My first half marathon...and the weeks before!

I really wanted to get this down while it was all still fresh in my mind. After all, this is HUGE for me. This is the longest distance I have ever raced...and just to think that I competed in a 13.1 mile race still blows my mind! So let's start at the beginning...when I decided to actually do this thing!

It was March 1st when I actually decided that this was "for real". I had been tossing the idea around for over a year, to be honest. In early 2009, I decided I was going to run in the Dam to Dam in Des Moines. I started training, but my heart wasn't in it 100%. In early April, I started to feel run down, tired and just like all of my training runs sucked. I look back at my training log and it's easy to see why. I was running every day. I was keeping a food journal and my caloric intake was less than adequate. I was still running because I was focusing SO hard on losing weight. I liked running but I hadn't really found "LOVE IT" yet. In early May, I found that I was experiencing lower leg pain with every my shin, like shin splints but MUCH worse. It really made me lose faith in what I was doing. I won't lie...when I started running again in early 2008, the MAIN reason was to lose weight. I remembered how much I loved running in high school and college, but my main reason was to lose weight. In late June, I threw my back out (again!). What a wake up call that was for me! I had to take over a week off from running because we were moving in July...and it HURT so much to walk, much less run! I thought a lot during that time, and made some decisions about my running.

When I started running again, it was with a purpose. I wasn't JUST running to lose weight...I was running because I wanted to get better at it. I still had my treadmill in my basement and 5 days a week when Elijah was napping, you'd find me in our basement running. 3 days a week I was doing strength training...and 3 days a week I was focusing on core exercises. I started to feel better. I wasn't really losing significant weight, but I felt better...I felt stronger. And that's what the summer of 2009 was for me...getting stronger. By early September, I loved running again. I didn't see it as "Oh, Eli's napping...time to run again!"; it was more "Hurry up and fall asleep...I WANT to run!" It was great! I started to plan for a half marathon in Des Moines in October...still not really sure what the heck I was doing :-) By late September, I was exhausted again. There was another reason for it this time. I put the half marathon on hold again.

October 12th, 2009...a turning point for me physically and emotionally. Around 7pm this night we found out we were pregnant again. I decided I was definitely going to stay active this pregnancy, and I was NOT going to gain 60 pounds under ANY circumstances...well, unless I was having triplets or something! The first few weeks were great...I was able to run with no problems. Then, mid November, I started to have nausea until about 4pm every day. I was still able to run, but my mileage was decreasing rapidly. It was OK by me...I was still running, after all.

Mid December, I threw my back out...AGAIN! The 2nd time in a year! I remember laying on the couch thinking about how much I wanted to run. I remember telling myself to be patient. And then there was losing Jonah...

I can't believe how even now this is so hard. There are definitely more good days than bad now, but sometimes it is so hard to think about it. There are still moments when I think "oh yeah, I'd be like 30 weeks pregnant right now...this sucks." And it does suck. Enough said.

So anyway, around January 4th, I decided to go running again. We had a membership to a gym now, thanks to Adam's job. I had worn the belt out on my treadmill, so this was a wonderful thing for me. Plus, I got to take Elijah with me, so I didn't have to wait until nap time. My first few runs were weak...and my heart wasn't in it at all. That's when I reevaluated everything again. I wanted to be healthy...for ME, for ME AND ADAM, and for our family. I started running 4 days a week, biking 2. I felt great. And I started to feel like maybe things would be OK again.

On March 1st, I decided I was going to train for a half marathon. That week, I found out there was a race in Mount Pleasant, WI, on April 10th. I asked Adam if he was OK with the idea of me running in that race. He said absolutely (love my husband...he's always SO supportive of me!!!). I went online and found Hal Higdon's half marathon training programs...took a little of the beginner program and a little of the intermediate program and mixed them together for a 6 week program...after all, that was all the time I had!

And that 6 weeks was amazing for me. I lost over 10lbs...and not by focusing on losing weight. I think it was because I added the "long run" to my training. 6 long runs of 8 miles or more can really do something for you! I started to really have faith in myself again. I started to really WANT to accomplish first half marathon. I reevaluated my goals again...a little closer to race day.

I decided I wanted to finish under 2 hours and 20 minutes...a 10:41 mile. I figured this would allow me time to walk through the water stations, and walk if I tired out early. I really thought I'd finish between 2:15 and 2:20. I focused on getting stronger and making sure I got my mileage in every week. When it got nicer outside, I noticed something strange...I was running FASTER outside than on the treadmill! I decided not to focus too much on that, and to remember why I was running this race (keep that idea in mind...I'll refer to it later!).

Fast forward to the week of April 4th...this was my taper week. I was scheduled to do 3, 3-mile easy runs on Mon, Tues and Wed. These were awful. I felt like I was slacking...I felt lazy! I felt like I should be doing intervals, or at least a long run. Ugh! But I remembered that I wanted "fresh" legs the day of the race. We left for Wisconsin on Thursday, April 8th...drove all day and got into town after 10pm. Elijah went to sleep after 1am that morning. I started to doubt myself. I didn't get a good night of sleep and I was worried it would affect my race. The following night, Elijah went to bed after 10pm and didn't fall asleep until after midnight...I really was starting to wonder if I'd made the right choice. When my alarm went off at 5:15 am the following morning, I cursed the half marathon! I got up, showered, and ate my bagel with peanut butter.

We left to go to Racine at 6:30am...Elijah was NOT a happy 3 year old (understandably!). We got to Racine a little after 7am, realizing we'd forgot our camera, and our toddler was cranky. I decided to let Adam and Eli go for breakfast and I would do my warm up, etc. I got in line for the "port-o-potties"...and talked with some other runners. Then I ran about a half a mile easy, ran some strides and swallowed some Clif Shots energy gels (yuck...ewww on a morning stomach!!) Then the announcer told us to line up for the start.

I started to get really nervous. Started to question my training. Started to wonder if I should turn around and run the opposite direction. Then I heard the gun...there was no turning back now!

Mile 1...I looked at my watch and realized I'd run my first mile in 9:10...faster than my goal time. I decided to just relax and focus on "relaxed running". There was a guy and girl who were in front of me who I felt were keeping me at a good pace...decided to keep pace with them.

Mile 2...9:25...there was a water station shortly after 2 miles. Then I saw Eli and Adam cheering me on. I felt better. I felt like I was running well. The guy and girl in front of me invited me to run with them. This was something new for me...I don't normally run with people, but they were good pacers for me. I joined them...Emily and Gary. Gary was a marathoner. Emily was running her first half, like me, and Gary was her trainer and pacer. We started to talk...and talk. We talked about a lot of stuff! I guess a running partner wouldn't be so bad once in a while.

Mile 4 water station...I got elbowed very roughly by a lady in a crazy floral running shirt with over-processed hair (think frizzy orange :-P ). I apologized for being in her way but she just shot me a nasty glare and kept running without getting water. Crazy runners...glad we're not ALL like that!

Around Mile 6 I passed Adam and Eli again...ahhhhh, my boys! I don't have any mile times after mile 2 because my watch doesn't do splits...and I couldn't focus on running and subtraction at the same time. I really need to get a new watch.

Mile 8...OMG...Gary and Emily got me through miles 3 through 8! Those are some of my toughest miles in training. Mile 7 was a killer...the end was uphill, into the was really tough! I fought through it to the Mile 8 water station...and waited for my "team". Emily and Gary caught up, told me that Emily needed to walk for a bit, and told me to keep going...I "reluctantly" did...I felt like I should stay with them since they invited me to be part of the group but went on alone at their insistence.

Mile 10...passed Adam and Eli again. Got some water. Realized I was running under 10 minute miles. Felt REALLY good. And then I passed the frizzy orange lady in the floral shirt. Karma? If you believe in it, sure...I'm just pretty sure I rock!

Mile 11....this one sucked. I passed the 11 mile marker and everything started to hurt. My hips hurt, my knees ankles hurt, my head hurt...I was pretty convinced that everything hurt. And then, I realized something. I said to myself "Sandy, really? You have 2 miles left...suck it up and RUN!"

And I did! I passed the 12 mile marker and felt a surge of energy. I sped up and decided to pick off runners....last mile, last chance! I overtook 13 runners in the last mile. (13 runners in Mile 13...13 is indeed my lucky number!) I saw the Mile 13 marker and felt even better...checked my watch and realized I'd run my last real mile in under 9 minutes (like 8:40-ish...again, just some rough subtraction). I saw a lady at the 13 mile marker who said "this is it, just go around the bend and you're done...finish strong!" and I sped up to finish my race...I was feeling GREAT!

When I rounded the curve to the finish, I saw 2:06 on the timer....I ran hard and finished in 2:06:33...about a 9:40 mile...20 seconds PER MILE faster than I'd hoped for, and about a minute per mile faster than I expected. I wanted to cry and yell all at the same time!

Then my legs started to cramp up. OH MY GOD. Nothing helped...not water, not Gatorade, not walking. Nothing. I stood at the finish line to cheer on Emily and Gary (remember them???) and then felt like dying. I felt better for a brief moment when I saw the orange, frizzy lady in the floral shirt come across the finish line...roughly 8 minutes after me :-) But my calves were KILLING me, and I really just wanted to SIT. I chose not to hang around for the post race festivities because I really just wanted to shower and get off my feet. Finally, we got into our car to go back to my cousin's new half marathon medal in hand.

So POST the car on the way home, I started to talk to Adam: I did this half marathon for ME. There is no doubt in my mind of that...I wanted to do it, and I did. But I decided 6 weeks ago that if I needed that extra push, I was doing it for Jonah, too...for our little baby boy who never got to live with us here. So on the morning of April 10th, I put Jonah Matthew Clark's initials on my bib (JMC) [look on the right side of the #1] :

This race was as much for him as it was for me. And I'm glad I did it for both of us. It's sort of like closure in a weird sort of way...I can never forget but I feel a little better about moving on now. It feels more like moving on with him, and I think it hurts much less this way.

SO that is my first half marathon experience! What a rush! Here's my medal :

I wish I'd worn it around Racine, WI all day!

Oh's how I stacked up against the field:

Age group: 20 out of 43 (top 46.5%)
Women: 64 out of 189 (top 33.9%)
Overall: 166 out of 348 (top 47.7%)

Finished in the top half in everything...WAY cool!

So where does this leave me now? I want to do another....I want to get it under 2 hours! I really believe I can. I'm starting a new training program tomorrow that is going to hopefully help me shave off those minutes. I'm going to run in Council Bluffs, IA (same series, different race!) at the end of May...and I want to have another baby. Crazy!


Sheila said…
Sandy, you did such a good job telling the story...and I'm having trouble seeing the keyboard because of the tears. I am so proud of you!
Caitlin said…
I agree. On both parts. You're pretty amazing!
Mandi said…
Add me to the tears and the pride!! Seriously Sandy, you are amazing and wonderful and COMPLETELY inspiring!! All I want to do right now is head outside and run! I am SO proud of you!!!

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