My First Half Marathon Experience
This past weekend was super exciting and busy one! I got engaged AND ran a half marathon! If you want to read about the engagement, I’ve dedicated a whole post to it! Head over to here to read it.
Let me preface by saying that I’ve never been the athletic type. My activity level has always been mostly zero. I always gave myself the excuse that I was an “artsy” kid, therefore I never needed to consider taking sports or exercise seriously. A few times I attempted to get into that life, mostly to convince my peers that I was somewhat cool, but that always fizzled out quickly.
Exhibit A: The summer before freshman year of high school, I tried out for field hockey and threw up/almost passed out during tryouts because it was so hot and I wasn’t used to running. I spent the next half hour sitting in one of the mom’s vans who had graciously suggested I cool down somewhere with A/C. I didn’t go back for the next day of tryouts, to say the least.
Exhibit B: I had been playing volleyball for a few years at my Catholic grade school, and although I dreaded the games against other teams, I had actually started to like the sport itself when a crowd of people weren’t watching. Then in social studies class of 8th grade, I overheard a girl on my team whisper to a boy next to her that I was the worst player on the team. I kept my head down and pretended I didn’t hear as my cheeks flushed bright red. I didn’t sign up for the team the next quarter.
Fast forward through college and to early this summer, and my boyfriend (now fiancé!) Steve, mentioned that he might run a half marathon in Chicago. I considered joining him for a week or so, when out of nowhere, I followed through and actually signed up for the event online. Steve hadn’t even signed up yet, and here I was, putting $100 down for a 13.1 mile race, when I could barely run 1 mile. I wasn’t sure what had gotten into me, but the idea of completing this unthinkable task excited me. That first week after signing up, I felt like there was a new me! I loved getting to say that I signed up for a HALF MARATHON. After all, people that completed long races like this were perfect people who only shopped at Whole Foods and wore exclusively Lululemon. I was not one of those people.
Steve signed up a few weeks later, and I printed out a training plan that I found on some random running website. I was determined to follow the plan to a T. I started slow, and even a mile was hard at first. I was huffing and puffing at a half mile, getting cramps easily. Since it was the beginning of summer, running in the heat made things harder. I bought some great (albeit way expensive) running shoes and insoles from Big River Running Co., and they helped immensely.
For a while I only ran a few miles at a time; 2-3. I did one long run each week. I started to enjoy these evenings outside, especially at Forest Park. I’m so happy to have a huge park in walking distance to my apartment; I never want to be far from a large park to run in now! Fun fact- Central Park in NY was modeled after Forest Park in Saint Louis when it had a remodel.
As I got used to running regularly, I felt stronger, the cramps subsided, and I felt SO much happier overall. After being cooped up in my apartment working remotely all day, getting out into the fresh air and hitting the pavement was a great outlet.
The main benefit was that this positive influence started to spill out into other areas of my life. I had more confidence to try new things, because I thought that if I could do a half marathon, then intimidating tasks seemed more approachable. I started eating healthier because I found that eating junk food during the day had a huge effect on how my run went in the evening. I cut out coffee because of this. Because I had to run almost every day, I had more discipline, and started teaching myself new design programs (I learned Muse and Sketch this summer). I had more energy throughout the day. And in general, I felt happier because of the plethora of positive things that running does for your body and mind. To quote Reese Witherspoon in Legally Blonde, “Exercise gives you endorphins. Endorphins make you happy. Happy people just don't shoot their husbands, they just don’t.” *classic*
Fast forward to the weekend of the race, and I felt like I was ready. The furthest I had ran was 8.61 miles, and that was close enough for me. I knew that the adrenaline of the day would keep me going. I definitely fell off track with the training, but I wasn’t discouraged. I’m so glad that I had Steve training with me; I would have been pretty scared to go by myself. So we drove up to Chicago, and we were both so excited. I’ve always loved bigger cities, especially Chicago. The route was planned along Lakeshore drive, which I was so excited for. We definitely didn’t get enough sleep the few days before, which stressed me out, but the morning of the race, the excitement kept us awake.
We woke up around 3:30 am to get ready, and were at the shuttles by 4:45 am. It was fun walking the streets of Chicago before the rest of the city was up. Once we arrived at Jackson Park, the starting place, we had to wait for a few hours. It was a bit chilly since the sun wasn’t up, so everyone had to sit on the dewy grass while we waited.
Then finally 7 am got closer, and we lined up in the corrals. Steve and I were about midway in corral I. The excitement in the corrals is infectious. You’re surrounded by all of these accomplished athletes, all of whom look very healthy, and pump-up music is blaring on the speakers. Finally, the starting line opened, and the race started.
The first few miles I was really nervous. I can usually tell how a run is going to go by mile 3. People went pretty fast at the beginning, and the race had been issued a ‘moderate’ warning because the weather hotter than expected. The first miles just felt so long, and I kept thinking about how long the route was. But by mile 3 I knew I was going to have a good race. I didn’t have any cramps, my legs were feeling fine, and I wasn’t too hot since I had a sports bra on. I loved the energy of the runners around me all working so hard towards the same goal, and the crowd cheering us on (shoutout to cowbell guy cheering us on who had an orange fro and a crop top).
We made our way down Lakeshore Drive, and it was cool running with the entire road closed. I kept thinking that the turnaround point was coming any minute, but it took forever until we saw runners coming the other way in front of us. By mile 9 or so, it started getting pretty hard. Not so much that my legs hurt, but my stomach felt sick from the liquid sloshing around. We got water at almost every water station, but we never stopped to walk besides that. I was super proud of that!
Steve and I ran by each other the whole way, which really kept me going. I may have stopped for a break if he hadn’t been there. Towards the end, I had to go to the bathroom really bad and my stomach was hurting. There were only a few restroom stops, but none when I needed them. I truly thought I wasn’t going to make it to a restroom! Mile 13.1 finally came, and we finished with the same exact time. There were popsicles, pizza, beer, bananas, chips, and ice baths at the finish line. The music was playing and we were given our medals. I knew we would finish, but it was so fulfilling to cross that off the bucket list when we crossed the finish line.
I actually had zero expectations for the race, because I knew I could walk the entire way and still finish in time, which I was totally fine with. My only goal was to cross the finish line. But I was so surprised that we ended up running the whole time, and even got a decent time (in my opinion). We both got 2 hours and 18 minutes, whereas I thought we would get around 3 hours, and assumed we would walk some. Our average pace was 10:31, and I finished in the top 33% of females (1465 out of 4502). In my age group, I was 409 out of 1087 (top 38%), and overall I was 3413 out of 7950 (top 43%).
Although I was completely dead afterwards, it was a really enjoyable goal to work towards and accomplish, especially with other people. I think I would definitely run another half (I don’t think I want to do a full though!). I love that 6 months ago, 13.1 seemed like an insurmountable distance that I could never accomplish, but today I feel stronger knowing I can. Next time I come across something that seems too hard, I get to look back at this and think, “Remember when you thought you couldn’t do this?” My advice for anyone who has an inkling that they might want to run a half is to just sign up and then you’re locked in! Before you know it, it will be completed!