Official Race Recap: Flower City Half Marathon Edition

Yesterday, I ran a half marathon. For those of you who don't know, that's 13.1 miles. (I think this course was actually 13.2.) Though keenly aware of how much I'd like to improve my time, I am proud of my accomplishment. Nine months ago, I would have laughed out loud if someone had suggested I even attempt it.

Before - 7:25 a.m.
The race experience started yesterday (April 28, 2013) at 5 a.m. Yes, 5 a.m. Rebecca* and I had to drive over an hour and, because of a mix-up at packet pick-up earlier in the week, Rebecca still needed to get her race bib. So, by the time I got a quick shower, dressed, and double-checked my gear, it was about 5:30 and we beat feet. Mind you, this departure was nearly 15 minutes later than we'd left the day before to get to Rebecca's duathlon.

Fortunately, race nerves make one alert, even at ridiculous hours of the morning, so we had a good hour of chatting along the way. As we got closer to Rochester, it began to feel like we were cutting it a bit close. We weren't sure of all the directions. We made the correct turns but I was getting more stressed.

We, finally, arrived, found a parking lot about 200 feet from the race start/finish, I got my gear in order, and we rushed over to packet pick up with about 15 minutes to start time. Though Rebecca had called ahead to make sure her bib was available, no one knew where she could get it. The race volunteers and staff only kept us waiting a few tense moments before deciding to assign her a new bib. I was so grateful for their quick decision-making!

Once that was squared away, we found the ladies room. According to the women behind us, the one we found had the shortest line. I was just grateful it wasn't a port-a-john. After barely 3 minutes, we were done with that necessity and headed toward the start.

Rebecca led the way to the back of the pack. I was expecting tears at the end of this race but, as we waited, I almost started bawling before we even began. Preferring not to cry in front of others, I was glad I held it together. The race bib situation meant very little lingering, so I didn't have to fight back tears for long.

The race had a field of only about 2400, so we were over the line in less than a minute, despite starting in the back of the pack. For the first six miles, I was holding steady with the 2:30 pace group. They would catch me on my walk breaks but Rebecca and I would pass every time we started running again. The first six miles were mostly flat...

When we began, the temperature was around 55 degrees and there wasn't a cloud in the sky. Sounds great, right? I'd say the same thing if I wasn't going to be running for close to three hours and the temperature wasn't going to hit 72 by the time we were finished. You see, 40s and 50s are my running happy place. Much higher and I'm dead tired, demoralized, and so parched that I begin to worry I'll get hyponatremia from trying to slake my thirst.

Sometime during mile 4, I think, I asked Rebecca, "Why am I doing this?" She said a bunch of true and encouraging things but, mostly, with two thirds of the race still ahead, like a child who's learning to ride without training wheels, I needed someone to reassure me that everything was going to be alright, that the pain and fear would end and I'd be happy with the result.

As we approached the biggest hill in the race, Rebecca asked how I was feeling. She'd already been "coaching" me but this was the let's-evaluate-our-plan conversation. I'd been pushing too hard but didn't want to whine, so just said I was really tired and didn't know if I could keep my current pace. She suggested we walk the entire hill. (I think) I said something fairly nonchalant like, "Oh, that sounds like a good idea." Silently, I was rejoicing in the depths of my soul. Walk the hill. YES! In our race plan conversation, I'd said I didn't want to deviate from my run/walk intervals but, ultimately, I wanted to enjoy the experience so that the thought of doing it again wouldn't make me want to vomit.

We walked up the hill. The 2:30 pace group was long gone. In my head, I was bargaining - maybe we can just walk up over this little rise, too. My mind stubbornly refused to let my legs push harder. Finally, I said, "At the end of my next scheduled walk break, let's start running again." I surprised myself by saying that because what I really wanted to say was, "Let's walk the rest of the way; It's such a nice day for a walk!"

Over the second half of the course, I walked a lot more than I would have liked and probably a little more than I needed. Since it was my first half marathon, I'm giving myself a little bit of a pass for just getting through it without stopping or falling over.

The course goes through a lot of beautiful neighborhoods and a good number of people stood along the course cheering on runners as they passed. The children were especially fun - shaking plastic jugs full of coins, shouting, "Shake your moneymaker!" - a baby dinosaur sleeping on his dad's shoulder - a little boy offering high fives near the end. Folks in ape costumes welcomed us into the cemetery. Women in period costume lined the streets of the Susan B. Anthony historical neighborhood. Several people handed out beer around mile 11 and a small brass band, playing continuously for at least 2.5 hours, greeted us with jubilant tunes at one of the last curves in the course.

During mile 11, I struck a bargain with Rebecca: "If we can walk to the mile 12 marker, I'll do everything I can to not stop running until the end." Relief flooded my body when she agreed. Though I knew she couldn't/wouldn't force me to do anything, I also knew that everything Rebecca said or did was an effort to help me not disappoint myself.

So, when the sign came into sight, Rebecca said, "Remember that post you wrote about high school you running the mile?... [moving past the mile marker] Kick that girl's ass." We started running - what most people would call jogging but felt to me like sprinting after already covering 12 miles. People were really spread out, but we started passing a few, including one guy who looked fit as a fiddle. As we passed people, Rebecca said, "If you keep going, that guy in the white shirt/the skinny girl in the pink shirt/etc. aren't going to beat you." Her words didn't make me feel superior but they helped me keep going even when my legs felt like lead, my feet started to go numb, and I couldn't think about anything further than one step ahead of me.

When we were in sight of the finish line, I said, "Rebecca, I just want to stop so badly." Of course, I didn't. I kept going. I ran from the 12-mile marker until the end of the race. One person, at the 13 mile marker, presumably trying to encourage, shouted, "NOW SPRINT!" I ignored him but Rebecca replied, "This IS sprinting." Her words make me laugh now.

I "ran" past the finish line, wobbled over to a volunteer to retrieve my medal, and immediately started searching for water. Blessedly, it was only a few feet from the finish. After a very quick chat with Rebecca's cousin and his girlfriend, who'd completed the race 1:10:00 and 55:00 earlier, and taking a race-ending selfie, we went to get some food. I don't think I've ever eaten such delectable pizza.

After - 10:15ish a.m.
Having run 12.2 hilly miles a week before, I had no doubt that I would be able to complete the race. However, without Rebecca, I don't know if I would have met my goal of finishing in less than 2:40:00. I might have let myself slide after that hill. Throughout the race, she walked the fine line between encouragement and kicking my rear. I didn't have to check my watch because she was there to keep me on track to meeting my goal. When I needed to say how much I wanted to quit, she was there to remind me that wasn't an option and of how far I'd already come, both in the race and in running. When I didn't want to eat, she reminded me that's exactly what my tired muscles wanted. Most of all, having her there meant that I got to cross that 13.1 mile finish line for the first time with one of my favorite people.

I beat my goal time. By 46 seconds. It doesn't sound like a lot but, believe me, it's better than missing it by even 1 second. At the beginning, I really thought I would completely bust my goal, with something around 2:30:00 but I'm satisfied with the effort I put forth. And, who knows, maybe my second will be faster (even though I'm running it in less than six days).

In this race, I learned that I can endure more pain than I think, that my mind is holding me back more than my body, that the right running partner is invaluable, and that, when you're done, no matter how hard or painful it was, it seems like it all went by in a wink.

“The miracle isn't that I finished. The miracle is that I had the courage to start.” ― John Bingham


*Rebecca, I may have re-written some history here, particularly in making myself appear much tougher than I actually was. Please feel free to share your recollections or correct mine. :)
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