So after the porta potty adventures, I took off my trash bags and throwaway turtleneck before heading over to my corral. I had never done the whole throwaway clothing thing before and felt terrible throwing a perfectly good turtleneck on the side of the road... what can I say, I have attachment issues. So I did what any normal person with issues would do. I folded the turtleneck neatly and placed it on a park bench. I'm desperately hoping that someone who was cold and in need of a turtleneck found it and is now a little warmer.
When I headed over to my corral, I was thrilled to find that the corrals were all slowly moving forward - the race had already started, so corral 14 was closer to the starting line now than it had been. This meant less walking for me, which was great. Slight tangent, but I have to say that I was incredibly impressed with how well organized the whole race weekend was. You can tell Rock 'n Roll has a lot of events every year, because they know what they're doing. While the corrals did feel kind of like a cattle drive, they were so well marked that even a newbie like me had no trouble finding the right one. And I really appreciated that each corral got their own gun - it makes a difference! I like pretending that I'm an elite runner and am starting at the same time as the hotshots! Thanks Rock 'n Roll, for the ego boost.
The corral was the first of several stressful moments of the race, and I don't know why. Maybe it was the fact that I felt like a cow being herded into a very small tunnel. Or maybe it was the fact that I had no grace at all during the whole process and managed to drop my sunglasses twice, which resulted in one lens popping out twice because I have cheap sunglasses, and then I got my headphones stuck on my headband and my headband stuck on my earwarmer, and finally just gave up and shoved the headband into my pocket about 45 seconds before I started running. Don't get me wrong, Bic Bands, you are awesome and I have no problems with you slipping during activity. But even the greatest non-slip headband will move when I'm yanking my headphones around it. Alas, the pink zebra headband didn't get to see the camera during the race.
The first few miles are all kind of a blur now, to be honest. I was incredibly proud that I started off slow - I think pacing is one of the hardest parts about running, and my dad kept reminding me to start slow and not burn out early. It turned out that my first mile was actually one of my slowest miles (12:48 pace), so I did very well with my pacing, which I know saved me towards the end. But I was really trying not to get too in my head about everything and actually enjoy the race. One of my favorite things about the whole experience was the people on the sidelines. My parents had planned to be near the finish line, which was WONDERFUL, and really gave me something to look forward to... but it meant that I didn't have anybody else I knew cheering me on through the course. I pretty much just took advantage of the friends and family members of others. I especially loved the people that made signs (and I told them how much I loved them). There were some great signs. I made a list of some of my favorites they were so great. I wish I'd taken pictures along the course, but I was honestly so focused on trying to just keep going that anything else might have killed me. I'm slightly disappointed that I don't have pictures of all the signs and fun stuff I saw, but I think I would have been more disappointed if my time was slower than I wanted because I was busy taking pictures.
One of my favorites was a guy who was standing on the sidewalk at around mile 4 or 5, with a bicycle on the ground next to him, and a sign that said "Bike for rent: $50 a mile." I told him that if he went a few miles ahead, I might take him up on the offer, and he was so sweet and said I wouldn't need him. But sure enough, later on in the race (no idea what mile, somewhere between 7 and 10, I think), there he was with the same sign, only he'd crossed out the $50 and written $100 underneath it. Some other favorites were "You've done much worse things for even longer!" and "Show running who's boss!" The girl who was holding the latter sign also held one that said "Wanted: hot running boyfriend," which I thought was hilarious. But that was around mile 7, so anything was entertaining to me because I was slightly delusional and really starting to bonk. I think my absolute favorite signs, though, were a guy and a girl that I saw twice on the course. The girl had a sign that said "I don't even know who you are, but I am SO PROUD of you!" and it honestly made me tear up. I told her that it meant a lot to me to read that, and she smiled. The guy's sign, though, might be the best I've seen. It just said "Worst parade ever :(" HA! I told him I loved his sign and he told me that I was looking good! I was amazed at how nice the spectators were to random people they'd never met.
The run itself was a mixed bag, just like most of my long runs had been. There were times where I felt amazing, empowered, proud and invincible... and then there were times where I started getting choked up and thought about quitting. The compression tights made a BIG difference in how my legs felt (no hip pain until much later in the run, no real knee pain), which was great, but they didn't fix everything. My hips still started throbbing around mile 9 or 10, and my ankles started bothering me around mile 8. There were two really tough spots in the course for me, too, where the course looped back onto itself - instead of everyone running the same way on the street, it was sectioned off so there were two lanes of traffic, with the right side going one way and the left side going the other. It turns out that I hate loops and that they fill me with dread and unpleasant feelings. During both of these spots (the first one was long, too, a little over a mile), my legs felt heavy and it was a definite struggle. At around mile 10, my legs got super heavy and tired. I actually started thinking that I was going to have to stop running and just walk the rest of the way. But instead, I just let myself take a few extra walk breaks, and I'm so glad I did because I really wanted to finish running. One of the best things that happened to me was that I saw a guy (this was maybe around mile 5 or 6) wearing a shirt that said "Discipline or regret" and it became my new mantra for the rest of the race. I absolutely DID NOT want to regret the experience, so I knew I had to be disciplined and keep pushing.
The end of the race was really great. I had been struggling mentally and physically to get through the last three miles of the whole thing (luckily, the "worst parade ever" guy came back, which helped), but when I crossed the 12 mile mark, I knew I was so close and could definitely finish. I also knew thanks to my beloved Garmin that as long as I stayed with the pace I'd been keeping, I would be able to make my goal of finishing in 2:45. I know that my real goal was just to finish, but I REALLY wanted to make 2:45. Even the slow pokes can have time goals, right? Mile 13 actually ended up being my fastest mile (11:48) and I think it was because I got a good second wind. After a few gradual uphills that had been pretty tough, mile 13 was mostly downhill, and I got some good momentum going. I realized I was getting really close when I could see the Civic Center (where the finish line was!), and a very important song came on my iPod - the song is called True Believer by E-Type, and it was part of Body Pump release #70. That was the release that I did every week in the summer of 2009, just a few short months after starting Weight Watchers, and only a few weeks after I'd gone through an incredibly painful breakup. All those songs remind me of how empowering that summer was for me (it was also the summer I first did Couch to 5K!), but "True Believer" always made me think of my mom. When it came on my iPod as I was reaching the Civic Center, I got really choked up, and somehow I knew that I was getting close to my parents. And sure enough, I turned a corner, and saw my parents! My mom was in a bright yellow coat cheering and smiling and waving and my dad was taking pictures. It was exactly the push I needed, and I raced full speed ahead with everything I had left towards that finish line, mouthing the words to "True Believer" with every step.
My dad snapped this picture as I flew by :)
I crossed the finish line and threw my hands into the air - I HAD DONE IT! I had finished my very first half marathon. And I had made every goal I wanted to. I was still standing, I had not thrown up, and to top it all off, when I stopped my Garmin after crossing the finish line, it said 2:43:34. My official chip time was 2:44:18 (I had stopped for about 45 seconds to get my armwarmers off when I had gotten too toasty while running), so not only had I officially finished, but I had officially finished 42 SECONDS AHEAD OF MY GOAL!
After I crossed the finish line, threw my hands into the air, and then cried in joy, I realized that a line of volunteers was handing out medals. I hobbled over (my legs started cramping up almost immediately, but I kept moving) and got my medal, then looked up and realized I knew the girl who had put it on me. Her name is Hannah and I had done marching band in high school with her, but I almost didn't recognize her - she'd lost well over 100 pounds and looked absolutely stunning. I gave her a huge hug (I apologized for smelling so terrible and she laughed) and may have teared up a little bit again. It meant so much to me that someone I knew had handed me that medal, and especially someone who had gone through a whole transformation like I had.
With my medal around my neck, I got in line to have my picture taken, and while at the time I was worried about standing still so long, having now seen the picture, I am so glad I waited. I haven't bought the official pictures yet (of course I'm going to, I'm buying everything they offer me for this race!), but I will share them when I do. I'm tearing up just thinking about it now, because the look on my face in that picture right after I got my medal is pure joy.