Monday, October 12, 2015

Half Marathon Recap

Well, it's official. I am a half marathoner! On Saturday October 10, 2015 I ran the half marathon option of the Layton Marathon. It was my first. But it won't be my last!

The Layton Marathon is relatively new in the world of marathons. It has only been going for 6 or 7 years. The reason for the hesitation… I was talking to a guy on the bus to the starting line who said he had run this 6 times, ever since it started. What I don't know is if that day would be number 6 or if that day would have been number 7. The Layton Marathon is unique among the Utah marathons. Utah is a mountainous state. Therefore, almost all of our marathons include quite a change in elevation over the course of the race. Layton is advertised as the "flattest course in Utah" with only a 200 foot elevation change over the course of 26.2 miles.  It is a Boston qualifier. I understand it is also an Olympic qualifier. I chose the Layton Marathon for my first half for three main reasons… 1) it was local. I live 15 minutes away from Layton. No traveling required. I would be training in basically identical conditions that I would be running in. And I would be able to sleep in my own bed in the nights prior to the race. No worrying about "the first night in a strange bed" syndrome. 2) It was flat! I'm pretty comfortable on downhills, but uphills still test me. And I figured a flat would be a good one for a first timer. 3) By the time I decided I wanted to be able to do a half this year… I needed to find a race that was far enough out that it gave me adequate time to train. This one fit.

Training went pretty good, until my "long runs" started hitting 8+ miles. Then finding time to get in the long runs became a real challenge. I could easily dedicate 2 hours in the evenings for running, but my speed is slow enough that 8-ish miles is about all I could get in during that time. If I wanted to be able get in longer runs, I would have to do them on Saturday mornings. But I work a graveyard shift and I worked Friday nights. I could do a speed work run or a mid length run on Saturdays, but I did not have the energy to do a long run at that time. I finally had to split up my runs, by doing 3 miles on the treadmill on my break at work, then doing 7 miles during my normal running time. I was able to get 10.5 miles in in a day, before it was time to taper. But 8.5 miles was the longest I was able to get in in one setting. So, I was a little nervous going into it. I had talked to an employee at a running store when I went with my niece to get her some new shoes. She said the important thing was to get in the miles. Doing it all in one setting was more about the mental advantage it gave you. So, I tried to psyche myself into it with positive self-talk and simply stating… without question or hesitation… that I would finish. That was not the question. The only question was "how bad will it hurt afterwards?"And I am not afraid of pain. I am not afraid to sweat. I am not afraid of "hard." I am only afraid of giving up.

So, the night before the race, my niece came up to my house. She would stay with me that night, so as to maximize the amount of sleep she could get. Once she got here, I went with her to the expo for packet pick up. Then we came home for a pasta dinner and an early night.
My bib for my first half marathon.

My sister (Sue) was going to take my phone the
next morning and get pictures of us on the
course and at the finish. So I gave her a last
minute crash course on how to use my iPhone.
She's technologically challenged and doesn't
own a smartphone of her own. And my phone
takes better quality pictures than even my
camera! Sue hams things up and Jen and I were
getting a bit punchy with nerves. So everything
was hilarious. 

One thing I have wanted to do for a couple
of months was to get a photo of Jen and I
wearing the shirt that I was wearing in my "before"
photo 18 months ago. Since, I had essentially
lost the same amount that she weighs. That was
an exercise getting our heads through the neck hole!

And finally… this was the result. Obviously
the shirt didn't fit quite like that… but you
 get the idea!

Jen and I woke up about 4:45-5:00 in the morning the day of the race. And Sue got up early as well to take my phone from me and see us off. And she decided she needed to get pictures of the "getting ready" process. There is a photo of me putting on sunscreen wearing nothing but capris and a sports bra. That one will not be included in this blog post! :-) 

Laying out my shirt so I could pin on the bib.

Jen putting on her shoes

Grabbing the last items. A sweatshirt for the
standing around time at the start line and of course,
can't forget my hat or my hydration belt. 

Jen had her phone and took this photo of our fellow
 runners hanging around at the start line as it started getting
light enough to see. I had to hi-jack it from her Instagram feed!
It was a frigid morning at the start line! Luckily Jen and I were smart enough to bring sweatshirts, but that was all. Live and learn for next time! Once the full marathon had started, then they transported all the equipment to our start line and they had a heater attached to a generator. But until that time… COLD! We had to remind ourselves that once we got started we would be loving the chilly temps. And we would be sweating profusely shortly thereafter! Jen and I both started out walking. For less than 5 minutes, but it gave us a chance to warm up and to let the crowd thin out a little so we weren't running in a bottleneck. Smart choice on our part, I think. My game plan was to go out easy for the first 8 miles. But I was passing people within the first mile. And I stayed ahead of them the whole way. And I'm not a fast runner! We hadn't been running for very long (in fact, Jen was still in my sight) when I saw Sue on the side of the road, phone in hand. I couldn't believe she was there that early. But I loved it. I loved knowing that I would periodically be seeing her along the course. Somebody to cheer me on specifically. Somebody who would care if I was struggling. Or if I was running strong for that matter. 

The race started on the Causeway going out to Antelope Island in the Great Salt Lake. The full marathon actually started on the island. But the half started on the causeway. It was beautiful watching the sun come up, but once we got started… I don't pay much attention to anything except running. So I was glad Sue got a nice shot of the scenery for me. These next photos are some of the earlier photos (taken within the first 5 miles).

Just before the 5 mile marker, I heard someone behind me say "I thought that was you." And I turned around to see my cousin! I was so thrilled to see him. It was such a surprise. I haven't seen him in so long and yet he's one of my favorite cousins. That little drop by made my day! Aside from the sheer fact of finishing, seeing him was the highlight of the whole experience. He jogged with me for a few minutes and we chatted. We took a running selfie together, then he ran up ahead so he could get some action shots of me. He then had to take off… but it was a wonderful experience for me to see him. 

Running selfie with my cousin! I LOVE HIM!

Approaching the 5 mile marker
(taken by my cousin)

She's still smiling, but you can tell Jen is
starting to hurt in this picture.

My plan was to run easy until mile 8, then start picking people off. But they were far enough ahead that I would have had to kill it in order to start passing them. And by 9 miles, I was starting to hurt. I was okay. I could keep going. But I was at the point where this was longer than I had ever run before and my body was feeling it. So, at this point… the goal became to just keep going, rather than to try to pick people off. Long around 11 miles, I could see Jen up ahead of me, walking. Jen is almost always out of my sight during a race… so I knew when I was able to see her, that she was in trouble. I caught up to her. Before I could say anything she said "Don't touch me!" She was hurting pretty bad by this point and could no longer run. But she was determined to at least finish. And she said she knew if she stopped for even a half a second, she'd never be able to finish. So, she told me to go on ahead. 

Rounding the bend, just before the finish line.
I didn't have quite enough "juice" to finish
with a full-on sprint, but I was able to pick up
my pace and finish strong.

I MADE IT! Time was 3:07:45

Jen coming around the final bend. A marathon
pacer had passed her earlier and noticed she was
struggling, so after she finished, she went back
out to find Jen and walk with her back in.
Jen managed to dig deep the last 10 feet and
cross the finish line at a jog. But it was painful
looking. Poor girl!

And she made it! I can't remember her exact time.
It was about 3:15. She proceeded to find the
nearest patch of grass and she collapsed and
started to cry. I was so proud of her for finishing
when she was hurting that badly. 

I was hurting too. And this last photo
is of the two of us hobbling off together
to find the massage tent!

So, my takeaway lesson from this experience was that training can beat genetics. And youth. Jen is younger than me. She has never been seriously overweight. She has an athletic background. And just general more natural ability. But I was able to dedicate more time to training for this race. When I started to hurt… I was able to keep going. I couldn't pick up my speed like I wanted to pick people off, but I could keep running. Jen crashed. She walked the last 2 miles. And then collapsed at the end. The ONLY reason I was able to finish ahead of her and finish stronger, is because of my training. Because youth, genetics, natural ability… was all on her side. I find it a valuable lesson. People often use age or genetics as reasons why they can't do something. But training (aka. hard work) trumps that. You absolutely can do it if you are willing to work for it. 

"It's going to hurt. Accept that. We don't train so it won't hurt. We train so that we can handle the pain."

I had three goals in mind for this half marathon. I accomplished all three of them. They were, in order of importance… 1) Survive! 2) Finish strong. This has nothing to do with my time or whether or not I could finish at a sprint. For me it meant to finish feeling good enough (both physically and about the experience) that I would do it again. 3) I was hoping for a time at 3:15 or better. I heard something that the best predictor of your half marathon time is 5x your 5k time. Well 5x my average 5k time would have been 3:20. 5x my best 5k time was 3:15. So, to come in ahead of that was a great victory for me.

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