This past Sunday marked a noteworthy event in my athletic career (and by “career”, I refer to my attempts to justify eating such things as Oreo Truffle Cupcakes). I ran my first half-marathon! I made my goal, managed to not hurt myself (not too badly anyway), and really had a pretty good time in the process.
Now how did I come to find myself at the starting line with 2,700 other lunatics on a brisk Sunday morning when I could have still been asleep? Well the answer to that goes back to early this summer.
After running the Colorado Tough Mudder back in June, I talked to my sister about how it stacked up against other races she had done. Now to get an idea of how my sister thinks, you need to know a few things:
- She’s a bossy OLDER sister.
- She’s a Marine.
- She’s in obnoxiously good shape.
- …and she hit me in the head with a baseball bat once.
So needless to say, despite all behavior to the contrary, I respect he opinion on most things. She’s done a few Tough Mudders, a couple of marathons, and a bunch of other races, so I figured she would be a pretty good gauge of how events stack up against each other. After running the 12 mile course in Beaver Creek that wound its way up the mountain, and managed to have not one, not two, but THREE of the obstacles bristling with 10,000 volt shocks, she informed me that if I had finished that, the additional 1.1 miles of half marathon shouldn’t be too hard.
She had a point. Up until then, the longest straight run I had done probably was in the 7-8 mile range, but I had certainly gone on hikes that topped 16 miles, and those tended to be up to mountain summits. So it wasn’t so much the absolute distance that intimidated me, but more the idea that such distances are to be covered while running the whole time. I mean, 13.1 miles is a fair distance. Living in a place where driving/parking in town tends to double my blood pressure, I routinely walk up to a mile to go to a restaurant or bar. But quite frankly, is someone tells me that my destination is much more distant than that, I’m either looking for the subway or my keys. But with the endorphins (and beer) flooding my system that afternoon in June, I figured “What the hell? Let’s run a half-marathon.”
So after returning to the East coast, my wife and I started looking for a race to enter. Luckily, we found a race that was taking place just south of us. Even better, we had plenty of time to train properly for it. However, I can attest that having the time to train properly, and actually running the prescribed schedule are two very different things.
At the advice of my sister, I based my running on Hal Higdon’s training programs. I had previously followed his 5k program, and I was pretty happy with the results. Alas, the heat and humidity of summer often found my enthusiasm lacking to get out on the weekends and do the long runs. Thank goodness my wife wouldn’t stand for my whining, and she’d drag me out the door to beat the pavement for a while. Unfortunately, a few weeks into this, out on our 6 miler, my knee really started to hurt. And not the sort of hurt that you just power through. Based on previous experience with similar pain, I think it was probably illiotibial band syndrome, or ITBS. I got this pretty bad in college, to the point where I was hopping one-footed up stairs because it hurt too much to walk. When my wife (then girlfriend) told me I should go see a doctor, I told her I was fine. Because hopping up the stairs on one leg is what normal people do everyday, right? But I relented and went to the see the doctor, who informed me it was probably ITBS, and really the only thing to do about it was to rest it. Super.
Anyway, back in the present day, I figured that the combination of increased mileage, road surface (all concrete and asphalt) and my stupid habit of not stretching is what got me into this predicament. So I backed off the running for 2-3 weeks, and then slowly started building up. Of course by then, I was way behind the training curve of my wife, who has an excellent work ethic, and followed the training program much better than I ever would. This is why a few weeks ago (as mentioned in a previous post) she was easily outdistancing me on our weekend runs. But I figured that if I could make it through 10.5 miles of hills, I could probably push through to 13.1 on a flat course. And so as the air horn sounded around 8:35 this past Sunday, I started putting one foot in front of the other, and didn’t stop for almost two hours.
I had never been in as big a start as that before. While relatively small (a little over 2,700 participants), everyone starts at once in a high-rise area, so there’s a certain mob feel to it. But after the first half mile or so, the pack had loosened up to the point that you could start moving around pretty easily. My goal going into the race was to finish without having to stop to walk, and that if I could break 2 hours, I’d be happy. This breaks down to a bit over a 9:00 min/mile pace. Hardly a sprint, but still, it’s a decently long race. Earlier in the week, I’d done an 8 mile run, and held around a 8:48 pace, so I was hoping I could hold something like that.
I ended up running it in 1:53:32, which made me pretty happy. And while I was all kinds of sore for the rest of the day, I don’t think I hurt myself. It turns out I’m not a very consistent runner: my pace varied from 8:01 (mile 2) to 9:25 (mile 13). But I averaged an 8:40, so now I know what to aim for if/when I run the next one. But I learned that if I want to do better, I will definitely have to do more long runs. Around the 10 mile mark, I hit a wall. Hard. And no, not an actual, physical wall, although given my usual amount of grace, I wouldn’t put it past me. It was just a very rapid onset of fatigue. At that point we were running along a marina, and while Google Earth claims that stretch was only 0.6 miles, I’m pretty sure it was at least 4, maybe 5. But I managed to keep on running to the finish, glaring all the way at those who had enough left in the tank to pick up the pace for the final couple miles. Up until then, I was definitely overtaking more people than were overtaking me, but not there at the end. Aside from the final 50 yards where I managed a lumbering sprint similar to drunk tyrannosaurus, I was definitely getting passed. Oh well, I’ll get ’em next time.
I really enjoyed having the goal of something I had never done before to train for, and running with my wife has been fun (aside from a little disagreement regarding running through crosswalks, which I still maintain is the runner’s right of way). As long as I can avoid injuring myself, I see myself doing a few more of these, so I guess I better get running!