The past weekend involved a lot of ‘I can’t believe myself‘, ‘Did I just do it?‘ and ‘Am I dreaming‘. Turns out it was one of those picture perfect weekends and the most ideal scenario I could have asked for a first half-marathon. Yes, I am a freaking HALF-MARATHONER!!!!! Say what?
It would be ironic to say that ‘there are no words to express my feelings‘ because I just made this post the longest I could have. No time for 2500 word ramble? Worry not, I have a nice abridged version for you. For the rest of you, grab that cup of joe and let’s get started.
The Philly Love Run kickstarts the Spring racing season in the city of Philadelphia, PA for about 10,000 runners. I’ve been eyeing this race for the past two years (I am not kidding!). Almost 98.63% of my reasons involved that free coffee mug. The remainder involved some craziness. Because I can’t run a mile, sure, let’s do 13.1. This is the fourth year for the race since its inception in 2014. Without much thought, I decided to sign up for it on opening day in September, when prices were the lowest. Only runners are crazy enough to pay $$ to get physically tortured. Free race photos and great swag – I’ll take it. I didn’t have much idea of Philly from a runner’s perspective, but knew it was a nice city to run in. I did hear the word ‘lesser hills’ for 2017 and that was enough for me. A very scenic route with the Schuylkill River by your side for most of the race.
Packet pick-up was held at the Philadelphia Convention Center on the Friday and Saturday, preceding race day. Being a newbie to races with such humongous crowds, I didn’t know what to expect. I decided to get everything done early. I actually waited 3 hours (with a cup of coffee of course) for the expo to open on Friday. I collected my race bib, race shirt, free coffee mug and took a cursory walk around the expo. Before I knew it, I was out of there and watching ‘Beauty and the Beast’ (for the second time). Best way to calm your nerves and rest your legs before a race!
The Night Before and the Morning:
The entire week leading up to race day, I was pretty calm and composed. Being the type-A person that I am, I was surprised that I took everything with ease, in spite of the crazy busy week. Definitely hydrated like a camel! But around 7 pm, the nerves started to kick in. I couldn’t think of anything else apart from the race. I took a brief stroll outside, blabbered
a bit a lot to my two besties (who also ran their first half and kickassed!) about mentally getting ready (I think I needed it more than them), carbo-loaded with pizza and pasta, laid out my clothes and went straight to bed. The breathing exercises and meditation prior to sleeping definitely helped me sleep like a baby.
4 am and my alarm sprung me up. I’m a firm believer that the first thought in the morning, decides the destiny of your day. ‘You Got This. Go own you first half-marathon’. Post oatmeal, banana and coffee, we were out of the doors by 5 30 am. The plan was to drive to the Villanova train station and take the Septa train to race start. Long story short with some crazy memories to be cherished, that didn’t happen. We drove straight to Art Museum with a huge prayer in our hearts to find parking. Me, not being me, I was surprisingly calm. I dunno how, don’t ask me! The Parking Gods were on our side and we found parking 0.3 miles from race start. Score!
My Race Recap:
It was a nice crisp day for the race! Those expected rains disappeared (Thank You Weather Gods!). We got into the corrals with just enough time to spare for some dynamic stretches. The national anthem heralded the start of the race at 7:30 am. The waves were released every minute or so. As I tip toed to the start line, my first thought was ‘This is for you Grandpa‘. Training and running these past four months have helped me significantly during times of grief. Just thinking of him gave me a burst of energy and I was on my way cruising.
Miles 1 to 4:
As soon as we were off, I felt I found my groove. Rarely does that happen! The first few miles went through Center City. I was definitely feeding off the energy from the crowds. Some of the race signs cracked me up. Seeing Wava coffee and Dunkin Donuts caffeinated my soul for sure (I’m not going to lie, but I did think of stopping for coffee because hello, priorities). The tall buildings threw off my GPS tracking significantly. My watch was 0.4 miles ahead of mile marker #1 and it lasted throughout the race. I decided to go off the mile clocks from here on. I was aiming for was 15:45 min/mile HM pace. That calculation would be mentally hard, so I decided loosely to go with a 15-minute difference between each mile clock, in areas where my watch pace was off.
Miles 4 to 10:
As we neared mile 4 (ish), the course brought us back to the Art Museum and we were off on MLK Drive. From here on, it was an out and back along the Schuylkill river until the end of the race. Time really flies when you’re staring at water. Speaking like a true Baltimore Inner Harbor running trained gal. At this point, you could see the ‘elites’ and faster runners speed from the opposite direction. I spotted Lauren and she either screamed ‘You’re crushing it‘ or ‘Go crush it‘. Either way, that split second shout out gave me a huge boost to get me through the remaining miles ahead. Before I know it, I was at mile 7. At this point, I felt really good. It didn’t feel like I had run 7 miles already. It was the best I’ve felt at this stage ever. Yet, I knew, it was too early to judge my race with 6.1 miles to go. Time to get cautious! As these thoughts were racing in my mind, lo and behold, a runner’s “all time favorite” – a massive hill. I’m not even going to comment on that hill. That’s what my GPS elevation picked up.
Everyone around me had resigned and were walking up that hill. I had done plenty of hill repeats during training. Thanks CCR! Since I went in the race with the mindset to ‘trust my training‘, the ‘Loch Raven‘ hill training was the first thought that flashed in my mind. I have done worse – I am going to run up that hill!! And so I did. As soon as I was atop, I felt like death! All that feeling awesome instantly vanished. I was struggling really hard to maintain less than a 16 min/mile pace. At times, even 17 min/mile. I was almost in tears. Didn’t I just tell myself that I was feeling great? Such a jinxer! My thoughts (and heart rate) were racing. That’s when I decided – No sister, that’s not happening! A few feet of hills ain’t gonna ruin your 13.1 miles. Time to gather all my mental mantras!
Chanting my mantras with each step, I took in big gulps of Nuun and took in some really deep breaths to bring my heart rate down. If not speedy, at least back to HM pace. The next mile or so involved us looping around ‘Strawberry Mansion’ before heading back onto MLK drive. It felt forever! There was a guy who shouted out that it was all downhill from there. I knew those were big fat lies. But, just listening to him, made me feel better. Turns out he wasn’t lying after all.
Miles 10 to 13.1:
I am going to call these miles, the ones that could have broken me from within. But, I did not let that happen. As soon as we were back on MLK drive, the headwinds blew with gusto. I was struggling really hard to keep up with my HM pace. At mile 10, I saw 2:40 on the clock and knew that, even if I kept my slowest pace, I would still finish within my goal time. It was all mental from here on! I ditched my watch (lest it sabotages me mentally) and decided to give in all that was left in my tank. I was breathing heavily from here on. I usually don’t run with music and by this point, my brain was numb to think further. I was literally counting sheep with each step. As I reached 100, my counter reset itself and I started again.
At mile 11, being able to see Art Museum (the finish) with your eyes, but knowing that was 2 miles away, was THE hardest part of the race. At that time, a fellow runner few feet ahead of me had the shirt that read ‘You Think It, You Say It, You Do It‘. That was my new mantra that helped me move forward. I am going to cross that finish line with a smile.
Mile 12.7 arrived and my GPS beeped 13.1 miles. I knew I was less than half a mile away. Less than 0.5 miles!!! The thought that I was going to be a half-marathoner in less than 10 minutes hit me and it hit me hard. I thought of my grandpa and how proud he must be looking down at me. He used to tell his friends that I ran marathons, when reality meant 5Ks. I was already breathing hard here, but now I was also emotionally hyperventilating. All I could think of was him and I was sobbing out loud. People around me must have thought I was in pain. But actually, it all felt like redemption. Closure of some sort! Within 30 seconds, a sense of calm just seeped into me. A calm, never felt before. All those tears were wiped off. That smile at finish line was SO going to happen. I took a left, the final turn of the race, and there I saw the finish line in all its glory. My two best friends were right there and shouted out. I saw 3:29 something on the clock and just ran like a maniac to the finish line of my very own first half-marathon!!!
I was officially a half-marathoner!!! As soon as I finished, I was mentally numb!!! I kept walking further and all I could see were some human creatures handing out medals. I grabbed mine and kept walking further. Nothing registered in my mind those few moments. I was dazed and just walking. I didn’t care for a heat blanket or anything else. That feeling cannot be described in words. It can only be felt! I am not sure how long that lasted. May be 10 seconds. May be 5 minutes. I found my friends and that’s when reality hit me like a brick (once again). I was hugging them and was crying my eyes out!!! We had done it. I was a half-marathoner! I had just run for 3 hours and 24 minutes without a break (like for real). It was such an emotional moment!!!
I’m a Nuun girl and had my Nuun handheld bottle with me throughout the race. It included ‘Plus for Nuun‘ and ‘Nuun Active – Grape Flavor‘. They were real life saviors during the race and I didn’t have to pause at any of the water/Gatorade stops. I just cruised along, grabbed a glass of water and kept topping up my bottle as I went along. I did have an extra Nuun tablet in my FlipBelt for backup, but, I didn’t find the need to use it.
I had a Gu Salted Caramel flavor at around 2.5 – 3 miles. That’s when I start internally freaking out about having 10 miles to go and somehow, having a Gu that early psychologically helps with my self-confidence. At around mile 11, I was on second thoughts whether to have a second Gu or not. I felt like I needed it physically and mentally, but I was worried that a second Gu will not sit well in my tummy. I couldn’t make up my mind. So, decided to find a balance and had half. Right decision!
Post race, we did get a goodie bag that included a Philly Soft Pretzel, Nesquik chocolate milk, a banana, a bottle of water and some other eatables. I had a bit of each for instant refueling. I knew I was ready for lunch. My friends and I attacked a nice Indian buffet. Tip: always have your comfy food after racing. It totally hit the spot.
It was THE PERFECT first half-marathon I could have asked for!!! I know for many people, the first races have gone south. But, 26 March 2017 felt so perfect in every sense for me. It felt like the Universe was going out of its way to make sure everything aligned for me. It makes me feel so special and blessed at the same time! All those days, weeks and months of training had finally came to fruition. I couldn’t have done it without my CCR training group and my two
slightly really crazy gal pals by my side (On a completely different note, our 3-member team was called ‘Flab to Ab‘). Challenges are what make us grow and this training has taught me just that.
“At that finish line, a new person was born”
Thank You for sticking until the end. This post was a marathon of its own.
I am linking up with Courtney, Amanda, HoHo and Tricia, Ilka and Angela, Annmarie, Nicole, and Jen for their respective link-ups. Don’t forget to drop by and check out their posts and several other bloggers for some inspiration!