It’s been over a week since I completed my very first half marathon, and already it feels as if it has faded into a distant memory. However, I know that I love reading race recaps, so I thought I should definitely share mine.
This was my first ever race, and I was feeling quite nervous. My husband and I walk our dog every Saturday morning in Central Park, so the morning started as usual. However, the whole race registration and people milling everywhere was not good for our wee pup Moose, who got really confused and upset that his Mom was leaving him, so started to freak out. My husband and I then had a fight about this not being good for him, and the fact I asked him to carry home my sweater. I ended up walking off without him even saying good luck, and stood in the corral feeling very lonely. I’m sure lots of people run on their own. However, nobody around me was, and I felt really alone and mad at my husband at the start. This is probably not the optimum way to start a race.
And we’re off!!
I was really nervous when we started running for a couple of reasons. I’d never really run a race before, I knew I hadn’t done enough training, and I had never run around the park in the clockwise direction, so I was acutely aware that I wasn’t really sure of what hills were where. Everyone around me seemed very in control and calm and comfortable. Inside I was shaking! I started off at a reasonably steady pace – around 10 min/miles. My Nike Plus iPhone app might only be $2.99 and offer integration with dailymile and let me view my runs online, but it doesn’t offer splits which drives me crazy. I did feel like I was going a little fast than I should have been, but nothing serious. The first couple of miles were very crowded, which meant that there was a good energy to run with, but as I’m not used to racing, also made me feel quite nervous.. Within 2 miles of the start of the race was the finishing line, so we had the strange sensation of running past the finish. I smiled when I saw the finish, before remembering I had a couple of hours more to run! My wee brain just had so many questions over the first couple of miles that I barely remember anything about it! I stopped for water at the first break and walked the water break. I have to admit that it felt strange to be walking so quickly into a race, but I was really trying to keep my body calm and slow it down.
The Harlem Hills
The Harlem Hills. The part of Central Park that every runner fears. I had never run them the clockwise direction, only the anti-clockwise. A couple of nights before, I had been for dinner with a runner who swore that clockwise is incredibly difficult. I was pretty scared. I started running uphill. I got to the top. I realized I was going downhill. Wait? That was it? That was The Big Hill? It’s a bump! So okay, I had a downhill (waterbreak) , and another uphill to run, but compared to the pain that I was expecting, it was all pretty easy, and my pace was still hovering around the 10 min/mile mark. So far, so good.
Miles 4 through 6 are my favorite on any longer run because by that stage my legs have warmed up and have a nice rhythm, and I’m feeling strong and proud of myself and how far I’ve already run. I regularly stop running, so I can always recall the pain of starting again, of how painful a 5k can feel if you haven’t run in 6 months, so feeling strong after 30 minutes for me is such an inspiring sense of achievement. The runners had started to spread out by this stage as well, so I had more space and less concerns over tripping up over someone else. I had also taken the first of my Gu packs, so I was feeling the start of a sugar rush as well. I even spotted something I’d never seen in the park before – Cleopatra’s Needle! Can you believe I must have been to the park over 30 times in the last couple of years that I have been living here, and I had never seen it?! However, right after I saw it, I began to feel a nagging pain in my knee, right where the IT band joins the knee. I’ve had this pain occasionally on long runs before, but never this bad, and never so early on in a run. Instead, I usually would get it a couple of hours after a run. No such grace period this time. My main thought when it came on was, “oh crap, now I have to run 8 miles in pain”. As the race was 2 loops around the park, I also ran past the finish line for a second time. This time, they had actually set up the “finishers” lane. That made me laugh as to how far back I really was from the finish line.
I had been hoping to start speeding up at around Mile 8, as I had theoretically been going slower than I was able. However, the aching in my left knee was agony, and so my attempts at increasing my pace were pretty pathetic. These were pretty painful miles, although the pain did subside a little every time I had a walking break. For the record. I stopped at almost every water break except for the last couple, and walked about 15 yards every time drinking my water. I forgot to have my Gu gel at mile 8, and ended up having it just before I took on the Harlem Hills for a second time. Orange Gu without water is really nasty – that was definitely a mistake, although my stomach didn’t hurt, and I’m sure the energy was good for me. Remember how first time I flew up those hills? Ha! This time, with my IT band really hurting, I felt like I was barely crawling, although I never stopped running. But every single stride hurt. Of course, every thing that goes up must come down, and I definitely made up for pace racing down the downhills. Knowing that this was the last time I was running them I really let myself go and ran as fast as I liked. They also took the strain off my left knee.
The longest I had run before the half marathon was 9 miles a couple of weeks before. An experienced runner advised me that I would most likely struggle through mile 10 as my body wouldn’t be used to the extra mileage. Yet another thing for me to worry about! Honestly, most of the advise that people give you before running should be thrown out as it causes people to stress out even more! I sailed through mile 10, and was incredibly happy to be in the home straight.
The main thing about miles 11-13.2 was OWOWOWOWOWOWOOWOWOWOWOW. Both knees were now in excruciating pain. I stumbled twice, although I didn’t actually fall. If I had fallen, there was no way I was getting up. Mentally, I was trying to be as strong as I could be, knowing that I was going to finish this race. However strong my mind was trying to be, my body was aching along, keeping moving, but barely more than that. At mile 11, my husband turned up on his bike. Yes, that very husband who I had had a fight with that morning came back and biked a huge chunk of the race course to try and find me. What a trooper! We ran / biked together for a little bit before he decided to get out of the way of the other runners. I only had 1.5 miles left to go! The pain in both knees was almost mind numbing. When the finish line was in sight, I tried to pick up my pace so that at least I would be running with some pace over the finishline, but even by this point, I was barely able to keep my legs moving.
I FINISHED!!! In 2hrs 11mins. I had set a must beat target time of 2:15, so I was pleased I had managed to beat that, but knew that if I hadn’t been in such pain, I could have done a much better job. I was sore and exhausted. My husband and I started to walk out of the park, where we bumped into our much more experienced marathon runner friends, and then went back in for the famous waffles. We actually got the last waffles they were serving – score! My husband biked home and I took a taxi. Even walking one block at this point felt a real stretch as my legs tightened up and my stomach was in knots and extremely nauseous. I drank a lot of water, took a shower, and had a nap for a couple of hours. When I woke up, my legs were exhausted and incredibly sore, but I was ready to eat. And eat and eat and eat.
Here's my splits:
Mile 1: 10:39
Mile 2: 10:19
Mile 3: 8:23
Mile 4: 9:17
Mile 5: 9:13
Mile 6: 10:26
Mile 7: 7:59
Mile 8: 9:27
Mile 9: 9:49
Mile 10: 10:36
Mile 11: 9:25
Mile 12: 10:26
Mile 13: 10:26
After doing a bit of googling, my knee pain was caused by a pretty common IT band inflammation that comes on from overtraining. In my case, the mileage jump from 9 to zero to 13 was just too much, and in future (and there will be a future!), there will be many more training runs in my training schedule, and I’ll try not to plan as many vacations during the run-up to halves. It’s pretty silly to try and run a half marathon with less than 15 training runs. Oops. But overall, I feel so strong and proud and have a real sense of achievement, and am looking forward to running many, many more.