I’ve run a half marathon! My husband and I did another Calico Racing event, this time the 2013 Red Rock Canyon Marathon and 1/2 Marathon on March 9th. We were officially engaged out at Red Rock (Ice Box Canyon) in 2006. I say “officially” because I got to wear my engagement ring before we were engaged in part due to the advice of my wonderful sister-in-law to be who wrote in an e-mail to my husband: “Does she get to wear the ring during this not-quite-yet-ready-to-be -officially-engaged period? I hope so. It’s too pretty to keep in a box.” We were married on March 10, 2007 so this race was a great chance to celebrate our 6th anniversary weekend. I should let that sink in – who would have thought we’d be the sort to go out and run for over 2 hours as part of a celebration? This is where something as seemingly simple as Couch to 5K can lead.
I’m not sure how best to tell the story of this race. I know some people think that blogging is narcissistic so I hopefully don’t come across that way with a bunch of details but what I’d like to convey with my recap is how much I appreciate the things that brought me to the finish line, both from within and from without. We made it to the Suncoast Hotel where they were picking up runners to drive out to the start line just in time to catch the 6:30 a.m. bus. The start was 7:00 a.m. so we didn’t wait around long (I believe it was around 44 degrees Fahrenheit at the time) after leaving the warm bus before we were crossing the starting mat. One young woman I met while we waited told me that she’d run the course a year before and that I should be prepared to walk.
Now, I had a hard time getting back to feeling good with my runs after the 10k race in January but a few days before my 30th birthday in February I pushed myself to a 13.1 mile training run (no walking) in 2:29:05. I had the Red Rock Canyon Marathon and 1/2 Marathon’s unique course in mind when I opted to make sure I could cover the half marathon distance before the race because I had been warned by several people that I would not be able to run the whole race. It sounds pessimistic to prepare for walking but: first, there is nothing wrong with walking, and second, my goal was to finish the race without injuring myself so knowing I could really run 13.1 all the way through was my way of giving myself permission to walk on race day if I had to. I tried to incorporate hills in my training but nothing prepared me for the relentless 5 miles of an uphill course that yielded about an increase of 900 feet in elevation.
So to have the subject of walking come up made me think about how I had mentally prepared to allow myself to walk. I would be of no use to anyone if I pushed so hard that I really hurt myself so I opted to deal with the course (see a video of some of the terrain here) as it came. The first mile or so was really good, a loop around the visitor’s center at the park entrance. I did it in under 11 minutes and felt good though I was of course easily passed by much of the field, including my husband. Then we started to climb. It was slow work and my legs were not cooperating with me. I told myself I could walk when I hit the 2 mile mark, hoping that at 2 miles I could convince myself to run to the 3 mile mark and on but I simply couldn’t do it. I walked. The picture above is the only one I took on the course but it wasn’t my only walking break (most of the other pictures in this post were taken by my husband while he waited for me at the finish line, having finished about half an hour ahead of me). Other people were walking as well so I didn’t feel as bad as I’d feared and each time the pain lessened I would run as much as I could before taking another break. My training, I think, helped me recover during the walk breaks even though I hadn’t incorporated a walking interval into a run in a long time.
On the way up a hill I found myself walking with a woman who had brightly colored shoes. I complimented her on them and after saying thank you she remarked that it was a bad idea for us to walk up a hill, we should run, so we ran alongside one another for a while and even chatted. She told me about Team in Training and pointed out shirts of people in the distance who were also running to raise money for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. She remarked as to how little children fight cancer and here we were running. She told me about her coach and the support network she’d found when before she thought runners were crazy for doing it. It had helped her find her place as a runner. I told her about someone I love dearly who is battling Rheumatoid Arthritis. How I think about her when I run and how hard she has to work on most of her days to get her body to cooperate and let her move, and how the effort anyone puts into something is what matters, not the distance they cover or the time they manage while doing it. My companion slowed to a walk and encouraged me to keep running. She really boosted my spirits. That said, I believe I reached the hour mark only having done 4.5 miles or so and my heart sank. I started calculating in my head what my pace meant for my finish time and for some reason I cannot do basic math while I run yet I kept attempting to do so.
This is another finish line shot from my husband to give you an idea of the snowy mountains in the distance and the beautiful red rocks that are the namesake of the Canyon. I did finally reach the overlook area. There was a welcome aid station there and I had been making certain to drink water at each station and eat a few Jelly Belly Sport Beans as I completed miles on the course. One thing I learned during my training run two weeks prior was that I seriously hit a wall a little after the twelfth mile and I believe that happened because I never hydrate during runs. At one aid station I did accidentally take a sports drink but luckily it didn’t upset my stomach or anything. After the summit I complimented another runner on her sparkle skirt (I think I see a pattern in my ability to start conversations with people, but why wear awesome shoes or a flashy skirt if you don’t want compliments, right?) and she told me “this is the last bad hill.” I asked her if she’d run the race before and she said that she had not but she did train out at Red Rock so she knew what to expect. Good enough for me! I may have told her I loved her for telling me that news and she laughed. After that “last bad hill” she took off and I didn’t see her again.
The downhills were letting me gain back some of my pace time, I hit 9.5 miles at the two-hour mark, so I did 5 miles in the second hour and knew a sub-2:45 time was in reach. Not great considering my training time but not as bad as going over three hours as I had feared during the early part of the ascent. The volunteers at the aid stations were so kind and encouraging, I made sure to thank them for their time and even though I went back and forth between feeling cold and warm I had to pour a cup of water over my head a little after mile 10 just to cool off a little bit. It was certainly a work out!
The traffic on the course wasn’t too bad, cars were quite courteous though it was hard to see the cyclists whizzing down the hills while I kept adjusting my form to accommodate my hurting knees and ankles. Downhills are easier for me but they are not without their own complications. Some of the descent was so steep that I felt like I was just falling forward but it still took energy to move and though at mile 11 I started to feel like just maybe I could run the rest of the way with no more walking breaks, it just wasn’t to be. I was hurting and needed to keep taking breaks as needed. The mile markers seemed to pass by so slowly near the end and I just could not see the finish line anywhere. I passed a young woman stopped at the side of the road by her bicycle and she cheered for me. I told her this was my first half marathon and she told me I was almost done. I knew my friend Mindy had promised to be at the finish line with her husband and her three children (one of whom was just fourteen days old!) with posters and I started to envision seeing them and what the signs would say. I wondered how my husband was doing, how long he’d been waiting for me at the finish, and if he had hurt his knees that were already giving him trouble in the days leading up to the race.
At last I could see the structure in the distance that I knew was the finish line and I started to think of how I wanted to stop and walk again but I couldn’t because I was in sight of the end. Because people would see me walking and even though my legs were burning and I couldn’t feel my hands (I’m thinking I’d stopped breathing properly or maybe had tensed my arms up but there was something enough wrong circulation-wise to be distracting), I had to keep running. I saw my husband holding his phone up to take a picture of me and I shouted to him that I was hurting. I was crying at this point, a mix of “I’m almost there!” and “I don’t know if I can make it!” Just then the young lady that had been by her bicycle rode by slowly, calling out to me that I was about to finish my first half marathon. I could see my friend Mindy with her neon colored signs with my name on them and my husband’s name on them. She was smiling. Everyone was smiling and I was just crying. I ran across the timing mat and kept crying as the kind volunteer let me know he needed to cut off my timing chip from my shoe. Someone put a medal around my neck, the medal I had been dreaming of but could not even look at because all I wanted to do was hug my husband. I could hear cameras clicking so I think someone got a few shots of me crying and I am certain I ruined my finish line picture but at least the shot my husband got shows me with a smile, albeit a pained one.
I love that you can even see the woman on her bicycle coming up behind me as well as the beautiful scenery. My husband had finished with an official chip time of 2:06:30.48! My official chip time was 2:38:13.36 for a pace of 12:08 per mile overall, my RunKeeper track is a little off but you can see the course and elevation map below.
I was able to say hi to Mindy and her family while my husband stood in line for me for some finish line food…
…and remembered to ask her to take our picture before we left. My husband was (and is) amazing. I love that we did this together, taking turns watching the kids so we could train early in the morning, running together when we could, and encouraging each other. I think sometimes it is easy to get caught up in the day-to-day of life and to have goals bigger than yourself that you can also share as a couple is a pretty special thing. We also got to share in a pretty epic anniversary lunch the next day with the calories we earned from the run.
The bus for the Suncoast was full and Mindy and her husband offered to drive us back to our car on their way home instead of having us wait for another bus (what an amazing friend to come out early on a Saturday morning with her whole family and then to give us a ride, she is a total star — thank you so much Mindy!). We took them up on the offer and were on the road home in no time. The kids had both woken up before we left the house and we were eager to get home and give their grandmother a break (she is another star by the way!). I did finally have a chance to check out my medal and I will be wearing my race shirt with pride.
I am not sure what will be next, I am honestly feeling a little burned out with the long training runs over the past weeks and months. It also has meant a lot of time away from the children but my hope is to do a maintenance schedule of 5K / 5K / 10K for my three runs each week and incorporate more strength training as well as bicycling to my exercise regimen. As with most goals we do wonder what comes next and though I have been trying to savor the feeling of accomplishment I know the weeks and months ahead are filled with other challenges. I do want to think back on running even though I wanted to stop, how the thought of people that mattered to me kept me moving forward, and that even though we have to walk sometimes we still can make whatever progress we can. We’re not trying to do better than anyone else and as Plato wrote, “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” No one person’s journey is comparable to another’s. As always, thank you for reading and may you have the friends and family you need along the way to fight your own hard battles.
Some songs that came up in my mix during the race:
Non E Per Sempre – Eiffel 65 (amazon affiliate link)
Your Disco Needs You – Kylie Minogue (amazon affiliate link)
There is a Light That Never Goes Out – The Smiths (amazon affiliate link)
Waka Waka – Shakira (amazon affiliate link) – my older sister shared this one with me the night before the race, I thought of her when it came on!
Take Me Away – 4 Strings (amazon affiliate link)