Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Everything that I could ever tell you about my first half marathon

My first half marathon was last month.  In a nutshell:
1.  I did everything within my control to prepare for a great race.
2.  Something happened outside of my control that made my first half marathon not so great.

I wrote this recap right after the race, but sat on it for a while.  What is there to say, I trained for a half marathon for six months and a thing happened.  And then I read Ali's post on a disappointing 5k and it clicked.  Sure, I could only share the good parts of my life...but the bad (or rather disappointing) stuff happens too.  Let's put it out there.

My racing history
A bunch of 5ks and 10ks.  As part of my training, I ran a 10 mile race three weeks before the half.

How I trained
I ran a lot lol.

No seriously, my training plan was that I ran a lot.  I looked at a few training plans but just didn't find anything that clicked so I made it up as I went along.  For the past six months, I ran five days a week, getting up to 20 miles in during the week and a long run on Saturdays between 8-12 miles.

Race Goals
A goal: 2 hours and 20 minutes.  That's the combined time of the 10 mile race that I ran three weeks before and the 5k that I ran 2 weeks before.  My plan to get there was to stick with the 11 minute pacer and then speed up later in the race.
B goal: Anything less than 2 hours 30 minutes (consistent with race calculator predictions of my pace on the 10 miler and 5k).
C goal: just finish.

Race Prep
I tapered by making my final long run 8 miles, and then cut back each run by a mile leading up to the race.  I stopped weight training and did a total rest day the day before.

The last few runs before a race are often difficult, and I've heard many runners say that it's a good luck if your pre-race running is bad.  Spoiler: my running on race week was excellent.  I hit some very fast paces without even trying. 

I started increasing my food intake a few days before the race, trying to strike a balance between being highly fueled without overeating.  Race nutrition is still somewhat of a mystery and I like to err on the side of over fueling.

The Thing that Went Terribly Wrong
Anything goes weather wise in late May.  The temperature can range from 30 to 90, but a high of 60ish is typical.  If you've ever met anyone who's run my race, you know it because they will not shut up about the year that it snowed, rained, and hailed within a one hour period.

I started stalking the forecast two weeks in advance.  The early view said high 40's to low 50's on race day...aw yes, perfection.  One week in advance, the temperature prediction started to climb.  High 50's to low 60's...no problem, I can do that.

Every time I looked at the forecast after that, the temperature was higher.  By midweek the prediction was 66 at race start with a high of 85.  Houston, that's a problem.  I'm really sensitive to heat and we'd had zero hot days so far this year.  I can't say how hot is too hot, but generally if the dew point is over 60, I start feeling it.  All I could do was hope that it would be a "cold" 66 and that the temp wouldn't break 70 before I finished.  All the more reason to run fast.

When I poked my nose out the door at 4 AM on race day, my worst fears were realized.  It was hot, it was humid, and the air was heavy.  A few years ago at another race, the announcer described the crisp fall temperatures as "no excuses" weather.  This was "oh hell no" weather.

Race Morning
The day before the race, I laid out Flat Runner and absolutely everything that I needed to take.  The alarm went off at 4, I brewed coffee, mixed up a bottle of UCAN/Nuun, made a honey and butter sandwich, and was out the door at 4:30 to arrive in the Big City at 5:30.  I'd transferred all of my fears about the heat into a hissy fit about big city parking, but since I was so early, I had my pick of everything the city had to offer.  I got into a surface lot close to the start line.

I wasn't sure where gear check was, so I didn't take anything that I couldn't carry or trash.
  • In my flipbelt: phone, running water bottle, three packs of gel (one more than I planned on using), chapstick, and eye drops.  
  • Additional carry on items: a ziplock with my drivers license, a credit card, and $20 in the rear pocket of my shorts, MP3 player clipped onto my sports bra, wired headphones, and a sun visor.  
  • In my gear check bag: 2 throw away plastic water bottles, one with water and one with UCAN/Nuun, my breakfast honey and butter sandwich, and sunscreen.  
I ate breakfast at 6 and started drinking the UCAN at 6:15 and finished it at 6:30.  I couldn't find the gear check station but it was no loss because the sunscreen was the only thing left.  I doused myself in it from head to toe and then passed it down the line while we were waiting for the porta potties.  Oh and speaking of porta potties, would you like to hear about my race day GI issues?  Well sorry to disappoint you, but for the first time in my life, I had 0 GI issues on race day.

Similar to the 10 mile race, I didn't have a chance to do my prerun warmup (leg swings, walking lunges, etc)...by the time I thought about it we were at the starting line and it was too crowded to bust out any moves.

The Race
The start was surreal and magical.  I couldn't find the 11 minute pacer, so I had to scrap that idea and just try not to run too fast.  It was very crowded, so holding back wasn't a problem.  The first mile passed in a heartbeat and I was pleased to be a bit over an 11 minute pace, which meant that I hadn't gone out too fast.  The 2nd mile started to get a bit harder, which made sense when I saw that my pace had gotten faster.

Mile 3 was where things started to go downhill, er...uphill.  Everyone described the race course as flat though I knew there was something of a climb in mile 5.  What I didn't see coming was a pretty large hill in mile 3 and I felt it.  I ran most of it but eventually had to give in to a walk break.

In miles 3 and 4 I broke out my math.  Once I cleared 3.25 miles, that was 25% complete, so all I had to do was what I had done 3 more times.  Then I got to the 4.4 mile mark and was one third of the way there, so all I had to do was what I had done 2 more times.  I grabbed a drink from the 4 mile water stop and then had more water and a gel somewhere before the 5 mile mark.  I'm sure that I didn't look at my time for mile 4, because I felt like I had slowed down but looking at my splits now I see it was a sub 11 minute mile and I was on track for my goal.

Everything fell apart in mile 5.  As expected, the heat made me fold like a cheap suit and I started getting dizzy.  There was no way that I would run another 8 miles.  I thought that I was behind my time goal, which I wasn't, but it's probably for the best that I thought I was so I didn't try to push myself.

We went into a brutally sunny stretch and I seriously thought about bailing.  The start line was in sight, but it was only close as the crow flies and I wasn't sure how to get there on foot.  By virtue of not having the brain power to navigate off the course, I stayed in the race.  All at once my brain stopped thinking about 8 miles and switched to the mile that I was in.  Let me repeat that: I stopped thinking about how much further I had to go and stayed 100% in the mile that I was in.

We reached the big hill and I walked all of that.  Then I did a little running, a little walking, and stepped up to running a 10th of a mile/walking a 10th of a mile.  Then I stepped up to running .15 of a mile/walking .10 of a mile.  Then I overdid it and walked for a while...then I ran again.  I noticed that I had settled into a pack.  The same people who were with me at mile 3 were with me at the finish line.  From time to time I would pass someone or they would pass me and then we would catch up again.

At every water stop I drank a cup + poured a cup over my head.  I knew that I would need to take a 2nd gel but the thought was unbearable so I drank the course powerade instead (probably a better choice for the heat but never do I ever want it again).  I took advantage of every sprinkler and hose on the course (are you wondering about my phone?  I wasn't.  Holla flip belt!)

And then mile 12 was over.  I was on a running streak though I had to give it up for another hill.  Once that was cleared, I bolted.  I couldn't see the finish line, but my watch was at 13.2 miles so I knew it had to be close.  And then suddenly it was there and someone was putting a medal on my neck.

Normally races like this have stations that you go to afterwards to get food and swag, but not this race.  They brought it all to us.  Someone put a bag into my hand and people kept putting things in it.  I felt like I was in a grocery store.  The swag bag had something for every member of my family: chocolate milk for me, which I drank immediately, a banana for my husband, a tangerine for stepson #1, and a chocolate brownie Clif bar for stepson #2.  They also gave me a bottle of water which I drank on the way to the car.

I ran into some people that I knew and chatted a while.  Then I found a bench and took a break, and once I felt up to it, I started back to the car.  Once I got there I rolled my legs with my R8 and headed home.  I drank more water and ate a protein bar on the way (NOTE: the next time I run a summer race, I will bring a cooler for my post race water & protein bar...the bar was seriously messy).

By the time I got home, I was ready for a nap.  I knew that I would be tired the day after the race, so I had already planned on taking the day off and I did some serious napping.  My upper body ached a bit, but my legs felt fine.  Gotta assume that's from the amount of walking that I did in the race.

I could never have predicted that my first half marathon would take two hours and forty nine minutes...and I also could never have predicted that I would be OK with that.  I don't have the same feeling of fulfillment that I had after the 10 mile race, but at the same time I did everything that I could do.  Weather is weather.  There was no way to predict a freak heatwave on race day.  These are the only things that I believe I coulda shoulda have done differently:
  • I know that I don't perform well in the heat, but I still started the race with my A goal in mind.  I think it would have been better to not monitor my pace in the early miles.
  • I probably shoulda have taken water at the first stop, which was at 2 miles instead of holding out until the 4 mile one.
  • I should have run more hills in training.
This was my first half marathon...I never considered not showing up for the race.  But if I sign up for another long race that falls on a hot day, I would totally skip it.  And if I ever felt like I felt in mile 5 again, I would ditch the race.  There were a lot medical incidents due to the heat.  I love running, but it's not worth it.  There will always be another race. 

Endurance wise, I believe I was in good shape to run 13.1, and I think that going up to 12 miles in training was right for me...obviously there's no way to know for sure but that's my guess.  Certainly my training was adequate for a 5 mile run/8 mile run-walk:-(

I'm so glad that I ran the 10 mile race, since that's really the only thing I have to show off for my six months of training.

When I ran the 10 miler, I figured out a number of things that I needed to do differently for the half and I did all of them.  The most important thing was taking the sun seriously by bringing sunscreen and the visor.  I have to believe that every drop of water that I drank, poured over myself, and ran through counted.

Will I run another half?
Sheesh, that's not even a question.  I have the race picked out and it's in early November. 

Would I run this particular race again?
I think so...I have a score to settle.

Would I ever run a full?
Bingo, that's the real question.  And now is not the time to answer that.  I need to see what I can do with the half first.

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