So, I did it! With the amazing support of TJ (running with me the entire time,) of course. I couldn’t have done it without him. Here’s a breakdown of events, in order of occurrence:
First, let’s talk about the day before. The entire day before the half marathon, I was overcome with all kinds of crazy emotions. I was irritated, nervous, felt like I wanted to cry, angry, scared, excited – to the point of scared…you name it, I felt it. For NO GOOD REASON. Let’s be honest, once I ran the 12.5 miles the week before, I felt like I had this. I knew I could run the 13.1. What freaked me out was that I had heard mixed reviews on the course. Some said it was a hilly course, that New Paltz was a hilly place. Others said that it was flat and mostly paved. The race website described it as (and I’m going to paraphrase here,) “a trail through the woods with some pavement.” Now, with no description of the elevation, you can see how I was thinking, “there’s a reason they’re avoiding talking about it.” Call me paranoid, but when I have to wake up at 4:00am to make it to a race starting at 7:30am in a place I’ve never been to, I get a little coo-coo, clearly. Me=not a morning person. Anyway, emotions ran high that day. At the end of it, I think it was just my “wall.” Except this one wasn’t mid-run so it caught me completely off guard and I played into it instead of talking myself out of that place and into positivity. Hey, lesson learned. I now know that this might be coming the day before any race and how to stop it.
Race day: 4:00am wake up time was no problem. I was mostly too nervous to sleep deeply anyway. TJ, being the seasoned vet, knew what to pack and why. I thank whatever higher power brought me to him. He is MARVELOUS. We left the house at 5:00am to pick up our friends and we were off to New Paltz. The drive there was breathtaking. There was one part in particular where you come over a hill and all you see is a vast field of hills/mountains, painted on a backdrop of a sunrise that could not have had more color in it. I felt pretty good at this point. We headed down towards the starting point of the race where excitement was overflowing, oozing out of everyone’s pores. One guy (who ended up winning) was warming up so intensely he was pouring sweat. I was impressed, but knowing what would happen to me if I did that, I was mostly terrified for him. TJ and our friends started warming up, lightly jogging up and down this one hill in front of the starting line. I, on the other hand, wanted to conserve all the energy I had. I stayed put and started drinking as much water as I could. I would rather have to go to the bathroom while running than to start having side-stitches from dehydration!
The race was approaching and all half marathoners began to line up by the starting line. The whole group was separated by signs, indicating pace. The sweaty man who scared me earlier was in the 6 minute mile group (the very front,) our friends who are intimidatingly athletic were in the 7 minute mile group, and I wandered off towards the back to find my people: the 9/10 minute milers. As I stood there, TJ came back to me and nudged me forward. I was with the 8 minute milers. I think psychologically, this ended up helping me because when we all started and people were passing me, I knew it was for a good reason. 20 seconds to the start of the race and I went to my Pandora for my Disney JAMS. As soon as Part of Your World from The Little Mermaid came on, my mind was gearing up and I knew we were good to go. AND WE WERE OFF!!!!
The course was beautiful. It started off paved, for about the 1st mile. Then we went around a corner and started on a trail that went through tree tunnels the entire time (you know, when the trees touch each other at the top and form a tunnel?) The trail was packed dirt with a few muddy patches for the most part. We went over an old railway bridge which put a HUGE smile on my face. We passed some farms with horses, and what I was sure was a Stag farm based on the fencing (yeah, that’s right, I’m learning.) The whole first half was a scenic wonder. Smells of nature, sounds of runner’s feet packing the earth, birds chirping, the scattered sounds and silences of the forest all topped with my Disney soundtrack pushing me further. I’d look over at TJ every once in a while and felt an overwhelming sense of pride and joy. I couldn’t stop smiling. It.Felt.Glorious. (Pocahontas flashbacks, definitely.) I want to say we were at mile 5 when sweaty-man came zooming passed us from the opposite direction. The wind he provided was pretty intense…and greatly appreciated. Now we knew people were starting to turn around ahead and the anticipation to get to that point was fueling me. I still felt pretty good. No pain, not out of breath, all was going well. When we got to the turn-around, there was a woman there with a spray bottle filled with water and she was showering everyone that came by her. Now, I can appreciate her intentions…very sweet and thoughtful of her. HOWEVER: a) wasn’t all that hot. b) I could NOT breathe when I ran past her and boy did that mess me up…. only for 2 seconds though. I’m being petty. MOVING ON.
We finally turned around. Now I knew all I had to do was go back the way I came. TJ wanted me to imagine the guy in the red shirt (the guy right in front of us) was a magnet and I was being drawn towards him so that we could pass him and increase our pace. I think I’ll try that next race…here’s what happened: sure enough, I felt my chest moving forward, my posture got better and my strides were longer and faster. My lungs also couldn’t handle it. I started panting intensely and my hands did the talking for me. They made a freak-out motion of: icant’ican’t. TJ told me to forget about that and just focus on the ground in front of me. He said, before I knew it, I would be at mile 12. So I did. I focused on the ground in front of me and kept running. About a mile later, my stomach was growling in protest. I.was.starving. It was all I could think about. I looked at TJ and told him how hungry I was. He looked at me like I was crazy. All I could picture was eating a cheeseburger after the race. I don’t know if that visual made it harder or easier to run. All I knew was, I was still hungry 2 miles later.
My legs started to kill me. Not the way they ached when I was warming up. This was in my hip and knee joints. The bone-grinding sensation I had felt on my practice run was back. This time though, TJ told me “it’ll work itself out. Just smile and run and it will go away.” Let’s be honest: if he wasn’t there next to me, I think I would have walked for a bit. As we approached the next aid station, TJ pulled out a chocolate Hammer Gel and told me that once we had water, I should try some of it and that it would hold my hunger over and give me the boost I needed to finish the race. I said no. I didn’t want to try something during the actual race that I had never tried in training. By the next aid station I was too hungry not to try it. Now, let’s keep in mind this is not a 50 mile race. The aid stations are literally 2 miles apart, if that. My body is a total drama queen. So there I was, trying this gel I didn’t really know how to consume. If you haven’t already, this is a must-try. Not only is it smooth and delicious, its basically pudding. Goes down easy and the taste sticks in your mouth long enough to make you feel like you were sitting down and enjoying a tasty snack. Sure enough, it kicked in about 5 minutes later and I was loving it. I felt full enough, I had a boost of energy, and I felt good. Still in a bit of pain in my legs, but the rest of me was fine. I kept using TJ’s trick of smiling through the pain. It worked for the most part.
By mile 11, all I wanted to see was that railway bridge, followed by pavement. Pavement meant I was getting close to the end. TJ told me we were taking a different route back, it seemed, and my mind panicked for a bit. Not knowing what landmarks to look for to know when the end was near wasn’t part of the plan. He told me not to worry about it and that it was better, less hilly this way (we started off a downhill paved path before the trail.) The distance between the bridge and the pavement felt longer than before but we powered through it. We reached the pavement and we were a mile away from the finish line. The moment I hit the pavement, I immediately regretted wishing for it. The sudden change in impact on my feet was daunting. The remaining energy I had was sucked right out of me. I think TJ saw it in my face. He kept pushing, motivating me to finish strong, that we were right there! Just then, and I swear Pandora and I are connected, I’ll Make a Man Out Of You from Mulan started playing. I think most people can agree that this song will get.you.going. Sure enough, when I started hearing someone behind me racing towards the finish line, my competitive nature pushed me forward. I wasn’t about to let this woman pass me at the end! (Like I had a choice, she has clearly done this before. I still give myself an A for effort on that one.) I saw the timer and realized I was right at 2 hours at that point. My OCD was NOT about to let my time be 2:01. ICK. I ran faster and made it over the finish line at 2:00:39 (chip time 2:00:26 – let’s go with chip time.) I ran the race at a 9:13 pace, and I finished 202nd overall out of 433 participants. I’m proud of it. I beat over half the participants and ran 13.1 miles in a time I didn’t think possible. Also, considering how I started out by running 11 minute miles, this was a vast improvement. It just goes to show that with the right amount of commitment, effort, and support, you really CAN accomplish whatever you may consider “impossible.”