Sunday mornings usually find me sleeping in but last Sunday I was up by 6 am – on purpose! And I was happy about it! And I practically skipped to the bathroom when I saw the sun shining!
Why was a night owl and not-much-of-a-morning-person so thrilled to be up with the early birds? It was race day!
After putting in my contacts and splashing some water on my face I got dressed in my black running pants, a bright blue running shirt, and tucked my ponytail up into my favourite hat. I was downstairs making two pieces of toast with peanut butter by 6:30 am and made sure everyone in the family was up and at ’em. Once 7 am hit we were pulling out of the driveway and heading downtown so I could run my very first half marathon ever!
It was a beautiful morning, that’s for sure. Maybe there’s something to this whole get-up-early thing.
I stopped to use the porta-potties next to the water station that was being manned by a bunch of my co-workers, said my hellos, and headed for the start line. On the way there we met up with a friend from out of town who took a ton of photos for me. He got a shot demonstrating the perfect balance between nervous and excited, and also managed to capture the three elite Kenyan runners who were participating in various races that day. Spoiler alert: I did not beat the Kenyans.
Despite having just gone, my nerves told me to hit the porta-potties again before the race started. I mentioned this last year and I’ll mention it again: seven or eight porta-potties at the starting line for thousands of runners is really not enough. You can almost feel my impatience below, and I had so much nervous energy that I kept jumping up and down and trying not to over-chat the people around me. Luckily I was pulling the door open when they announced the two-minutes-until-gun-time message and I was in and out in about 30 seconds flat.
I had just enough time to toss my old sweater over the fences for donation pick-up and get myself somewhere around the middle of the pack before the race started. There are so many runners that unless you’re right out front you don’t move very quickly until you actually get out of the corral anyway so it wasn’t too bad. Then I was off!
I started off a little faster than I wanted but I honestly wasn’t trying to push myself; in fact I was making a conscious effort to pace myself and had even put some slower songs at the start of my playlist (things like “Beautiful Day” and “Girl On Fire”) but I was still hitting about 6:15 per kilometer by the time I had run the first 4 km. Oh well, I tried! I just really wanted to avoid dropping to slower than 7 minutes per kilometer and I succeeded with that even with my faster-than-intended pace at the beginning.
The day started off sunny and beautiful and it was so peaceful running through the north end of Halifax, an area I wasn’t particularly familiar with. Then we wound around and ran through the shipyards which was nice too, although it was a bit lonely since there weren’t any spectators down there. By the time we were running under the bridge a huge crowd of 10K runners were starting to cross and it was a weirdly exciting moment to see them up overhead.
Unfortunately the sun started to disappear and it got cloudy, which was too bad. The temperature was a bit cool but that was perfect for running so I didn’t mind. The only time I really felt the cold was when we hit Point Pleasant Park; running right beside the ocean was windy and super chilly. It’s always been one of my favourite places in Halifax though, so I ignored it until we got around the bend and had trees to shelter us a bit more.
I’m not so sure the park will ever be one of my favourite places to run though; although it’s nice and flat on the entrance part of the run, once we turned to head back we were led up a path that became what I not-so-affectionately refer to as the Endless Hill. I swear to God I thought I was trapped in a nightmare where I was just going to keep going up and never stop. Every time I was sure we’d peaked we’d turn and go up again. When I looked off to my right the water was so far below us it was crazy. I had never realized how much of an elevation there is in that park!
I made it to 15 km of non-stop running (except for quick stops for water because I have not yet mastered the art of running while drinking, and this was a race not a wet t-shirt contest!) and then I finally had to stop to walk so I could fuel up. Eating my toast an hour and a half before race time meant that I lasted quite some time without feeling any hunger effects but by then I was and didn’t want to “bonk”. I had tested out pieces of chocolate on my training runs; it seems like an odd fuel choice but any time I had a chocolate bar in the afternoon at work and then ran when I got home I would have an amazing run so I tried it. I figured that running gels and beans are pretty much all sugar anyway. The chocolate worked for me on training runs so I hoped they would work on race day too, and they did for awhile.
After exiting the park there was one more hill that was short but steep and by the time I got to the top I had to walk again and I realized I was *this*close* to hyperventilating. It was at that point that I had to start holding back because I had a lot of trouble controlling my breathing and the last thing I wanted to do right then was pass out.
Eventually I felt better but any time I ran too long I would have to stop to walk again, but that was fine. Eventually the chocolate wore off and fueling became a bigger issue. I felt a little woozy and thought I needed water (though really, I knew I wasn’t dehydrated; I had been drinking tons of water the day before and I took water from every station, not to mention sipping from my own water bottle as needed) so I guzzled a bit of that and when it didn’t help I knew it was more of a blood sugar issue.
I’ve never used any of the gels but I had picked up a GU pack from one of the water stations around the 9 km mark. Having heard absolute HORROR stories of GI issues when people have tried them for the first time on a race day (and by HORROR stories I mean the kind that involve photos that you never ever want anyone to see) so I immediately pocketed it in my water belt’s pouch. By this point I was over 18 km in though, and I figured that if it upset my stomach I was almost there; I knew there were porta-potties at the 20K mark and then there were more at the finish line. I decided that the risk of fainting was higher than the risk of an explosion and I ripped it open to try it.
The lemon flavour was nice but good lord that stuff is thick. It’s similar to the gel I use in my hair and it was a weird texture, but it worked pretty quickly and within a few minutes I felt better. I ended up taking about 3/4 of the package before tossing it aside and I credit it for helping me maintain enough stamina to get to the finish line (and no, no horror stories, thank goodness). I’ll have to pick some up.
When I got to 19 km I spotted George and the kids with our friends; when our friends had booked their hotel room no one advised them of the fact that a huge 16,000 runner race was going to pass in front of their hotel all Sunday morning. Oops! It turned out to be a great spot for them to wait for me. It was the first time in the three years I’ve participated in the Bluenose that I ever actually saw them. I gave the kids a hug, George a kiss, and then I was on my way, knowing I had less than 2 km to go.
At the 20K mark I looped past all my co-workers that I had seen earlier in the morning and that was a great motivator. My manager was cheering for me and I heard a few people scream my name and it was just what I needed to face that last little bit of distance.
Just before turning the corner to the street with the finish line I could swear that I felt a breeze, and on my right the female Kenyan runner blew right past me like a freight train. I’m still not 100% convinced that her feet ever actually touched the ground. I have seen many people run at various paces and effort levels but never in my life have I seen anyone run in a way that seemed as effortless as she did. It was inspiring.
When I was abut 20 feet from the finish line I heard them announce my name. That was exactly what I needed to push myself just a tiny bit more and cross the line. I made a silent prayer that my chip timer had worked when I ran across, paused my Runkeeper app, and looked towards Citadel Hill where I saw George, the kids, and our friends waiting for me.
I got my medal, one of those weird space blanket thingies to wrap up in because I suddenly realized I was really cold, and I headed into the Metro Centre to grab some free grub. After taking a banana, a trail mix bar, and a chocolate milk (chocolate milk is my FAVOURITE recovery item) I was ready to start walking to the car for my cool down. First though, I stopped and got a quick picture with Myles, the Bluenose mascot.
(Myles ran the 5K the day before. Dressed up like that. I bow down. I’d die in that thing, it must be so hot and stuffy!)
I met up with everyone and we walked back to where we had parked while I marveled over the fact that I still had energy to spare. Once home I stretched, took a cold bath, ate some eggs and cheese on bagels, and had a warm shower to clean myself up. We had a BBQ/party that afternoon and into the night and I was fine for most of it right until the end when I was ready for bed. Luckily it wasn’t a super late night since we had started the festivities in the mid-afternoon. I had a few glasses of wine but mostly all I wanted was food (ALL THE FOOD) and lots of water.
When I crawled into bed I crashed hard and slept like the dead until the next morning. Apparently running half marathons makes you ravenous and exhausted. Who knew?
Will I ever run a half again? Probably. I identified some problems and know how to resolve them so I’d like to try again and be better prepared. I’d also like to beat my time. I finished with a perfectly respectable 2:27 time. Considering it was my first half I am totally satisfied with that, but I know that if I had a different approach I could definitely run it faster than that. (It bears noting that Sarah Jebet, the Kenyan runner who blew past me finished in 2:27 also. We both had the exact same finishing time. Except, she ran TWICE the distance. She finished the FULL marathon in the same time it took me to run the HALF marathon. Good lord!)
Will I ever run a full marathon? Probably not.
But never say never.