Sunday, September 15, 2013

Half Marathon Success!

If you follow me on Twitter and/or Instagram, I owe you an apology; I may have gone slightly overboard on the race mania over the past few days.  It's totally understandable if you're tired of hearing about the half marathon I ran yesterday.  You can just look at this first photo, taken from the back of the pack just before the National Anthem was played and see both the frustration and excitement of the day and then skip the rest of this post.  It's a long one, but I'm going to pull the "I just ran my first half marathon" card one more time.  Okay?


Good.  Now that you're back (or not, but then you wouldn't be reading this anyway), let's start at the beginning.  I can't remember when exactly I decided that I might want to run my first half marathon this fall - though, actually, "decided" isn't the right word.  "Coerced" is probably more accurate!  Megan, my good friend and best running partner - marathoner, runner of 22 half-marathons, and two-time triathlete - and I had been running together since I moved back to DC almost a year and a half ago, and she declared back in January that the time was right for me to challenge myself with a longer race.

At that point, having started the NHS Couch to 5k program on December 26, 2011, I'd run a handful of 5ks, two 5 milers, and a 10k.  (I recorded a vlog in late November 2012 about my first year of running, if you're interested, and then another just generally about being healthy a few months later, which is here.)  Megan, our friend Jen, and a few of their running buddies agreed that the Diva series would be a good first half for me - they're very friendly to new and slow runners and it's all women so the atmosphere is really fun and encouraging.  We all signed up for their inaugural race out in Virginia, and I started training.

The plan was to cross off another 10k, a 10miler, and a couple more 5ks over the spring and summer, but a stress fracture in my foot derailed a lot of that.  I trained as well as I could regardless, but I wish I had more completed races under my belt before setting off on Saturday morning - I did not feel physically ready to tackle 13.1 miles.

But Megan, Jen,  Melissa, Erica, Janice, and Kelly are all experienced runners with more than 150 different half-marathons and marathons to their names, and I knew I was in good hands.  We arrived at the expo in VA on Friday morning and I had a blast soaking up all of the energy and checking out the merchandise stalls.  I was so manic that they suggested I get a glass of wine with dinner to help me sleep that night; we were afraid the adrenaline would try to carry me through to the morning!  But, after lunch, we spent four and a half (very successful) hours at the Leesburg Outlets and I had crashed down to earth by dinnertime.  (If I could eat like this guilt-free every night... well, it might get me to sign up for another half!)  I was asleep by 9:15pm, my alarm set for 5:15am.

Of course, I woke up, totally jazzed, at 11:57pm thinking, "Okay, I'm rested!  I bet my alarm will go off soon!"  This happened again around 3am, though I wasn't totally with it when my phone did beep at the proper time on Saturday morning.  But I quickly got back into the spirit of things, and the first-time excitement returned in full force by 6:10, when we hopped in the car to drive the 12 miles from our hotel to the race.

Unfortunately, getting stuck in two hours of traffic sort of killed my buzz.  See, the race started at a winery, and there was only one long road that led into the property; that road was also part of the course.  The start time was 7:30am so we (and the thousands of other registrants) planned to get there for 6:30am and the road simply couldn't handle all the cars.  Apparently the parking situation was also a disaster, though luckily we didn't experience that.  We managed to get in and park by 8:15, but, because of the backup, the start time got pushed back to 9am.  Everyone was furious - we entertained ourselves as we crawled along by reading the comments that other runners were leaving on the Diva Facebook page - and I think every runner blamed the officials' phenomenally poor organization for how they ran that day.  (For those of you who don't run, a start time delayed by 90 minutes throws a total spanner in the works.  We all ate breakfast before 6am, assuming that we'd be running at 7:30am, so we didn't feel properly fueled when we actually started at 9.  Plus, though the weather was absolutely gorgeous for a run, we all thought we'd be done long before noon and so didn't dress for the sun and heat of running in the late morning.)  I couldn't help but get excited again, though, as we ran into girls that my friends knew from other races and more and more people started filing into their corrals for the start.

Megan was actually injured and wasn't able to run the race, so Jen volunteered to stick with me the whole time.  She has finished dozens of half and full marathons but didn't need to set any records yesterday - I was so comforted knowing that an expert would be by my side for all 13.1 miles. And now that we've finished, I can definitely say I might not have finished without her support and encouragement - because that course was tough.  I mean, yikes.

The course was advertised by Diva as "mostly flat with some rolling hills."  The first four miles were... alright, I'll give them that description.  Sure.  I'd say "mostly rolling hills with some flat," but okay.  Fine.  And the countryside we ran through was absolutely gorgeous, no question.  Miles 4-8, however, were intense hills.  I did a decent amount of hill training, but this was something else entirely.  Diva had told us that the elevation would only climb by 90 ft throughout the whole course, but readouts from other runners' Garmins put the elevation gain at several hundred feet.  I don't think anyone was prepared for that.  The last third of the course was back to mostly rolling hills, but at that point there wasn't much hope of recovery for me.  Add to all of that the mixed terrain - we ran over pavement, dirt roads, and several tricky miles of gravel - and my body took a pounding.

Afterwards, my friends told me that they would not have recommended this as my first half marathon if they'd known what the course would be like.  As I said before, they're all highly experienced runners, and when we powwowed with their friends at the finish line, they all agreed that this was one of the worst races they'd ever run out of the hundreds across the country that they've completed.  (One of the girls had a realistic goal time of 2:15 but came in at 2:45.  That should give you an idea of how everyone struggled with the course regardless of experience level!)  To add insult to injury, the same traffic problems reared their ugly heads as we left the winery and it took nearly two hours to get back to our hotel.  Pro tip: avoid sitting in a car for two hours immediately after running a half marathon if you can because your body will refuse to work when you try to get out and walk.

My official time was 3:22:54.  My goal had been to come in under 3 hours, but given the difficulty of that course I was just glad to finish.  I have never challenged myself like that in my life, and I have never felt so physically accomplished as I did when I crossed that finish line.  (After we accepted our bling and water and snacks, Jen turned to me and said, "You just ran a half marathon!"  I looked at her and repeated numbly, "I just ran a half marathon."  And then I started crying and hyperventilating and had to put my head between my knees because I couldn't breathe.  I'm nothing if not classy and composed!)  My time isn't what I wanted it to be and, moreover, the experience wasn't what I hoped it would be, but I am a half marathoner and that is amazing.  Only 1.85 million other Americans can say that!  I ran - and finished - a half marathon.  It's the coolest thing!






I want to make sure to include a massive thank you to all of the volunteers who helped out at the race, especially the kids and teens who manned the water stations, and to everyone who lined the course to cheer for strangers.  Thank you especially to Lindsay, a blog reader and Twitter friend and soon-to-be-expat in England, who parked at mile 7 with a sign that I so desperately needed to read at that point in the course - that's her with her friend up there in the second photo from the bottom!  And thank you also to the Holiday Inn at Carradoc Hall in Leesburg, whose staff was understanding and kind when we arrived back three hours after check-out time because of the race snafus.  I think it's important to note that I've heard really good things about the other Diva races - this inaugural one in VA seems to be an anomaly amongst the rest of the series.

In case you're curious, I'm still crazy, even after this half.  My reward to myself for finishing is a new pair of sneakers, and I have six races planned already for the next 9 months:

Marine Corps Marathon 10k, DC - October 27, 2013
Downs Park 5 Miler; near Annapolis, MD - November 2, 2013
10k Turkey Trot (not sure where yet; it depends where we're doing Thanksgiving this year) - November 28, 2013
Celtic Solstice 5 Miler; Baltimore, MD - December 15, 2013
GW Parkway Classic 10 Miler; Alexandria VA - April 13, 2014
Frederick Running Festival Half Marathon; Frederick, MD - May 4, 2014

The silver lining to my time for this half marathon is that it should be easy to beat it next spring!  If you live in the DC/Baltimore area and want to sign up for any of these with us, let me know.  I think I can speak for Megan and Jen and the rest of their gang when I say that more masochists are always welcome!

31 comments:

  1. Congratulations!! A half-marathon is no joke, especially one that's full of hills and rough terrain {gravel? yuck!}. Megan's right - it can only get better from here and it looks like you've got some great races on your schedule!

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  2. ah, so, so proud of you my dear! This is incredible.

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  3. You are such an inspiration! I want to be a runner but my body just stops at 3 miles :(

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  4. You should run a race in the Triangle area... and I'll be your chauffeur and cheerleader!
    But really, go you!! The 5k I did here had similar organization issues, and they'd moved venues due to overselling (rather than just selling out...) and the new venue was basically like running in stanchions at the bank- I suppose you runner folk call those switchbacks?
    But we had nasty traffic both ways and a delayed start time. Luckily it was just a 5k- I can't imagine that frustration for a half-marathon!


    But YOU RAN A HALF MARATHON!! You're incredible!

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  5. I do a lot of my longer runs through Rock Creek so I'm used to uneven terrain, but this was... you REALLY had to focus for safety's sake. it can only get easier! thank you :)

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  6. I would like to thank the Academy... it wouldn't have happened without you!

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  7. haha maybe we can find a race in NC that coincides with my trip down for Dylan Moran?


    and yeah, there was a 5k component to this race - had I been signed up for that, I would have given up and gone home before we started.

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  8. That is so incredible that you finished, especially despite all the snafus and setbacks. You are amazing and you should be so very very very proud of yourself!! Congratulations on such a huge accomplishment!

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  9. Congrats! I'd love to do a half marathon but I feel embarrassed to start running properly as I'm not as fit as I used to be.

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  10. Congrats!!!! Now, just think, you could run the VA Beach half and sprint the whole way! (Seriously, that is the flattest course I've ever expereinced!) OR better yet- consider this half training for the Big Sur.... imagine how hilly THAT race is!

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  11. Congratulations! What an ambitious 6 months you have planned - I'm very jealous, with the weather being so bad in the northeast, my race selection is pretty limited. Looks like lots of fun!

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  12. I have a few things to say. First of all, do NOT apologize for all the running excitement. Of course you're excited! I love it. Also, I read every word of this. It really wasn't that long! Also, I'm really sorry you had such a crazy experience. It does sound intense. And those hills sound crazy. I'm SO excited you're going to be running more, though. It's kind of addicting, isn't it? I cannot even believe you had to wait 2 hours to get out the car. I totally know the feeling of cramping up after a run like that. All that being said, CONGRATULATIONS! Super exciting. You did awesome!

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  13. I think it's totally awesome that you ran a half-marathon!!!! Seriously, you deserve to feel good about it and talk about it all you want. :) I actually really want to establish a consistent running routine, and I'd like to try out a race soon. I think a 10K might intimidate me, but I think I could get ready for a 5K. Eee, I feel excited just thinking about it! Your runner's high is contagious!

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  14. Yes! The Shamrock! Alex and I ran it a few years ago. And.... we definitely drank more than 5 beers. You just have to smile nicely.

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  15. Whoo hoo!! I knew you could do it!

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  16. That sign at mile 7 is the sweetest! What a frustrating organizational mess--but at least you were in a group with good friends for reassurance, laughter, and a huge morning of accomplishment despite the snafus. Congratulations!

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  17. haha good! now, if the high can just stay through the 2 miles I want to do tomorrow morning...


    let me know if you find a 5k around here that you want to do soon! I'll come with you :)

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  18. the best laughter came when one of the girls in our group used the bathroom in a model home in a neighborhood we ran through because there weren't enough porta potties along the course... haha!

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  19. GO BETSY!!! I am so proud of you!
    A 90 minute delay would not have made me a happy camper at all, so cheers to you for not letting it get in your way :)

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  20. WELL DONE BETSY!!!! Amazing achievement! With my sister doing hers last weekend, and my Mum running one in a few weeks, I really feel motivated to do a race now. Maybe a 10k or a 5 mile first! Love the 7 mile sign, races are so emotional and I love all the crowd support.

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  21. YOU JUST RAN A HALF MARATHON!!! This is so incredibly inspiring! I love it! I only know you through blogging so I hope it doesn't sound ridiculous when I say -- I'm so proud of you! I am in the midst of recovering from a sports injury to my hip (and my body is taking the slow route to recovery) -- but can't wait to get out there and get back into running. I'll have to book mark this post to come back to it for inspiration! CONGRATULATIONS!

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  22. That is so cool - well done on completing what sounds like a punishing first half marathon! You rock!

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  23. Congratulations!! You did it! :)

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  24. Congrats!! I am so proud of you! And just think, your next half should be a piece of cake compared to this one :)

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  25. Congrats to you lady! A good friend of mine also ran that race, I'm so proud of you both! You've picked some excellent follow-on races. I'd also recommend the Marine Corps half in Fredericksburg. Can't remember the dates, but I do remember running it when it was very hot, but it's a well organized, fun race. Also the DC Rock n' Roll. It was kind of chaotic the first year, but I think it's better now and it's in March. Avoid the Hot Chocolate at all costs. That was by far the WORST run I've ever done. So bad that it made the WashPo and they were not invited back to the same location, but if they somehow make it back to DC, steer clear! And if you feel like a roadtrip, I highly recommend the Run for the Dream half in Williamsburg, pretty sure it's in May.

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  26. Congratulations and well done! Here's to you - and your amazing schedule of races. x

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  27. Go, you! I love reading these race stories - so inspiring, and it always brings back those amazing finish line feelings from the ones I've done. Can't believe that traffic stuff - I would be FREAKING out - and it does sound like a really hard course, but you did it and that's what counts! Love that you've already planned a next one... there's where you know you have an official runner's high despite all the pain :)

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  28. Happyeverafter_BrideSeptember 20, 2013 at 6:23 PM

    I am running a 9kn fun run tomorrow along the Sydney Harbour bridge run. Your post has motivated me for it and I can't help but feel really excited about completing! I am not as serious as you with running yet, but perhaps, depending on how tomorrow goes, I could consider a half-marathon in my next year.

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