Well, after all the training and anxiety, I successfully finished the Mercedes Half Marathon in just over 2.5 hours. I had absolutely ZERO expectations in time so I am quite happy with my results! I still can't believe it was only 2 1/2 weeks ago. It feels longer and like yesterday all at the same time.
The weather on the days preceding the race was unseasonably cold with a few inches of snow accumulating on Friday. I actually managed to leave work a little early on Friday and head to the expo at the BJCC to pick up my race packet and I almost slipped/twisted my ankle on some black ice while wearing my high heels!
On race day, it was in the low/mid-30s when I headed out at around 5:45 to make it downtown for the 7am start. I ended up driving myself since it was A. so early and B. so cold and I just didn't think it was fair to my mom or Matt to make them be there so early when I knew this run was going to take me a while! As I was traveling downtown and headed north I could see all the marathon and half marathon signs/route guides and my anxiety began to turn to excitement. I was READY! I was able to find parking easily in a deck adjacent to the starting corral but I admit it killed me to pay $8 when I knew there were free options if I cared to look. However, I wanted to have plenty of time to go to the restroom and get my bag checked and do a little warming up, so the $8 was worth the peace of mind in the end.
Even though the race has a few thousand registered runners there aren't time corrals so it's up to the runners to use judgment when placing themselves in the starting chute. Knowing that I'm no speed demon (obviously), I headed toward the back and ran into my friend from GBHS (Lisa) that I knew was running (and also slow) and a grad school classmate/coworker's wife (Lauren) who had trained around the same pace. It was the first half for all of us and we shared our anxiety and excitement. I lost them shortly after the gun went off, partly because of the chaos and partly because of my intentions. I wanted to run my own race and I was afraid if I stuck with people I knew, I would feel pressure to keep their pace (if it was too fast) or to perform a "certain way" (whatever that means). I know running can be a social sport and I like sharing training tips, war stories and the like, but I really like the solitude and losing myself to the moment which is why I also train(ed) solo instead of with a group. (no pressure!)
I was really worried about pacing myself since I had done every single training run on the treadmill and I let the machine dictate what my legs did. In the end, my legs knew what to do and I learned I need to trust myself more. Around mile 1.5-2, I saw the telltale green shorts of my boss-once-removed (so in essence, my boss's boss...BB) and another University superior just ahead of me and I was closing in. At this point I actually did worry a little about my pace since I know BB's 5K pace is much faster than mine but my watch was keeping me honest so I just went with it. They both knew I was running the race but I debated on whether or not to greet them. (hi, BB, in your super short man shorts, look at me in my skin tight running tights! and my oh so sexy hot pink Bondi band!) I decided to stay even and run on the other side of the street until at some point we converged and I turned to them and smiled and said hello. We chatted for a few minutes and I was feeling pretty good at that point, so I trotted off ahead of them so I could avoid any more awkwardness and the pressure to talk. For the record, they passed me around mile 5 but they SWEAR and have told all of our coworkers that I blew past them never to be seen again! (How did you miss passing the hot pink ensemble!)
My initial race plan had been to walk through all of the water stops, alternating water and gatorade. I actually didn't walk through any of them until the one at mile 5. I only allowed myself 1 minute of walking though to avoid getting out of the groove. I hit a major slump around mile 11 (maybe mentally more than anything) but I wonder if next time (yes, next time) I should think about taking in more sports drink than water to keep the energy up or trying some of the gel blasts or something equivalent around the 7-8 mile mark. As I have said, I am quite the sweat-machine and even though it was cold and I didn't feel like I was sweating, let me just say my clothes were soaked when all was said and done.
Overall I though the course was great, and I really enjoyed experiencing Birmingham from a new perspective. I am very familiar with most of the area we ran through but it's always been traveled by car and usually when there is quite a bit of traffic; not exactly ideal conditions for taking in the scenery. I REALLY enjoyed the part of the course from 5 points south and down Highlands and through Forest Park. Lauren actually passed me just past the golf course (mile 9.5?) but I was running positive splits at this point (boo) so there was no keeping up. (I made sure she stayed within my sights for the rest of the race, though, so much for "running my own race"?). However, while some of the industrial parts were interesting on the first half of the course, running through Avondale up until about mile 12 was brutal...the one bright spot was watching and cheering for the MARATHON winners as they passed us!!
As I was coming into the finisher's "corral" or whatever it's called, I was giving whatever I had left and scanning the sides for my mom and Matt. I noticed the corral was kind of devoid of spectators which has not been the experience I have had running downtown before, but I never saw them as I crossed the finish line! As soon as I crossed (and they called my name which was cool) and got my medal, I saw mom and Matt and a ton of other spectators basically trapped behind a tall fence. They were scanning for me and I was standing right in front of them! Turns out it was just bad logistics to get into the spectating area at the finish if you didn't know to come in through the front of the park. And because all of the parking was at the back of the park, since the front of the park is on the race route, most finish line spectators got trapped behind the fences (hopefully something they fix in the future). I was so glad to see them and I was feeling absolutely fantastic at this point! I picked up my finisher's shirt, sucked down a Powerade and was reunited with them in no time. We made a quick stop by the post-race party and I picked up some Jim N Nick's to go. (free for runners) I am not ashamed to admit to you that I ate a pork BBQ sandwich on the way home(!!) but I was so hungry. Not too much different than eating a
I have to say, if you can't already tell, this was SO MUCH FUN! Yes, it was a ton of hard work but it was worth it for every single second I was out there on the course. I tried to smile at volunteers and supporters and enjoyed the "you got it girl" comments from some of the Birmingham PD that were blocking off numerous intersections. I know I must have looked like a smiley idiot at times but I was really trying so hard to soak in every moment. The weather was so beautiful despite the cold...I actually think that might be perfect running weather. While I had been worried about boredom with the iPod, I could barely tell you what played during the race b/c I was really just tuned into my surroundings. However, I do remember that appropriately, "I Got a Feeling" by the Black Eyed Peas started playing just as I was hitting the last .25 miles.
I am DEFINITELY going to do another and I could see this being a "regular" thing. The distance is long enough to be consistently challenging but still allows for evening and weekend training that also allows me to have a life. I am *beginning* to toy with the idea of 26.2 since I honestly felt SO GREAT after the race, both immediately and in the days following, but I haven't locked into that goal yet. BB and US (University superior) are actually trying to coax me into running Talladega 21000 in April and I haven't ruled it out, but I may need to make some adjustments to my current training plan. The concept of that half seems pretty cool (running around Nascar Track, heading into Talladega proper and then back to the track to finish, with pics taken in Pit Road), but it seems to be a smaller race (less than 1000 runners last year) and I still worry about "standing out" (and not in a good way) since, go figure, I still don't totally consider myself "a runner". We shall see! I am working on speed right now (more on that to come) so maybe I'll feel better about this in another 6 weeks.
And because the race photographers got NO postable pics of me, here are a couple of snapshots from race day.
Trying to get to mom and Matt
Mom and I
Matt and I (or as mom called him: Secret Agent Man)