My Half Marathon
I have a tendency to jump head-first into things before doing the proper research. The half marathon on Saturday was no exception. I’ll give you my hindsight before I tell you tell you about it.
First, the half marathon was advertised as a trail run. Ok, no big deal. When I lived in Cottage Grove I used to run the Glacial Drumlin trail for my training. Second, it said runners and hikers welcome. Not runners and walkers welcome. I assumed it was a West Coast vs. Mid Coast difference. And, I had read there was a 2100’ elevation gain/loss, but I had no grasp on what that really meant. Except for our trips to Colorado, I never paid attention to elevation changes and therefore had nothing to compare it to. But, I learned.
I went to the race myself, parked, and walked to the starting line. I thought it was kind of odd that so many people were running with their fuel packs (a couple bottles of water and snacks) or else Camelbacks. In my half marathons in the past I’d seen a few people do that, but always assumed they were either novice and didn’t realize there were water stations or else hard-core and didn’t want to stop at the water stations. I learned at my first half marathon to stop at every water station, even if you’re not getting a drink, just to have an excuse to walk for a short bit. But, maybe these people just didn’t have that same frame of mind. As the announcer came on to tell us the details of the race, he told us to look for the red ribbons or else we’d get lost. I was confused for a minute as I’ve never had to pay attention during a race on where to go – I just followed the herd of people ahead. Then I figured he was just directing that message towards the front runners. He also mentioned there’d be 4 water stations throughout the race. It didn’t seem like a lot to me, but I realized I’ve never really paid attention in the past to how many there were.
As the race started the first immediate thing I noticed was that it wasn’t flat. Like anywhere. It was gradual rolling hills, but I figured that went towards the 2100’ change. My GPS announced at the first mile that I was pacing a 10 minute mile. It was a little slow for the first mile of a race, but I gave myself a break since it had been hilly. We reached our first big incline, which was a pretty gradual uphill trek. It was tough and I noticed most the people around me were walking it, but I don’t walk during a half, and continued on. I’m pretty sure they thought I was a moron. Shortly after this we reached mile 1.5 and the 5K turnaround point. The trail forked and it turned from pavement to ground. There was a photographer there and you made a sharp right hand turn to go up a hill. I don’t think I even made it a minute trying to run up the hill before walking, like all the people around me that were probably rolling their eyes at me. The trail bent a little to the left at what I thought was the top of the hill, only to realize this was only the beginning of the hill.
You know that moment of panic when you realize you’ve made a horrible decision. This is when that moment sunk in for me. I felt unprepared and was dying of thirst on the dry trails – less than 2/13th into the race. And, I could feel my calves already throbbing. My Pandora on my headphones stopped coming in, signaling that I’d lost cell service. And, the trail kept narrowing so that you had to run single file. The uphill climb continued on for about six or seven more miles. Once in a while you’d get a break for about 100 yards and it would be downhill. Not flat, but downhill. I thought I could make up time during those parts, but it was so steep downhill I found myself almost galloping down the hill to save my knees from the inevitable pain. At one point in time the uphill incline was so sharp that people would be climbing up it using their hands. You know you’re in trouble when you don’t have to bend over to touch the ground.
We had a water station at about 5-6 miles, which was kind of a blur to me. I remember the instant energy I had as soon as I got some water in me, but it only lasted about 30 seconds until I realized I had to conserve energy, not knowing when the hill would end. However, I do remember the water station at mile marker 9. I drank three glasses of water, which I knew I needed, but would also regret as I started running and could feel it nauseously sloshing around in my stomach. The guy at the water station told us that “it was all downhill from here.” I took him literally, assuming no man would be so inconsiderate to say such a thing to people running a half marathon up a damn mountain. I found an overwhelming hatred for him as I left the water station and saw another giant hill in front of us. (Note to any of you out there being so considerate to volunteer for a race, which every single runner fully appreciates, NEVER lie to someone who is doing a race. You don’t make them feel better giving them hope and then immediately squashing that hope as they turn the corner.) I seriously hate this man. As I ran up the hill I reconciled in my brain that judging by all the uphill it had to be downhill at some point in time before we made the full circle around the lake.
I quickly found the downhill parts, but inevitably they never lasted long enough and were too steep for you to ever appreciate them. I got a side stitch, which I’ve never had in a run before, especially in the downhills. I remembered an article I’d read only a week prior, explaining that a side stitch is essentially your organs gosling so much that your liver is pushing against your diaphragm, causing that pain. Which is quite probably what was happening as I was running faster than usual down a steep hill on a surface that was far from being flat. Suddenly that side ache turned into an intense pain in my entire upper torso. But, being the suborn ass I am, I refused to walk on the downhill. The trail then got so narrow that I was running through brush. I could feel it whipping my face and my body. I could no longer see any runners ahead of me and found myself constantly looking for the next red ribbon instead of down at my feet to ensure I didn’t fall. I was jumping over creek beds and down trees. Where in the hell was I? Shortly after that I started hearing gun shots. I about had a heart attack until I realized there was probably a shooting range somewhere near us or else people out hunting since we were in the thick of the forest. I suddenly recalled a scene from the Hunger Games and knew I was going to do everything in my power to make it out alive.
The downhill only lasted about a mile before heading uphill again. By this point in time my brain no longer had to tell my legs what to do – they just knew: run on the downhills or anything that resembled a somewhat flat surface and walk on the uphills. I found people again and said a silent thank you. The last couple miles were a blur, but as I turned onto the pavement again I knew I had to be getting close. When I hit the 13 mile marker I could feel my legs picking up the pace and a new rush of adrenaline to get me the hell out of there.
I finished in a time that I wouldn’t normally be proud of, but I no longer cared. I was proud to have finished it, even though I knew most people wouldn’t be able to fathom what I’d just endured. I remembered to have a random lady take a picture of me and then had what seemed like the longest walk ever back to my car. That of course was up a steep hill.