Yesterday I completed my eighth half-marathon, and earned myself a PR on a course that was hilly, and wet from rain. Today I am sore and am controlled-falling down stairs, but I'm reflective on this accomplishment and want to blog the beast of thoughts in my head.
I haven't run in two half marathons in a single year since before kids, but coming off the last race in June, I knew I wanted to continue training into the fall for another go at the 13.1. For most of the summer, I trained alone and stuck to a fairly rigid schedule of 4-5 miles on Tuesday and Thursday mornings, leaving the house at 5:45 am or earlier. Then on Saturdays I'd do my long runs around 6:00 am and worked up from six miles to my longest of eleven miles the weekend before the race. I was used to the Tues, Thurs, Sat schedule from the training in the Spring, although the start times kept getting earlier and earlier with Nate's work schedule starting earlier during the week.
I downloaded a bunch of fun running music (i.e. lots of early 2000s pop and rap!) and hit the pavement by myself many times, but also occasionally with a friend or two. I found myself running faster and faster during these training runs, and started feeling stronger and less horrible after a run. My previous comfortable pace was right around 9:00 min/mile and all of my half marathons have been clocked right around the 2 hour mark. But I found myself averaging 8:45 min/miles and even sometimes 8:30 min/miles for 8, 9, and even 11 mile runs. This was huge! This was scary. This meant I could potentially pull a PR for the half as long as the stars aligned with weather, my GI system, and my mental stamina. I'd done the training and I knew it was time to push myself to run my fastest 13.1 miles yet. I was nervous, but excited, on Friday night before the race.
At the Expo with my helpers:
Saturday morning, I woke up at 5:15 am and did my usual pre-long run routine: half of a cup of coffee, a whole English muffin with PBJ, and water. I got dressed, stretched a little, pinned my race bib to my tank top, and started to feel the butterflies in my stomach. What if I had to make numerous port-potty stops during the race? My GI system had been iffy during a portion of my long training runs, for no other reason than to frustrate me. What if it was thundering and lightening and they cancelled the race? What if I just mentally freaked out at the need to push and focus on pace, and what if I bonked?
My friend, Cathy and her husband Nick picked me up at 6:20 for the race that began at 7:15. We made it to the Brewers baseball stadium in plenty of time for a porta-potty stop and some selfies.
Technically we were supposed to be in different corrals to start but we cheated and all three of us lined up in 'H', which was right at the 1:55 pace group. Going into this race, my personal best time was 1:57:23 and that was in 2015. I ran the Brewers mini marathon in 2013 and clocked 2:00:06, then promptly threw up in the parking lot afterward, because I was sick with a fever when I did that nonsense. I knew I would beat my old time at this race, and was pretty sure I could PR past the 1:57 mark, too. I my heart I really wanted to be 1:55 and knew because I ran my eleven miles at an 8:32 pace, that I could maybe inch towards the 1:51 mark if I really pushed myself. I did not take into account the mega-hills on this course because I blocked them from my memory. I sort of started remembering them when the murmur of the crowd mentioned 'crazy hills' at the start line. But even so, my first goal was to PR and second goal was to be less than 1:55.
The gun went off and the rain started right on cue, just enough to coat our skin with a wet mist but nothing major. We held an 8:40 pace for the first four miles and then I decided to push it a little bit, fearing that I'd go out way too fast and then crash at the end. I left Nick and Cathy at mile four and watched my Garmin to keep my pace closer to 8:20s, which felt super hard. The hills started coming, the rain got a little harder, and then it pretty much stopped.
By mile seven I started feeling a little panicked at this fast pace. I didn't have my headphones with me because I've never listened to music during a race. I think it's best to 'take in your surroundings' and let the other runners and spectators entertain you, but I've always had a running partner during races to keep me chatting away, too. This time I was alone and sort of bored, and over-thinking things beyond reason. Gah, six more miles at this pace? Is my heart beating out of my chest? I mean, my stomach feels awesome and my legs are good, but my mind is just freaking out a little bit.
At mile eight I pulled back to an 8:30 pace, just feeling really over the constant checking of my Garmin. I wanted to play music, because I did have my phone strapped to my arm, but without headphones I wasn't sure if other runners would appreciate my love for techno and 2000s rap. Also I didn't want to stop and hunt for my Spotify music app while I ran, so I trudged on without music and with too much mental talk in my head.
This race had a TON of aide stations, with a total of ten throughout the race. I think it was the first time that I didn't stop at every single water station, instead going for every-other station. I found two girls running together right ahead of me with a strong pace and decided to follow them the rest of the way. I wouldn't let them get too far ahead of me before I pushed harder to keep up. I envied their camaraderie and their headphones for music and vowed that next time I'd have my own headphones if I didn't have a running partner for the whole 13.1 miles.
Mile nine: I found myself running along side a military man carrying a flag on a pole (heavy!), and another guy ran up next to him and started talking. They were both military, one from Green Bay and one from D.C. The flag carrier was running in another half marathon the very next day, and the D.C. guy said he was just along for the ride on this race, with his wife 'at least ten minutes ahead of us'. I started talking to them, too, craving a distraction from my own thoughts in my tired brain. We didn't talk too long but it was just what I needed to get over a hump, because I knew that mile ten boasted two large hills.
One of the girls I was following had bolt for the porta-potty at the next aide station, and I saw her sternly tell her friend 'you keep going!'. So now I was following another lone ranger as we headed up the massive hill at mile ten. We hit another one right after that and my lungs were burning. I noticed my pace slowed to around 9:00 min/mile at the top of those hills and decided now was the time to plow forward, as the 1:55 pacer yelled out 'the rest is downhill, the hardest part is over!' I was pretty sure he was lying but knew I had to keep going anyway, and I hoped that he was going a little faster than his predicted pace because he was literally breathing down my neck. All of a sudden Nick sprinted past me at this point, saying Cathy set him free, and he was going for it! I asked him if she was okay, but he didn't hear me, and then I tried to keep up with him for about ten seconds before I realized there was no way in hell. He later told me he ran those last three miles at a 7:10 pace. HA! Nope.
I had two GPS trackers going on this day--one with my Garmin on my wrist, and one with Map My Run app talking to me on my phone. The app was on crack and was seriously calling out mile markers at least 0.25 before I'd actually hit them, which was such a false sense of excitement. Nothing like saying 'you've hit eleven miles at this amazing pace' when in reality, I still had a quarter of a mile to go and my pace was not nearly that fast, since it wasn't calculating my distance correctly. My Garmin did seem to be spot on, though, and I probably should have just turned off my phone at this point but didn't want to even expend the energy to go there.
Mile eleven came during a straight away, then we hit mile twelve and I could see the stadium. The glorious, glorious stadium. This entire time I was keeping my eyes out for Nate and the kids, because he was considering taking Truman and CC in the Burley on his bike to see me at various places. But I had told him that if it was raining, he shouldn't get them out in the rain and it would be fine to just see them at the finish line. He also told me that Truman really wanted to see me inside of the stadium, when we run by the dug outs right before mile 13. Since I didn't see them at mile twelve, I was pretty sure I'd see them in the stadium but I didn't want to get my hopes up too high.
We entered the stadium and I felt like I was sprinting at this point. Less than a mile to go and I knew I had to empty all of my energy into the last leg of the race. Sure enough, as I entered the stadium and started running on the dirt by the dug outs, I saw Nate first in the stands! Then I saw Truman, Cecelia, Porter, Tony and Lois next to him. I was so excited to see my crew and they were all smiles and waves, so how could I not get amped up with my cheering section in full effect? Porter had the sweetest half smile/half sad face on----like he was happy to see me but also confused about why I couldn't stop and hold him for a bit. I rounded the corner and passed my family, feeling like my legs might actually go numb from sprinting. But as I exited the stadium, I heard the finish line and knew 'this is it, almost done now.'
I saw the 13 mile marker, turned the corner, and saw the glorious finish line. I was sprinting and probably grunting and praying that my legs didn't just get tangled up underneath me. The main clock read 1:54:30 and I was guessing that I started about 30 seconds after the gun. I tried to remember to smile as I crossed the finish line, hit the stop button on my Garmin, and felt the immense relief of being FINISHED with a hard race!
I got a bottle of water, my medal, and then heard Nate yell, 'Julia!' directly to my right. I went over and suddenly felt extreme happiness and not as tired and I thought I'd be, just seeing their faces again. I got kisses from Nate and the kids and we talked briefly. 'How do you feel? What was your time?', Nate asked. 'I'm tired and I don't know,' I replied, as I handed him my phone and tried to figure out my Garmin. 'I think a little less than 1:54,' I told him and then we high-fived, before I went down the gauntlet to get all of my post-race food.
Although I wasn't super impressed with the expo before the race, the numerous aide stations during the race and the post-race food were both amazing! I got plantain chips, popcorn, Clif bars, Kind bars, bananas, both chocolate and vanilla protein drinks, string cheese, and more! I am not joking when I say that Porter ate 75% of this stuff within the first five minutes of us reuniting outside of the race gates. He was starving and is figuring out that watching half marathons means lots of food at the end! I am never very hungry after finishing a run and this time I just forced myself to drink water. Boring, I know, but at least the kids were happy!
We were all hanging out and talking, CC and Truman were really proud of me and kept hugging me, and Porter was in the double BOB just munching away. I got our family picture and then we noticed a man with a huge camera aiming it kind of towards us. He kept getting closer and then passed us, moving towards the stadium. I turned around and saw a guy proposing to his girlfriend right behind us!! She had just finished the race and he was wearing street clothes, he was down on one knee and she was crying with her hands at her mouth. I could not believe what I was seeing, such an awesome and emotional moment---I'm guessing the dude with the big camera was a hired photographer, and we noticed some of their family around them, too. Ah, what a day!!
The proposal aftermath!
Next we hit up the playground, after failing to get a picture with Bernie Brewer because he went back inside of the stadium. Nick and Cathy met us at the playground. Cathy did well at a 2:04 finish time, and Nick's first half marathon time was 1:50. As we were chatting at the playground it started to pour, so we scattered about and gave a few more high-fives before parting ways. Tony, Lois, Nate, the kids and I ran to the van...or, more accurately, I hobbled. We headed home where I showered, did one errand with CC, we ate lunch, and then Porter and I both took 2.5 hour long naps while Nate and the big kids attended a birthday party. Yes, two-and-a-half hours! It was almost as amazing as my shower that day.
My official time for this race was 1:53:51, which is an 8:42 pace for the 13.1 miles. I really felt like I was going faster than this pace for the race, but I'm pretty sure the hills were more than my 8:30 pace could handle. I know that during the race I kept telling myself, 'No regrets, you are truly going as fast as you can without overdoing it. No regrets. This is the fastest race you can possibly run right now!' So I'm going with that mentality, because it really was such a great race. I found out what it means to push myself and care about my pace. I found out what it means to PR by three-and-a-half minutes. I beat my previous Brewers half race time by almost seven minutes!
Ha, I wish my pace was that amazing! Definitely did not run 13.70 miles, Map My Run :(
Pretty good official stats! I've definitely never been 27th for my age group!
I am officially much faster now than I was before I birthed three children. This fact is something that has me thinking a lot about what our bodies can do. We, as women, are so incredibly strong. We are powerful and determined. We grow tiny humans inside of our bodies, birth them into this world, sustain them and raise them. We take care of our families and we take care of ourselves. We do SO MUCH as women, as moms, and wives, and we often don't give ourselves enough credit. We doubt ourselves, we beat ourselves up for perceived failures, we often feel like we are spread too thin and we absolutely deplete ourselves when we try to do.it.all. And yet, we really can do anything we set our minds to do, can't we? I'm feeling very #GirlPower right now, in case you can't tell.
Running used to be something I did to stay in shape during college. I was never a long distance runner in high school, because I had basketball and volleyball practices and games to keep me active. Then college came and I ran to burn some calories and cancel out the late night partying that happened after studying my face off. After college I kept running pretty casually and we ran our first half marathon in 2005, at a 10:00 min/mile pace.
Then came our kids and running took a back seat to motherhood for awhile. Slowly but surely, I started to see running for what it is right now in my life: a coping mechanism. A stress reliever. A way to take charge of my time and myself, to feel accomplished and more in control of a sometimes chaotic and and very loud life. It calms me, it sets my day off in a positive light, and it allows me to be a better, more patient mother. As I age, I fully realize how blessed I am to have this capable, healthy, imperfect body of mine. I can run when others cannot. That right there is reason enough for me to continue as a Mother Runner.
Faster now than I was before my children came along, I can tell you with all certainty that I love running. Or at least, I love the feeling of accomplishment after a run. I'm sure many of you can relate. :)