Fair warning: this post is long.
And just like that, it’s over.
It’s funny: when you devote so much time and energy to preparing for a race, it becomes so much more than training – it becomes your whole life, and now I’m not sure what to do with all of my time.
The Rock ’n’ Roll Half Marathon Los Angeles was truly a life-changing experience for me. I played sports when I was younger, through high school. In college I dabbled with running – I would grab my discman and head out for a mile or two. Certainly nothing to write home about. Never have I felt like such an athlete and so accomplished until I began this half marathon journey. It just goes to show you, it is never too late in life to change your course.
And what a roller coaster the last three months of training have been. There were stitches and head colds, major wins (my first ten mile run, followed by my first twelve mile run) and disappointments. Perhaps my biggest lesson was this: there are bound to be setbacks throughout the course of any training program. There will be bad days and sometimes bad weeks – but if you do the best that you can, your hard work will pay off.
I went into the half with a goal of finishing under 2:10.
Race day went something like this:
My alarm went off at 5am. I hit snooze and laid there for an extra nine minutes (I’m not sure why I bothered, I was so anxious about the race I’d hardly slept that night and was wide awake when my alarm went off). By the time 6:30 rolled around, I’d eaten half a bagel with peanut butter, had a little bit of coffee, some water, perfected my playlist for good measure, and was on my way downtown. Race time was 7:30, so immediately upon arrival, I made my way to the porta potties to empty my bladder, popped my first Gu (peanut butter flavor!) at 7:15, and then headed to find my spot in line. The anticipation of starting was killing me.
When we finally got moving (I was in the 9th corral, so we started about 11 minutes after the first group), I felt ready. Everyone kept telling me ahead of time that my adrenaline would carry me for most of the race, and that was absolutely true. The miles were flying by. By mile three, we were running around the perimeter of the Coliseum and at mile six we were back in the area of LA Live, with thousands of people cheering us on. I had no idea what my pace was (I purposely chose to ignore it and just be in the moment), but I knew it was strong. At mile 8 I popped my second (and final) Gu as I started to feel slightly less energetic. It helped. Then came the hill at mile 9.
I could see it in the distance – the incline was intense. The people on the hill didn’t even appear to be moving. At first I thought they were spectators, standing in place and encouraging runners below. It wasn’t until I moved closer that I realized this was part of the course and I would soon be part of the uphill battle, too – literally. It seemed to go on forever. People all around me stopped to walk. On the palm of my hand, I’d written the words “you can and you will.” I had to look down at it about ten times to remind myself that I was capable of this, I would make it to the top, and I would not walk. Lo and behold, I made it! The reward was the sharp decline that followed, which felt a little bit like a recovery. At that point, I was pacing 8:36. However, I started feeling very fatigued right around mile 10.5. Finishing was truly a mental battle.
Of course the best part of the entire race was right around mile 12.75, when I spotted Tyler, my little brother and a good friend (who surprised me!) cheering me on from the sidewalk. This was the push I needed to run it in hard to the finish. I’ve never in my life been so happy to stop running, but I’ve also never felt a sense of accomplishment quite like this. My final time: 2:03:06. Nearly seven minutes faster than my goal.
So what other lessons have I learned over the past three months of training? Here are my top five:
1. Running distance is only a piece of the puzzle: I think the most important part of my training was the speedwork I did on the treadmill. Spin classes also really helped improve my cardiovascular fitness and made my legs stronger. Weight training was also key, especially with a focus on core.
2. Ice is your best friend: After each of my long runs, I iced my knees for a period of time. This was such a lifesaver. I’m fairly certain ice is the reason I can walk today. Ice baths are a perfect complement to training as well, if you can tolerate them!
3. Rest is okay: Sometimes your body will send you signals telling you to slow down. It is perfectly okay to listen and take a day or two off (or more, if necessary). Two and a half weeks prior to the half marathon, I came down with a nasty cold and was forced to take almost a week off of training. I learned that it was more important to rest and get healthy than try to push my body and make it worse. In the scheme of a three or four month training program, a few days won’t make a difference.
4. You can’t do it alone: I was lucky to have an incredible amount of support from friends, co-workers, family members and trainers. Talk to people about your training and your goals. Accept encouragement and advice. It will only help you.
5. You are stronger than you think you are: This one is pretty self-explanatory. Sometimes your mind is going to freak out and want to give up. Mine certainly did as I made my way up the hill at mile 9, and as I rounded the corner at mile 11. Realize that you are strong and you are capable and just keep moving.
Weigh In: What are some accomplishments you’re most proud of? How do you keep going when things get really tough?
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