Just shy of a year after deciding to try running or walking one mile per day, on Saturday, November 16, 2013, I ran 13.1 miles in Richmond, VA and officially became a half-marathoner.
Last December was when I first learned really anything about distance running. I knew people who did a lot of 5K’s, and I knew of a thing called “running a marathon,” I saw zombies getting off the metro once a year and people saying knowingly “oh they just did the Marine Corps Marathon,” but I didn’t know how far these things were in miles or distances I could comprehend, or just how many people there are in the world that do them, love them, and do them a LOT, and how many thousands, millions maybe?, of races there are out there every year.
When I learned that a half-marathon was 13.1 miles, I simultaneously almost screamed and laughed. It sounded horrifying. It sounded impossible. I struggled with a single mile. I remembered once setting the pace a little too high on a treadmill once when planning to just do a half mile and almost passing out. I remembered once being triumphant when I found out a route I ran once in a while when was trying to lose weight a few years ago was a half a mile. Thirteen and change miles?! Are people insane?!
I thought it must only be super athletes that could do it. People in fitness magazines, people who lived at the gym. I didn’t think I had the time nor the desire to dedicate to being able to do that much. But after being able to do 3.1… then a little more… I started dreaming bigger. I thought maybe I could do a half-marathon in 2014. Then I ran a 10 miler, and I knew it… half-marathons weren’t just for elites. It was something I, formerly gym class phobic Nevie, could actually accomplish if I decided I wanted to bad enough.
So I signed up for the Half Marathon option of Anthem Richmond Marathon weekend. And I trained my butt off. And on Friday the 15th, I got in the car and drove to Richmond.
The city was already buzzing with marathon excitement. It felt completely electric to be one of the people checking into my hotel as a half-marathoner, one of the athletes. Never was I one of these people before! But there it was welcoming me as soon as I walked into my hotel:
I didn’t travel down with anyone. My friend Alan was also racing but not arriving til the next morning. I thought I would feel lonely arriving in town without any friends or family to share the experience with. But everywhere I looked was someone with the same nervous excitement as me. There was no lack of people to talk to who were as nerdy and excited and into all of the things I was excited about as I was. There was no such thing as an awkward elevator ride the whole weekend – none of us were strangers.
I am a tourist by nature whenever I am some place new and though I had driven through Richmond a million times I had never actually stopped really in the city. So when the front desk of my hotel said the shuttles to the expo were “12 blocks away, not walking distance,” I thought it funny I would run 13.1 miles the next morning if 12 blocks was supposedly not foot travel distance. I happily walked the city to the Omni hotel where the shuttles were on loop to and from the Expo, past the State Capitol building, the Stonewall Jackson statue, the Virginia Library, the Poe statue, and a lot of beautiful fall foliage.
I didn’t spend as much time (or money) at the Expo as I did for the Army Ten Miler – for one, my first big Expo was all I needed to absorb the experience, and two, there wasn’t as much to be found at this Expo. I went for specific things – pictured above, the 2013.1 t-shirt to commemorate my accomplishment in my first year of running, and the 13.1 bumper sticker, WSJ article be damned. Some say it’s bad luck to buy those kinds of things before finishing, but to me it just made it more motivating to finish during the race, and to get back to the hotel and see them and know I’d earned them faster.
The other cool thing that happened at the Expo was that Jost Running had a booth. Some of my #runchat friends on Twitter and I did their October virtual race and Courtney from JR, as I talked to her, actually mentioned our group! I was so excited to tell her I’d been one of the #friends4miles, and we excitedly took a picture to post to the group.
I love Twitter for this reason. I think this is the reason Twitter should exist. The #runchat allows me an hour every Sunday to just nerd out with people who share my running addiction that few people in my everyday life share, and I had so many kind folks all weekend wishing me luck all over Twitter.
One of those people became a “real life” friend that night, right after the Expo! Like I said, nothing about a solo racecation was lonely – friends were everywhere. Courtney from Eat, Pray, Run and I connected on #runchat months ago as both being from DC and both headed for Richmond weekend in November. It was going to be her first full marathon. We stayed in touch and when Friday night came, we figured out our hotels were across the street from each other! Sadly my hotel Starbucks was closed by the time I got back from the Expo but we sat in the restaurant and went over our excitement and goals and more excitement before she headed off for her dinner plans and I inhaled the hotel’s pasta buffet for runners.
By then I thought I would go to sleep. I meticulously laid everything out for the next morning, from every last piece of what I would wear, to readying all my fuel and packing my water bottle, to studying the course map, to making a list of exactly what time in the morning I would eat, dress, pre-fuel, and more. I was settled snugly into bed at 8:30, but at around 9pm, half-asleep, my eyes POPPED open and I realized – I had forgotten my headphones at home.
I began cursing, remembering specifically packing them into an inner pocket of my purse and then deciding to take a different bag altogether and therefore leaving one of the most crucial factors of a successful run over 100 miles away! I grabbed my room key and went down to the lobby to see if the hotel sold any shoddy earbuds in its little market, to no avail. Again I was told the nearest open convenience store was “not walking distance – 10 blocks away,” and shook my head, went back up to my room, laced up, and ran to the RiteAid. Less about a shake out run and more that I really wanted to actually be asleep by now, it happened like that anyway. Headphones were obtain, mile and a half out and back shakeout run accomplished, and I was in bed, exhausted from essentially sprinting through Richmond, and fell promptly asleep.
4am arrived and I couldn’t go back to sleep. I was WAY too excited! After unsuccessfully trying to fall back asleep for about 30-40 minutes, I gave up and got dressed and began to stretch out a little. I didn’t want to eat too early and be hungry when the race started, but by 5:30 I figured close enough, I was gonna be fueling throughout the race anyway, so I went downstairs and had whole wheat toast with peanut butter and a banana. Still jittery, I went back upstairs, put some ice in my water bottle, through two Nuun tablets in, packed two more away, through a GU gel pack in my hoodie pocket and three more in my pack, debated between my skirt and leggings back and forth, got word from Alan about his arrival, said my prayers, and got way too cabin feverish in my room before finally heading down to the lobby to at least be among runners.
It was like night and day from the 45 minutes earlier I’d been downstairs. Before, it had been quiet and sleepy in the lobby. Now it was abuzz with excited runners staying out of the rain. I worried about what the rain would mean for my race but my mantra for the whole weekend – “trust my training” – kicked in well every time I thought about worrying. I would just be careful and if it meant a slow finish, it would still mean a finish and not a busted knee or ankle. I bought an “emergency poncho” and when Alan arrived, we went out to watch the 8K start.
The 8K start line was RIGHT in front of my hotel so we stood out of the rain with some other folks to watch it starting. I wished it would stop raining but told myself if it didn’t it would just make for a better story. As soon as I thought that, it stopped raining! We headed to our corrals. Alan was a couple of corrals ahead of me, as I was in a 2:30 pacer group, so we hugged, high-fived, and wished each other luck as we parted.
Once in my corral I was nervous and anxious and put my earbuds in – to find that my Spotify would not connect! No matter what I did, no song would even start to play. I didn’t panic, as my last long run, 9 miles, I had run the whole first 64 minutes to the entire new Paramore album, which was downloaded onto my phone and didn’t need connection to play, and I figured by then Spotify would connect. So I had my band calming my nerves and then we were off!
I ran the first mile in 9:48 – WAY too fast to sustain a 13.1 mile distance. But this was the stretch of road I had run the night before – before I knew it I was passing the RiteAid I had run to the night before. Already there were awesome spectators with silly signs, a favorite early on being a very small boy with a sign bigger than he was that read “GO random stranger GO!” I stayed smiling for the first three miles, breezing past the Arthur Ashe Center where the Expo had been.
I was staying well under my goal pace of 11:30 and hoped to keep it that way. “Trust your training,” I kept thinking. I was strong, confident, and fit. For the first time, as I ran a half-marathon course not the least bit in the back of the pack, with plenty of air in my lungs and my legs feeling strong, I realized that for the very first time in my life, regardless of weight fluctuation, I am fit. I am in shape.
The fourth and fifth mile had me GU-ing up and powering through few small hills. I quietly gave thanks for the hilliness of my neighborhood at home and again knew I could trust my training. A loop that had a bunch of faster runners looping back past us made me feel a little tired knowing they were actually almost a mile ahead of us, but soon it was my turn to know I was a mile ahead of the people on my left. I passed the 10K mark at 1:05 in Bryan Park.
Just past the 10K was the biggest hill of the course, a spiral of sorts, but even as I muttered “ugh, holy crap,” looking at how steep it was, I could hear the spectators screaming and cheering and ringing those cowbells even through my Paramore (because my Spotify still had not found connection). I threw my arms into a Superman pose and imagined myself flying up the hill and the next thing I knew, it was all downhill.
Around mile 8 we passed through a stone archway that bore a sign reading “THE WALL.” I smiled knowing I didn’t even feel a wall coming yet. I had my fueling system down and though my body was feeling tired by this point, I still had so much adrenaline and excitement to let it slow me down. It was my slowest mile only because I took a precautionary pit stop, and quickly caught back up to the 2:30 pacers.
Then I passed them, easily, and they stayed behind.
Richmond really earns its reputation as America’s friendliest race – except for the briefest period of the course entering Bryan Park on over a bridge that crosses I-95, there was never a lack of spectators cheering us on. The signs got more and more creative, but my inner 5-year-old has to choose “Seriously, who fartlek’d?!” as my personal favorite.
I had thought passing the 10 mile marker would be the hardest moment of the race, it being the farthest distance I had gone in training thus far, but it actually amped me up even more. Though my body didn’t agree (my form wasn’t the greatest at this point, I was definitely feeling the fatigue), my mind had a pretty easy time reminding myself “You can run a 5K in your sleep now and that’s all that’s left! Let’s go baby!”
It is amazing to me how much mental strength I have accumulated through running. I used to be the biggest pessimist – while I still have my moments of doubt and fear, my own positivity surprises the hell out of me sometimes. That I was 110% confident I could conquer the last 3.1 miles after having already run 10?! Who even am I?!
Before I knew it, I was crossing the finish line, arms in the air.
My official time was 2:25:01.
I almost would have flagged a little, except that right in the last mile, my Spotify miraculously connected. The first song on my playlist was Christina Aguilera’s “Fighter,” and I thought of a certain person in my life who has often been a source of negative energy for me, and who I knew wouldn’t be rooting for me that day. Hearing the words “makes me that much stronger, makes me work a little bit harder,” majorly spurred me on to the finish.
I raced the last mile of a half-marathon. I gave it everything I had. And I chattered happily to anyone who would listen that “this was my first half-marathon, I did it! I can’t believe I did it!”
Well, except I could believe it. I couldn’t fully comprehend that the race was over and I didn’t feel like puking or diving into the grass, but I had known when I got in the car and pointed it south on 95 that I wouldn’t be coming home empty-handed. I had worked hard, and I had earned it.
I sat in the grass at the finish line party and stretched out and waited to figure out where Alan was, and just took it all in. I saw the Marathon winners with their trophies, saw friends and family being reunited and hugging, saw people finishing both races from where I sat. For a moment, I didn’t text, call, tweet, or talk to anyone. I absorbed the moment. I was a half marathon finisher.
I trudged back to my hotel with my blanket pulled tightly around me, ready for a shower and hoping for a nap. But when I got back to the hotel I knew what I really wanted was a nice hot chocolate and kick off the holiday season. I watched other runners come into the hotel while I sat in the middle of it all just sipping my hot chocolate and clutching my medal happily.
Eventually I did go upstairs, shower, dress, polish myself up. I even went to the Virginia Fine Arts Museum and explored a little bit before my body gave in and admitted it needed to recharge. I napped in my car parked on the Boulevard.
When I woke up, I didn’t want to leave Richmond. I wanted to run all over again. I’ve heard of people running races and deciding that once was enough, they’ll never do it again. Maybe I’ll feel that way after a full marathon, but I have officially caught the half marathon bug.
Charleston, January 18, here I come.