Okay, so I didn’t exactly make my intended time goal. Neither the first, nor the second. The hills of Great Bay are the spawn of Satan.
I finished my first Half Marathon, and I finished it running. No…sprinting! Smiling, and near tears. More on that later.
I don’t think I could have had a more memorable first half marathon. First of all, I had two of my greatest long-time friends with me, Kathy and Killeen, who have been wonderful running companions through training and during the race. We had the sunshine, we had dirt roads, we had beautiful views, and we had over a thousand other people to share it with. Well…for the first mile or so, anyway.
The day before the race, Killeen and I went up to Newmarket to view the course from the car. We got our bibs and t-shirts first at the expo, and we noticed the printing on the back of them said “These legs conquered the hills of the Great Bay Half Marathon.” First clue that your upcoming race is going to be tough is the hype printed on the back of the free tech shirt. The second clue is when your 2007 Civic has trouble getting over the hills on the course.
So once I got home I spread the paranoia on to Kathy, and then the three of us spent the entire night worrying over it. Of course, I completely forgot that we LIVE in New Hampshire, and none of us has never done a long run without facing at least two or three very large hills.
Anyway, race day arrives and I have my gear on (my tank top with pockets for my iPod…so I can play “The Final Countdown,” of course, my long sleeve, my running skirt, my compression socks, my 6 layers of Body Glide, my two energy gels, and my trusty Bikilas), and I’m ready to go. Once I got there I noticed there were tons of people wearing Vibrams and even a couple of barefooters. I’d never seen so many at a race, and I was really excited about it. After standing in line for 20 minutes at the ladies’ room, finishing up and then heading straight to the porta-potties for another just-in-case relief stop, we see people heading to the starting line. The three of us jog over there just in time for the Anthem, and stood pretty much at the back of the line. I’m not even sure we heard the gun go off, but we knew the race had started once the people in front of us started to move.
There were so many people that we felt as though we were being herded for the first quarter mile. At 1/2 mile in, the first hill in town was ahead and there was a sea of yellow, orange, black, green and blue in front of us, all the runners filling up the road. It was really quite a sight to behold. It felt good being part of something awesome.
As usual I let the adrenaline take hold of me, and pushed a 10:45 first and second mile, with my friends keeping up tentatively. I’m sure they were trying to slow me down rather than keep up (they’re smarter than me and knew it wasn’t time for getting ahead of ourselves). Note to self: I have to learn how to pace my starts better.
The first 4 miles went by in a flash of joy. My friends and I laughed and chatted and couldn’t have felt more exhilarated. Someone asked about my compression calf sleeves and I was happy to be a Zensah commercial. One girl noticed my Garmin and asked me what our pace was at mile 2, and some dude in Vibram Classics almost blew a snot-rocket on me just as I was about to pass him (I have my doubts as to whether it was an accident). My friends and I decided that we were going to cheer every time we passed a mile marker. I’m positive that the people around us were growing hateful by mile 5, but that didn’t phase us…we were having a blast!
Second water stop at mile 4.5 was perfect timing for my first energy gel, I swallowed it down as soon as I saw the gathering, took a big cup of water, and then another. I had to walk while drinking, it was hard not to choke when my water was coming from a vessel other than a rubber straw. I didn’t litter once, either…dropped all my cups/Gu packets into the trash bags as I passed them. I think most everyone else did, too…there was almost no litter anywhere on the course. Not surprised, though, New Hampshire folk are pretty conscientious.
Anyway, at around mile 6.5 things started getting a bit hairy. My starting sprint started to take a bit of a toll on me and my 11:15 average pace started to waiver. It was time to turn off the dirt road (which started at appx. mile 2.5), and start head-long into the hilly territory. Killeen, my light-as-air friend, took off strong ahead of Kathy and I, at her own steady pace, as I’d hoped she would. It was time for Kathy and I to don the earphones (which were “strongly advised against,” but were so necessary for this stretch) and get our heads into the game. We ran roughly alongside each other up and down the first small rolling hills by the bay. I felt good, strong. My feet were gliding, and I was barely breathing hard. The hills were not nearly as bad as I’d worried. The view was astounding and the wind felt amazing. Kathy is a strong hill runner and she kept me going.
There were many small hills, but two very large ones on this stretch. For the first one we both just put our heads down and powered up it. But then came the downhill, which was steeper than anything I’d ever practiced on. I slowed a bit, tried to remember what Barefoot KenBob said about going downhill. I even ran on the double yellow line to avoid the pitch on the side of the road. But by halfway down, it was clear my IT band had no chance. One landing on my right leg sent that ugly shooting pain up to my hip, and my whole leg wavered. I had to hit the side of the road and stop for a moment. I stretched, I massaged. I got back on the road again, but this time I was slower (which is actually worse for my form). I reviewed my performance thus far. Maybe I had been overstriding too much, not paying close enough attention to my form. But now I couldn’t get my form back on track. I couldn’t loosen up, it was a really tough moment for me.
Now it was mile 8, so I turned the music up and just focused on getting through the rest of the race, and through the pain. I passed Kathy without a word, and didn’t look back because I knew I had lost my good mood and would be a bear to talk to for the rest of the way. I ran and walked and ran and walked during the 9.5 – 12.25 mile stretch, which was a torturous out-and-back with a lollipop through some richie-rich houses that looked like they were transplanted from Santa Barbara, California. On the way in I passed a ton of people coming back, some smiling, some barefoot (yay), and a few were walking and limping. It didn’t do a lot for my morale, heh. At mile 11 I took two cups of water and walked with them until they were gone. Then I stood at the trash for a moment, dumped them, took a deep breath, and started running again. By now my average pace was 12:03. I lamented my last long run a couple weeks before, my breakthrough 11:15 pace…but I couldn’t get it back now. There was really nothing left to do except finish.
A few minutes later I stopped again to rub and stretch my leg, and a middle-aged woman stopped to ask me if I was alright. It was sweet of her. I thanked her and told her I was okay, but I didn’t have the energy to make small talk once I passed her again a few minutes later. I was so done. I was at my lowest moment. With one mile left, I turned back out onto the main road. Both of my friends were completely out of sight. Every step hurt more than the last. I wanted to cry.
Chariots of Fire started playing on my iPod. I laughed. And then the tears came. I have no idea why I couldn’t hold it back. Thankfully there was nobody close enough to see me sniffling, because it was pretty embarrassing. But I pulled myself together eventually, and let the song guide me the rest of the way. Up one more hill, and back down. And then there was the 13 mile marker, and the finish line. I could see it. My legs took over, and I started practically sprinting. Nothing hurt anymore. I didn’t even see Kathy’s husband Steve standing at the chute…I just ran. I slapped the finish mat with my left foot and smiled big as a volunteer handed me a medal and a bottle of water. So glad it was over. The official results say that my finish time was just over 2:39.
Killeen met me at the end of the chute and I started crying again for a moment. “That was really hard” was all that came out of my mouth. Killeen laughed and hugged me. What are friends for, if not to withstand you while you blubber on like a baby? Heather might have been taken aback though, a forum friend who ran the half totally barefoot and finished fast as a lightning bolt (man am I happy for her!). She caught up to me right as I was mopping up my eyelids. I was happy to finally see her there, it was like almost everything had been accomplished for the day. Everything, in fact, except for seeing Kathy finish.
I walked back to the finish and waited only a minute or two before she came striding down the street, in her pink t-shirt and pink nail polish. I was as proud of her as I am of myself. I almost cried again, but held it back as I raced over to meet her. With that, we had all come back. We all made it to the end of our journey.
And I can’t wait to do it all again. 🙂