First and foremost, an apology for the lateness of this post. I did not expect to be too tired to post after arriving home Sunday night from Niagara Falls, but I was so wiped! Unfortunately, yesterday was an extremely busy day, first with getting the vehicle to the garage for new tires, then last minute studying and prep work for an exam I had online in a course I am taking (but I got 90% on it !!) and then a commitment to volunteer with the municipal elections last night (my candidate beat the incumbent mayor - whoo hoo !!) so right now I am thinking ... how crazy am I ?!?!
But here I am with hot coffee and sitting at my iMac, finally being able to share the MOST important event of the week! :) I think an anticipated run like this is actually a 3 day event ... the day before, the actual day, and then the following day! I have been doing a lot of reminiscing and analysis since completing my long anticipated race Sunday afternoon, and I will be writing a series of posts ... but until I start sorting my thoughts and sharing all my experiences prior to and following the race, I do want to share my initial thoughts now.
All my prep work and remaining calm and confident worked. As I stood waiting for the gun to go off and the run to begin, I was a very happy, excited runner, but I was not a shaking bundle of nerves. It took a few minutes for all the runners in my vicinity to cross the starting line, but when we did, I felt a very strong emotional tremor ripple through me as I acknowledged what a big moment it was for me. Yes, I got a little verklempt :) but I didn't let it get the best of me. It was just a very important recognition, as I crossed under the blow-up START banner, that this was it! I had done it! My hard work and dedication running in hot, humid weather, running when I did not feel like it, practicing at all the races in Southwestern Ontario this summer, strongly desiring the ability to participate in a half marathon ... it was all culminating in this moment! I felt it all, but did not dwell on it, because I now had 21K to run for the next 2 1/2 hours !!! :) :) :)
It was very busy around me as all the runners started out slowly as we waited for all the people ahead of us to cross the starting line ... their walking increasing to jogging increasing to finding our individual paces. It was very civilized and well mannered, and I was impressed that so many of us were able to do this altogether at the same time. There were a few thread-the-needle runners for the first K, but this was not unexpected, and they were not pushy. They were worse last weekend at my small country run!
My first success - I did not run out way too fast. By this, I mean I didn't run to keep up with all the faster runners in front of me, similar to what I see at all the 5K and 10K runs. My learning from this race? Perhaps I still went out a little too fast. Look at my km splits from the first 4K:
Clearly the adrenaline was roaring through me and this is the starting pace I run in my shorter, local races, but in hindsight, perhaps I should have run them just a bit slower? I was watching myself/my Garmin and it helped to have the 2:30 pace rabbit in front of me because I knew if I caught up to him, I was in trouble! I had already pre-determined that I would run this race no faster than 6:50 and no slower than 7:10 (I am a 20 second zone kind of gal ... kudos to those runners who can set a specific pace goal and then stick to it! Personally, I need a zone, and don't forget, I am a 10:1 runner). However, in hindsight, maybe I should have started just a tad slower and then built myself up to this pace? You will see later in this post why I am thinking this way ...
One thing I noticed right away - the number of people running with partners. I see this in my 5K and 10K runs, but not as many as I saw here, which makes sense. It would be really nice to have a partner along the way on this distance to make the hours pass by quicker and to encourage each other. Kudos to all running partners out there who do these events together; you were fun to watch.
Another thing I enjoyed seeing was the number of people taking pictures of themselves in front of the mileage markers at the beginning. They were stopping to pose while their partner took a picture and then they would trade spots - they had big smiles and were laughing. I enjoyed watching them and then had to laugh a little at myself because I was so serious about finishing this run in a certain timeframe! Maybe someday I will be this way during a race, but for today, I had a goal in mind and a plan. :)
The course itself was just terrific. It was wonderful to run all along the water. The course map did not lie - this run is literally ALL along the water and ALL flat! It is a terrific course for a half marathon (and I am sure for the marathon, too) and the scenery was terrific. The calm river to the right, the lovely quiet properties on the left, and the colourful autumn trees. It was like this for most of the run until we neared the end. It was truly worth "seeing" for the entire time I was running. It was worth noting that there is a bike path on the left for quite a ways. It would be possible for a family member to cheer a runner on by hopping on a bike and using the trail for part of the run. There was no wind from the water; if anything, the temperature was warmer than expected. Apparently, this is the first time in years there was no wind. I am grateful!
There were water stations every mile and the great thing about them was that they were populated by assigned high school students who came out in their school colours and decorated the water station areas with banners, mascots, whatever they could, to make it festive. Huge credit to all the organizers who encouraged the schools to come out and cheer because it was great. I read on the NFIM Facebook page comments from other runners who enjoyed the cheering schools and a couple of comments from runners who were disappointed that there weren't more cheering people along the way inbetween water stations. I think those disappointed runners must be accustomed to large city marathons because this was the second best cheering crowds I have experienced (Vancouver was the best and can compare to the large city marathons where there are soooo many cheering people along the way). There were also comments from runners who did not drink the water at some station because the kids were calling it "special water." These runners thought the kids had spit in it or something. I think this is really too bad because I only saw great, encouraging kids along the way. I think that this was just a "kid" thing to do to start calling it "special water" rather than it being a prank. There were adult supervisors at all the stations so I don't think the kids could have done any hijinks. Call me Pollyanna, but I didn't get a malicious or negative vibe at all whenever I ran by these students. They were very kind and encouraging to this 42 year old runner. :)
By the way, when I was sharing all this over the phone with my sister Sunday night (that's right, too tired to type this post, but not to tired to talk to Karen!), she asked me incredulously how I could notice so much. All my comments about other runners, who I saw, what I saw, etc. - she told me she didn't notice most of this last weekend at her HM. I just laughed and told her that when you run so much SLOWER like me (her pace 5:02 min/km), you get to notice a lot more because you have the time to look around. :)
I am going to write separate posts on my bad judgment calls regarding clothing and altering my pace pace pattern. I started to write about it here but it's making this verbose post that much longer so I am self-editing.
At about the 10K mark, I could feel myself starting to tire. Look at my km splits at this time:
I felt the oh-oh in this zone. My pace should not have slowed this much so early, but I felt like I was entering a "wall zone" just after reaching the "mid hump" section of the race. This is when I started questioning my wisdom regarding my pace - did I aim too high? I also started telling myself at this point that I would likely not make my 2:30ish goal and that I may have to settle for a finishing time under 2:45 instead. I walked for more than one minute because I was changing my bib from my top shirt to my bottom shirt so I could run cooler (see separate post on my error in overdressing).
This is when I decided that I had had enough of the sniper in my head and to change my tone. I started to remind myself that my first and ultimate goal was to do no harm - no getting hurt! I had a little bit of bleeding from the pins pricking my fingers while changing my bib, and I could feel a little pain on the one toe on my right foot from my neighbouring toe's nail rubbing against it (can you believe I forgot to check my toenails before the race? Silly!). In spite of the minor bleeding, I was for most part accomplishing this goal. Positive #1. My second goal was to finish the race, and although the idea of a truck picking me up and driving me to the finish line was a wonderful fantasy starting to drift through my mind at this point, I congratulated myself for running the first half and remaining committed to the second. Positive #2. I also reminded myself about how I got through all my long runs - concentrate on the music and use the lullaby walking song at the "1" minute as a marker to slowly chip away at the rest of the course ...
And this is what did the trick ... I can honestly say that 14K to 18K was a blur because I did not focus on mileage - I remained focused on running to the music and enjoying my one minute walks inbetween. I was really impressed to see that my running, although it felt so sluggish and slow, was actually in the 7:00ish minute zone. It sure didn't feel like it !!!!! but unless my Garmin was lying, I was still maintaining a good pace for me. I recall from my running club how our coach explained this to us - how it was best to run same pace consistently throughout the race, but we needed to get comfortable with how that pace felt at the beginning when it felt "too slow", in the middle when it felt "right" and at the end when it felt "difficult." I didn't experience this much during my practice runs, but the lesson was crystal clear during this race.
It was when I passed the 18K marker that I started paying closer attention to where I was. I could see the Skylon Tower clearly and tourist area near the Falls and realized how soon I would be there. I could also see that the previous "calm" river had become a rapidly flowing one. We were heading into a busier area on the Parkway and we were closing in on some buildings. I checked my watch, did some quick math, and realized that if I just kept running steadily, like I was, I could achieve my goal of 2:30ish! Don't blow it now! Keep steady - nice and easy. I can beat 2:40 if I stay the course.
See my 2o km pace time? The only time my pace crossed into the 8 minute zone. I was not looking at my watch at this point, but in hindsight, I think I was concentrating so much on keeping a slower steadier pace with the expectation that the crowd's cheers would encourage me to use up whatever little energy I had left at the end. I did not want to walk across the finish line. At this point, I was mentally and physically preparing myself for the finish. I find it so interesting to see this slowest 8:09 pace right at the 20K mark ...
It was soooo great to see the spectators and to hear the cheers. There were several people calling out to me that the finish was not too far away - you are almost there! Unlike most of my other races, I didn't have that great surge of energy to drive me much faster, but my pace was still decent:
And what can I say about the finish? It was heart thumping to hear everyone and to see the lead up to the finish line. I did my best to just keep steady and finish well. When I saw the huge FINISH line banner, it was so awesome, and it was wonderful to hear my name over the loudspeaker as I closed in on it. I knew Ben was there somewhere and kept my ear peeled for the sound of his voice, but at this point, I needed to concentrate on keeping the pace and crossing that finish line. The first person I was greeted by was a volunteer with a medal - that big colourful medal going around my neck was a great moment! :) :) I felt that same wave of emotion go through me again as I had at the start, that moment when I realized that I had done it - I had run the half marathon!!!!!!!!!! And my Garmin was telling me that my chip time would likely be 2:37ish - I saw 2:40 on the gun clock as I crossed the timing pad, but knew my time was under it, just as I had desired.
Those volunteers at the end were great and it was organized so well to help this exhausted and dazed runner. First the medal, then the bottle of water, followed by the mylar blanket, and then a yellow plastic bag filled with fruit, chips and cookies. There were Cytosport samples at the exit and I hung out here for an extra few minutes, drinking several samples to kill a bit of time to wait for my Benny to show up. Sure enough, within a few minutes, I heard him call "Sweety!!" as two volunteers prevented him from entering the coral. As I walked over to him, he opened his arms and said, "I am so proud of you!" and I grinned and exclaimed, "I did it!" The volunteers let out an "awww!" as Benny grabbed and hugged me tight. I felt like I could cry with happiness, but I was also feeling so dazed after running for so long. Ben suggested that we walk right over to the Falls so he could take a few pictures of me with my medal in front of it, and I told him to lead the way, but to hang on to me as I was a little out of it. I haven't seen the pictures yet, but maybe tonight I will take the time to look at the them.
Wonderful day, wonderful experience, a run well worth all the time and effort and training.
What next?!?! :) :) :)