Thursday, November 3, 2011

Guest blog: Jen's first half marathon story!

I've been bad lately, I know...I haven't posted much in a while but that doesn't mean I haven't been training! In fact I've hopped back onto the Hypothermic Half Marathon training schedule and have been doig pretty good at following most of the runs on the schedule. So far, so good and I'm feeling pretty good, too.

But first, I wanted to share my friend Jen's guest blog about her first half marathon story a few weeks ago. I first profiled Jen earlier this year when she undertook her first 5k race schedule last April. Over the past few months, we've shared our mutual love for running via email and encouraged each other along the way. I was so proud of Jen when she decided to train for, and finished, her first half marathon this fall, that I asked her to do a guest blog post.

I loved her story about her first marathon, and I think you will too!

Without further ado, I give you Jen!

My first half marathon was a challenge I took on after starting to run in late April of this year. My friend from way back, otherwise known as, Halifax Runner Girl, inspired me to take up running after following along through her blog as she recapped races and spoke of her relationship with this sport. So when I was asked to recap my first race it seemed like a nice way to bring this experience full circle. So here we go...

I live in Brooklyn New York, and I wanted to find a race that was fairly close by so I signed up for the Atlantic City half, a race that involved boardwalk, views of sandy beaches and ocean waves...sign me up.  The course was described as flat and the boardwalk would be forgiving on the joints so I figured this would be the perfect half for a novice like me.

One thing this novice did not consider...Atlantic City= Casinos, bachelor and bachelorette parties, weekends of rowdy non-stop fun.  Why would this be an important consideration?  Well the night before a race you need to sleep...Fail.  But it was quite entertaining listening to all the fun going on outside the room, and honestly I am not sure I would have slept much anyway.

The energy race morning was contagious.  I turned the corner onto the boardwalk and was thrilled to see all of the runners.  Runners of all sizes, levels, and ages.  I joined them behind the starting line.  I also made the newbie mistake of sticking to the front...oops.  The American National Anthem was sung, I prepared my Garmin and Ipod, and away we went.  I was running happily along the boardwalk when I looked down at my Garmin realizing I was going way too fast for my planned pace.  I tried to slow down and kept running.  I looked up and noticed the pacer for the Marathoners and it said 3:20...oh no, still way too fast.  I tried to slow down again....but for some reason I couldn’t.  I felt like a caged animal that had been set free and I had no control at this point.

Mile 1, 2, 3, ticked by and I was still hanging with this group.  I then saw the hill...shock went through me and shear panic.  I had trained on bridges with inclines and parks with hills but not enough to tackle this ramp.  Yes RAMP...where was the promise of boardwalk views?  We were running up the ramp to the highway and it was steep.  Runners around me were cursing, “Hills! when did they add a hill into this race?” one runner remarked.  ( I would later read online that they changed the course this year.)  I knew I had been A) running way too fast and B) this hill was going to take a bit out of me.  I sucked it up and pushed up the hill.  One runner beside me began to walk, cursing, I think she had made the same mistake.  I kept going trying to block her out.

Mile 4...I had to stop at the porta-potty.  Line up...”Oh no!”  I thought as I watched the rest of the runners continue on.  I gave myself a pep-talk noting that this would give me a chance to adjust my pace.  I relaxed and did just that, until another winding ramp.  This did not make me happy.  I focused on my form and pushed my way up.  My legs and lungs were at this point telling me...we should have trained on more hills...oh well.

Mile 5, 6 ticked by and the sun was beating down on all the runners.  The course was now taking us through residential neighbourhoods.  Honestly it was boring, and I was feeling quite defeated.  This is when the mental strength had to kick in.  More runners were starting to walk.  I could feel myself slowing down.  I let myself walk through the water station and took my gu.  The Volunteers were great and very motivating.  I was frustrated and tired and worried as I took in the gu.  “What if this is too much for me?”  I started to worry.  I noticed a lot of the runners had a friend or family member with them.  I started to feel very alone.  I pushed myself to start running again.  A spectator yelled out to the runners, “KEEP GRINDING IT OUT RUNNERS!”  I breathed in her words and energy as I passed her almost in tears at this point.

Mile 7, 8 we hit a turn where I could see the pack of runners in front, and as I rounded the bend, the pack of runners behind me.  I realized I was about in the middle.  I started to listen to the conversations around me.  One runner was with the pace leader for 4:30 marathon time.  She was sharing that she was doing her first marathon and that she was scared that she was getting tired.  I smiled at her and told her she was doing great.  Secretly I was telling myself the same thing. Husbands and wives were pushing each other along, charity runners were cheering each other as they passed and I felt connected to all of the runners around me.  For this moment in my life these people were going through something with me, completely unaware that their presence was keeping me going.

Mile 9...okay where is mile 9?  There wasn’t any marker and my Garmin had gone crazy.  I had no idea how much further.  I was struggling.  We had hit the boardwalk at this point.  People were walking casually around all the runners, trying to dodge us as we barreled towards them.  I glanced at the ocean, I was so hot and the waves looked very inviting...but I pressed on.  My right hip began to hurt so I let myself walk.  I walked for what felt like forever.  Spectators watched as I walked by.  For a brief moment I felt like I was cheating.  “I should be running” I thought.  Runners twice my age were passing me by.  I was inspired by their strength and started to run again.

The course took us passed the finish line.  I watched others cross over, happy for them.  I knew at this point I must be at mile 9.5 because the half marathoners had to turn around after mile 11 and the full marathoners keep going along the boardwalk.   I stopped to walk again as my hip was really bothering me.  Another runner stopped and asked if I was ok.  I assured him I was and we talked and walked for a bit.  He shared with me that he was recovering from Cancer and that he had done the Boston marathon in the past.  He encouraged me to keep going and said that I was doing great.  Just as we separated an ambulance cart whizzed by forcing runners to get out of the way or stop.  When I ran further ahead there was a young woman in her twenties turning blue and sitting on a bench with oxygen on her.  She had passed out.  I noticed she was running the full Marathon by her bib colour and hoped she was ok.  I reached the turn around and passed through the water station.  Threw water on my face and gunned it for a bit.  At this point I realized my goal time of 2:15 was out of reach so I adjusted to 2:30.

Mile 11.5 my hip started to hurt again so I walked.  I decided to walk and sprint until I reached 12.5 miles and then I would give it all I had left.  I did just that.  I saw the finish line, the faces of the spectators and I ran like hell.  I passed through the finish and received my medal.  I looked at my Garmin it said 2:32, I would later find out my official time was 2:37.

It was not the race I wanted to run. I was hoping for that 2:15 finish because that was my goal and during training I knew I could hit that time.  But I learned that even when you are tired, and you are hurting you can push yourself to complete what feels impossible.  I am proud of that!  I started running the end of April 2011, and in October 2011 I finished a half marathon!  My goal now is to keep running, get stronger and run another half in the spring.  Who knows maybe someday a full...anything is possible!

~ Jen Marsan