I don’t really know exactly how to write this post. In some ways I’m disappointed and I wish this post could be more joyful. But on the other hand, I know I have a lot to be grateful for and I really want to keep a positive outlook about how my experience went this weekend at the Frederick Half-Marathon.
The morning of the race was beautiful weather. Parking at the fairgrounds and lining up for the start went smoothly.
The course was really nice. Historic downtown Frederick, beautiful parks, and nice neighborhoods.
My cheering section. I feel so bad for making Andy get up early to watch me do these crazy things.
A complete stranger who really helped me out named Lauren Minch (more about that later).
I’m healthy, strong and able to run.
Two years of amazing marriage to Andy, and many more to come.
And all of the other things that make my small woes seem insignificant: family, friends, health, a good job, good food and clean water to drink, et cetera.
Next, the recap, and the not-so-perfect parts:
I started the race really strong. Too strong. I was feeling good, the crowd around me was fast and I wanted to be fast too. My first few miles I was on pace in the 9s and 10s. I knew that I needed to be more around 10:30 to stick with my plan for negative splits, but I was feeling great in the 9s and started to fantastize about smashing my reach goal of 2:10.
I’m in the middle in yellow.
Also, the 2:20 pace group was passing me, which I thought was crazy. Why are they running at this pace? I felt like I had to keep up.
The course was hillier than I expected. Not hilly like the Baltimore Marathon…but not flat like the routes I usually run in DC. Lots of slow, gradual inclines. The last few miles of the course got boring. And they traversed ugly, brand-new cookie-cutter subdivisions which made the urban planner in me sad.
It was hot. Not as hot as a DC summer, but hotter than it’s been. And I can’t eat or drink much before I run. I had two Clif Shot Bloks before the race. I carried my own Powerade with me so I wouldn’t have to deal with the water stops. Around mile 4-5, I started getting slight stomach cramps so I avoided drinking much. But overall I had settled into a good groove and was in a good place, mentally. It was a great morning for a run and I was really enjoying myself.
By mile 8, I knew I had to eat something to get some energy in me so I had a Clif gel that I had brought along with me. My stomach cramps got worse and I had to walk for a minute or two after eating the gel.
From miles 6-8 or so, I had slowed down to more of a 10:30/11:00 pace. I kept telling myself to go slow then so I could speed up into the 9s for the last 3-4 miles and finish strong. I kept waiting for that adrenaline kick for the last few miles.
By miles 9, 10, 11 I was struggling. I took several walk breaks. I had a little water and gatorade but not much. I was hurting.
Sometime around mile 10 or so, I knew my 2:10 goal was quite unlikely. I started thinking about a 2:15 goal.
By miles 10, 11, 12 I started to get really mad at myself. I kept alternating between trying really hard to push myself, to dig deep, that it was almost over, that pain is temporary, all of those motivational mantras. And then I would feel like I was going to throw up, and it wasn’t safe to hurt myself like this, so I would slow down or walk. Then I would tell myself to start running again. And sometimes I would think, why bother? I’m not hitting my goal. Or I would say, I came all this way, I made Andy come all this way, I have to do well. Don’t give up. Back and forth like that in my head.
By the last ¾ of a mile I realized I might not even PR, that I might not even beat my 2:19 time from Richmond, back a year and a half ago, back before I ran a full marathon, when I was much less experienced, when I was just running a half to finish.
By mile 13.1 I crossed the finish line, finally. My official time was in 2:20:16.
I have been telling myself to not worry about time, about arbitrary numbers, but about effort. That I put in so much effort and did my best. And I did. I also learned some important lessons:
- First and foremost, don’t go out too fast. Run your own race. Don’t get caught up in the crowds. And don’t pay any attention to a pace group that you’re not a part of! Stick to your own plan, and own it. And block out what everyone else is doing. I always have this sense that I am the last one running, because in a race, all you can see is everyone in front of you, everyone that’s faster.
- Know the route ahead of time. I’ve known this about myself before and I learned it once again; I like knowing where I’m going, where the hills are and where the turns are.
- Don’t be over-confident. I admit that having run a half before, and having run a marathon, plus a great 10-miler recently, made me feel a little too cocky that I would do well and PR easily. I learned that 13.1 miles is still no joke, whether or not it’s the first time at the rodeo.
- Fuel. Know how to fuel yourself and stick to it.
More about that fuel issue: right after I crossed the finish line, I shuffled along with the other runners to pick up bottled water, Gatorade cups, and snacks. I wasn’t hungry at all yet but I grabbed some pretzels, a banana, a bagel thin and some packets of sunflower seed butter for later (yay for a protein option!). I walked towards my appointed meeting point with Andy and stretched a little on the way. My calves started to feel really tight. I saw Andy, waved, and while I was waiting for him began to stretch more, as I always do. My calves completely seized up and I collapsed to the ground in pain. I still can’t believe this happened. There were plenty of people milling around me, and I shouted, “HELP!” as I fell. My calves were cramping up and the pain was excruciating. I remember trying to massage them, to stretch them and I involuntarily shrieked, “It hurts, it hurts!” Passersby asked if I needed medical attention and someone went to the medical tent. I writhed on the ground, trying to make the pain stop, and Andy appeared. Out of nowhere, a woman appeared and said, “I’m a massage therapist, do you want me to…?”, and I said, “yes, please, could you help?” She massaged my calves, showing me how to flex my shin muscles and move my toes while she massaged. She told me I needed salt, and Andy fed me my pretzels and went to get more gatorade. At some point a volunteer from the medical tent showed up but they were no help at all. I ate the pretzels, drank water and gatorade, and Lauren must have massaged my legs for at least 5-10 minutes. I am so, so grateful to her. She is a massage therapist based in Gaithersburg, MD, and I want to give her a huge shout-out. What a kind person.
I sat on the ground with Andy for another 20 minutes or so, continuing to massage my legs and drink, and I ate a banana for the potassium. I was really scared to get up in case it happened all over again. Finally, I felt able to walk and we trudged slowly to the car.
We stopped for more gatorade on the way to the hotel, and back at the hotel I gingerly lay on the bed with the gatorade, a bagel thin with sunflower seed butter, and ice packs on my calves. After a lot of rest and a hot shower, I felt out of the danger zone.
That experience really scared me. What if Lauren Minch hadn’t been there? What if it happened on the course? What if it happened when I was alone? What if it was something worse, and I passed out or something unthinkable happened?
This is why I’m grateful just to have finished the race. I realize now that my muscles were over-fatigued and I didn’t fuel properly. I need to figure out a way to consume more fluids, carbs and salt and minerals before and while running without getting cramps. I see a lot of runners who eat a full breakfast of toast, peanut butter, bananas, etc before running but I can barely get down some water without cramping. What to do?
Anyway, I’m fine now, although my legs are pretty sore. I’m going to take this week off from running. I don’t have any races on the horizon and I think I need to rest and re-evaluate. I’m thinking about coming back with a vengeance for the Philly Rock N Roll Half in September, but I’m not making any big decisions yet; it’s too soon after just yesterday’s race. I know I have a LOT going on this summer, with personal obligations, a ton of work, plus a vacation and a move, so I don’t want to overcommit. I just need to think. But I’m also determined to get that 2:10 goal….
The rest of the weekend, and most importantly, our second wedding anniversary and dinner at VOLT was amazing! This is also why I am so grateful. I am so lucky in so many ways, and not PRing really is a very minor thing overall.
I don’t regret the experience; it was still a good race, and most importantly, I’m grateful for the lessons I learned. It was a humbling experience. I only just started running a few years ago, using the Couch to 5K program, and this experience reminded me how amazing I felt, how in awe I was, the first time I ran 5, 8, or 20 minutes without stopping. How happy I was just to finish 5Ks. The time I did a 10K. And how nervous and scared I was to do my first half, how happy I was to finish. It reminds me that I should be grateful just to be able to run 13.1 miles at all, how a few years ago that concept would have been unthinkable to me.