November 14, 2010

Things I learned running 13.1 miles

Today I ran my first half-marathon. I must admit, I chose the Silver Strand Half Marathon because it must be the flattest half marathon on earth. I mean, I’m not stupid. If I’m going to run 13.1 miles, I’m going to make sure it’s as easy as possible.

In preparation for the race I followed a standard plan that had me running, during my longest runs, about 10-12 miles. My monthly mileage doubled from about 55 miles per month to 105-110 miles a month and my 39 year old legs were feeling it. Knees creaked, my right arch seemed to always be sore, and my morning hobble down the stairs made me grateful for the sturdy hand rail I leaned on heavily.

When I first started my training, my goal was to just finish. However, as my training progressed I realized that finishing wouldn’t be the problem I thought it would be so I began to focus on times. I changed my goal three times during my training. First goal: Under 2 hours. Second goal: 1 hour, fifty minutes. Final Goal: 1 hour, 48 minutes. To do this I would need to average 8:15 miles – a pace I’d never done on my long runs during training.

But that’s where the tapering (running less miles the last few weeks of training) came in. The two best parts about training for a half marathon are this: The tapering and the carbo loading the 2 days before the race. Mmmmm… carbs…

Race day came and I was ready. And well hydrated. Which meant, quite frankly, lots of peeing. Let’s just say that I learned that porta-potties smell a lot better before hundreds of antsy, nervous runners have used them.

I also learned that it’s damn cold at 5:30 a.m. along the coast of San Diego. It was so cold that my goose bumps had goose bumps. I had worn a “throw away” shirt which means, in running lingo, a shirt you wear to the start of the race but discard before the race (The race then collects the shirts and gives them to charity). I wore that throwaway shirt right up until they started the race. Funny, but only a few minutes into the race, I no longer felt the cold. Although I still had to pee.

I also learned that lots of slow people like to get close to the starting line. It took me a lot longer than I would have liked to weave through all the slowpokes and get into a pace I was comfortable with. Which turned out to be about 8:05-8:10 mile pace. I settled into my pace and focused on passing people in front of me. Not bad.

I then learned that it’s very hard to drink water from a small dixie cup while running. I didn’t do well at this and, in retrospect, could have spent a few more seconds to make sure I was taking in enough liquids. I did try and walk through the water stations but I got caught up in the race and ended up jogging away quickly – before finishing the water.

But still I ran. And I kept passing people – only a few people passed me the entire race so I obviously started too far back in the pack at the start line – which made my ego feel a lot better than my legs did at mile 11. But I had 2 miles left and I focused on keeping my form and my legs going. I was cruising. And as I turned the last corner and faced the last half mile towards the finish line with crowds cheering on both sides, I told my body, “It’s time to get up and go! Let’s sprint in now!”

And that’s when I learned that no one sprints in the last half mile of a 13.1 mile run. Immediately my hamstrings tightened up. I had to slow considerably and gingerly run forward. I even had to stop for my first time to quickly stretch out the hamstrings. Once I got them stretched I resumed my run and finished running as smoothly as I could. I finished in 1 hour, 47 minutes, 0 seconds. I did it. I beat my goal of 1:48:00.

I crossed the finish line and made my way through the chute and then stopped at the buffet of bananas and oranges and muffins and water and began gulping water and eating food. A blueberry muffin never tasted so good. But what did taste better was after making my way home, I showered and we went to IHOP where I ate a stack of pancakes, eggs, sausage and hash browns. It was so good that I might have licked the plate clean.

In fact, as I write this I am suddenly hungry again. It turns out, half marathons make you hungry.


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