I’m linking up with Running with Spoons again for Thinking Out Loud. Thanks for hosting, Amanda!
Recap time! This past Sunday, I ran my very first half marathon. It felt simultaneously like the most normal thing in the world and really, really special. Here’s how it all went down.
The night before the race, I was bouncing around in La Barra Brava fan section at the DC United vs. Columbus Crew soccer game. I may have had a beer…and a pretzel…and a little pizza. I was feeling brave in the post-race food department. It didn’t turn around to bite me on race day but jumping + stadium food might not always be a fool-proof choice.
Back home, I set out my flat runner, including my Oiselle Roga Shorts, wazelle short sleeve, Injinji socks, Road ID, Nathan Speedraw Plus, Nike running hat, Clif Bloks, and one charged Garmin Forerunner 10. I had taken everything but the Road ID out on a number of long runs and the clothes on my last 10-miler.
I foam rolled my legs one last time, crawled into bed and set my alarm for 5:40am. I had a little trouble falling asleep as nerves made my mind spin but sleep came eventually.
When I woke up, I tugged on my race outfit, braided my bed head into something manageable and prepared my handheld with Nuun + ice. The cab we had called the night before arrived at 6:09 am, which was just late enough to make us worry and consider an Uber, but just in time to get us to the race in time.
The cab dropped Alex and I off a half block from the Washington Monument and we approached it in the dark. I was a little cold, plenty nervous, and we still had 20-25 minutes before beginning to line-up. We spent the time walking around the tents, using the bathroom, and finally warming up on the National Mall with the other runners.
I took a second to take in how odd we (runners) must look: awake in the morning dark, doing our big, crazy dynamic stretches, and preparing to run 13.1 miles before most of the city had left their comfy beds for breakfast.
Between warming up and waiting for the start, Alex tried to remind me of how big of an accomplishment this was and how far I had come, but I think I was still to anxious to listen. I still appreciate the effort 🙂
We lined up with the 12-minute group and before I knew it, it was time to run! Mile 1 (12:02 min/mi) was exciting, and I think I was just really happy to put all of my nervous energy into putting one foot in front of the other. I made sure to run at a very easy effort as we swung near the Tidal Basin and headed toward Hains Point. Mile 2 (12:00 min/mi) flew by, and I was still at a very easy, conversational pace. I talked back and forth a little bit with Alex and people-watched as we made our way through the course.
Mile 3 (12:18 min/mi) and Mile 4 (11:41 min/mi) covered Hains Point, and as I’d run it a couple weeks before, it was nice to recognize the turn. I considered the port-a-potties at mile 3, but there was a healthy wait line already. Luckily, my bladder was okay, and I I found an empty one right after mile 4. Once it was in my sight, I gave my hand-held to Alex, and jumped in fast. As I left, I saw a runner cut in front of another for an open one. When you have to go, you have to go?! Also, I wonder how weird my non-runner friends think it is to include bathroom talk in race recaps…
I started a podcast at mile 4 and continued listening for the rest of the race, with the exception of a song or two in the last mile. It helped pass Miles 5 (11:51 min/mi), 6 (11:57 min/mi), and 7 (12:55 min/mi). As you can see, I had a little bit of a hard time between mile 6-7. First, physically, my knees started to feel the pounding and my right calf was tight. My knees never feel that kind of strain that early in a long run, so I think it was just the result of a hard training week the week before. Better taper next time!
Another contributor was as you run up Rock Creek, you’ve passed mile 7, but I know I spotted the mile 11 sign on the opposite side of the road, and I really just wanted to be at mile 11 already! Look at all of those runners who are already at mile 11!
Mile 8 (12:233 min/mi) and Mile 9 (12:41 min/mi) brought me right up to the turn around in Rock Creek. My knees felt normal again along these miles, but I still needed to stretch my calf along the curb and walk a little bit each mile. I felt close to brand new as soon as I stretched, but I definitely needed it to continue normally.
I reached down to touch the cone as I made the turn around and gratefully took a little gatorade and a cup of water for my handheld. I took the last of my fuel at mile 10 (I took 2 bloks each a miles 4, 7 and 10).
I do well retracing my steps during a long run and thus and pushed through Mile 10 (11:52 min/mi), Mile 11 (11:53 min/mi), and Mile 12 (11:10 min/mi) at a faster pace. I was trying really hard to complete a negative split after mile 7, but my Garmin couldn’t consistently spit out correct paces. My watch would say 11:40, but Alex’s would say 10:30 and eventually, I just gave up and just tried to maintain an even pace until the next mile.
As mile 12 came to a close, I knew I had the Arlington Memorial Bridge coming up before I could race to the finish. However, as soon as I saw I didn’t have to run the whole bridge and back, I knew I could finish strong. Even better, I spotted my family at the base of the Lincoln Memorial right after mile 12. I kept at that last mile and counted off the number of people I passed to keep myself motivated and my brain busy. I thought, “Aim for 25!” and then, “Fifty!”.
I finished Mile 13 (9:18 min/mi) two minutes faster than the mile before.
I had so much fun tin that last stretch. After my tight calf and all the energy spent making sure I wouldn’t burn out too soon, it felt like flying to see how fast my legs could run after 11 miles on my feet. It was my favorite part of the whole race.
I crossed the finish line in 2:36:39. I think my secret goal was under 2:30:00, but I met the ultimate goal I’d given myself: finisher a stronger second half.
I received my medal, grabbed my post-run food pack and made a bee-line for my family near the WWII monument. I knew they needed to get back on the road soon, and I wanted to squeeze in a little time before the left. It meant the world that they were there.
After I hugged my family one last time, and they began their drive home to Ohio, Alex and I walked to Foggy Bottom. We still had an hour before the reservation I made at Founding Farmers so we thought…why not stop for a celebratory beer?! Whole Foods was closest, but I’m not sure it was worth the judgement of ordering beer from a grocery store before 11am hahaha… Fine, it was worth it. But still weird.
But let me tell you, that beer was strong (especially on a stomach of just Clif Bloks and a few post-race snacks). By the time we walked the two blocks to Founding Farmers at 11:45am, I was well aware of my lightweight status. My favorite breakfast (and okay, a celebratory mimosa) was everything I wanted to finish off the morning. Cheers to seeing things through to the end!
Learning to run has been frustrating, rewarding, humbling and so very worthwhile. Here’s to many, many more miles.
Right now I’m looking forward to easing back into running (I don’t want to lose all of the strength I’ve built), buying a new pair of running shoes and switching up my mornings with a little yoga (maybe?!).
Do you remember your first half marathon? Did you train for more before trying a full?