As most of you know, I completed my first half marathon this past weekend. I took my place alongside 30,000 runners to race through the streets of DC in the inaugural Rock 'n' Roll USA 1/2 Marathon & Marathon.
I cannot describe the emotions I felt after crossing the finish line sufficiently for you to understand unless you have done it before yourself. There were waves of accomplishment, regret, relief, disappointment, satisfaction, and a strong urge to do it all over again.
Let us begin at the beginning...
My sister woke up at the crack of dawn to meet us at the hotel in Largo, just outside DC. We chose Largo for three reasons: 1) cheaper than staying in the city; 2) only a few stops away from the Stadium/Armory stop on the Blue Line of the Metro where the race began and finished; 3) less people would be going our way on the Metro after the race. That third reason was pretty key in planning our escape after the race.
She found me a nervous wreck. I did not get much sleep the night before because I kept waking up on the hour due to nerves and excitement. I was so anxious, in fact, that I lost my stomach a few times during the night. So when she got there, she found me chugging lots of water and anxiously trying to prepare my usual Cream of Wheat meal in the hotel microwave (I boiled over the milk and made a mess which my hubster graciously cleaned up).
The three of us set out for the Metro, only just before the doors closed for our departure, hubby decided he needed to run back to the hotel because he too was feeling sick. Thank goodness my sister had met us to ride into the city with us or I might have panicked. He promised to see me as soon as he could, and made haste off the train.
The Metro, being the wonderful mass transit machine that it is, decided that race weekend was the weekend to do track maintenance, putting the race traffic on a single track. Brilliant! So here my sister and I are, 20 minutes to race start, two Metro stops away, waiting for our train to get the green light to start moving when my bladder starts telling me, "it's time to go!"
Looking around the train, there were a handful of other racers nervously checking their watches when finally we started moving again. I promised my bladder that it would find relief soon. Mere minutes later, we pop up out of the metro outside of the Armory where we race to the porta pots, only to find that hundreds of other racers have anxious bladders too. About seven minutes later, and five minutes from the start, a race official comes over to the lines of people waiting to use the porta pots and announces that we should all move to our corrals because the race will be starting on time.
One thought crossed my mind. Not now, pal. I'm committed.
The more useful information from the race official would have been that there were plenty of empty porta pots along the road heading to the race start, where I had to go anyway because my corral was about 12 corrals ahead of where I was waiting in line. But I digress...
Finally feeling ready for the race, my sister and I start jogging to my corral. We pause for a few photo opportunities, texted my hubby to let him know I made it and was getting ready for the start, and climbed through the gate to join my corral.
FINALLY! The excitement of it all begins to hit me. Surrounded by thousands of other runners, all nervous, anxious, and excited to be there, I felt this rush of energy and relief. I was no longer nervous. I was ready. This was what I had trained five months for.
As my corral moved like cattle towards the starting line, you could hear the emcee counting down the start for the corral ahead of us. I stepped up to the line, waved to my sister one last time, then we were off!
There was a wave of excitement as the crowd started to move and spectators cheered us on as we crossed the start. There was no shortage of crowd support throughout the race. Every turn we took, there were bystanders to cheer us on.
There was also no shortage of memorable signs either. A few of my favorite were, "You run better than Metro," "Run for Narnia," "Good job (your name)," and the ever clever, "Who Farted?" which was held by someone shouting, "I know it was you!"
It was a beautiful day for a run and there were some great things to be seen along the way. I snapped this photo as I ran past the Washington Monument.
One thing I wish I had known before the race is that DC is hilly. The 10 mile loop that I do outside on the weekends is at sea level, and thus, really freaking flat. Sure, I have done a few hills exercises on the treadmill, but not nearly enough to be prepared for what lay ahead of me.
I remember turning a corner around mile 5 and seeing a massive wall of people climbing up ahead of me. It was moving to see that many people on the city's streets, but also terrifying to think, that is going to be me in less than a minute.
I took advantage of a hill around the halfway point to move to the side and break out my Honey Stinger Organic Energy Chews. I had brought Fruit Smoothie flavor along for the run and my sister was hanging onto Pink Lemonade for me at the finish line.
I moved to the right and fell to a quick walk as I threw them back, all the while climbing this hill. At the top of the hill, I picked up the pace and started moving again. Little did I know that my sister and husband were at the top of this hill desperately searching the throngs of people for me to go by. I didn't see them, nor they me. Though we later found out through video evidence that we were there at the same time. More on that to come later...
I felt strong until around mile 10. I think the hills and the lack of sleep were finally starting to take their toll on me. I refused to walk on flat roads, and chose strategically when to walk (ie. Gatorade station, long hills). By the time I got to the mile 13 marker, my Garmin 305 had me an extra quarter mile along, which was very frustrating. A friend of mine recommended after the race that he starts his watch a quarter mile into the race to avoid the frustration of thinking you are farther along than you actually are.
Also frustrating, was that the finish line was at the top of a long, slow, gradually inclining hill. It was murder. I was begging for it to be over. Then finally, the end was in sight.
As I said earlier, when I crossed that finish line, there was an unbelievable wave of mixed emotions.
I felt accomplished. I had finished the race, and under my goal time of 2:15:00. My official finish time was 2:13:19. All the months of training and hard work had paid off.
I was relieved that it was over. No more hills! But I regretted that I was not better prepared for the hills, and that I had walked at all; believing I would have been capable of running the distance on a flat course just fine. I started to feel slightly disappointed in myself, thus creating the urge to start all over again.
I was so caught up in my emotions, that I nearly did not hear my husband calling my name as I came to the end of the nourishment zone where he was waiting for me with roses.
Now, a few things that I have taken away from this race:
- Always have a group of people to support you, especially on your first race.
- Plan accordingly if you are going to use public transportation.
- Always train for the worst case scenario (hills).
- Crowd support is an amazing thing.
The one thing I can say about the Rock 'n' Roll Marathon event organizers is that they did a fantastic job. I had some reservations going into it having read some bad reviews from previous races, but they were all wiped clean after the event. The race and expo were both very well organized. The race started on time and there were no shortages of volunteers, water, or support. On top of all these positives, Switchfoot put on an amazing performance at the finish line party.
Best of all, after this great experience, hubby says he wants in on the next go round. So now, I'm off to find our next half...