Saturday, October 24, 2009

My first half marathon...

When I woke up this morning and looked at my alarm clock, I was a disappointed. 3:14 am. O.K., that sucks. The race is still 4 hours and 16 minutes away. It is a 15 minute drive from my house. Why am I awake? Why am I thinking about the race? Why can't I go back to sleep? Why did Kathleen comment on my Facebook page that there was going to be a hill at the end of the race?

When my alarm went off at 5:30, I think I had been asleep for about 20 minutes. Not a great way to rest up for my first half marathon. I got out of bed and went out into the living room, and it was still pitch black outside. I got down the box of oatmeal, and made myself some breakfast. I was trying to do everything right. I had drank a full 16 ounces of water when I woke up in the middle of the night.

I was filling my glass up with water at the fridge as I heard a bunch of yelling from outside. Now remember, I live on the 10 floor of my building, and its 5:30 am. It sounded like an argument, or a homeless guy screaming in the wind, or a party. You never know what it's gonna be downtown. I went to the window and looked down to the parking lot. I was about to open the door out to the balcony when something went flying through the air into the darkness below.

What the hell?

I went out on to the deck and realized that the noise was actually coming from the balcony of the unit directly below me. Now, these guys have already earned a little bit of respect. It's 5:30 in the morning, and they are still going strong from the night before. They are so hammered that they are launching full cans of beer from their 9th story balcony at their OWN truck below. This is the best morning ever.

The best part was listening to their college age alcohol induced debate... "No man, you gotta throw it higher to be able to get it that far." "No, you just gotta throw it harder." But my favorite was: "I don't know man, from this high, you might break the window"...

Ya think?

I said "Hey fella's, do me a favor" and they all looked up at me like deer in headlights... "Could you guy's just dial it down a notch, and for sure... no more launching beers at cars."

"Sorry man, but it is our truck" I'm guessing they aren't science majors.

"I know, stop anyways." "There are a million widows that can see you from up here, and someones going to call the cops." and for real... they said "o.k.", and went back inside and closed the door. Things have sure changed since I was a juvenile delinquent...

We were on our way to South Mountain Park where the race starts. We took a left, heading south toward the mountain when I began to suspect something sinister was going on. "are we going uphill?" I asked Jane. "no, it's flat" she replied. About a block later she added, "OK, maybe it is a little bit of an incline" and another block later "ok...we are definitely going uphill. Then in the next block we passed mile marker 11 and we were definitely STILL going uphill. "Sorry baby" she added, "that's gonna suck!" Apparently, the last 2.1 miles are all up hill. Crap!

We got to the start about 20 minutes before the race. There were over 400 people running in the half, and about than 200 running the 5k. I haven't run in any sort of race in almost two years, and that one was the first one since 1995. I was getting more than a little nervous. 13.1 miles, and the last two are all uphill. Welcome to your first half marathon.

Much of the advice I had received prior to the race was the same. 1. Don't come out of the gate to fast. 2. If you're looking to run a certain pace, make your first few miles 20 or 30 seconds slower, and 3. Save yourself some energy for the end of the race. You want to run even splits (Second half of the race at the same pace you run the first half.... hard to do when you are tired), or even run negative splits, where your second half of the race is faster than the first half.

When the gun went off, I was about half way back in the pack. Since I already noted the last two miles of the race are going to be uphill, then it just makes sense that the first two miles are downhill, since this course is a loop. I was shooting for about a 9:20 pace for my first couple of miles. Best laid plans of mice and men... My first two miles were 7:36 and 7:42. It was all down hill, so I was hoping that I had not expended too much energy. I tried to make up for it in miles three and four by running high nines, and I ran 8:09 and 8:56. Crap.

Even though I didn't slow down as much as I was trying to do, It was hard to tell because of the amount of people that were passing me. I was working on my pace, while trying not to stress out about the last two miles, and whether they going to cost me my race. Was I going to be able to keep a 9 minute pace, which is already very hard for me to do, AND keep it up during the uphill portion of the race at the end?

As I passed the 5 mile marker and looked at my watch, I heard a noise from ahead. It was cheering and clapping and yelling, but I wasn't able to see what it was about. Then a figure came from around the corner, running towards me from the other direction. It was the leader of the race. This guy had already reached the turn around point, a little less than 2 miles ahead of me, and was on his way back. I was just passing 5 miles, and he was already at 8. Holy Crap. And to make it even more impressive, he was smiling and waving back to us as he went by. There is just something wrong with that level of talent being all rolled up into one guy, or a least one set of legs, lungs, and determination. I was impressed...

When I reached the turn around, I gave myself a high five. I'm running with 400 other people and I don't even have someone to celebrate a milestone with. It seems a little weird to have this many people around me and to still be that alone. Not one sentence was muttered from start to finish. I said thanks to the people at the water stations a few times, but that was about it. Other than that, I spent the entire run with my internal monologue. Even I get tired of listening to myself after that much time.

After the turn around, my spirits lifted a little bit. I was able to look head on at the people that were behind me in the race. I know that long distance running is really a race against the clock, against myself. But it still felt good to look at some people that were behind me for once, instead of all of the people that had been ahead of me during the first half of the run. Maybe I have a little to much competitiveness in my, by I certainly don't like spending that much time focusing on all of the people that are beating me. It was a nice ego boost to realize I was still doing o.k. in the overall picture of the race, half the people were ahead of me, and half of the people were behind me. I guess that makes me a middle of the pack runner:)

When I passed 8 miles I was thinking "Wow, Do I really have 5 miles to go?" I was still moving along at my goal pace of 9:15, but I could feel myself slowing a bit. It ends up this was my first mile that I ran over my goal pace, but not my last. I didn't run under 9:15 for the rest of the race. Now my biggest concern was, will I be able to stay close enough to my the 9:15 to make up for however much I will eventually and surely slow down climbing the upgrades for the last two miles? My body is already telling my I don't have enough left in the tank to NOT lose time when I hit mile 11, the bottom of the hill.

I reached into my key pocket as I was approaching the water station just before the last turn, and the final 2 miles of the half marathon. I felt like a kid pulling a piece of gummy bear out of a pocket full of sweaty lint. Next time we will do better planning. This time however, I blew it off and threw it in my mouth, chewed it up and swallowed it just as I approached the held out hand with the cup of water... at the beginning of the hill. I shot the water and tossed it in to the garbage as I started up the hill.

I was looking forward and up the street. It was long. You could see the top... it was damn long. I don't do hills. (see "The hills are alive")

I literally have read more about running hills than I have actually run. One of the things I remember most is that they suggest that you pump your arms faster than normal. I haven't read enough to know why, but I thought I would give it a try.

About a quarter of the way up, I realized two things. One, I was tired. Two, I was making pretty good time. I was actually passing more people than their were passing me. Middle of the pack movin' up.

I was coming up on a 25 to 30ish gal that was ahead of me. She was trucking right along, but I was faster. I don't know why, but I felt good. I think it was the fact that I could see the top of the hill. I could see how much longer I would have to keep running. Once I got to the top, it was cross the street to the last dirt trail to the finish line. Most of that was going to be up hill also, but this was the hard part.

I passed her not to long before I hit the top. I was about to give myself another high five when I noticed everyone ahead of me was turning left. I had for gotten that the course turned at the top of the hill. It was probably another half mile till we get to the dirt part of the course, but at least it was flat. Fortunately I wouldn't need much energy to take on this part of the run, which was good because I didn't have any left.

I started doing the math in my head. Wow, it looked like I might make it. I might be finished in less than two hours. It will depend on how long the final dirt trail portion is right before the finish line. It seemed to go pretty quick when I ran down it, but I was full of adrenalin. Not much adrenalin left... As I reached the end of the stretch and everyone was turning right to cross the street, my thoughts of hitting my goal went up in a cloud of blacktop. There in front of me was another long stretch of road, just as long as the first hill I had just finished, heading south along the golf course. I had completely forgotten that I had run down this street. Rather than having just the dirt trail to the finish line left, I still had about a half mile of uphill blacktop road first. Crap.

Have you ever been in a situation like this? I had two goals. The first one was to finish my first half marathon. The second one was to finish it in less than two hours. Right when I started to think I might be able to do it... BAM! Not gonna happen. I figure I will run a 12 to 14 minute mile pace up this hill. I spent everything I had on the last portion. I looked at my watch. I was at 1:54 something. There is no way I am going to finish in the next five minutes. I wanted to quit. I wanted to walk.

I was already surprised at how many people were walking the hill. These were all people that had been ahead of me for 11 miles. These were all people that would have reached that 2 hour goal, if they would have been able to keep running. These were all people that had given it their all, but were out of gas. They, like myself, will all finish the race. They like myself, will not finish in under two hours.

I, unlike them, am not going to frikken walk. No effin way. I am not throwing stones. I am just not willing to do it. No one would care. No one would say a word. There was probably a dozen people walking the hill. You gotta do what you've gotta do. I have to run. I have to try.

The timer said 2 hours two minutes and some odd seconds as I passed. The thing that I concentrated on during that last hill climb was that Jane would be waiting for me at the finish. As I approached there was a crowd of people cheering me on. Jane was there, smiling, yelling and taking pictures. I was finished. They handed me a bottle of water as I crossed the finish line.

As I lay in the ice bath when I got home, wearing a sweat shirt and drinking the cup of coffee with Baileys that Jane had brought in to me, I was happy. I think when I woke up this morning I had another goal that I may have pushed to the back of my mind, be happy with however it worked out. My official time ended up being 2:01:33. If not for the hills, I possibly would have made my time. My goal for the Walt Disney World Marathon in January is under 4 hours. Twice the distance, twice the time. Maybe there won't be any hills.


  1. Good for you to run that last bit! Most people forget that your WILL is an important part of endurance, just as much as training the physical body, because often that is all that is left near the end of a race. People don't realize how much farther you can get with a psychoticly determined WILL when your body is screaming you've got utterly nothing left. It's the difference between the winners and the loooooooosers. Naughty words help :0)You aint wrung till you're face down on the ground and yo mama has to change your diaper! GO MAGGOT!!!

  2. Love you little brother. I am so proud of you. Great race, great account.


  3. Congrats on your first half marathon. You will break the 2 hr mark next time :). Nice blog.


  4. Congrats!! Reading this sounded almost like my first 1/2 marathon in June!! Hysterical! Same goals too.

    I decided after that race that headphones on long races is a must.

    Hills make you stronger!

  5. Congrats on your first half marathon! There were no major hills when I ran the Disney Marathon in 2008. OK, there were tiny "speed bumps" over and underneath some bridges. Other wise, it's a relatively flat course. The humidity in Florida was more of a problem for me.

  6. I found your blog while looking for people who ran half marathons for causes, as I'm getting ready to do that too. I really like your blog, your story, etc, and I look forward to hearing more.

    And I'm sorry about the way your morning started. We've had some experiences like that too, even in military housing. Hopefully the neighbors will be more respectful that early in the morning next time around.

  7. I run half-marathons in the non-summer months. I can relate to much of what you experience. The restless nights, noisy neighbors, hills, lonely in a crowd, eating while running. I hate it when they put the worst hills at the end of the race.


  8. Hey Adam,

    Congratulations, you did it! Let the addiciton begin :-).

    Great blog, and btw, the too fast too early thing takes about 10 races to lock down (and even then...). Nice disipline on the last hill. It's that mental accomplishment that will make you a stronger runner for sure. And another BTW, hills are fun, you just got to get some time on them. The biggie technique thing that seems to work for me is shorter strides with a little quicker tempo. Kind of hoppy' a little up the hill. On switchbacks you can even get a little rest to some muscles by turning sideways a bit into the turn so that some effort is transfered to your obliques.

    Anway, look foward to your onging runs - becuase I know for sure now you got the bug...

  9. A, congrats on the race. You did much better than me when I tried to get back into shape. I did a sprint triathlon and came 550 out of 600, even the fat old ladies were kicking my butt.

    Keep up the good work. 4 Hours, no problem, you can did it.


  10. I have finally gotten around to reading this... and I am so proud of you! You kicked some (hilly) butt! Awesome. And you can rest assured there will be none of that hill business in flat central Florida! The joke is the only thing not flat in Orlando is Space Mountain, Thunder Mountain & Splash Mountain (all rides at Disney!). You will do great!!! Can't wait to be there at that finishing line!!! :) Thanks for inspiring me to keep going in my half-marathon training. If we can just get the temperature here in Florida down...