This would be my fourth half marathon, yet two of them had not gone well, including this same event one year ago when I suffered a stress fracture that should have ended my race at mile seven. It ended my 2012 season. Two stress fractures and one pinched nerve later, I’m trying to prove that 2013 will be a different year.
I was well rested through the week. Then Friday evening, I headed out for my scheduled shakeout run. When I returned home, it happened. I only slept half the night as I fought my allergies. My face would not stop leaking. I was afraid to take anything for it as allergy medicine is known to cause drowsiness. Come race morning, I was drowsy for lack of sleep.
I met up with the MIT crew at the Hilton where I connected with Miles for Myelin, the Run MS team I am running with this year to raise support for the National MS Society. Our team captain, Melissa, planned to pace me to a PR finish. I also met up with another friend who would be running her first half marathon- go Ashley! Another friend, Cheryl, was also running her first half marathon; I would find her after the race. After some pictures, we all headed out to find our start corrals. There was a pleasant chill in the air which I can appreciate on race morning.
I had already made three different trips to the restroom only to realize these trips were unnecessary. Then, after finding my corral, the sudden and inescapable urge to find a port-a-john took its grip on me. I had a nervous bladder this morning.
I started with the 2:15 pace group. I expected I would always keep the pace leaders in sight, then surge ahead at the right moment toward the end of the race. I did not expect what actually happened soon after the first mile. The pace was easy enough that, as the pace group slowed down at the water stop, I continued on and picked up a little speed. I was looking for comfortably hard and found it. The plan was to keep at comfortably hard, then sprint the final 5K. There were moments that comfortably hard became prohibitively difficult; at these moments, I reminded myself to check my form: throw my elbows back, lift my head, bend my knees, shorten my stride, and breathe deep. These checks helped me keep my rhythm and enjoy the run.
I did not enjoy fighting through the crowd of quarter marathoners. There is a portion of the half marathon course where the quarter marathon route turns off then meets up again later for a merge. At this point, the congestion that was previously relieved at the initial turnoff is now revisited. There was one couple in particular who kept crossing in front of me, dropping back, passing me, wash, rinse, repeat. I was ready to throw elbows. This led to frustration on my part and early surges that hurt my performance later in the race. I had been holding steady around a 10:00 pace. Then around miles 7 and 8, I surged in an effort to pass people. This punctuated effort burned through my reserves and left me hitting a wall going into the mile nine.
I expected the last miles of the race to suck. I had not expected the suck to reveal itself so soon. I spent the last four miles cramping, especially so in my calves but also in my quads. The last two miles were a mental and physical battle against walking. I am happy to say that I did not walk. Had I succumbed, I would not have met my goal. Also, my hands started going numb.
I turned the corner onto High St for the final stretch. The ending is cruel as the route takes the participants up a gentle grade that at this point in the race ceases to be gentle. Further, the organizers extended the finish line beyond the point of last year’s finish line. Expectation of relief leads to disappointment as you realize you have yet another 100 feet to run- bastards!
I cannot tell you how I was feeling when I finished the race. I honestly don’t remember much at this point other than it wasn’t at all clear to me where to get my finisher medal. The corral was crowded. I was hurting. I debated a stop at the medical tent but decided to just continue on to the MIT tent where I knew I could jump in a barrel of ice water. It didn’t help that the corral led finishing participants to a set of stairs that you could not avoid. Once in the Commons, I made my way to the MIT tent, found my JustTri jacket, removed my shoes and happily jumped into an ice bath. Afterward, I propped up my leg to allow a bag of ice to rest on my ankle. It wasn’t until I was home that the fullness of my accomplishment washed over me.
It was encouraging to experience the love of my running family before, during, and after the race. Not only did my fellow Miles for Myelin teammate run with me during the race, but from start to finish I received the cheers and encouragement of friends along the course. They may not know that I heard them, but I did. Their support meant everything to me.
I wore a Camelback rather than fight through the hydration stations. However, I will be trying out different hydration belts this season. The crowds at these hydration stations are hazardous. My nutrition for the race included 24oz of water mixed with 400 calories of Heed plus another 10oz bottle of water. For conditions this morning, 24oz and 400 calories was perfect. On occasion, I would douse myself with the water.
For the pain I was in during and after the race, I honestly started asking myself this weekend why we do this to ourselves. Today, I’m looking forward to my next race. My accomplishment this weekend is not lost on me. I’m proud of my 2:14:02 PR. I look back on my training and the race itself and know that I could have done better, yet my experience in this race is a valuable lesson as I look ahead to remainder of the season.