A week ago, I ran the Independence Half Marathon. I’ve been taking notes all week of the things I want to include in my race recap. The race was overwhelmingly fantastic. I’m going to break it down chronologically:
The night before
I was nervous, but I was pleased that my nerves weren’t terribly overwhelming. I reminded myself over and over that I had zero expectations for this race. I had trained, I would do my best, and I couldn’t expect any more than that.
Early in the morning
Waking up early is the worst part. I’m not a morning person, and I’m not a morning runner. When my alarm went off at 5:30am, I had to fight every instinct to go back to sleep. (Because this race is close to my home, and because the race didn’t start until 7am, I still got to sleep later than I would before most races! Crazy!)
The day before, I’d made a batch of applesauce muffins. It’s a family recipe that I love, makes a perfect breakfast, and it worked before my last marathon. On the morning of the race, I dragged myself out of bed, dressed, and ate muffins for breakfast. My mother also woke and dressed. We left at 6:15 for the race.
At the race
I give major kudos to the race organizers for finding a location that is easy to find and with plenty of parking. We were able to park reasonably close to the festivities, and because there were many surrounding roads, we never found ourselves blocked by road closures or delays.
We were there early, so we sat in the car for a few minutes to rest. Several people walked around our car wearing tshirts that read “Wagstrong”, in honor of Thomas Wagstaff, a local police officer who was shot in the line of duty a few weeks ago. I texted a friend but soon put my phone away. I was too restless for that.
At about 6:40, we got out of the car and walked to the port-a-potty line. It was long, of course. I evaluated the people in line around me. Ahead of me in line was a runner, complete with her race bib and timing chip, wearing HEAVY eyeliner! Suffice it to say I was amused! I don’t think I’ve EVER worn makeup while I ran. For one thing, running is not a time when I expect to look good. For another thing, I know how awful makeup looks after it starts to run, and given the amount of sweat I produce during a run, I don’t know why anyone would want to take that gamble.
At 6:45, one of the race organizers came over the loudspeaker to remind people that the race starts in fifteen minutes and could we please line up at the starting line. The girl behind me in the port-a-potty line started laughing, looked at the line ahead of us, and announced, “well, we’re in line!” She and I began joking about previous races and long lines at port-a-potties.
The line moved slowly (with periodic interruptions by the race organizers asking the runners to line up), but I got through the port-a-potties in just enough time. I donned my tutu, took a photo, and moved to the end of the race line (just behind the 3:00 pace group).
It was a this moment, as they were counting down the start of the race, that I remembered I’d forgotten to wear sunscreen. Oops. Too late now.
I gave my mom a hug, and I was off.
The Early Miles
The first few miles were relatively easy. I reminded myself, OFTEN, that the first mile of a race is the most deceptive – that it’s easy to keep a fast pace for the first mile but it’s equally easy to lose that pace in the later miles. I intentionally ran behind the 3:00 pace group, and frequently forced myself to slow down. But even forcing myself to slow down, my pace was still a good clip. I was moving along at a sub-14:00 and feeling great.
I was intentionally trying to ignore the pace groups and the urge to run faster to keep up with them. One of my few gripes about this race, though, was the pace groups. I carry my iPhone and was listening to my pace calculations on that, and the paces it quoted did NOT match the pace groups. I could see both the 2:55 and 3:00 pace groups ahead of me, and to be honest, their paces seemed a good :20-:30 faster than they needed to be during these early miles.
However, as someone who was trying to NOT run with the pace groups, this was good for me mentally. It gave me all the better reason to ignore the pace groups.
Just past the 4-mile mark, my fitbit buzzed. I’d reached my 10,000 steps goal for the day. I burst out laughing, then had to explain myself to another nearby runner who looked at me askew.
Because the universe has a great sense of irony, I started my period around this time. I wasn’t shocked – my cycle was way overdue, and I’d put in a menstrual cup before the race just in case. But the cramping was certainly unwelcome.
This was probably the moment when I felt the race most acutely. This was where I really began to struggle, mentally, to continue.
As much as I’d tried not to let the pacers influence me, I’d kept the 3:00 pacer in my sight the entire race. The distance between us got smaller and smaller until, at mile 8.5, I passed them. This did WONDERS for my self confidence! (Although their pacing was terrible – the 3:00 pacer remained behind me and I think eventually came in around 3:10.)
Another runner, moving at about the same pace as me, slowed down and eventually took off her shoe. She walked barefoot for a few minutes. I passed her as she sat on the side of the road, rubbing her foot, and supported by her running partner. I asked how she was doing and was assured that she was okay, just struggling with some foot troubles. She kept fighting through the race, and she definitely has my respect!
At this point, all of my mental focus was on moving forward. I told myself, over and over and over, just keep going, you’re doing great, focus, keep going, over and over and over. I also found myself struggling to swallow the sport beans. My body just didn’t want to eat anything.
Due to construction, the race route had been changed slightly and included a long hill at the beginning of mile 12. I was still running, but just barely. I’m pretty sure I was going so slow that I might as well have been walking up the hill!
With the hill behind me, my pace picked up oh-so-slightly. I joked with another runner about how the finish line was so close, yet so far away. This last stretch of the race was both the easiest and hardest part of the race – easiest because I knew it was almost over, hardest because I had so little left to give!
The Finish Line
I tried to dig and find a little more pace. I’m not sure if I succeeded, but I tried. It’s fascinating how my legs just refused to respond. But I made it, I crossed the finish line, and I was on my feet!
I made my way through the chute and, exhausted, immediately dropped to a nearby curb. I wasn’t sick – just completely out of energy. (I didn’t throw up – win!) I drank the water bottle I was given, although it honestly tasted funny due to the Gatorade and sport beans I’d eaten.
My mom joined me. After a few minutes I stood up to explore the post-race festivities. There weren’t a lot of vendor booths – a local health food store and a few sports therapy doctors or massage places – but the atmosphere was fantastic. A car dealership which sponsored the race also provided a booth where a woman with an etching tool would write your name, time, or anything else you wanted on the back of your medal.
My chip time was 3:05:52.8. I couldn’t be happier! This is a PR, and nearly eight minutes off my time for the same race last year. Of course, it helped that I was not sick and did not have any injuries.
At home, I showered, ate a banana, and went back to bed. I slept until almost four pm, when I finally woke up and made supper for myself. I had barely anything to eat for almost 24 hours, but I was too tired to care. I also had no appetite after the race – food just didn’t sound good at all.
I had no blisters or hotspots on my feet. Zero. In fact, my feet felt pretty good overall. There was a tiny bit of chafing on the inside of my thighs, but nothing significant – it healed within a day. My upper arms, just below the armpits, were in rougher shape. My right arm was raw, and my left arm was a open wound. This was in spite of the fact that I’d slathered udder cream on my arms and legs before the race. My post-race shower was excruciating. I couldn’t put my left arm down without pain until Wednesday, and joked about having a chicken wing due to the way I carried my arm. It still hasn’t healed entirely (a full week later!). And, of course, I was sore. Any motion at all was painful.
This was an outstanding race, and I want to run it again next year. The medal is beautiful. The signage was clear, and had just enough humor to keep me going. The course is flat, tree-line, and feels rural. The finish line area is friendly and welcoming for visitors. My only complaint is the questionable pacers – and that doesn’t really affect me at all.
I am now seriously considering signing up for a full marathon. I think because of my background in running, I have a better understanding of the depth of 26.2 miles. 13.1 is hard, and 26.2 would be even harder. But it feels more possible now than ever before! I’ll adjust my training accordingly and see how the summer goes. Next year, who knows?!