It’s been several months since I wrote a race recap, and I am so thankful to be able to write this one and say: yes, I did start and finish my first half marathon yesterday.
After 16 weeks of training, I made it to the start line of the Hypothermic Half Marathon which started at Cape Spencer and finished in the north end of Saint John.
As I mentioned before, my IT band was in pretty rough shape from my last long training run and peak week turned out to be me desperately trying to run a pain-free mile here and there on the treadmill. I completely gave up as of last Sunday and did absolutely no exercise for the entire week leading up to the race in hope that the rest would help. The pain was not letting up, however.
Resting was very hard and unnerving for me, and I was worried about losing all the progress I had made. But I tried to stay positive and take my mind off the pain, which was there even if I was sitting at my desk doing nothing.
One of the great things about getting more and more running experience under my belt is I start to notice patterns in my behaviour. I was extremely nervous on Friday – like, almost puking nervous. The uncertainty is what really did me in. I wasn’t sure I would be able to walk, let alone run 21.1 kilometres.
Then I remembered that I always get nervous two days before a race, so I laid out all my clothing and got everything ready, right down to my anti-chafing cream and energy chews. It was really the only thing I had control over. Saturday I ended up being pretty calm, my sister and brother-in-law arrived at our apartment, – which I called “base camp” – and I got a good night of sleep.
Sunday morning I woke up at 6 a.m. and ate my banana in bed. The race started at 8:30 and all of my long training runs were done at that exact time, so my body was pretty used to the routine already.
My leg had been in a lot of pain when we were doing errands the day before, and I felt pretty stiff but I put it out of my mind.
We drove over to Rockwood Park, where we met up with my parents, and got ready to board a chartered city bus to the start line. This was a point A to point B race, instead of an out-and-back.
*Thank you to Daniel for all of these pictures. He was my trusty coach, water boy and personal motivator through training. I owe him a lot.
On the bus ride I sat with a few running buddies and they were all talking about the hills we were driving over and would soon be running up. The course is notoriously hard and the hills are too numerous to count. FYI, hills are not fun any day, but are especially hard when you have an IT band problem – especially the downhill.
I was happy with the weather; it was the first silver lining of the day. After months of training in a winter of windy, snow and plenty of -25 C temperatures, I was feeling blessed to have a clear day with bare pavement and -10 on the thermometer.
We arrived at the start line and it turned out we didn’t have to run up the first hill from the lighthouse. I was so happy about this and saw it as the second silver lining of the day. I said good luck to everyone and my sister said “Molly, don’t kill yourself.” It sounds silly, but it was actually good advice.
It was a small but mighty group – on the East Coast of Canada, winter runners are a lot more sparse than spring and fall runners. One of the things I messed up was starting at the back of the pack. I always do that because I am slow, but I didn’t realize we didn’t have a chip on our bib. So the time started when the organizer said go, but I didn’t cross the start line right away.
I’m starting my watch in the back there – my sister is in the green with the ninja hood. She is demonstrating proper technique by forefoot striking instead of heel striking – well done, Christen!
I started out very gingerly because I had no idea how this thing was going to go.
I look like I’m praying intensely that my leg won’t give out. It’s possible I was doing just that.
I knew from the beginning that my mental attitude was going to pull me through the race. I will never be the fastest runner out there, but I can be the most positive. So I yelled to my mom “Hey, we’re running a half marathon!” and then I settled into my stride.
I was pain free for the first 30 seconds (literally) and then it kicked in. Oh well. I was just happy to be running – I had missed my sneakers over the past week.
After the first ten minutes I said goodbye to a couple of my running group buddies and ran a bit ahead of them. My dad had called a few nights before the race to tell me he would be running with me, but he was ahead for the first 5K. I liked having those kilometres alone to try and find my pace. I tried to keep it really slow because I was petrified of screwing my leg up and not being able to finish. I was surprised to look down at 4K and see my split time was what I usually run in training when I’m injury-free. I think it was the adrenaline pulling me through.
Once I caught up to my dad, I had someone to talk to to keep my mind off the pain. We cracked some jokes, told some stories and sang some Alicia Keys songs (well, that was me). I had my interval timer set for 10 minutes running and one minute walking, which I am used to from the Running Room training program, and it was great for my pain and mental state. It didn’t affect my pace any and it was nice to be able to look forward to the walk break.
We saw Dan just after 8K. He gave me some Nuun and ran beside me for a couple of seconds.
As for the hills – Dad kept pointing them out, but truthfully they didn’t affect me very much. My pace stayed pretty consistent and the hills didn’t tire me out too badly. I thank my training in the hilly city of Saint John for that. If I still lived in Fredericton and was running flat along the river, those hills might have killed me.
We started to see civilization, and at 14K Dad announced we were two-thirds done. At around 16K (I think) I stopped taking walk breaks. I had already skipped one and was so eager to be finished.
With about four kilometres left, the pain really started to worsen. I had abandoned all hope of having a goal time when I got injured, but thought it would take me around three hours. When I looked at my watch, I realized I could possibly break 2:30, so I asked Dad if he thought we could do it. He said it would be close. At that point I thought I should just focus on taking it easy, and be happy with finishing, but I am a tad crazy, and of course once the goal was in my head there was no turning back.
That was the last time I looked at my watch. I’ve run with my Dad before and knew I could count on him to pace me. With about three kilometres left we turned onto the causeway and I just had to follow Dad’s footsteps. I was zoning out and feeling faint. Everything hurt at that point, not just my IT bands (which all along had felt like a little man was stabbing tiny knives into them).
The last kilometre of this course is on Crown Street – and is a long hill up to Rockwood Park. There were similar hills earlier in the race, but they didn’t feel like this. My dad said every hill I had done in training was preparing me for this. There is a hill from the harbour up to my apartment, and I told myself back in November when I started preparing for the race that I would never walk up that hill at the end of my runs. No matter how tired I was, I always ran up it. So I told myself I was ready to tackle one final hill at the end of another tiring run.
To say it was hard would be the understatement of the century. All hope of having good form was lost. My legs were seized up and felt like lead. I feel for the people driving by and witnessing it, I really do.
I was hunched over, pumping my arms as hard as I could. If I had stopped to walk, I would have seized up completely so I had to keep moving. I stopped for a millisecond to dry heave. I thought I was going to pass out. I KNEW I was going to pass out. And then I was at the top and Dad said I was free to run my own race – which is his code for “we’re going to make it under 2:30.”
The final 100 metres is downhill to the finish line (ironic considering the course) and my legs opened up and I pounded down to the finish. I could see my sister wrapped in a space blanket and all I could think of was how excited I was to get one (in my head REAL runners at REAL races get space blankets). And I saw the clock and was so happy.
I made sure to smile through the finish, despite feeling so much pain, because it was positivity (and my dad) that got me through.
My official time from the clock was 2:27:00. Then I did my Usain Bolt pose for Dan, which obviously was purely ironic because I was one of the last people to finish and it is a symbol for speed.
I think my sister is laughing at me in the background. Or grimacing from embarrassment.
We humans are very adaptable. That means that it’s hard for me to find the perspective in my running journey. I know there was a time in my life, not very long ago, when I couldn’t run for more than a minute straight. I know there was a time in my life when running five kilometres felt insane and it took me several months of literal blood, sweat and tears to get there.
But over the past two years of learning to run, I have adapted to each new step and along the way I’ve slowly lost that perspective. When you surround yourself with runners, are in a running family, read running blogs … it can be hard to remember that a half marathon is a huge accomplishment. You keep looking to the next step and thinking – well, it wasn’ very fast! Or, well it’s not like it’s a marathon!
So I am taking some time today to reflect on my journey and remember how far I’ve really come.
I got my first running medal! I was almost as pumped for that as I was for the space blanket.
This training cycle was difficult for me, not because of the distances, but because of all the other variables. I was also in a new city, and went out of my comfort zone trying to get used to new routes. I eventually found a great group to run with on Sunday mornings from Running Room, and I am super thankful to them for welcoming me. There were a lot of freezing mornings where I had to actually thaw myself out before running back outside to get to work on time. In the end, all the Saturday nights spent going to bed early, the frozen eyelashes, and the sore muscles, led to me being a tougher person. Now I know I am capable of much more than I ever thought I was.
I am insanely grateful to have run this race with my family. It was my sister’s idea, and we teased her a lot when we started to realized we actually had to DO the race, but it was an awesome memory to have together.
Every single person in my family had challenges to get through before running this race. Those aren’t my stories to tell, but I hope you will look at our crew and take it as a sign that anyone can achieve difficult goals, regardless of age or ability, be it in running or anything else.
You can read all my weekly recaps of half marathon training here.