One year ago, I did the Couch to 5K program and ran my first race at the Oakland Running Festival. As a brand new runner in the 50+ age group, I was thrilled to run it in under half an hour.
Yesterday, I ran the ORF Half Marathon at a pace that was faster — significantly faster — than I ran that 5K. I crushed it.
As my running has improved, I've been a little daunted by the race prediction times various calculators provided me. There was simply no way, I thought, I could run 13.1 miles in 2 hours, let alone under 2 hours. These doubts continued right up until yesterday morning, as the weather was wet and windy.
I lined up with the pacer tasked with bringing everyone in at the 2 hour mark. That meant a roughly 9:09/mi pace, which I thought was doable — much faster than I've been training, but doable.
One of my biggest concerns was going out too fast — easy to do with the excitement and energy of race day and with the jostling and pushing of a large crowd at the starting line. My plan was to stay with the pacer until around mile 7 and then, if I felt good, pick it up a bit to squeak in just under the 2-hour mark. And even if things went south, I was confident I could at least finish (despite 13.1 miles being over a mile farther than I'd ever run before).
No surprise, I immediately lost the pacer in the crush of the starting gun. And with that my plan sort of went out the window: I didn't run a single mile at the 9:09/mi pace.
Although my brain was worried that I was running too quickly, my legs felt otherwise. And as my body decided that it was more important that my legs had blood and oxygen than my brain, I didn't really dwell too much on my fears. I just pushed.
I ate a "gel" at mile 4, 8, and 10. Not a "gel," per se, more like baby food — Spring Energy "fuel," a word I hate being used to describe any sort of food as it suggests the body is a machine that only eats for energy and not pleasure. (That's a topic for another day, dare I say, a new writing project...) But god, it's not pleasurable at all to choke down anything while running, no matter its consistency or flavor. I also tried to master drinking while running, grabbing a paper cup of water at every hydration stop, and as my physical therapist taught me, pouring about half out, pinching the rim, taking a sip, before throwing the cup on the ground. I did attempt to hit the garbage can, I swear. 6 water stops — maybe 1 basket. Good at running, I've become; throwing with accuracy? Not so much.
I was buoyed all along the route by the crowds that came to cheer us on. I knew that Kin and Poppy would be at the corner of Telegraph and Thomas L. Berkley Way — the race went right by our apartment building, and that meant at a little over halfway, I was energized to keep up the pace. I knew that the LMJS cheer squad would be up on Broadway, around mile 8. I ran faster and harder and stronger because of their cheers. The cowbells and shouts and applause from strangers heartened me too. If you have a friend or loved one who's a long-distance runner or if you live in a town where there's a long-distance race, please cheer for them. It means everything, I swear.
At mile 10, I heard someone behind me say "it's just a 5K now," and I tried to shift gears and go faster, but I hadn't really saved too much for the final kick. Indeed, the very final kick on the race course is the steepest hill up to the finish line — just a block, but damn it fucking sucks. I thought, as I pushed up that hill, that I might burst into tears, but thankfully the jock part of my brain had shut off all emotional functioning — can't cry and breathe and spring, yo. I crossed the finish line well under my 2-hour goal, running even better than I imagined I could.
After the finish line, the runners were corralled through a water station and a medal station and a banana station and people kept shoving things into my hands — my brain still wasn't fully functioning, and it took me a minute to realize that I was accepting a bunch of snacks. I handed these off to Kin, who was there to greet me, stumbled over to the LMJS booth to thank everyone and to grab a donut — truly the most important post-run food to shove in my face.
We came home. I drank coffee. I showered. I took an ibuprofen. We walked to Chinatown — "keep walking" is the best advice after a race, I reckon, despite being somewhat counter-intuitive. We stood in line for dim sum at Ming's Tasty for about half an hour — not a bad wait for a Sunday. I wasn't dying of hunger — something about kicking back all those gels during the race, yuck — but damn, when they started plopping down steaming baskets on the table, I was ready for it.
In fact, I'm going to go reheat the leftovers now...
I don't feel too terrible today. We got up and did our 4 mile walk around the lake this morning, perhaps just a little bit slower than usual. I won't run for a few days. But then it's back onto a training schedule again, as like a goddamn fool, I've got another half marathon in six weeks time.