Just like the race, this post is long. So long, in fact, that it took me three days to write it, but I’ve included lots of pictures for you so hopefully you’ll enjoy it.
I consider my half marathon on Sunday to be a success, but it didn’t start out that way. If fact, it stated with me leaping from the bed screaming profanities so loudly that I scared my husband half to death. Can you blame me though? Here it was a full 18 minutes after I was supposed to wake up for The Big Race and I was still in Dreamland. Though I had triple-checked my alarm before bed, the warm temps had become unbearable around 2am and I had turned on the A/C. Apparently, I should have turned up the volume on the alarm at that point too, because although it did go off at its scheduled time, I couldn’t hear it over the window unit blowing overhead. Whoops.
Thank goodness that my sister-in-law Lauren (who was running the relay portion with our Uncle Paul) and her husband had opted to stay the night in Baltimore with us rather than drive over from Frederick the morning of the race. It must have been them moving around that finally woke me up. Needless to say, I was rushed, but I did manage to make it out the door in 14 minutes – only 2 minutes behind schedule. This did mean, however, that I was eating my bowl of oats a full half hour after I had planned to which had me a little worried. Side Note: I used to have huge issues with eating before runs. I try and make sure that I run no sooner than two hours after eating or it feels as though the creature from Aliens is trying to bust through my abdominal wall. It’s only been in the last month or so that I’ve noticed this being less of an issue and I’m fairly sure that I can credit these moves to the substantial decrease in this painful phenomena:
On our way to the fairgrounds where the race both started and ended, it absolutely poured. We’re talking rain that all but rendered our windshield wipers useless. Uncle Paul met us at the fairgrounds with garbage bags to wear over our clothes in an effort to keep us dry as long as possible. Being the ex-Boy Scout that he is, he also brought Chapstick (which I had forgotten in my rush), Welch’s Fruit Snacks and Gatorade Prime pre-game fuel. This stuff is amazing. I downed a pack 15 minutes before my 11 mile run last week and didn’t need to stop to hydrate or refuel once! Thanks again, Uncle Paul!
So there we are, huddled in the exhibition hall, out of the way of the rain and darting in an out of the bathrooms with embarrassing frequency. After a bit, Lauren headed for the busses that would take her to the relay exchange point and I was left with the boys. At this point, I’m basically just trying to forget about the fact that I’m about to run a half marathon. I do this by acting like a goober. I give you Exhibit A.
I was really on the fence about whether to take my Camelbak or not. I was weary about leaving it behind since I had always trained with it, but I also didn’t want it to slow me down as I was hoping for a PR. I also felt a little amateurish carrying it because clearly there are runners who do just fine relying on the water stations, as demonstrated by the hundreds of runners around me at this point sans hydration packs. In the end, I decided to be a big girl, gave my Camelbak to my husband to hang on to and headed toward the start line. Three minutes later I darted to the fence that separated the runners from the spectators and pleaded for him to pass it through the fence posts. I’m an indecisive worry-wart, what can I say? Don’t I look scared?
How do you like our TEAM CATHY t-shirts? The story of this shirt is actually a post in and of itself, but since I never got around to posting about it I’ll give you the abridged version. The shirt arrived about 5 times too large and I ended up taking scissors to it and chopping about 2 inches off at each seam. Then I drove the scraps to my aunt’s house an hour away and begged her to sew it back together again. I brought her a Panera breakfast though, so hopefully she didn’t mind too much. She did a fabulous job and you couldn’t even tell that I had pulled an Edward Scissorhands on it by the time she was done. End tangent.
My major complaint about this race was the lack of wave starts. The first mile and a half was really congested. Plus, they had a water stop at mile one that clogged things up even more. Even a hydrophobe like me doesn’t need water at mile one! Another thing I would have liked to see at the start were pace groups. I had planned on running with the 9:20 or 9:30 pace group (there’s that indecisiveness again), but I guess the race wasn’t large enough with only 1200 participants?
I had driven the course before the race and knew there were killer hills at miles 4 and 8, and I had done my fair share of hillwork during my training as I live in a pretty hilly area. Even so, I wasn’t mentally prepared for how hilly this course was. It wasn’t just miles 4 and 8 I should have been concerned about as the entire course (with the exception of the first and last couple miles) were comprised of rolling hills – 4 and 8 were just the kickers. After the race I uploaded my Garmin information to my computer for the first time and was shocked to see the elevation climb.
I was wrong when I said there was a climb of 469 ft (as was reported by the race directors). As you can see, my GPS recorded a climb of 729 feet. Take a look at my time chart below (in blue). See where my speed plummeted at mile 8? When I first saw that I was confused because I knew I didn’t stop anywhere along the course, but then I saw the corresponding elevation (in green) and it all made sense – the elevation line is all but vertical! You can click on the images for a larger view.
Note that lap 15 above is me stumbling exhausted around the finish line before remembering to stop my watch. I deducted those 9 seconds from the summary to give you the total time I posted on Sunday. Official times were posted yesterday and according to my time chip my official time was 2:11:15 – even better! In the days leading up to the race I had decided to try and shoot for 2:10. I thought that was realistic considering my best time was 2:14:18 a year ago and I felt like I had followed a more intensive training program this time around. I got a lot of grief for this goal though. Some said I wasn’t giving myself enough credit and that I was playing it safe and a lot of people were encouraging me to shoot for a sub 2 hour race. I agreed to try, but in my heart I didn’t feel it was a very attainable goal and I was scared of starting out at a faster pace then I would be able to carry for the duration of the race. In the end, I didn’t hit either of those goals, but considering the unexpected difficulty of the course, I am more than ok with that. Hey, a PR is a PR, right?
So, when the gun sounded, Uncle Paul and I took off. He was running the first leg of the relay, but told me that he was planning on running double digit miles so not to let him hold me back. I took his word, wished him luck and headed off on my own. As I said mile 1 was crowded and mile 2 had a good size hill to keep me occupied. I saw the mile 2 marker at the bottom of the decline and tapped it for luck as I passed. Then something terrifying happened. The next thing I remember is seeing the mile 7 mile marker. Wait. What? Before I tell you what happened here’s a peek at my thought process in those few seconds: Ohmygod. I’ve blacked out. I’ve lost time. I’ve gotta stop. I’ve gotta sit down. Something’s wrong. Very wrong. What time is it? …Oh. Ok. …Idiots! You’ll notice in the map above that the course has a loop and apparently some brainiac forgot that mile marker 7 was at the same point in the course as mile marker 3 and just about gave me a heart attack (note that they remedied this by the time I circled back and had put out BOTH mile markers with arrows pointing to miles 3 and 7 respectively). Worse yet, once I got past being scared that something was physically wrong with me, I actually got excited that I was miraculously past the halfway point. No such luck. Now that’s a crummy feeling if there ever was one, let me tell ya.
Mile 4 marked the first massive hill and I seriously wanted to call Kirk and have him come and get me. Why are miles 3 and 4 always so hard? Something about the fatigue starting to set in all the while knowing I’m no where close to finished I guess. I remember thinking that this would be my last half marathon ever and decided at that point to call it quits on the full marathon in October (don’t worry, I’m not bailing). Kanye’s stronger came on the iPod at that point and with his help, I managed to power through. “N- n- now th- that don’t kill me, can only make me stronger. I need you to hurry up now ’cause I can’t wait much longer. Work it harder, make it better, do it faster, makes us stronger…”
More rolling hills and suddenly I was at mile 6 and Uncle Paul was pulling up on my left side. I checked my watch fearing that I’d slowed down but no, I was carrying a 9:20/mi pace. I told him he was a rock star as he overtook me and split off with the other relayers to meet Lauren at the relay exchange point. Up ahead was May’s Chapel Road and I knew it was going to be brutal. I busted out a chunk of a chocolate PowerBar that I had tucked into my wristlet. I focused on my breathing and my form and tried to conserve energy in preparation for what was to come. Nothing could have prepared me for the incline in mile 8 though. To call it brutal is a vast understatement. The majority of runners stopped and walked. I’d never stopped to walk during a race and I wasn’t about to start now, but let me tell you, even at a jog pace I was barely passing the walkers. My Garmin data said I was traveling at an 11:45/mi, but that’s an average and I’m sure it dipped well below that.
At about 3/4 of the way up the monster hill Lauren caught up with me. And stuck with me for the next six miles – bless her heart. She’s a faster runner than I am anyway, nevermind when she’s running on fresh legs and I’m struggling after conquering 7 miles of hills. I told her I was probably going to walk the next hill and she told me no, I wasn’t. She was right. I wasn’t about to let her get away from me and I can tell you right now that Lauren is the only reason I held 10:00 minute miles after that hell at mile 8 (she easily could have held an 8:30 pace if she wasn’t committed to being my cheerleader).
Miles 9 through 12 are a bit of a blur, but I do remember coming up on Becky, a friend of my husband’s, and cheering her on. We passed her and didn’t see her again. With a half a mile left I tried to kick it up a notch, but I didn’t have much left in me and my time for that last mile is actually worse than the previous three. With a quarter-mile left to go Lauren turned to me and pointed to a barn up ahead. She said when we got to that point we were going to give it all we had. I’m pretty sure I wailed like a little girl that I WAS giving it all I had, but there’s something about those cameras at the finish line that make you slap a smile on you face and run a little faster even when you think you can’t and I finished that last tenth of a mile at 8:58/mi.
This marks the first time that Kirk actually witnessed me cross the finish line. In Frederick I crossed a full 10 minutes before I expected to and everyone missed it. In Baltimore last fall, I was apparently running in Uncle Paul’s blind spot and no one spotted me. They were actually checking the medical tents because they couldn’t find me at the finish and were afraid I’d been hurt on the course. This time he was ready though and snapped some nice shots.
Turns out Becky did alright! She’s in the orange shirt behind me in the photo above. Nice work, B!
Gotta love that form, right? Haha… After crossing the finish line and finding our guys, I completely lost it. I have a history of breaking down into tears after long races. I tend to get more emotional when I’m tired anyway, so I guess crying while in a state of sheer mental and physical exhaustion should come as no surprise. It was short-lived though. I snagged a cinnamon bagel, a fresh fruit cup and pineapple juice before we grabbed our finishers medals. Check out the size of this thing!
I have the Baltimore 10 Miler coming up in mid-June and I’m going to shoot for 9:15 minute miles. Looking at my stats, I think that if this course was flat I might have actually beat 2 hours. Overall, I’m supremely pleased with my performance on this course and consider the race a big success. Now I’m just trying to burn off the 4lbs I put on during my taper. Damn that year-old wedding cake!