It’s taken me a bit to process the last two weeks, but I think I’m ready to talk about my most recent half marathon experience (!)
Thursday, Oct 17
Cole and I hopped in the car the Thursday before the Baltimore Running Festival and made our way to one of my favorite cities in the world. (Cue Good Morning, Baltimore score.) We don’t get to travel much because we have a herd of animals that require a lot of coordination to pawn off on people, but my parents were kind enough to let us have a couple extra days to enjoy the race.
We arrived in the Charm City feeling super hungry, so we decided to grab dinner right away. We settled on a local vegan restaurant called The GruB Factory, and then I convinced Cole to go to one of my old haunts – a microbrewery called The Brewer’s Art. Because we’re old, and it was early, beers were less than $4 (and more than 7%). We had a full day to recover before the half, soooooo we may have overindulged (e.g. by 11p, we were walking back to our perfect little Airbnb in Mount Vernon, completely inebriated).
Probably not the smartest decision two days before a race but.. like I said, we don’t travel much.
Friday, Oct 18
Friday, we both woke up feeling a little.. dehydrated.. so we spent the morning drinking lots of water and I sated my cranky stomach with a highly-craved tofu scramble from One World Cafe. Around noon, we walked down to the harbor, where the race expo was. We got our bibs and meandered around, drooling over the cool swag and trying to get our bearings on where things would be on Saturday.
Cole was starting to get pretty excited (as he should have been!). I wish that I still had that excitement over a half, but the more you do, the less novel they seem. I mostly was worrying about whether I’d puke during the run. We did a quick 1 mile run to stretch our legs, got a nice dinner at Golden West Cafe (is this post mostly about food..?), and relaxed the rest of the night.
Saturday, Oct 19 (Race Day!)
We woke up early, and I was still not feeling too jittery. I ate a semi-stale bagel with nothing on it (Cole ate a bowl of Cheerios) and we walked down Charles St to the start line. We got there pretty darn early, so we were able to sit and watch the 5K-ers come in at their finish. I started thinking about my race goals, which were as follows:
- Finish the race.
- Don’t throw up.
- Run intuitively and try not to check my watch every 30 seconds.
- Finish the race under my last Baltimore Half attempt (2:16:24).
- Finish the race under a 10 min/mile pace (2:11:00).
I figured that #1-3 were most important, so I mentally gave myself permission to walk if I needed, and decided that this would be more of a jumping-off point for my winter training.
After a bit of time, we checked our bags, I said hi to an old teacher friend, and then Cole and I entered our corral. My stomach did a tiny flip as I gazed around, soaking in the harbor. I remember thinking how nice it was to be back by the water. Cole and I gave each other a quick good-luck kiss, and, in just a few moments, we were off!
My first immediate thought as my feet snapped into motion was: Shit, I forgot how hilly this course is. But, instead of shutting down, I started searching for my hill mantras: “Every hill must end. What goes up must come down.” I repeated to myself. After a couple of rounds, I realized that, although I was still in a climb, I was feeling pretty good. So I shook off the cobwebs, set my gaze a few feet in front of me, and charged on.
I fought the urge to check my watch until I hit mile 3, near Patterson Park. This is where the full marathoners merge with the half marathoners, having already ticked off 16 miles. I’ve always found this set-up both inspiring and intimidating. Most of the marathoners looked sharp and I got a little twinge – how slow WAS I going? I peeked at my watch. 27:32.
I did a quick bit of math in my head and realized it was about a 9:10 min/mile pace. I felt a surge of panic: It’s too fast. I’m not fit enough to maintain this. But then, But this feels pretty comfortable. Maybe I don’t need to slow up just yet..
And with that, I let myself move into mile 4, again, giving myself the permission to slow down or stop if I felt like I needed it.
Miles 4-7 passed without much event. Around Lake Montebello (~mile 7) I took my first swig of water from one of the stations and popped a salt tablet. I flexed my toes as I peered out onto the lake, realizing that my feet and legs felt pretty okay. I wasn’t tired or breathless, and so I entered mile 8 with a bit of excitement, realizing that the next two miles mirrored one of my favorite running routes when I lived in Baltimore.
Waverly and Charles Village always turn out for the race, and so I plodded along through the streets, soaking in the energy. People had stereos blasting music and they were dancing on the sidewalks. Posters of Elijah Cummings, who had just passed, lined the roads. Kids had their arms outstretched, offering high-fives and jelly beans. (I took as many high-fives as I could get, but left the candy behind.) As I turned off of 33rd St, my heart lurched with nostalgia and tears pricked my eyes.
And suddenly, my watch beeped. I instinctively checked it. Mile 10 – 1:32-ish. The numbers surprised me. I was averaging a 9:15 min/mi pace overall, and I didn’t feel tired or sore. I was actually pretty comfortable.. and 28 minutes from the two-hour mark. I wondered.. could I go under two hours? 3.1 miles in 28 minutes? My fastest (official) 5K had been just over 27 minutes and I hadn’t already run 10 miles before it. But.. I felt good. There was more in the tank.
And so, I figured, I’d pick it up a bit and see where a final 5K push got me. The last few miles of the course had a net downhill, though there were some undulating parts of the road. I took a breath, relaxed my shoulders, and just let myself be comfortable with a touch more cadence. At mile 11, I took my second and final cup of water, and surged onward.
I crossed the finish line and thought, I think I did it. I think I ran under two hours. I immediately pulled my phone out to find that I had run the last 3.1 miles in 26:02 – that ~8:24 pace bringing me across the finish line in 1:58:34. A new personal record. And the only half marathon I’ve ever done where I ran a negative split. (Also, I don’t want to brag or anything, but this is faster than Eliud Kipchoge’s marathon record… yuk yuk yuk.)
Stunned, I took my medal, bypassed the cups of crab soup (uhhh) in favor of some orange slices, and began searching for Cole. He had already finished (as expected) and was waiting for me. (As it turns out, he had run a really awesome 1:50:51 for his first half.. though, he ended up feeling really overexerted and sick afterwards. I guess we all have to learn that lesson sometime.) We got our complimentary beer, sat for a bit until Cole felt a little better, and then snacked on two soft pretzels on the walk back to our Airbnb.
After a delicious dinner at Woodberry Kitchen, we curled up with Netflix and fell asleep. On Sunday morning, I laced up my shoes, did my obligatory 10 minute run (can’t stop that #runstreak), and then we had a quick breakfast before heading on home.
I still remain stunned by the experience: I felt great afterwards. I never got truly tired. Never felt sore. And I’ve continued my run streak with no problems. Am I.. fitter than I thought? And then.. the bigger question: could I have pushed even harder?
I think the answer is probably: yes, I could have. But I like that I was able to run a sub-two-hour half and NOT feel like death.. I like that I ran a race that felt mentally strong for me.. I like that I listened to my body and enjoyed the experience. I like that I’m back in love with running..
.. and I like that maybe.. it’s started to love me right back.