My First Half!

This weekend was my first half-marathon and you know I have to write about it. If I don’t, I’ll forget these details. And also, I’m super proud of how things went and want to share.

The race itself was kind of fun … dare I say I enjoyed it and may even want to do another?! Nothing further distance-wise;  I don’t have the desire to carve out any more time than I already do or any inclination to run a full. But I actually didn’t hate the half — except the last 3.1 miles which actually were 3.4 miles due to some flooding that caused some last-minute course changes that were not in our favor!

The Gazelle Girl Half Marathon is an all-female race for which 100% of the proceeds go to several female-focused charities: Girls on the Run, the YMCA, Grand Rapids Opportunities for Women (GROW) and the Gazelle Sports Foundation. Two of my girlfriends ran the 5K and I was running the half, so we got a hotel room and had a fun girls night out Saturday to celebrate one friend’s birthday.

A glass of wine and delicious pizza dinner at one of my favorite Italian restaurants here in Michigan helped calm my nerves to some extent, but I was still a nervous wreck the night before and lay awake from 1 AM til the alarm went off at 6:45 to head over to the start. I just get so anxious before a race. It’s not that I thought I couldn’t do it — I knew I’d put my heart and soul into the required training and didn’t doubt my physical readiness. It’s that I was going into it completely knowing nothing about the course, and running with no one I knew. (My half training partners are all doing different halves – so none of us are running the same race! Boo to that!)

I opted to not eat my banana and almond butter I’d brought because I was too nervous and still full from the night before (winning in this case!) so I just got dressed quickly and headed over to the start where I waited for them to call us to line up. It was freezing out, but I knew it would warm up quickly (from 32 to 59 by the time we finished) and I am so glad I wore what I did —  a tech-fleece half-zip, a tank, and crops. I ended up not taking off the half-zip til mile 7, when I was fully warmed up and getting legit hot. Once that sun came out, it was brutal — but also glorious.

The start was intimidating, with so much nervous energy and being freezing … but I stayed with my 10:30 pace group the first two miles, til I realized I had more energy to burn and just wanted to go faster. So I left the pack and found myself chasing some people and lagging behind others at times, but always keeping these two girls in my sight who I’d chatted with at the start line (one of the girls had the same shoes as me so we bonded over that). They reminded me of my running buddies so that helped.

The course is mostly flat and takes a beautiful river-front path for a good chunk of the run, so it wasn’t too hard and the first 7 miles flew by just enjoying the scenery and the cheering stations. Around mile 8 my legs started to feel a little lead-ish but I kept going, only stopping for water and to help a woman who ran into a metal pole and needed help getting up. (She kept going–#rockstar). Some people had Gu and blocks at the stops, but I just can’t eat when I run so those were easy to pass by.

Something else I don’t normally do when I run? Listen to music. I know, I’m weird. It’s just a personal preference — I like just hearing what’s around me. But yesterday, I kind of wished I had a playlist because everyone around me was listening to music and there was no one to even comment on the mileage with, just me and my thoughts. It was kind of lonely at some points. Since I had no one to talk to (or vent to!) I just kept thinking of the finish and how good that will feel — that I would be a legit half-marathoner! — and how Luis and the kids would be there, and my girlfriends who ran the 5K would be there … That kept me going, as well as all the people cheering and playing music and holding signs.

I wasn’t looking at my pace much along the way, but when I did peek, I could see I was below 10 minute miles for a good chunk of the race. Since I’d been ahead of the 10:30 group, knew I was doing well. Turns out 7 of my miles were under 10 minute miles (lowest was 9:41), and nothing was above 10:55 / mile so for me, that’s really good!

The last two miles were hilly and HARD — and they were unwelcome after already running so much. I just kept thinking of my family, my friends, and how proud I was of making a goal and sticking to it.

My [unpublished til now] goal had been to finish between 2 hours 15 min and 2 hours 20 min, and I achieved that goal (2 hours, 16 minutes, 32 seconds). But we also didn’t cross til 13.4 miles, not the normal 13.1. So I don’t know where I would have been at 13.1, but my guess is it would have been closer to 2 hours 13 minutes or so, which is under my goal. I know it doesn’t really matter — I have nothing to benchmark this against anyway and it’s not like I was going to win a prize or anything — but it kind of stinks to not know your REAL half time. I feel worse for those who were seeking to achieve a PR.

All in all, I am super proud of how the day went. Considering I ran alone and didn’t know anything about the course, I couldn’t have asked for a better race. The conditions were perfect, and I felt strong and didn’t care what I looked like. In fact, I even posted full-body shots afterwards because well, why the hell not? I earned my medal and it’s this body — not my pre-kiddo, 25-lb lighter body — that did the work and got me there.

What a beautiful realization to have …

When I crossed the finish line and finally stopped and soaked it all in, I got a little freaked out. I was wheezing horribly, finding it impossible to suck in air. I was also crying with absolute joy because I couldn’t believe I did it, and couldn’t believe there was a half-marathon finisher medal now hanging around my neck! The wheezing went away after a couple deep breaths, and I made my way over to my people.

I had seen and heard the girls cheering as I crossed (yay!), but saw Luis and the kids were nowhere to be found — even though he had planned to meet up with my friends for the finish. Turns out they had gone first to mile 10 with their signs to cheer me on before the hardest part (the last 3 miles), but since the text tracking Luis had signed up for didn’t work — it said I had finished 3 minutes into the race, um, no! — he had no way of knowing where I was on the course or that I was several minutes ahead of my pace group. So by the time they saw the 11:30 and 12 min pacers, he realized they’d probably missed me by just a few minutes. As they made their way to the finish line, my friend texted him that I was coming down the final stretch — but they didn’t get there in time, arriving like 3 minutes after I crossed. They did hear my name being called though — Ben was so excited. “Melissa from Kalamazoo!”

Naturally I was sad they missed seeing me run and they were, too — but I was still so happy and relieved to get their hugs afterwards! The kids were so proud of their signs they made, so I made sure we took pics. Afterwards, we walked around the after-party, had a drink, and went back to the hotel so I could shower. Then we walked to an Irish pub for lunch (the best part about city-life, walking everywhere!) and did some outlet shopping before heading home and putting my feet up on the couch. (The extra walking actually felt good).

Today I am sore, not gonna lie. I stretched and Luis gave me a couple back rubs but I still feel tight, especially in my legs and knees. I’m going to take it easy this week to let my body recover from pushing so hard. (How do people do marathons over and over again?! Mad respect to them, but I just can’t even fathom!) Overall though, besides normal aches and pains associated with a race, I feel good and strong and powerful.

So what’s next? Well, the Detroit Marathon Relay I ran last October just so happened to send over their marketing materials this weekend, and there is a half marathon … which crosses into Canada and comes back. I haven’t decided yet, but I just may sign up … prices go up April 30 😉

Some pics …

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