Obviously, there’s no pun in today’s post, and the text is not so much about the photography as it is the experience I had running my half marathons. I didn’t post my thoughts running about my first half, and I regretted it a little, because I’m sure some of the details will fade over time, and I wish I’d journaled about it. I’m not making that same mistake with this race. So, this will be a long post, but it’s really more for me than my readers anyway. You’re welcome to read it, but I’ll understand if you don’t. :)
I ran my first half marathon on Jan. 31, 2015 in Suwanee, GA… in very cold weather (25 degrees at start, 30 at finish) and on a very hilly course, but one with which I was familiar, because I did many of my training runs on the majority of the course. I finished in 2:22:48, which pleased me because I had two goals… the public goal was to finish, the private goal was to finish sub-2:30.
During that run, I walked about 30 seconds through each of the five water stations, I had to stop to pee, and I walked up the next-to-the-last hill which happened between miles 9 and 10. It was a very rough time to have a steep ascent, and my legs just felt like wooden stumps that did not want to cooperate, so I fast-walked the hill and then picked up running again. The last half mile of the run was also uphill, but I was determined not to walk it, so I slogged it and sprinted the last .1 mile downhill to the finish line.
Almost as soon as I crossed the finish line, I knew I wanted to do another half, and I hoped Sarah could join me so that she could also feel the sense of accomplishment at finishing. I did no exercise for a full week after the race to give my body a chance to recover from the pounding it takes. Then, I started an eight-week plan of training again, timed to end with the Berry Half Marathon. Fortunately, this worked well (for the most part) with Sarah’s schedule. She had to do some catching up at the end of February due to a lot of travelling, but we mostly trained together.
The training schedule mostly consisted of three short-to-moderate runs during the week and then ever-increasing long runs on the weekends. There were days when the last thing I wanted to do after a day at work was to change clothes, then go out in the cold and run. On those days, Sarah was there to encourage me. There were days when the roles were reversed, and I was there to encourage her. It helps SO much to have a running partner for accountability, support, and encouragement!
So, we sign up for the Berry Half in Rome, GA, and I start reading reviews about it. For the most part, it’s unanimous that it’s a beautiful course and a well-planned, well-executed race. What troubled me most was the unpredictable weather they have experienced over the years. Of course, Georgia’s tornado alley in the spring is about as predictable as it is anywhere else. In 2013, they cancelled the race because of rain, and everyone lost their entry fee ($70). Normally, a race isn’t cancelled because of rain (assuming there is no lightning), but this course has about two miles of gravel road, and the officials felt like the conditions were too dangerous. Those who lost their money didn’t agree, and a bit of a controversy ensued. Because of this, I was very happy when the forecast was for sunny and cold.
We woke about 5:45. Sarah had a bit of breakfast, but I don’t like to eat before I run. I usually will consume an energy gel about 30 minutes before I run, because that’s all that sits well on my stomach. We were out the door about 6:45 and headed to the shuttle pick up about two miles from the campus.
We arrived a bit earlier than I’d hoped we would (around 7:10 for an 8:00 start) because that meant we’d have longer to stand around in the cold, which at that point was around 32 degrees, and the wind was making it feel even colder than that. After exploring the area a little but not wanting to get too far from the starting line, we and a few other runners were huddling together in one of the building cloisters. We’d tried to get in earlier, but all of the doors were locked. Suddenly, someone came out of the door next to me, and I darted in… as did everyone else who had the good fortune to be standing there to see the door open. :) We reveled in the heat and the private bathroom (no more port-o-potties for us, thank you very much!) until it was about five minutes to start.
We made our way down to the start area, where I ditched my jacket, and Sarah kept her jacket, wool cap, and gloves on (can you tell which one of us is hot-natured?). We exchanged our “good lucks” then started on our way.
I hit the “start” button on my phone app that I use to track my distance to pace, and I realized pretty quickly that it wasn’t reading out the right information to me, so I took it out of my belt. Even without my glasses, I could tell that I had started it on the wrong program. Arrggghhhh!!! I found myself trying to run, to look at my phone, to not run into anyone else, and to figure out what I had done wrong… all without my glasses. Since I couldn’t read anything, I could NOT figure out how to get back where I needed to be to get to the correct program.
So I made the painful decision not to use it at all, rather than stopping to take the time to get out my glasses and set it up correctly. Frustrated, I tucked the phone back into my belt, knowing that I would not have any idea what pace I was running, nor would I be able to look back over my mile splits after the race was over. This would be my very first run, including training runs, where I would not have the information that helps me adjust, both during and after the race. I just hoped that my body would give me enough feedback to let me know if I was going out too fast or too slow and how consistent I needed to be along the way.
Sarah had started out somewhere behind me, although we mostly run at a very similar pace. We had agreed earlier that if we wound up running together, that would be fine, and if we didn’t, that would be fine too… we would each run our own race. She recounted later that she saw me on an out-and-back part of the course, but I did not see her. I later saw her around mile 7 when she passed me going up a steep hill. From there until around mile 9, we were very close to one another, but then she had to stop for a couple of minutes for a toilet break while I ran on.
Up to this point, I was really enjoying most of the course. We ran the first part on the modern campus, then took a shady road out to the “mountain” campus where the scenery was quite beautiful… horses and cows in pastures, an old dairy farm and its buildings, a resort area with swans and geese in a small lake, a huge, picturesque water wheel next to a grist mill, and a another, larger lake.
During part of this run, a veterinarian from Rome struck up a conversation with me, as we had been running about the same pace next to each other for about a quarter mile. I’m not much for talking while I run, but my breathing was coming pretty easily on this mostly flat stretch, so it wasn’t difficult. She was very friendly and wore a t-shirt that said “In my dreams, I’m a Kenyan” in reference, of course, to how fast and far Kenyan runners can be. I got a kick out of that. Eventually, I was a bit faster than she on the hills and I lost her for a while. However, on an out-and-back, we passed each other and she held out her hand for a high-five. I enjoy how so many runners encourage one another. :)
Lots of hills and twists and turns in this second third of the run made the miles seem to fly by. Approximately two miles of the course were on two different gravel roads (as I mentioned earlier), and I did not like that AT ALL. On one road, leading to the water wheel, the rocks were large and loose and made my footing unsure, as well as not providing much traction for the hills we had to push up. The other road was a dirt path around the lake, and while the rocks were not as large and more solidly packed, it still did not give very firm footing for traction. I was relieved to get off of those surfaces and back onto asphalt where every step was the same and felt solid.
Coming out of all of this variety of scenery, elevation, and road surfaces onto three miles of nothing for miles 10-13 would prove quite a difficult change… and doing it when I was most tired was a double whammy. Fortunately, the hills were behind us, but these three miles were straight and borrring and headed right into a bright sun.
Prior to mile 10, even on the hills, my legs felt strong and everything was coming pretty easily. Suddenly, I think my slightly faster-than-normal pace caught up with me. Instead of feeling like I was pushing the road under my feet, I felt like I was pounding wooden legs straight into the ground. My hip and little toe were hurting, my throat was dry, and my legs were saying “just walk a while.” But I was determined not to walk anything but the water stations. However, there was only one water station on this desolate stretch, and I couldn’t see it anywhere ahead on the rolling trail we were on. It seemed as if it would never appear. Of course, it finally did, and I took Powerade in addition to water, as I now had been sweating and needed to replace electrolytes as well.
So I’m going along at what feels like a very slow pace (although I can’t tell for sure since I don’t have my app to tell me), and at about mile 12, Sarah appears next to me! I’ve gone slow enough and she’s gone fast enough that she caught up to me after stopping to take a toilet break! I was so proud of her, but frustrated with myself that I’d slowed down that much. I forced myself to start concentrating on my form again… tall posture, lean forward, feet underneath and pushing back, shoulders relaxed… I can feel my pace pick up again.
Sarah gets a few seconds in front of me, but I’m determined to keep her in sight. We finally get back on campus about a half a mile from the finish line and I feel my feet and legs come to life again. By time I get to the last .1, I’m moving at a pretty good clip, and the gun clock at the finish read 2:16:14. (I knew that I would actually have a faster chip time than that, because as the gun went off, it took us several seconds to get from where we were waiting to the starting line.) Sarah was there waiting for me as we received our medals, handed out by kids from the elementary and middle schools for whom our entry fee had helped raise money.
We then made our way to the refreshment tables where we promptly downed bagels, bananas, nuts, Powerade, and water. Being pleased with both of our finish times (official times… mine: 2:15:18, and Sarah’s: 2:15:02), but knowing we did not win an age group, we didn’t hang around for awards and started to hobble our way back to the shuttle area. We had just enough time to go back to our hotel room to shower off and change clothes before checkout time, which they graciously extended for an extra 30 minutes at my request.
We didn’t really like having to sit in a car for two hours for the trip back because we were very tired and ready to be home, plus sitting like that really makes for a lot of stiffness; however, we had only hired a pet sitter for the morning, and we needed to get back. We made it home safely, and for that we are grateful.
Almost immediately, Sarah began talking about wanting to do another half, and maybe thinking about a full marathon in the future as well. There is just something about crossing that finish line for the first time that results in SUCH a feeling of accomplishment, and she was really feeling it. I loved seeing it written all over her face. I had a sense of accomplishment from finishing as well, but this time, it was more about shaving over seven minutes off my first half time, and also from not having to walk any hard part of the race, other than through the water stations.
For now, I have no plans to run more than a 5K until the Peachtree 10K in July. I may run a Savannah half in November, but I’ll see how I feel then. I think I need to do more cross training and less running so that I don’t run the risk of injury from running so much. So far, I’ve been fortunate to avoid anything more than general, expected aches, pains, and toe blisters and bruises that go away pretty quickly. I’d like to keep it that way. :)
And if it’s any encouragement to anyone who’s read this far and who wants to take up running but thinks they can’t, I’d give you this advice… first, check with your doctor to make sure you’re fit enough to begin an exercise regimen. If you are, start slowly and stick with it! I was not running AT ALL before August of last year. I had knee problems and plantar fasciitis, was 53 years old, and even though I had lost some weight, was out of shape. I think I’m proof that it’s never too late to start if you keep at it.
I will add that I did change my running form to something called Chi Running. I don’t adhere to the more spiritual aspects of it, but being mindful about your form throughout the run and using the form itself have made a lot of difference in my knees, feet, speed, and running efficiency. Because the form involves a forward lean, it necessitates having a strong core, so I also did a lot of planks, pushups, and squats to increase the strength in my abdomen, back, glutes, and hamstrings.
If you’re interested, see if Chi Running might be right for you, get some decent running shoes, and get out there and get moving!! I’ll see you at the races. :)