I signed on to mentor the Spring 2016 10k/Half Marathon training program for the experience of being a mentor and I enjoyed being a participant in the Fall program. Fleet Feet invited me to come mentor and I felt special to be asked. I had access to the 12 week 13.1 plan while I mentored people to run the 10k over 11 of those weeks. It helped that they said they’d pay for my entry into one of the goal races upon my completion of mentoring the program. So, I signed up to run the half marathon race despite being primarily involved with the 10k training. I did the half marathon training runs on my own until week 10 when I was too sick to run my practice 13.1 miles. I’m glad that I was involved with the 10k group because the half marathon was a test of my inner and outer strength. I was able to experience the 10k training and race focusing on the people participating, which was more enjoyable in my opinion.
Training started when the weather was a bitter cold and the windchill was often in the single digits and sometimes nearing negative numbers. We did our hill and speed training together as a group. The 10k race had a rather challenging hill on the course. I was pretty confident I had hills and weather taken care of and that they no longer made me shudder. I even had my best 5k time on a rainy day in March. Then came the Lincoln Presidential Half Marathon of 2016.
The race took place in Springfield, IL. It is about an hour from where I currently reside, so I found another person doing the race who was willing to share her hotel room for the night before. This meant I could get up considerably later than if I was riding there in the morning. We were walking distance from the starting line and our hotel was across the street from the place we picked up our packets and had the pre race expo. Another member of our group made dinner reservations at 7pm, which was a little late for me, but I was just going along since I hadn’t been involved in the planning process other than saying I’d be there. I gave myself a Jamberry manicure with a running woman on each of my fingernails. I cut a fake tattoo into a silver arrow for my left thumb to remind myself to keep moving forward the same way I had during my last half marathon. I packed everything I thought I might need and stressed over the weather forecast of a chilly, windy race.
I carpooled with a couple of people from the program team and we checked into our hotel together before locating a parking space in a nearby garage. At the check in desk, I stood with my roommate while she offered her card for any incidental expenses. She then told the desk attendant to watch for any “pay per view” charges on her room because “She (motion to ME) REALLY likes her pay per view if you know what I mean (winks and laughs).” I was like, “Whatever,” but the attendant laughed and said he knew what she meant. I apparently enjoy the dirty movies on her tab and I look like the type. It was hilarious and I kept telling people my roommate, Angie, was picking on me. It made the experience more fun, for sure.
We went to the expo and packet pickup where we got our race bibs and official race t-shirts and looked around at some other booths to buy running things or previous race shirts from the club hosting the event. When I went from the bib pickup line to the t-shirt line, the volunteer told me that they were out of my size despite my being registered weeks in advance and specifically stating in emails that last minute registration would not get a shirt. Fortunately, the next size down fit me and I was okay to take it with me despite another volunteer trying to push a men’s size on me instead and telling me I could try them on if I wanted to. I found a race shirt from the previous year that I liked and didn’t have the year printed on it for $1, so I picked that one and another as new running tops for training in. We stopped in at a lounge in the expo’s hotel for a drink and headed out to our dinner.
Nothing too exciting happened at dinner. We had conversation and food. We got back to the hotel before 10, then started setting things out for the next day and getting ready to take showers to wind down for the night. Once we were settled in, a boisterous group decided to hold loud, cackling conversation in the hallway of the hotel for a period that seemed extensive given the fact that we were asleep and preparing to wake early for a race. They quieted before I became upset enough to venture into the hallway to ask them to be more considerate of others and move on to demanding silence if that didn’t work.
I woke up 1 minute before the alarm. I hopped out of bed and ran to my phone to check the time and it was 5:59 am. Angie and I agreed before going to sleep that we didn’t need a lot of time to get ready and would prefer a little more sleep time than prep time. We were both ready and out the door before meeting at our agreed upon location at 6:45 am. We wound up leaving a few minutes later than planned because we waited around for people, but grew impatient and were needing to get to a location for our group photo with our other Fleet Feet teammates. We stood around a little after the picture before people started meandering toward the race start. I found myself a pace group for 2 hours and 15 minutes and I stood beside them at the start in hopes of getting that time upon completion of my race. I believed that my best was 2:17, and I just wanted to get a better time than that.
Pre race hugging for warmth…
The first 6 miles, I hung directly in front of the person holding the pace sign for 2:15. We were having a light conversation about a race that we were both going to be attending in the coming months when a side cramp hit me. I had to pull back and I didn’t want to. I stopped on the side of the road and stretched my arm over my head to release the tightness in my side. The pacer was still in my sights when I started back up. I could see her sign and I wasn’t too far behind. I figured I’d stay where I was and save some energy for later to catch up. I was getting hot and sweaty. I had removed my windbreaker jacket and tied it around my waist. I’d taken 2 packets of GU gel with my water by then. I’d started feeling stiff in my right hip and my feet were feeling each strike on the ground in an unusually sensitive way. I was slowing down and losing the pace sign ahead. I got upset because I just wanted to beat my best time. I looked around and behind me for a familiar face. I looked around for anyone to talk to. Nobody was open to talk to, but I tried to keep pace with a young lady in a hat that had puppy ears on it. Mile 7, I tossed my gloves at our coordinator, Sam. I was so happy to see her each time she was somewhere along the course and I needed the encouragement each time. At mile 8, a van pulled out of a street and spun tires throwing gravel and almost hit me in his/her carelessness and disregard for the event going on.
There was a hill on mile 9 where a man in a wheelchair with the “Quickie” brand on the back struggled to surmount the huge incline. I thought of my late uncle, Chris, who used a similar chair and was even in a print ad for them before he passed away nearly 10 years ago. People around me were yelling to him that he could do it, but I felt the urge to say “we can do this,” and “let’s get this hill now!” I was just repeating it until we finally reached the top. I felt completely defeated and tired. I started internal dialogue about how I just needed to finish the race and I really needed to keep moving forward for a few more miles. I told myself that I hated running and that I would never do another half marathon in my life. I started to have tears in my eyes and feel a sense that I’d been defeated. It didn’t stop there. My bare hands got stiff and cold while my head was hot and sweaty. I tried to soothe myself by warming my hands on my neck and cooling my neck with my hands. The wind started to bear down and the hills were getting harder to do more than walk. My mile times were getting slower each time my watch chimed. I pushed on remembering that it was about finishing. I glanced down to the arrow on my hand reminding me that I needed to decide to keep moving forward to the finish. Nearing the end, I saw a couple of familiar faces and tried to keep pace with them. I started to tire and fall back and when they looked to me, I encouraged them to continue on without me. I was expending as much energy as I could and I still wasn’t moving as quickly as I’d wanted. I tried to walk a short distance to bank some energy for the last mile, but I was losing traction. I picked up the energy I had left and I jogged. I approached the young lady in the puppy hat and I patted her back and said, “C’mon, we’ve only got 1/2 mile left to go. Let’s run it.” She picked up to a run and she was able to muster the energy to take off ahead. I wished for that burst that didn’t come.
The wind started bearing down and blew dirt from the road and tiny pebbles into my face and under my sunglasses. I was feeling weak and defeated. I commented to the women nearest to me that it looked like the weather didn’t want us to finish as a nearby sign rolled over in the wind. I put my head down and I ran to the final corner of the race course. I saw Sam and other teammates along the side of the road cheering for me. I was beat to hell from this race and I was so relieved to see a familiar face, I put my head back up and I ran in to the finish looking up to see the clock edge past 2:24. I hadn’t beaten my best at all. I finished though. An older woman with gray hair walked up to me holding something and I bowed my head as she wrapped a red ribbon with a medal attached around my neck. I was overcome with emotion.
I went to walk back to Sam and the others so I could cheer other people on and I saw one of my teammates coming in and I ran as fast as I could to the gate, leaned in, and screamed for she and her friend to finish strong. That was probably the last bit of energy I had in me before I started feeling the true exhaustion. I was able to find some of my friends and commiserate about the hills, the cars along the route trying to run people over, and the brutal winds. Angie and I talked about how we preferred running with a buddy over running a race alone. We shared similar feelings about the emotional ups and downs from the course.
I was slightly damaged, but I wasn’t broken. I told friends my doubts about being able to run another half marathon again after this one. They said that it was just the conditions and that I’d be back one day. I was able to use colorful language to describe my experience and make some other people laugh who were also feeling a little worse for the wear from the race. I drank my bottle of water and my free beer before going back to the hotel to clean up and put on clothes that weren’t drenched in sweat and misery. We walked to a cafe for lunch before heading back home.
The ride home was intense. Winds were making driving difficult for our friend, Erin, who came to the race to cheer us on despite not being able to run it as she’d planned. We saw broken power poles along the sides of the highway. We went through spots where the dust from the fields was blowing onto the road and diminishing visibility. When we finally got back, I was exhausted. I went home and took a nap before grabbing a takeout menu and calling in an order for Chinese food. I dragged myself to and from the car and back to get my food and parked in front of the TV for a movie with my dinner. It wasn’t long before I was taking some ibuprofen and turning in for the night.
I won’t say that I was traumatized by the race, but it was somewhere near that for me. My assumed best was incorrect. I checked it this morning, the day after the race. It was 2:19 and Saturday’s time was 2:24. I was pretty hard on myself for something that wasn’t actually as bad as I’d though. I only lost 5 minutes on a hilly and windy course day. Had it been ideal weather and less hilly, I might have gotten a better time than I did. There’s really no way to know that for sure. What I know is that I am stronger today than I was when I started this. I know that I’ll run more races and I still want to run a full marathon one day, so I’ll probably run a half marathon again. I’ve even marked the last day I can sign up for a specific marathon at a certain price. Yeah, I know what I said. I’ll say it again, too. I enjoy training for this stuff, though. If I’m going to train for it, I might as well do the race.
Thanks for reading. Below is a pic of my medal that I wanted to badly, I endured this race. Also a pic of Lincoln as an athlete that the artist deserved props for, but I don’t know who it was. My new magnet will be nestled beside my 5k, 10k, and 13.1 magnets on the door to my garage. Please feel free to share as you see fit.
*Special thanks to Samantha Quigle of Fleet Feet Bloomington for the pictures, the training, and the encouragement (and Rebecca for bringing my gloves back to me)
**Also thanks to Gisette and Tony for the pics, Erin for the transportation, Angie for the hotel reservation and shenanigans, and all of my team for the support and encouragement for the past 12 weeks.