It’s funny how I have all these thoughts to put in my running blog about a particular race, but the instant I sit down with my laptop, the thoughts suddenly are fleeting… Today’s race was #4 out of the 13 I said I would complete in 2013, and it is also PR #4 for the year!!!! I have run three half marathons this year already, including today’s, and have progressively chipped away at my times. I have only dreamt of running a sub 2 hour half marathon for years, and now I have completed THREE under 2 hours each! It’s still blowing my mind as I am sitting here soaking in everything about today’s race.
In 2008, I ran the Chesapeake Dismal Swamp Stomp Half Marathon as my very first half marathon. My goal for that race was to simply finish. Well, in all honesty, I wanted to try to finish in under 3 hours, but finishing was the ultimate goal. (See, even then without being a serious road runner/ racer, I was setting very high expectations for myself!) Mind you, before this race, I had completed only a 5k, an 8k, and had only been back to running for about 4.5 months. I had not completed anything beyond 5 miles. NOTHING. I shake my head now because I am thinking, “How naive can you be? You’re about to run 13.1 miles, and your longest run was FIVE?!” But naivety made me keep signing up for races, and continue to “train.” After that first half marathon, I realized I needed to train more, do longer runs, drink more while I train, and eat better. I walked more than half of that very first half marathon, and completed it in 2:57.
Here I am, 5 years later, having just completed my 17th half marathon, and am wrapping my head around the fact that I have cut an entire HOUR off of my time from the very first time I ran a half marathon. What a difference it makes to have a coach, to have seasoned runners give you all kinds of advice, to have experienced varying distance races, to have fallen down, literally, and to get back up again, and try, try again.
When I got up this morning to get ready for the race, I was worried that once I rolled out of bed, my calves would be the tight, unforgiving, feel like lead mess that they have been all week. They have not wanted to loosen up even with massage, my roller, ice, ibuprofen, etc. Well, I beat the crap out of them last night by using castor oil and my hands to massage all the knots and tightness away. I woke up this morning, slid out of bed, and they felt amazing! I should have massaged them like that sooner, and then I wouldn’t have suffered all week, but I know part of it was having had a week off, and then being back to being on my feet on those horrid cement floors again all this week.
With this realization that I wouldn’t have to take a step back today to accommodate tight calves, I grinned really big, and started getting around for the race. I checked the weather this morning, and it was already 56 degrees out, so I opted for a running tank, shorts, and my cute, pink, sparkle skirt! No need to be hot today when the expected high by the time I finished was in the high 60s!
The course for the Chesapeake Dismal Swamp Stomp is a straight, relatively flat, down and back course in the Dismal Swamp Park. It’s an easy course, that I have consistently PR’d on, year after year. Knowing that the course can be “boring,” I was prepared with some great music, and my watch to keep me on track with my pace.
The race started a little after 8 a.m., and it was a little cool, but the breeze felt amazing once we got going. I started with the 2:00 pace group because the pacer said he was going to be pacing around 9:00 miles. Well, the first mile was a 9:20, and I kept feeling myself having to slow up to stay with him. After seeing my time for the first mile, I just went with what felt good, and ended up doing the next few miles in 8:50s. I kept up this pace, and knew that at each mile marker, when I looked at my watch, as long as it was one minute less than that mile marker times 9, I was golden with my pace. As the miles rolled by, it seemed that I wasn’t really paying attention to the landscape as much as I was to the thoughts that were rolling through my head. Often on my long runs, especially my solo ones, I find myself mind-dumping all kinds of things in my head. Today was no different. I definitely felt lighter as I crossed the finish line!
The sun got brighter and the weather definitely warmed up as I approached mile markers 5 and 6. I was feeling really strong at this point, and hadn’t really struggled to keep my pace. I could tell my energy was fading as I reached the turn around point at 6.5 miles though because I was hot, and felt like I was slowing down. I opened my sports beans, and downed the pack, and pushed a little to pick it back up. This is obvious in my split time of 1:03:13 at mile marker 7 because I had slowed down to a 9:15 pace. I realized this after looking at my watch, and picked it back up again. I drank at every water stop today, but only a gulp or two, and then dumped the rest down my back to stay cool because it got progressively warmer as I continued to run.
I usually find someone to play “race tag” with, where I follow them for a while until they speed up too much or slow down too much, and then go past. Today, I didn’t really do this, and I think it’s because I was really lost in my own thoughts, and was more or less focused on just not running into anyone. I did pace myself against a woman who was running close to my pace for the first several miles, but she pulled ahead around mile 4. I could see her tie-dyed tank top for a good ways along the course, so I knew I wasn’t far behind her in time.
At the turn around point, the head winds were strong, and gave a lot of resistance as I made my way to the finish line. You never know what the wind is going to do on a course, but feeling that wind was both aggravating and soothing simultaneously. I was thankful for the breeze since it was getting hotter, but aggravated that we had to deal with the head wind. I was wishing I had banked more time on the front end, but that’s not always the best choice either.
I started noticing that my pinkie toe on my right foot was getting bumped when I hit mile marker 9, and thought to myself, “There goes another nail!” I just ignored it because it was more annoying than painful. Sometimes I really get frustrated that as a runner, I lose any nails at all because they are already so stinking short, and I wear the required half size up! Part of being a runner, I guess!
The last four miles, I was starting to get a bit fatigued, but I remembered my coach telling me that it would feel this way as I got into the latter miles. It wasn’t out of my range for my pace, but it wasn’t painful either. Then I got to comparing the remaining miles to the four mile route I often take with Murphy by my house, and was mentally traveling that route while I physically traveled the rest of the Dismal Swamp trail. About mile 11, I had already run out of beans, and was resorting to the PowerGel that was provided to us during the race. Let me just say, NEVER again will I eat PowerGel brand gus. It was a green apple kind, and it was nasty. I knew I needed something because my energy was waning, but that wasn’t worth it. I was glad that another water station was within sight when I took that one!
I hit mile marker 12, and saw that I was at 1:47 and change. I told myself that I had ten minutes to play with in order to PR for the last 1.1 miles. I shook my head. “Who am I kidding? I’m not running a flipping ten minute mile! And I certainly, am NOT slowing down at the end of a race!” So, instead I picked it up, and ran the last mile hard, and the last tenth of a mile even harder. As soon as I saw that finish line, I gave every ounce of energy I had left and sprinted my non-existent behind across that finish line! It definitely helped to hear my running buddy, Marie, shouting “Go, Erica, Go!” as I got near the finish line! It was a solid race today, with a fantastic finish. My finishing time for today was 1:57:30:30! I took 31 seconds off my time at Shamrock! AND I finished 12th out of 68 in my age group! My average pace today was about an 8:58! Here’s to another amazing race under my belt!
I have to share that besides PR’ing today, the most incredible moments were those after the race when six different people came up to me and told me that they had either kept pace with me, tried to keep pace with me, or had been inspired to keep up by watching my sparkle skirt flutter in the wind today. It made me think of the quote I posted on Facebook not that long ago that says “I want to inspire people. I want someone to look at me and say ‘Because of you I didn’t give up.'” I was very humbled by these individuals, who took the time to approach me with their kind words of congratulations, and thank yous for keeping them going. I am thankful for them too because without them, I wouldn’t push so hard. I am continually inspired by other runners, and today is no different. Thank you to all of you out there who have run with me, have encouraged me, have fed me when I’m so shaky because I ran really hard and my blood sugar has plummeted, have hugged me as I crossed the finish line, who have gotten up at 5am to be with me at a race, who have made and held signs for me, who have congratulated me, who have coached me, and who have inspired me. I owe you all because without you, I would not be the runner I am today. Without you, I would not be fast. (I still have a hard time making the connection between me and fast, but many say it’s true…) Thank you to all of you.
Live. Love. RUN. Passionately! 13.1 IS DONE!