A Real Half Marathon

I got to run a real half marathon this weekend in Central Illinois. It was chip timed, Boston Qualifying, and there were other people there. The water stop was different since they were single use water bottles. Nutrition was the responsibility of the runners and was set on a self service table before the “gun.” The course was loops instead of an out and back or single loop. The race was put on by It’s Race Time, who provided bib boards to the participants in place of disposable pins. They had an app I used and received cheers from my adoring fans throughout the race. I loved the experience. A food truck stepped up and gave us a free post race meal. Healthy in a Hurry had really good food, by the way. I had the fish tacos, which were grilled fish, cole slaw, white cheese, and sauce on tortillas. Delicious.

I have no idea how the conversation started last week, but I was at the gym and the conversation went to the coming half marathon. I somehow agreed that I could PR despite my own reservations about being able to. I spent the next couple days trying to shift my “I’ll try,” into “I’ll do it.” I convinced myself that I had to do it instead of simply being able.

Sunday morning arrived and it was windy and chilly as expected. I knew exactly what to wear from experience. I would need a short sleeve shirt, fake sleeves, gloves, and my pants that are vented on the backs of the legs. My threshold for long vs short sleeves is about 40 degrees. I can run cold, but if I get too hot, it’s miserable. My start wave was 8:20, which was great for me because that meant I could eat a real breakfast (overnight oats) instead of a stroopwafel like I do for early morning runs. I run better on real food. I drank a caffeinated Nuun to fill up on electrolytes prior to the race. I made sure to use the bathroom as much as possible before heading out on my 20 minute drive to Lake Bloomington.

I got to the race site and parked on the rural road shoulder meaning my car was leaning into a ditch. I walked down to Judy’s car and sat inside the warm car chatting with her until my wave was about to start. I walked to the start and it seemed like nobody was there despite the announcement that the wave started in 4 minutes. I took a dot on the ground near the middle and saw very few people behind me. The horn sounded and we were off. I was running close to a 9 minute pace and trying to pull back so I wouldn’t burn out, but I felt like the effort was easy. I stopped looking down at my watch as more people passed. I think everyone in my heat got ahead of me. I tried to just run comfortably.

After the first mile, we were into the loop with short hills and a couple of longer ones. I was feeling good. The app on the phone said my estimated finish time was 2 hours 12 minutes. That was 5 minutes better than what I was planning. I slowly realized that the app was not as accurate as my watch as each mile ticked along. I took my first GU at 3.5 miles as planned. I walked as I took it and my water, also part of what I planned. The GU exploded all over my hand and face and I squeezed it into my mouth. It was chocolate flavored. I licked what I could off of my gloves and tried to wipe my face with my shirt. It distracted me a little bit. I asked someone at the water table whether I had GU on my face and explained I had to know since it was brown. I got through the first loop and the checkpoint (the start/finish line was a turnaround).

I went back toward the loop and I really felt confident and comfortable. I was on pace to finish in the time I’d planned and I was hearing cheers through the app at every mile I crossed. I was able to take another GU around 7 miles without getting it all over myself thanks to removing my gloves. My music was keeping me entertained and I knew the course from running in training. I turned the checkpoint again and took the energy of the people who cheered. I decided to take my final nutrition at 9 miles for a shot of energy. I saw sweat on my sleeves and pulled them off to tie them around my belt. I put the gloves back on because the wind was making my hands cold. I was still comfortable and my pace felt good.

With only four miles left, I ran a couple hills, looked at my pace and saw it slowing. I felt like it was out of control. I tried to move my feet faster, drop them more quickly, lean forward. None of my usual tricks were working. Inside of mile 11, I started feeling disoriented with nobody around. I thought I’d gotten off course despite having just passed a man I’d seen twice before taking race photos. I did the math and realized that I’d have to run 2 miles at less than 9 minutes each to beat my PR. I took 30 seconds and walked to try to regain my speed. My pace didn’t rebound when I started running again. I realized my mind was falling apart before my body and took my headphones off and prayed. I focused on nothing more than finishing the race because my mind would not stop telling me I needed to walk because I wasn’t going to get my time and it would be more comfortable to walk. I felt my eyes well up and no tears came. I felt angry. Once I could see the finish line, I sped up as much as I could and it wasn’t as fast as some of the times I finish a run. I crossed the finish line at 2 hours 20 minutes and 18 seconds. I was relieved. I knew before I got there I wasn’t going to PR that day. I didn’t even check my time when I crossed. My friend, Sandra brought me a water and congratulated me and chatted. I looked at my time after that. I finished my 9th half marathon with a time 22 minutes better than my Detroit time last October. I finished 2 minutes and 20 seconds from my best. That’s still pretty good and the best I’ve done since my injury in 2016.

That was not my intent. I wanted to PR my half marathon before turning 40 in January 2021. I had no idea there wouldn’t be races this year. My plan was to get that record out of the way in Missouri on October 4th. That was supposed to be my 10th half marathon. Oh well.

Now I’m signed up for a competition at my gym next month. I was reluctant to sign up, but somehow my own words were reflected in something and I felt like it was a sign that I should. I’d said in a photo caption after my race: “It isn’t about winning. Sometimes it’s just about being the best damn me I can be. I rocked that. I owned it.”

Thanks for reading! I can’t wait to tell you more about my adventures.

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