Somewhere along Mile 11, an excited stranger jogged up alongside me, announcing that this was the farthest he had ever run in his life and that we were almost finished. He asked if it was also my first half marathon. I awkwardly negotiated my response.
“Yes,” I replied. “But…I also did LA Marathon…”
“What??” he called back, a judging sting of disbelief in voice. “This should be easy for you!”
“Yeah,” I said. “It should be. But it’s really not…”
Amidst marathon and half Ironman training, I’ve had more 13 mile runs than I can count, but always with a different goal in sight – completion as a drop in the bucket for a larger purpose. For those who haven’t noticed, I’m working my way backwards. I started with LA Marathon in March and just finished my first half marathon this past weekend. I’m considering a 10K Turkey Trot come Thanksgiving and who knows, I might even throw in a 5K for fun before the year is out.
After the less than perfect race that was LA Marathon last March, my intention going into the Los Angeles Rock ‘N’ Roll Half Marathon was to run a smart race. This would also be a nice way to wrap up the season after the disappointment of not getting to race in Tahoe, and a helpful benchmark to show how my run had developed in the 6 months since marathon training. Lastly, I even set a modest time goal for this race, a first!
The night leading up to the race was per usual, having finally gotten used to the pre-race routines. I was even in bed by 9:30 and for the most part slept the full night.
(Pro Tip — On the day before a race, don’t load up on emotionally charged movies such as 12 Years a Slave, Gone Girl, and Dallas Buyers Club. These flicks made for some awful, awful dreams…)
Despite the dreams, race morning came quickly enough. I woke up and saw through a flood of Facebook and Instagram posts that I was apparently the only person in the world who hadn’t gone out for a pre-Halloween party the night before. No matter, I told myself. My Halloween party was just about to begin!
I made it downtown in record time, parked and worked my way around to Figueroa Avenue where the race was scheduled to start. I slipped into the Convention Center to keep warm while I waited for my cousin to take a pre-race picture with. I tried to focus on the race but couldn’t help noticing how quiet and peaceful it was — too quiet. I started to get nervous when 6:15 rolled around (less than an hour until start time) and I still hadn’t seen many runners. I decided it was time to go exploring.
Good thing I did. Turns out that I was block away from the start line and had somehow missed all of the action––the pre-race expo, gear check tents, rows of porti-potties, flood lights, and quite possibly even a marching band or two. I like to think that my ability to become hyper-focused in times of stress is behind my occasional missing of forests for trees, but I’m also the girl who nearly had to jump a fence at T2 in Tahoe to drop off my Run Gear bag after absentmindedly missing the gear check deadline.
I managed to make my way through the pre-race necessities (depositing my bag, queuing for the bathroom, slipping into my corral) with about 5 minutes to spare. I checked my heart rate monitor and cleared my watch. This was to be my first race with the assistance of my handy dandy Garmin watch and I was eager to put it to work. I had also decided to forgo a costume I had planned to wear (after having found it less than functional during a test run) and instead wore the shirt that they had planned to give us after finishing Tahoe.
It was a mildly symbolic choice for me––I had been itching to run 13 miles since that day and told myself that the shirt would remind me that I had been saving this race up for the past month. The shirt also matched my shoes wonderfully.
Finally, the announcer started releasing the corrals with a zealous countdown. I kept my cool. I kept repeating my race plan to myself in my head, making sure it was drummed in: I needed to keep the first few miles slow. Don’t make the same mistake twice. This was a second chance to actually gauge my skills and I wanted to do it right. When we got to our corral, we walked slowly to the start, heard the electronic chirps as our shoe clips crossed the start line, and we were off.
I quickly slipped to the side to let the more enthusiastic runners shoot through. I maintained my jog, forcing myself to go slow and even wondering whether or not I was going too slowly.
My Garmin beeped at the end of the first mile, and I congratulated myself on finally running slowly. I relaxed and started to take in the sights. The excitement was still palpable and much to my amazement, the initial finishers from the 5K race were starting to make their way back up toward the finish line. The costumes around me were great and I started taking count. A fully-bearded Forrest Gump look alike complete with belt radio and two giant flags had my admiration.
By the end of Mile 2 my pace had picked up by an entire minute. I scolded myself for not sticking to the plan. I could tell by perceived exertion that the speed was definitely felt, but not taxingly so. I decided to maybe allow myself another fast mile before settling into a sustainable rhythm. I avoided checking my heart rate because I knew that I wouldn’t be pleased with the number, so I made a promise to settle down soon.
And that was my mistake.
The settling down moment that I had promised myself didn’t arrive until about Mile 7, similar to LA Marathon. I got caught up in the excitement, the energy, the restlessness of a half week taper and pent up aggression from a race denied earlier in the season. The good thing was that in a half, I only had 6 more miles to complete rather than nearly 20.
So did I blow up?
Yes and no. I managed to push through, foot in front of the other at a relatively brisk pace (even up one of the most painful hills I’ve ever seen in my life––fortunately the hill that starts my usual run route is much worse). But still, at Mile 11 I felt finished. I didn’t really want to do this anymore. The worst part was seeing my goal time’s pace group pass me in the opposite direction on the out-and-back. With so few miles left and so much fatigue, I didn’t think it was possible to catch up to them. Plus, my left achilles tendon had started to cramp in a way that I hadn’t known possible. My stomach ached with an odd assortment of cramps and general complaints that I’ve never experienced before. I had to walk.
Fortunately after about a minute or two of this stewing, the realization hit me that at Mile 11, I’ve only got about 2 more miles to go. Yes, my mental faculties had diminished to the point that this was worthy of a lightbulb moment. I also had a deeper revelation––that even if the number on the clock didn’t read exactly what I had hoped for, the fact that I had set out to do something I had never done before––race with a goal in mind, would still be an accomplishment itself. There could still be value in how close I managed to come.
My Garmin beeped horrible paces at me and I tried to put the clock out of my mind. This was now about salvaging what was left of what had started out as a decent race. I put my head down, kept plugging, and then finally sprinted toward the last half mile.
Goal Time: 2:00 (9:10 min/mile)
Actual Time: 2:07 (9:42 min/mile)
Despite missing my time goal, this race was a small victory in that it was the first event that I actually raced, even if only against myself. But more than anything, it reinforced the importance of making a race plan and actually sticking to it, no matter what, against all impulses. Hoping I’ll learn the lesson third time around.
By the way, here’s the final costume count:
Where’s Waldos: 4 (including one woman!)
Forrest Gumps: 5
Superheroes with capes: 3
Superheroes without capes: 10
Mario Brothers: 2