Friday, May 2, 2014

a Half Marathon Report: Details, Details

On Monday, I shared a few things that surprised me as I ran my first half-marathon last weekend.  Today I'm ready to delve into the nitty-gritty and tell you more than you'd ever want to know about my experience from way before the start and all the way beyond the finish line.

Preparation: Last fall, I began contemplating training for a race longer than a 5K.  I assumed that a 10K was my next step, but while talking with my sister-in-law, Sarah, on Thanksgiving I expressed doubt that I could increase my mileage and she said, "I know you can run a half-marathon!" It watered the seed that had been germinating in my mind.  I gave myself more time to think about it, but by Christmas, I knew that it's what I wanted to do and so in early January, I registered for a late April half-marathon.  The race I chose was not an out-and-back course.  It was a point-to-point course that went from one beach to another.

Sending in my registration made it official so I jumped into preparations. I put in many, many hours of training.  I chose a 3-day-a-week training program as a guide, and also cross-trained two days a week. I ran in sleet, snow, wind, rain, and sun.  I read books and articles about running.  I listened to podcasts from other runners. I talked to other runners.  I got up early and completed 4- and 6-mile runs before Brian ever left for work in the morning.  I put in Saturday morning hours completing long, lonely 10- and 12-mile runs. I motivated myself by saying, "I can do this for 7 more weeks (or 6 more or 5 more...)."

Goals: Having only begun running less than 18 months before and having never run a race longer than a 5K, I was hesitant to set goals that were too ambitious. I looked at several online race calculators to get an idea about a reasonable time goal for me.  I wanted to push myself, but I didn't want to set myself up for failure. Based on my previous 5K times, the calculators recommended running a pace of between 9:42-9:48 per mile which would have me running the entire 13.1 mile course in about 2 hours, 7 minutes.  Knowing that the wind blowing off the water, my inexperience, running with a crowd, or other factors could affect my goals, I decided to make my goal finish the race somewhere between 2 hours, 7 minutes and 2 hours, 10 minutes.

During my training, I heard the advice that you should also set non-time goals so I set a few of those as well: 
  • Finish the race.  
  • Run the course without stopping for any walk breaks. 
  • Maintain even or negative splits (meaning that each mile is run at approximately the same pace or faster than the one before it).

The Starting Line:The morning of the race was damp and windy.  Though the thermometer read low 50s, it felt far colder. I debated about what to wear.  I get cold easily, but I also didn't want to overheat once the sun came up.  I ended up decided on pink shorts with knee-high socks to keep my legs warm and a green and white long sleeve tech shirt that had loose sleeves so I could push them up if I got too warm. I threw on a light weight black tech pullover before I left the house, meaning to gear-check it along with my phone and have it waiting for me at the finish line.  However, when I turned in my bag, I forgot to include the shirt so I was stuck with it.  (This will come into play later in my story.)

The first thing I did when I got the starting destination was get in line for the bathroom.  I waited and waited and waited for twenty-five minutes. The longer I waited, the more nervous I got that I wouldn't get to the starting line on time. I passed the time chatting with a friend who was also running the race, and making small talk with runners around us in line.

Go!: As it turns out, I needn't have been worried about my long wait for the bathroom because the race was delayed by thirty minutes. That gave me more time for my hands to start shaking-- whether from nerves or the cold, I don't know.  

When the race finally began, the mass of people started to inch forward. We were told that there were 2751 registered racers, representing 35 states and 2 countries. (There was also a 5K that morning with over 700 runners.) The race was chip timed, meaning every runner had an electronic strip on the back of their race bib which did not start keeping time until that individual reached the starting line. It stopped calculating once he or she crossed the finish line.

The first part of the race was exhilarating.  There were so many people surrounding me that I didn't have time to think about how many miles were in front of me.  Running only a few feet away was the youngest runner of the half-marathon, a 9-year-old boy.

I had to keep my speed in check, though.  It's too easy to let the excitement of the race get the better of me and start out too fast and then burn out before the race is complete. I set my watch to beep if I started running faster than my goal pace.

Within the first mile, we faced our one and only hill, but with fresh legs, I hardly felt the incline.


By mile 3 the runners began to thin out and I started to dwell on the run ahead of me.  At this point, I turned on my iPod and focused on setting a steady pace.  At mile 4, the race course left the main road and took a 1-mile loop through a neighborhood. As I was entering the neighborhood, there were runners of all genders and ages exiting the neighborhood, almost a full mile ahead of me. Many of them were cheering for us and we cheered for them.  I love how the running community is so encouraging!

Half Way Point: A few minutes past the hour mark,  I ran by two women in the middle of a conversation. One girl said to the other, "How are you doing?" to which her friend replied, "I don't know. I'm dying out here." I looked down at my watch and saw we were at the 6.5 mile mark and thought, "Wow!  I'm halfway through!" and then I thought, "Oh, I've still got halfway to go."   In reality, though, I was still feeling great.  My legs weren't tired and my breathing was even.

That was until I looked down and saw that my shoelace had come untied. I moved over the edge and squatted down to quickly retie. It took no more than 15 seconds, but when I started running again, my legs were like lead.  It took about 5 minutes to loose that heavy feeling and get back into my groove. 

Around mile 8, I was starting to long for the finish line.  A boy on the sidelines held a sign that read "You thought this was a good idea 4 months ago."  It made me chuckle.

The Finish Line: At mile 10, I hit a wall. I didn't feel like I could go on, but stopping would leave me 3 miles from the finish line. I felt my legs slowing down and I felt cranky, but I did my best to push through the negative feelings. At mile 11, we ran onto the bridge that would take us to the finish line and my spirits buoyed.  Coming off the bridge there were spectators lining both sides of the street-- cheering, waving, and holding signs.  I loved the sign that read "Run, stranger, run!"

When my watch rolled over to the 12 mile mark, I knew I was almost there, but that last mile was hard. The course took us down the boardwalk, away from the finish line. I couldn't see the turn-around point and every step away from my destination was torture. When we finally turned and starting heading back to the finish line, it was easier mentally, but my legs were asking to be done.

Finally we rounded the corner and the finish line was in sight. I looked around for Brian who had planned to be watching from the finish line, but I couldn't spot him among the crowd. I gave a extra push (which didn't amount to much) and crossed the finishers' mat!


I made it!  I  reached the end of the road-- not just the one I had started down 2 hours previously, but the one that truly began 4 months ago.

Beyond the Finish Line: The minute I stopped running, my legs started to cramp. Members of the Coast Guard stood by the finish line handing out medals.  I immediately put mine around my neck and kept walking toward the snack tables. My first thought was that I needed water. I also took a bag of pretzels and a granola bar even though I wasn't hungry.

Moving was the only thing that helped my aching legs so I began walking around looking for Brian. When I found him, he still had his eyes on the finish line.  I startled him when I walked up behind him and touched his back.  He had missed my finish and was still waiting for me to cross. Remember how I didn't gear-check my black shirt but left it on instead? He was looking for my green and white shirt so he never saw me pass by.  As the time clock ticked farther and farther past my goal time, he started to feel disappointed for me, thinking that the race had been harder than I anticipated. Though we were both sorry he had missed my big moment, he was relieved that I was not crying back at mile 12, struggling to finish!

Evaluating My Goals: So how did I do? My goal time was to finish with a time between 2:07 and 2:10.  My official time was 2:10:04 ! According to my watch, I ran 13.22 miles (a little more than the typical 13.1) and ran it at a 9:52 minute per mile pace.

I also had three non-time goals: 

  • Finish the race Yes!
  • Run the course without stopping for any walk breaks. Unless you count that brief stop to retie my shoe, I did not stop.
  • Maintain even or negative splits (meaning that each mile is run at approximately the same or faster than the one before it) I did really well with this until I completed ten miles and then it started going downhill. The next time I run a half-marathon, I'll attempt to improve that and finish just as strongly as I began. However, I'm still pleased with how long I was able to maintain.

Afterward:  Post race, my body was tired all over. I was ravenous. I couldn't get enough to eat, and eating a snack just made me want to eat more! My leg and hip muscles were stiff and achy. My toes were sore, though the worst I suffered was a bruised toe and chipped toe nail polish.

On Sunday I was still unusually hungry. My muscles were no longer stiff but they still ached. Monday was much better and on Tuesday, I went for my first post-race run-- an easy 3 miles-- and felt wonderful. It's funny how after all the intense running of the previous months, 3 miles felt short.

Now I'm facing a few post-race blues.  For months I've had a training plan guiding me and it's hard to adjust to not having a direction or a major goal.  How often do I run? How hard?  How far? Where do I go from here?


  1. Wow! What a wonderful experience...and I definitely wouldn't count the shoe retie as a stop. I hope you can get back into your running groove soon.

  2. Nice one, Kristin! Great summary! I am inspired... not to run a half, but to continue trying to make my 5K walk times faster. Runner's toenail is not pretty but it is a badge you can proudly wear :-)

  3. Go Girl! That is awesome!
    Proud of you :)


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