My First Half Marathon Experience, and What I Learned

I am still currently riding a high from Sunday, as I officially completed my first half marathon.The experience was exhilarating and I would do it again in a heartbeat.

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My sister and I after the race.

Half Marathon Race Day 4/17/16

Sunday morning, I had nervously set 5 alarms. I awoke at my first one set for 4am, brushed the nerves off and got out of bed. I made my usual morning coffee, and ate my packed pre-race breakfast; One bagel with cream cheese, and a banana. After breakfast I laid out my race attire, then hopped in the shower. After I got out and anxiously got dressed, did a last minute check of my gear and by 5:45 I was out the door.

It was quite chilly when we left the hotel, about 37 degrees (which for the start of any race is pretty comfortable) We arrived at the Sonny Werblin recreation center (the site of the starting line) about 6am, and sat for an hour in the car. Although we were there a fraction early, I got comfortable and kept myself warm in the car. My mom and I sat there observing other runners while listening to the radio. I also ran to the porta potty once before too many people had arrived.  Around 7:15, I made my way back to the porta potty area (at this time, the lines were getting longer) After my final

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Starting Line

bathroom break I hugged and kissed my mother, then excitedly proceeded to the starting area.

About 7:50, pretty much all of the half marathon runners were in line. We lined up according to our pace (I stood with the 10:00 per mile pacers) and awaited the announcer to send us off. At this point I can honestly say I was not nervous at all. I was more or less just soaking up the rousing atmosphere while jumping up and down in place to keep warm. While the race was supposed to start at 8, it didn’t actually start until about 7 minutes or so later. They clocked me at leaving the starting line at about 8:09. For whatever reason, the starting time got pushed back.Finally, once we were off, the adrenaline rush hit me and I tried my hardest not to start off too fast.

The first 2 miles were probably the most difficult. Right off the bat, there was a huge hill. Then another one. And did I mention we were running on the surface of the sun? Forget being cold 2 hours ago, by this time we were warm. There was absolutely no shade whatsoever, and that lasted most of the course. By mile two I already had to pee, so I lined up with a whole bunch of runners that apparently had to as well. There were 2 porta potties at mile 2 and in order to avoid dehydration, I emptied my bladder. It was the best decision I made during that race. After that I was fine the following 11 miles I had to go.

After I left the toilets, I quickly rubbed my hands with sanitizer and darted off to catch up a bit. The hills continued, the sun was glaring and at this point I was already beginning to sweat from warmth. I made the decision to only carry one water bottle on my belt, and I tried not to use that. Instead, I waited until each aid station for h20. The only aid station I bypassed was at mile one (as I had a full bladder, and dehydration right off the bat would have been horrible) As I continued running I was actually surprised at how quickly the first 6 miles had gone by. Before I could realize, I was at mile 7. I honestly felt great. I kept thinking to myself “I am really running this thing. I am running a half marathon.” I kept thinking of the finish line, and I got really excited. I was grabbing both water and Gatorade cups at the aid stations and chugging them. At mile 8, there were GU energy gels being handed out.Without realizing they were giving out more than one flavor, I grabbed the first one I came across, which turned out to be salted watermelon. I passed another kid who shouted “We have CHOCOLATE!” and then I regretted taking the watermelon. Surprisingly though it was quite refreshing, and I held onto it until mile 9 1/2 before discarding it. Mile 9 took us up a bridge over Rt. 27 and into Johnson Park. The view coming down the hill into the park was beautiful. I was really enjoying the scenery and just soaking it all up.

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Gu at mile 8-Salted Watermelon  flavor

Mile 10 I started feeling heavy in the legs. In my head, I kept saying “Only a 5k to go!”. At mile 11, the song “Can’t Take It It” by Imogen Heap came on my playlist, and it was pretty much on replay for the remainder of the race. It is such a beautiful song, and it was perfect background music from that point on until the finish. When I hit mile 12, I swear I could not even believe it myself. I was closing in on the finish, only about 10 more minutes or so to go.

At around mile 12.8, I met my mom and my sister, who were standing at the sidelines taking photo and video. They ran alongside me (not on the course of course!) chasing me taking pictures, and before I knew it, I could finally see it- there was the finish line. I ran off, people cheering me on, everything was so real at that point. Then I crossed the finish, and I became a first time half-marathoner. The race was over. Time: 2:42:36

I got my finisher medal from one of the girls holding them and I quickly put it around my neck. This was most certainly the moment I had been waiting for. 13.1 miles of hills, sun, sweat and pavement had faded and I was suddenly in the bliss of celebration. The closest feeling I had to that particular moment was probably when I summited Mount Washington in NH (10 hour climb round trip- 5 to summit, 5 back down) There really is such a feeling of achievement when you push yourself to the physical limi

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My half marathon finisher medal

t. I stepped outside my comfort zone and accomplished what many people cannot say they have. And for those who have, you already know the feeling. There is none other like it.

There are so many things I learned from my first half-marathon, and that I will take with me to my future races. I’ll say overall my first experience with a long distance race was a great one. It’s not like that for everyone though unfortunately. I’ve read a string  of blogs where runners will say anything from “I had the best time ever” to “This freaking sucked” I can honestly say mentally for me, the race wasn’t hard. It went by fairly quickly. Here are some things that I would tell anyone thinking of running their first long distance race;

1)Dress Appropriately-I never had a problem with this on Sunday, but had I worn an extra layer it would have been hell. There is nothing worse than overdressing & overheating during a race. Eye the temperatures closely, and dress for 20 degrees warmer than it is. Trust me.

2. Pace yourself- Can’t stress this enough. The first two (maybe 3) miles will be the longest. Pace yourself in the beginning and you will be feeling good the rest of the way. I promise.

3. Tackle Hills Slowly-Don’t push too hard on hills, conserve. Walk if you really have to.

4.Energy Gels-Use them, and use them early on. I think this would have helped me in the end (miles 10-13) if I had consumed one gel earlier, (like around mile 5). Have one early in the race, then again around mile 8-9 to avoid bonking.

5. Aid Stations- Do not pass them up. If they offer Gatorade and water, grab em both and chug em down. Electrolytes are important, especially when you’re running a race without any shade.

6. If you need to walk, walk. No sense in pushing yourself to the point of injury or early fatigue. Listen to your body.

7.Stretch before and after the race. Jog half a mile to warm up if you need to

After the race, you will be sore. However, it won’t be right away. DOMS will set in 24 hours after and last anywhere from 24-48 hours. After the race Sunday, my legs felt fine after awhile and it didn’t feel like I had just run 13.1 miles. Monday morning, I could barely get out of bed. Let me tell you right now, the stairs have been my worst enemy the past 2 days, and getting to the toilet is no fun either. It hurts more walking down the stairs than up. But the pain is worth my accomplishment. I’m feeling much better today in the legs, but the one blister on my left foot is preventing me from running again yet. Instead, I’m using the elliptical to workout until it’s healed (which still hurts my foot but it’s less pressure than running)

A few people have asked me “So what’s next?” Well the Philadelphia Marathon will be my next big challenge, but that’s in November. In the meantime, I’ll continue running, and participating in local 5k’s.

Would I do it again? Yes, yes, and yes. I can’t wait to run my next race, and in November my first marathon! Before I begin training for that, I’ll continue my running and improve on little things with that.

Thanks again everyone who has followed my half marathon journey! Check back with you soon!

🙂 Caitlin

 

 

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