As I sit down to finally write this, I have no idea even how to structure it. Do I review my training? Only talk about day of? Try to remember all of the awesome thoughts I had along the way? Do I note the not so awesome thoughts? I feel like this could cover a thousand blog posts- which is not great, I like to be concise. I’m just going to get out what I can and move on from there. So much to cover.
As this past Sunday crept closer, I did find myself wondering why I had signed up for this. Why did I say to myself, I want to be in a state of running for over two hours, for over thirteen miles? It all comes back to May 19. I hopped in the Cleveland Marathon to distract my good friend, Julie, for a few miles. I loved everything, the energy, the cheesey signs, the support, and the honey stingers. There’s just something wicked powerful about a mass of people with the same goal.
So why wasn’t I inspired to sign up for a marathon? It’s pretty simple, I remember hitting the mile 13 marker with Julie and hearing one woman say to another, “only 13 more miles to go!” and I looked around and tried to imagine being one of these runners, running 13 more miles on top of what they’ve already run and my gut response was, no freakin’ way. Until that changes (and trust me after my first half marathon, it still hasn’t) I’m not looking to run a marathon.
I had my alarm set for 5 a.m. with the intention to hit snooze a few times. The alarm went off at 5 but did not go off again. Out of sheer luck, I woke back up on my own a little after 6 in a complete and utter panic. That’s right, folks, I almost slept through my first half. I haven’t dwelled on it yet and I don’t plan on it. I cannot even fathom how I would have felt if I didn’t wake up for the half that I trained so hard for.
It would have been easy to sleep through it too since it was the perfect brisk, rainy sleeping weather. I was nervous about inclement weather, not because I wouldn’t run, but because my darling fiance would have refused to. While we don’t run together, some of my favorite moments are when he’s at the finish line (or just before it) cheering me on. The rain stopped around the time we left for the course and I was just hoping I had everything I would need.
Parking was a little tricky. We had planned on getting off at W. 25th (from 2 west), but it was closed. Next exit is W. 6th….closed. E. 9th? Closed. Thankfully the good ‘ole muni lot was open and we successfully parked. I hustled to the start because I really needed to use the restroom and I had a nifty VIP bathroom pass from going to a local running store earlier in the week…except no one knew or could tell me where these VIP potties were! We hustled back to the muni where the lines were much more manageable.
I was slotted to start in Coral 7 and most of the people I knew were too! I don’t know if I was there because my goal was a 2:45 half marathon or I was a first-timer, or maybe both. I was dying of anticipation at this point and anxiety. The older I get, the less I like crowds and the more antsy they make me. I don’t remember what song was playing when our staggered release came but I remember thinking, “this isn’t very riveting.”
Did I mention I opted not to listen to music while running my first half? I still don’t know if this was a good decision or not. I reasoned not to because there would be bands every so often and I wouldn’t need the music. Half wrong. The bands were a little further apart than “every so often” but I’m still not sure that I needed the music. I think one reason the race was so successful was that I really listened to my body and went faster when I wanted to and slowed down when I needed to. There was no sick B-Spears or Vampire Weekend beat dictating my tempo.
The first six miles are pretty much a blur. I was lucky enough to pair up with my friend Alyssa, who was running with her friends at a really comfortable pace. I hadn’t seen her in a while either so we had plenty to chat about. Around mile 6, and in complete disbelief I was almost half way there, I split from here to test out how I was holding up. I knew a medical tent would be coming up that my sorority sister, Jen, was working at so I had that to look forward to and I even found another A Xi (from Bowling Green) on the way.
I had water at every station, and I had Gatorade once or twice. I don’t think I needed it but honestly, I liked the taste of it. I was starting to feel the mileage around eight or nine but never walked. I started chewing on my orange honey stingers and listened in to the conversations around me- one of which was about Jonathan Swift’s “A Modest Proposal”- so good.
At some point we passed DJ Kishka (who is the bomb.com) and my favorite group of cheerleaders. Going across the bridge into Tremont, there were already runners coming back up and boy did they look fast. I thought, oh my gosh, maybe I’ll see Boyface! Then finally, I got the wise idea to look at their bib numbers and the first number indicates (generally) what corale they started in and almost everyone was ones, twos, and threes, and given that he started with me in seven, my dreams of a passing high five with him were vanquished. This did however give me the bright idea to see what the numbers were on the bibs around me. I didn’t look at many because there isn’t really a gracefully way to look at the numbers since they’re on the front of everyone’s tummies. From what I did manage to see, it was mostly fives and sixes which I was pretty excited about.
I didn’t really notice mile markers unless someone else pointed them out. I specifically remember hearing a woman declare, “NINE POINT NINE NINE MILES DOWN” and I turned a corner and just ahead of me was a pacer with Travelers umbrella that said, “2:30” on it. I spent the next few steps trying to understand if that really meant what I thought it might…AM I RUNNING AT ABOUT A 2:30 HALF MARATHON PACE?!?!?!?! And I was feeling goooood. If you know who the comedian Mitch Hedburg was, imagine him saying good, and I was feeling that way. I tactfully passed the group but stayed just ahead of them to listen in to what the pacer was saying.
Whoever was the 2:30 pacer has the most soothingly confident voice I’ve ever heard. If she would have said, “and just up here, we’re going to deviate from the race and jump off of this cliff,” I just might have. Thankfully, she was a very benevolent pacer. She said, “Okay, we’ve got a big hill coming up here. We’re about two minutes ahead so don’t kill yourself on this hill. If you need to, walk up the hill, take big strides, shoulders back, chest up, pump those arms, and give those running muscles a break.” Yes, ma’am. The hill was a monster and I only took about four or five strides that I would say weren’t running strides. This was only the beginning of many, many hills but it’s the only one I didn’t run up and I’m so glad I listened to the pacer-lady.
The last few miles of the race, the last 5k felt as long as the first 10 miles. I’m not sure why. Maybe because it always feels longer to get home than it feels to go somewhere? I very much see my running as an out and back. Before my first run, one of my friends, Jessica, told me to think of it as three miles out and three miles back. I really have taken that to heart and it makes everything seem so manageable. This half marathon was seven miles out to Jensies at her medical tent and seven back.
Fortunately, on the bridge and for the final mile, I heard someone shouting my name. It was Allison, another good friend, and a gift from the great running divine when I needed it the most. I was contemplating stopping at the last band to dance and she was focused and ready to pump out the last mile. I got on her train. While mostly downhill, we picked up the pace and cheered each other on (as only two former cheerleaders can do) and everyone was shouting, “you’re almost there!” “Pick it up” “This is it!” My favorite moment might have been overhearing two other women in conflict about when to make the final push. “Let’s go now” “No” “We’re almost there” “I don’t see the 13 sign yet, WHERE’S THE 13!?” What a wise woman. I jumped the gun upon seeing and hearing my 6’5” hero yelling “Go Katie-Kat!” Expecting the finish like to be just around the corner, like everybody said, and alas it was around the corner and then some and so I put on my business face and pumped out the last few strides of my first half marathon ever.
The clock was 2:33 and something when I went under the arch. Unsure of how long we were staggered, I had to wait to see what my time actually was but I knew I had blown the original goal of 2:45 out of the water. It felt good and most of all, I had so much fun. My final time was 2:23 and I’m the happiest little half marathoner in the world. I’m already signed up for the half marathon portion of the Cleveland Marathon in May and sub-two hours, I’m coming for you!
p.s. Sorry in advance for typos/spelling/grammar- I’m in a rush! Feel free to let me know in a gentle manner though, I will fix them!!