It's hard to even know where to begin, and I won't be the least bit offended if anyone chooses to skip this post altogether, because it's going to be long. And detailed. This was a huge event for me, and I can't help but take the opportunity to relive it by writing about it.
I guess first of all, I am really glad I made the decision to head down to CT on Friday night. It was definitely the right choice, and worked out really well. I left shortly before dinner, and was pleasantly surprised that Gabe didn't freak out when he found out I was leaving. He's a bit of a momma's boy, and doesn't always react well when I go somewhere. I told him I had to leave because I had a big race to go to, and he asked me if I was going to get candy and ribbons (like he got at his Youth Track Series races this summer). I assured him that if I got any candy, I'd bring some home to share it with him : )
I always miss my boys when I'm not with them, but man, was it nice to have a quiet car ride, and to be able to listen to all my music without anyone whining about it!
I watched most of the Sox game, and got to sleep around 10pm, after setting my alarm for 4:30am. As I knew I would, I woke up several times during the night. I was too excited to sleep soundly, and when the alarm went off, I was up in a flash. Packed up my stuff, tiptoed out of the house, and after a quick stop at DD for a bagel and coffee, I was on the road at 5:30.
The sun was just coming up over the horizon as I got close to Hartford, and that's when I started getting really excited. There's nothing like that feeling of anticipation, tinged with just a little bit of nervousness. All I kept thinking as I was driving into the city was "wow, I'm actually here, and I'm actually here to race." After everything I went through this summer, I never imagined I'd get to this point, so to be right there, on the verge, was indescribable.
I parked, and then walked the few blocks to the Civic Center to pick up my packet. I had arrived right around 6:30, so by the time I got my packet and put on my number and chip and checked out the stuff in my goody bag, it was just after 7am. Perfect timing. I had just enough time for a few bathroom breaks, then walked down to Bushnell Park, where the race starts and finishes. It had still been somewhat dark when I went into the Civic Center, but by the time I came out, the sun was fully up, but it was still pretty chilly.
When I got to the park, I checked my bag and then went immediately to the porta-potty lines, which of course were roughly a mile long. Once I got done with that, I stretched out a bit, and then it was time to head over to the start. I did a very, very brief warmup jog, mostly just to work out some of my nervous energy. Then it was into the crowd, where we waited through what seemed like endless announcements (Seeming even more endless due to the fact that I was absolutely freezing! Temps were in the 40s, and I was in a tank top and shorts - forgot to bring a throwaway sweatshirt; something I will NOT forget next time!).
I'm such a huge sap, though - I got all choked up waiting there, knowing that I was about to run my first half-marathon. It took everything I had to keep the tears from running down my face. Finally the announcements were done, the national anthem was sung, and then..... the signal.
And then...... we stood there. And stood there some more. And then walked a little. And then stood there some more. And then walked, and walked some more, and walked a little more, and then finally, about 3 minutes after the gun went off, I crossed the mat and started running.
The crowd was so thick for the first mile, it was unbelievable. Most of my races have been very small ones, and I've only been in a big race like this one other time, so it was still kind of a new experience for me. But since my goal was to keep to a slow pace (especially in the beginning), I didn't mind - the crowds helped me keep at close to a 11:00 pace for that first mile, and I was glad for that.
Thanks to my diligent hydrating, I had to stop at the very first porta-potties, which were located even BEFORE the first mile marker! Geez! It took a couple minutes, but again, I wasn't concerned with my time, so I just laughed it off.
Mile 2 flew by, as did Mile 3. I was feeling good, and plugging along at about a 10:30 pace. It felt nice to run slower like that. I was really just enjoying the sights, and taking it all in. At Mile 3.5, the marathon runners split off from the half-marathon, and I have to admit, I did look over in their direction a bit wistfully, wishing I were going with them. And then I got all mushy and sappy again, thinking about how damn lucky I was to be running any race, never mind running a half-marathon, and I started to get all choked up again. And then I started thinking "my god, when I finally do run a full marathon, I'm going to be a blubbering, bawling mess!"
Miles 4 and 5 were pretty uneventful. At this point, I was basically maintaining a pace of just over 10-minute miles, which I was very comfortable with. I decided to do walk breaks every mile, rather than run 4 minutes / walk 1 minute. I just hate the way the every-4-minutes walk breaks interrupt my rhythm so much. So as each mile ticked by, I would stop and walk for about a minute. It seemed to be working really well, so I figured I'd stick with it. And I was stopping and getting a drink at every water station, and they were very plentiful, so I felt confident that I was well-hydrated.
Oh, and did I mention that the weather was spectacular?! Chilly at the start, yes, but after running a mile, I was so happy that I had been cold to start with, because from the mile marker on, I was just warm enough. I never got too hot, and I honestly hardly broke a sweat - it was so beautifully cool and dry, it was amazing. I think the temps got up in the very low 60s. They couldn't have ordered up more perfect weather.
And the course overall was quite flat. There were some hills, but only one of them - at around Mile 5.5 - really challenged me. The rest of the hills were a non-issue, and I hardly even noticed them, which was nice.
Between Miles 5.5 and 6.5, my energy started to flag a bit. I saw the 6-mile marker and my thoughts alternated between "hey, the halfway point!" and "oh, only the halfway point?" But luckily, this was where the course entered Riverside Park, and we ran along a very scenic bike path for a little while, at the end of which there was a small crowd of spectators, which gave me just the boost I needed, and my energy came right back.
I think it was around Mile 7 that we passed another small group of spectators, and among them were three little boys - preschool age - who had their hands held out for high-fives from the runners. Let me tell you - aside from crossing the finish line, that may have been the highlight of the race for me : ) It was just so adorable, and of course made me think of my own little guys at home.
It was also around Mile 7 that I was thinking how amazed I was that I was at Mile 7 already. The miles just seemed to be dropping like flies. And while I won't go so far as to say it was feeling effortless, I did feel really, really good - even better than I felt on my 10-mile run last week.
And when I crossed the 8-mile marker, I just knew that I was going to finish this race, and I was going to finish strong - a thought that put a huge grin on my face, which stayed there for most of the remaining 5 miles. I was just having SO much fun, and doing something that I've wanted to do for so long, and it was turning out to be even more fun than I had thought it would be. Who wouldn't smile in a situation like that?
Mile 9 had us heading back toward the downtown area, and the crowds became a little more plentiful. This was also when I took my last walk break. I knew I could run the final 4 miles without stopping, and I was just feeling so great, I didn't want to break my stride. This was also when I allowed myself to pick up the pace a bit. I didn't overdo it - there were still 4 miles to cover - but Mile 9 came in just under 10 minutes, and Mile 10 was about 9:30.
Still feeling good, the final 3 miles came in between 9:30 and 9:45. I felt like I was pushing myself just enough. I could have run faster, but always being conscious of the risk of reinjury, I continued to hold back just a bit, and I'm glad I did. As I was heading into the final mile, I looked at my Garmin and saw that it was looking like I would finish this thing in 2 hours and 15 minutes! Certainly not a fast pace, but faster than I thought I would be, so I was psyched!
As we headed around the final bend and into Bushnell Park, the atmosphere was incredible. I could hear the crowds and the announcer, and I knew the finish line was within reach. When I heard that, I just ran with everything I had. I glanced down at my Garmin during those final couple hundred yards, and it was registering a 7:00 pace! Woohoo!
And then the arch was in sight. The finish line passes under this really cool arch in the park, and it's pretty impressive, and I had read about it, so it was really awesome to be seeing it, and to be running toward it! I took my headphones off at this point. I had enjoyed having my music for the race, but now I wanted to hear the crowds.
As I got closer, there were race officials directing some of us off to the right, and I kind of wondered why they were doing that. And then the crowd was just going nuts, and although I knew they weren't cheering for ME, I did catch myself thinking "wow, the crowd support here IS really great, isn't it?!" Then, in a blur, two men went flying past to my left, and the announcer's voice finally registered in my head - the first two marathon finishers had just blown past me as if I were standing still!
These guys were running SO fast, it was amazing - especially considering that they had run that fast for 26.2 miles! Talk about awe-inspiring! Finishing right behind them meant that I didn't get my name announced as I crossed the finish line, but I didn't care - it was really cool to see that marathon finish from that vantage point. It was a really close finish, too - the winner outkicked his opponent in the final 100 yards!
The clock registered 2 hours and 17 minutes when I crossed, but I knew my chip time would be closer to 2:15, since it had taken me so long to cross the start line. And I honestly didn't care what my time was. I was just ecstatic that I HAD DONE IT!!!! And I felt SO good! I was tired, sure, but I wasn't ready to collapse, and I wasn't limping - I just felt so thrilled and so proud of myself (and still do!)
I didn't need the foil blanket thingy, but I took one anyway - I wasn't about to miss out on ANY part of this experience, and I draped that thing around my shoulders with pride : )
It was a bit of a letdown to not have anyone to celebrate with at the finish, but I quickly headed over and got my bag so I could make a few phone calls to at least celebrate over the phone. Didn't do too much after that - got a bite to eat (the food was fantastic - all organic, and very yummy), drank some water, and stretched a little, and just soaked in the scene.
As I walked around, I noticed people wearing medals, and remembered that I was supposed to have gotten one, too, so you better believe I marched right back over to the finish line and told them I never got my medal when I turned in my chip. They apologized and gave me one, and I wore that thing the entire two-hour car ride home. If I weren't afraid of looking like a complete idiot, I'd still be wearing it now!
If you're still reading, then you're a hearty soul, because I know this is long-winded. But this was such an accomplishment for me - more so than it would have been if I had been able to do it back in May, when I had originally planned on running my first half-marathon.
Having gone so long without being able to run, and having been at a point where I didn't think anything like this would be within my reach at this point - well, it just made the experience that much more meaningful for me.
As for the physical side of things - my left shin feels great. It didn't hurt at all while I was running, and the only soreness I feel now is the same slight tenderness if I press on it, which is exactly how it's felt for the past few weeks. So all is well there.
However, in the irony of all ironies, at some point during the race (I can't even remember when), my RIGHT shin started hurting! I felt it, and all I could think was "you have GOT to be kidding me!" It wasn't bad, though, and it felt much more like the sort of "classic" shin splint (along the front of my shin), and it didn't hurt constantly - just twinged on and off. So, yes, I kept running. I knew - the same way I knew when I hurt the left shin back in June that it was a BAD injury - in the same way, I knew that this wasn't anything serious.
And it wasn't. It hurt a bit on the drive home, but I put some ice on it yesterday afternoon, and it feels 100% better today. Phew!
Am I sore? Not terribly. My muscles felt a bit stiff when I first got up this morning, but once I was up and moving around, I felt fine. And I went for a nice, slow bike ride this afternoon, and felt even better.
It was pretty funny, too - I had no plan for where I was going to go on my ride, and just meandered around some back roads and hopped on the bike path for a little while. And when I got home, I looked at my bike computer and I had ridden exactly 13.1 miles!
So, the Cliffs Notes version of my first half-marathon race report - A beautiful day, a great (flat) course, a nice amount of crowd support, and a very respectable finish time.
Did I leave it all on the course? Absolutely not. But I didn't intend to, and I'm not upset that I held back. I know I could have run faster, but protecting myself from injury was my main concern going into this race, and I know I did the right thing.
I am really glad that Hartford was my first half, too. They put on a great race, and I would definitely run there again. I may still make that my first full marathon, especially now that I know from personal experience that it's such a great event.
Yes, I do fully intend to tackle the marathon at some point. I don't know when, but the appeal has only increased for me now that I've done the half. I always felt really excited at the prospect of long-distance races, but wasn't sure if it would turn out to be as fun as I imagined it. But now I know that the answer to that question is a resounding 'yes!' I know the full marathon is a whole different beast than the half, but I really think I'm cut out for this long-distance stuff, and I may have to wait a little while, but that marathon finish is in my future for sure.
In the meantime, I'm giving my poor shins a rest. I don't think I'll run before Saturday. Although they seem to have fared and recovered well from the pounding they received yesterday, I think they deserve a respite. It's funny, though - yesterday afternoon I was thinking that it would be nice to have a week of not running - I mean, I had just run 13.1 miles, a week off sounded pretty good! But this morning I already found myself thinking "hmmm....maybe just a couple miles on Wednesday???"
And whether my first run is Wednesday, or Thursday, or not until Saturday, it's going to be significantly shorter than I have been running the past few weeks. I haven't gone so far as to reinjure myself, but I know full well that I have been walking a very fine line with the long runs I've done these past few weeks, and for someone just coming back from an injury, I increased my mileage pretty aggressively, and I am lucky and thankful that it didn't cause me any problems.
So now I backtrack for a few weeks, and just revel in some short, easy runs in the gorgeous fall weather.
And focus on my next two races, which are both 5Ks, and at which I hope to shatter my 5K PR. I feel pretty confident that I can do it, so I'm really looking forward to both races.
I will also spend some time basking in the glow of this race. I can now call myself a half-marathoner, and I am tremendously proud of that.
And yes, I am also already thinking about when my next half will be. Now that I have a half-marathon time, I have a half-marathon time to beat!
And considering that I barely trained for this race, and I held back during the race due to concerns about reinjury, and I was still able to come in under 2:15...... just imagine what my time would be if I was healthy, and had actually trained properly??!!!!! I get giddy just thinking about it....