped all 3 of them. Whoosh!
Now the pressure was really on and I could feel that fire inside me pushing to make sure I created a big enough gap and keep my pass. Up ahead I noticed another female runner, she was my new target! After a few minutes I passed her with a nod and a “great job”, which was reciprocated. Runners are the best. I was now the 12th female. My goal was top 10 female and I hoped to place in my age group. The next targets were out of site, but I knew it was two women running together. If I could catch them, I could meet my goal.
And then, right when I needed him most, Mr. Zucchini Runner was on the sidelines, cheering me on and snapping pics. It gave me a little burst to keep pushing to catch those other runners!
Not too much later I crossed through mile 10, heard cheers from my friend and fellow RETAZ CRO, Jeremy and knew the end was near! The next mile was brutal, and I almost felt like I needed to slow it down a bit, especially if I was going to have anything left in the tank to finish strong. There was a second turnaround point and I saw the first place runner – who was also a female – and gave her a big wave and “great job!” At this point things were a blur, I kind of felt like I was getting tunnel vision and the will to keep pushing was dwindling. But I told myself it was 20 minutes of my life, and kept plugging away. By mile 12 I had passed the two female runners and I was now – by my count anyway – 10th female.
Everything was jumbled in my head, so I just kept telling myself the ‘numbers didn’t matter, just give it all you’ve got’. In the last half mile I really pushed it, which wasn’t much. I saw Mr. Zucchini Runner on the course again and this time, I couldn’t even give him a smile. I was laser focused and SO HOT, I just wanted to finish.
I crossed the line at 1:47:28 and was mixed with happiness and sadness all at the same time. It wasn’t a personal record, I knew it wouldn’t be, but to know I pushed so hard to finish with a time I had achieved years ago was kind of tough. On the other hand, I was happy because I KNOW I couldn’t have done anything differently. I gave it 100% and at the end of the day, THAT is what truly matters. I am where I am, and that’s ok. I knew taking a year off from full blown racing would cause me to lose some speed and I’m ok with that, because 2014 was an amazing year of ‘running just to run’, exploring the trails of South Mountain and getting lots of cross training in!
At the finish area, they had bananas, apples, pretzels, oranges and other healthy snacks. I took a banana and headed back over to the finish to see Jaime and Emily cross the mat. We had a nice little group of people hanging out and chatting and Emily asked if I placed – I told her I had no idea!
She quickly looked it up for me on her phone, since she is a StartLine Racing veteran and told me I finished first in my age group!! WOO HOO! Now THAT made me happy. In the end, I finished 19th overall and 9th place female.
All throughout my training runs, whenever I posted to social media, StartLine Racing would comment and support me. It was so nice to have that connection. On race day, I got to meet their social media manager and finally put a face to the account! She actually handed me my first place award! I loved the ease of packet pickup on race morning, I felt there were plenty of water stations on the course, it was well marked and had large mile marker flags along the way. Results and photos were up almost immediately too! I will for SURE be doing more StartLine Racing events in the future… I have my eyes on some of their Sunrise Series races.
After the race Mr. Zucchini Runner and I headed over to a local breakfast place to grab some food. I was starving and we were far from home! It hit the spot for about 30 minutes, but it was still a nice snack. (It’s kind of hard to eat breakfast out when you are gluten-free and vegan.)
A special thanks to my #1 supporter, I couldn’t do it without you!
After a looooong day we like to treat our bodies to some green juice!
What keeps you motivated during a race to keep pushing towards your goal?