Monday, October 15, 2012

My First Half Marathon - Baltimore 2012

So I've kinda always hated running.  With a passion.  I still have "fond" memories of being forced to run laps in junior high P.E. in a field filled with geese poop and wheezing my way through a mile.  I've only run one race and that was a 5k when I was in high school.  I was unprepared, forgot to pack any running clothes, and ended up wheezing my way to the end silently cursing at the crowd near the finish line cheering me on to keep running when what I really wanted to do was lay down on the curb.  At some point in the past year I picked up running (or I should say walking/slow running).  It started with my sister's running.  She began running a couple years back and from the point of her first marathon last year she's since run several more marathons, a bunch of half marathons, and a 200 mile relay.  I also read Born to Run, and while I can never do any of those ultramarathon races, the idea of running just for the joy of running, and not with any time goal or pressure, appealed to me.  My sister also started running with a local running club filled with people who love to run and run in whatever way that works for them, whether that's a walk/run combo or a weekend only training plan.  

I had always thought of running as an all or nothing extreme sport filled with pain and pressure.  There's still a lot about running that I don't like or makes me uncomfortable - safety concerns for a woman running outside alone, blisters, calf cramps, chafing, bad runs, weird tan lines, porta potties - but there's a lot that I really enjoy - stress release, time to decompress and brainstorm, post-run meals, feeling of accomplishment, improved health and fitness.  

A good long run outside can feel amazing, but it took a long time to even reach that point.  I started off doing a run/walk combo and I struggled to run for even a couple consecutive minutes.  It's been over a year since I started really running regularly and I still struggle with it.  I barely manage to squeeze in any weekday runs (I'm not a morning person and after work I'm wiped), I don't handle heat and humidity in outdoor runs well, and I've had a bunch of really bad, discouraging runs.  And yet, this past weekend I finished my first half marathon.  

After watching my sister and brother-in-law run a bunch of races last year, I was kind of intrigued but still a little wary of races.  I hate crowds, pressure, and having to pee in porta potties.  But somehow my sister managed to convince me to sign up for not one but three half marathons!  My first one was Baltimore this past weekend.  I was warned that this course is super hilly, but the race is fairly close by and well-organized, there's great gear, and we could work around my peeing in porta potties issue (I actually took this into consideration in picking all three of my races!).  I also figured that if I could run Baltimore, then my next race would feel like a breeze since it would be a much flatter course.

So on Friday my sister and I went up to Baltimore and picked up our bibs.  I was hesitant to buy too much since I hadn't even run a half marathon before, but I did pick up this cute cup.  I also took anything and everything that was offered for free.

Then my sister and I had a super early dinner by the harbor and called it an early night so that we would be well rested for the race.
I was awakened before 6:30am (for a 9:45 race start) by my giddy/hyper/bubbly/energetic/morning person sister.  I mumbled at her that it was too early and she just hovered over me as she slathered on sunscreen until I got up.  I finally got up and admired the view of the stadium and Camden Yards from our window as the sun came up.
And before I knew it we were at the start for the race and I nervously waited to begin running.  Like everyone says, the adrenaline and crowd really carries you in the beginning and even though the course started with a couple hills I was speeding through.  It's really hard to gauge your pace because everyone is going so fast!  Luckily, I had my human garmin with me (aka my sister with her garmin watch) and she pulled me back when I was going too fast and let me know when we hit mile markers.  While my sister focused on pacing me, I focused on taking photos with my phone while running.
The elevation course map said there'd be a couple small hills in the beginning and then a bigger one near the end.  Lies.  It was hilly throughout!  Small hills, medium hills, large hills, extra large hills!
Because it was so hilly and this was my first race, we generally walked up the hills and then ran down hills and when it was flat.  There was only one point where the race was flat for a bit and that was around the water.  That was so awesome in its flatness.
I kinda loved and hated running in a race.  I loved seeing runners of all shapes and sizes, running at all different paces and styles.  And running in a crowd really helps to carry you along.  You almost feel like you're all running together in a Hunger Games like environment.  But I really hated the people constantly bumping into me and squeezing through tight spots to surge ahead.  And while the runners and the cheering crowds helped to push me to run more and faster than I usually do, I miss the ease and comfort in my long runs when I do whatever I feel like.
I was feeling great for the most part and running at a steady pace.  My sister and I even had a tiny shot of beer being handed out at around mile 9.5.  But around mile 10-11 I got the first twinge of a calf cramp.  Damn.  I had one bad calf cramp experience in a late summer long run that started with a slight twinge that I pushed through and ended with a horrific cramp where my calf looked like it had an alien inside it trying to break free.  As my calf went into all sorts of geometric shapes I fell to the ground on the side of the trail as I tried to massage it.  I ended up hobbling back home and had a sore calf for days after.  So as soon as I felt that first twinge, I knew that a larger calf cramp could come at any moment.  I had to scale back my pace a bit and had a few almost cramps hit me for the last couple miles.  As we neared the finish that felt like it would never end I saw the finish line and just as I raised my arms in celebration and my mind stopped focusing on my calf, another cramp hit me and I ended up half cheering with my arm up, half crouching in pain, with a strange grimace/smile on my face.  That finishing photo will be horrible/hilarious.

The finishing area of the race kinda sucked and we had to abruptly stop to pick up our medal which made my legs go crazy.  As my sister and I waited in yet another line for food, with my legs in pain and calves on the verge of cramping, surrounded by porta potties (combining so many things about racing I don't like), we decided it wasn't worth it and just headed back to our hotel.  After walking almost a mile back to the hotel, my legs felt much better as the walk helped shake things out and cool me down.  Finishing area is totally overrated.  Although the free beer would've been nice if there hadn't been such a long line.

And so with all the highs and lows, I finished my first half marathon!  Woohoo!  I love my medal and shirt.  In case you can't see, the bottom of the medal says, "What hills don't kill you make you stronger."  Love it!
Afterwards I put on my compression sleeves and napped.
And then refueled, beginning with a nice, tall beer.
The next day I hobbled around the harbor area with my sister, brother-in-law, niece and nephew, and was forced into riding one of those dragon boats (luckily I didn't have to do any of the pedaling).
It was a beautiful day, which helped dull the soreness in my legs a bit.
I am so happy to be done with my first race!  I don't know if I'll do it again next year (damn those hills!), but if I keep up with my running and training, and figure out a game plan for preventing calf cramps, then I may just have to sign up for the Baltimore half marathon again!

1 comment:

  1. Congratulations! That is a huge accomplishment!!! I hope to be doing that within a year. It was so interesting to read your likes/dislikes, and the excitements/challenges. Great work!