Just in case I’ve got any readers who may have somehow been lead to believe
that I’m not a hack that I’ve run a lot of long distance races, let me correct your misinformation here and now: I’m still a relative noob. Up to this point I have never run a race longer than a half marathon, and the Wallis Sands half marathon was only my second half marathon. Like, ever.
In fact, Wallis Sands has been my first race longer than a 5K since last June. But not for a lack of trying, though. If you are sort of new to reading my blog, you may not have seen the solid three-month-long block of posts on the subject of being out of commission due to a major foot injury last summer (and lucky you). The suckiest part of all is that if you count the time it took me to re-train myself, I was set back nearly a year of progress, and gained ten pounds as well. So this half mary was a triumph of sorts for me.
Last year I ran Great Bay. It was extremely hilly (something I didn’t know until the day before the race when I picked up my race packet and a shirt with “These Legs Conquered the Hills of Great Bay” printed on the back) and my lack of preparedness for those hills had me struggling through it at the end. So this year I signed up for the other really popular New Hampshire spring half marathon. It was almost totally flat. And the irony of it is that since last year’s half I’ve acquired a love of hills, so it was a bit boring to run such a flat road race. Ah well, such is life.
I signed up for this race with my friend John, who wanted to run his first half this year. I’m certainly no veteran of the half marathon, but it was pretty cool to witness his milestone experience.
And it was nice to approach the starting line with some basic knowledge of the distance. Much unlike last year’s half, I’ve run farther than 13 miles now and I understand a bit more how to pace myself, how much water and fuel I require for the distance and how tired I’ll feel at the end. Per experience, I had fully expected to become tired enough to take walk breaks by mile 7 or so, little did I know at the starting line that I’d be surprising myself soon.
My bib had a yellow stripe on it. It had been so long since I’d signed up that I couldn’t even remember what finish time I’d selected, but the race went in heats (which I thought was genius) and yellow meant I was heat 4. Luckily John’s bib was the same color as mine so we got to stand around the starting line together, me in my INKnBURN skirt and him in his bright red Devil’s Chase race tee. We exchanged anxious grins and absorbed the excitement in the air around us. But as soon as the gun blared, he took off ahead, and I took out my mantra.
Don’t go fast. Don’t follow the crowd. Don’t go fast. Don’t follow the crowd. This is not a race for you – it’s just a training run for the 50K.
And I didn’t go fast or follow the crowd. I sunk into a nice conservative 11:30 pace right away and really just happily stayed there, determined not to use up too much energy. I enjoyed the overcast, 45-degree morning. For the first few miles the ocean was to my left, just over the rocks near the road. It was pretty amazing to look at, and, amazingly, it was also the first time I’d ever gone for a run so close to the ocean. Being that I’m an insatiable ocean lover I realize that this is preposterous. At any rate it sweetened those first few miles that are always hardest for me to get through.
Early on I caught up and began chatting with a woman in her 50’s, whom I later found out was from my hometown and knew one of my cousins in high school. Then, like an alarm going off, I had to pee. I always have to pee about a mile or two into my long runs. Why is this? As if on cue, we came up to a porta-potty and I dived in. I’ve probably never peed so fast in my life. I jumped back out and banged out an 8-minute mile to catch up with the group I was in before my pit-stop. The woman in her 50’s was now talking with someone else so I paced in behind her, hooked an earphone into my right ear and started chugging at 11:30 again.
During the race I passed water stop after water stop, snagging a water and a gatorade each time to be sure I took in enough fluids. John got smaller ahead of me, until he was just a little red dot in a sea of black, blue and gray. I didn’t mind it at all; I enjoyed the relative quiet of the runners around me. I felt like I was with them, silently one of them.
Like I said before I fully expected to start walk breaks somewhere around mile 7, because, well…that’s my usual modus operandi. But at mile 7 I felt fine. I was two miles into my first Gu (those things never get easier to choke down, do they?) and feeling hydrated enough. I was still doing fine by mile 8, and still by mile 9 – even though my GI tract was starting its usual fuss and noise, which I was, however, successfully ignoring. The flatness of the course made it so incredibly easy that I was covering the miles with little trouble. And so by then I decided I might as well just stick it out the rest of the way.
Soon after, I started passing some of the people who had blown by me back at mile 1, and John-the-red-dot started getting bigger again. I caught up to him somewhere after mile 10 and although he was still plugging along, he looked a little tuckered (later I found out that he hadn’t consumed anything but water for the whole race). He was busy concentrating on his run so I continued on and soon he was lost again behind me.
That’s when I realized I was having a really good race. I only had two miles left and I hadn’t stopped to walk even once. Sure, my feet were a little tired in spots and my hips were achey, but I’ve grown used to those minor pains and they don’t really bother me much anymore. My IT band was fine, my lungs felt great, and even though I was slowing down a bit (I was riding a 12 minute mile by then), I was thrilled.
The only annoying thing was the mile markers were WAY off throughout the whole race. And because I stupidly trust mile markers on USATF Certified race courses, I thought my Garmin was dying when it was beeping almost a half mile after I’d passed each marker. Then, mile 12…well, mile 12 was a mile and a half long. Looks like the guys they sent out to set down the markers were off from the start, and didn’t go back to fix their mistake. Yeah, pretty evil.
Even though the last mile was a bit brutal, being right on the beach again made it a little easier to take. And then, soon as I came around a bend and saw the tents near the finish line, “The Final Countdown” played on my iPod – true story. It’s like that song has a sixth sense or something. I grinned big and bore down on that last quarter mile like I had zombies chasing me. I finished 13.1 again, and this time I did it with a big smile on my face, instead of tears. And despite being ten pounds heavier than I was last year, I finished three minutes faster, and pain-free. It felt like breaking a curse.
But now the Final Countdown has truly begun. Pineland 50K, Memorial Day weekend. Will I finish? Will I DFL? Will I die? The answer is still two weeks away, my friends, so stay tuned. But at the very least I plan to enjoy it as much as I can and, when in doubt, do my best to smile like a badass.
Or maybe I’ll just follow Kate Kift‘s advice and wear a pink tutu.
- Slacker Theory (barefoot-monologues.com)