Sunday, September 4, 2011

Week In Training Review: First Half Marathon

The last couple of weeks of half-marathon training have been pretty standard. My hours on the treadmill have steadily increased, as the sun is going down earlier every night and it is difficult for me to get out before dark. It was nice at the height of summer, to be able to step out my door after the kids went to bed and the air was cooling off. My route took me past several farms, and it was encouraging to look across the fields to see trees silhouetted against the red and purple evening sky.

It's a different story now if I try to go out after the kids are in bed, when Daryl is home to watch them. Bright headlights in my eyes, honking horns zooming past, the feeling of being trapped between a steep drainage ditch and a car traveling 6o mph. I am not sure why people become so rude after dark, but it can be downright dangerous.

So I keep my outdoor runs for the weekends, or for days when I know the kids will cooperate in the jogging stroller. Luckily, my longest runs occur on the weekends! I finally reached a personal record for distance, running 12 miles in 145 minutes. That was one minute slower than I had hoped (I was aiming for 12 minutes per mile) but that was not enough to discourage me. When I stopped running at the 12 mile mark, I was still feeling like I could have gone another mile, but I made myself stop, not wanting to overdo it. A week later, I went to face my first half marathon, the Buckeye 1/2 marathon. I was confident that I could finish, although I was still sore from my previous 12 mile run.

The course went through the Cuyahoga Valley National Park.Many, many years ago I had lived near here and in an attempt to get fit my room mate and I started jogging. The course overlapped the route that my friend and I used to take, and I really enjoyed it. It was very scenic and beautiful. Throughout the race, we ran along views of the Cuyahoga River, catching glimpses of scenic river bends and trees just starting to turn colors. Memories flooded back of canoing along the very same bends. It was peaceful and beautiful. But it was also hilly. It felt like 90% of the course was going uphill. I kept waiting for the downhill portion, but it never came. Although the grade was gradual at points, it was still uphill.

I had told Daryl to wait for me at the ten mile mark, knowing that is a point where I would need some encouragement. The kids had made signs to cheer me on, and Jonah was wearing a shirt emblazoned with the words "Don't Give Up." I tried to take a picture of them as I came around the curve for the 10 mile mark and saw them waving and cheering excitedly, waving their signs, but just as I reached for my phone to get the picture, Jonah bolted out into the road towards me. Luckily the other runners saw him and avoided him, and I was on the side of the road closest to him so car traffic wasn't an issue. It was really great to see them standing there. But soon after I passed them, my muscles did begin putting up a fight. My chest got tight, and I could feel my breakfast sitting in my stomach as if I had swallowed a bowling ball.

I started to slow down. I saw the runner ahead of me begin to walk. I looked behind me and saw the two runners behind me begin to walk. I didn't come here to run ten miles, I told myself. Another runner passed me, and then slowed down to a walk. I gave in. I walked. Around mile 11, I looked around and realized that for the first time in the whole race, I was alone. There was one neon yellow shirt trailing behind me. This was also discouraging. It felt like I was dead last, besides the one runner/walker behind me. She began to jog and caught up to me. Great, now I *am* dead last, I was certain.

Are your legs cramping up?" She asked me. No, my stomach and chest. We jogged into the 12 mile marker and took our water cups. We're almost there, we can make it, I told her. We jogged on, just over this hill, she encouraged. Another uphill run, fine. I can see it, I can see the orange cones! I had pulled a bit ahead of her and had turned around a corner. We came into the last leg of the race, veering off the loop and into the complex where we would soon reach the finish line. We can keep running this little bit, I told her, We can do this, she also encouraged. We finished together, hugged and laughed about what a trial we just went through, two complete strangers.
running to the finish line

As we came into the finish line, I could see Jonah and Daryl standing along the side, and Eve in the stroller. Jonah was holding his plastic microphone and shouting cheers into it for me. Jonah wanted to run through the finish line too, and the race staff was nice enough to allow him to go through the arch. He was thrilled, and has told everyone "Jonah raced too! I went to the finish line and I won!" I gave him my finishers medal. He was so proud!

I finished the 13.1 miles ten minutes slower than I wanted to. In all, my goal for this race was just to finish it. My time goal is actually for the Akron half marathon. So I am not upset with myself other than I caved and allowed myself to walk, when I am pretty sure that I could have continued to run. I did learn a few things about race days, which was another purpose of running the Buckeye. I know I need to be more patient in the beginning. Shooting out and doing a ten minute mile right off the bat is not a good strategy if your goal is to make 12 minute miles. I know I need to slow down and pace myself, especially in the beginning of the race, it will pay off in the end. I also know that I need to re-evaluate my pre-race routine and make sure that I eat breakfast at home, to give enough time to digest, rather than shoving a peanutbutter sandwich in my mouth while driving, ten minutes away from the race site.  And finally, I will give myself more recovery time between a personal record long run and a race day. My body is not used to running these distances, so while I might see others who run these routes every week, my body needs time to adjust to the new expectations. A week was not enough time for my body to recover from a 12 mile run and then be expected to make a 13 mile run in race conditions.

So all in all, I think this race was positive. I got my feet wet and learned more about what to expect for the bigger race in Akron. There will be twice as many people, and the spectacle will be greater. I am really glad that I made the Buckey 1/2 a pittstop in my training, just for the experience before throwing myself into the Akron marathon!

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