How I became a half marathoner

 

  • This was printed in June of 2013 in The Madera Tribune, a newspaper in Madera, California. This was the fourth installment of my weekly column, Mind Over Miles.

I finally did it — I ran my very first half marathon. And it wasn’t anything like I expected it to be.

Before the 13.1-mile Zombie Runner San Francisco race, my farthest run had only been 12 miles. Based on that run, and my average pace for shorter runs, I was expecting to finish in about 1 hour, 50 minutes.

Then I hit mile 3.5 – and a half-mile of trail stairs and switchback hills — and realized there was no way I was going to finish this thing in less than 2 hours.

I should have known that a half marathon in San Francisco was going to be hilly. I should have looked at the race’s course information page a little bit closer and seen that the elevation gain was 1,110 feet. I should have taken the hint on the registration page that said “3.5 hour time limit, (hikers welcome).” That half marathon wasn’t a run, it was a hike!

Brutal doesn’t even begin to describe the course that took me from Crissy Field to underneath the Golden Gate Bridge, over the Battery East Trail, the Coastal Trail, the Sutro Baths Trail, through a hilly neighborhood, and back again. I was climbing or descending hills and trail stairs for 10 miles out of the 13.1-mile race. I also trudged through about a half-mile’s worth of soft sand.

This was definitely not a course to “PR” (set a personal record) on.

Now that I’ve done it, I know I can run any half marathon with ease. Apparently I did the hardest one first.

As I approached the finish line I saw 2:06 on the clock, with the seconds ticking away. “Oh well,” I thought. “At least I finished.”

I heard my 3-year-old daughter cheering, “Go Mommy!” and I was so glad it was over and that we would be spending the rest of the day sightseeing. I was eager to get back to our hotel and shower before the checkout time. I was handed a finisher’s medal, I grabbed a snack and some water, and told my mother-in-law, who had made the trip with me to cheer me on and watch my kiddos, that we should head back to the hotel.

“Go check to see if you won something first,” she said. “You said they give medals to the top three in each age group, right?”

“Yeah,” I replied, “But I ran a 2:06. There’s no way I won anything with that time.”

But she insisted that I go check the standings, saying that she hadn’t seen many people finish the race before me who looked to be in their twenties.

Reluctantly I walked back to the registration table, glanced over the results…and found my name.

“If your name is on this paper, you won something?” I asked the official.

“Yes, what’s your name?” he asked.

I pointed to my name on the list and he handed me a second-place medal. “You won second in your age group. Congratulations!”

You could’ve knocked me over with a feather.

I still can’t believe that after all of those hilly miles, after stopping to walk a few times, after suffering an excruciating IT band injury (more on that in my next column), I had placed in a my first half marathon.

I called my husband, my mom, and my coach — in that order — to share the good news. Then my Facebook and Instagram followers found out. (Thanks for the support, everyone!)

I didn’t expect to place in my first half. I didn’t expect the course to be so hilly. I didn’t expect to run my first half with an injury (again, more on that in the next column). I didn’t expect to want to laugh and cry at the same time upon finishing the race. And I didn’t expect to spend the last half of the race shouting “good job!” and “looking strong!” to all of the other racers I passed who were going the opposite way and hadn’t reached the turnaround point yet.

It’s crazy what endorphins make you do.

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