It’s 4:25 in the morning when I first sat down to write this, and the word tired doesn’t do how I felt justice. The alarm went off at 4 AM. I don’t care what causes me to set an alarm for 4 AM… when that thing goes off, I can’t help but wonder if what I’m doing is worth getting up at that inhumane hour!
A quick shout out to my sister Katie and her husband Will… and 40,000 insects that live in their back yard. The honey on my whole wheat peanut butter toast came from their hive. Delicious. Fuel for the day’s task? Check! Bonus – no honey on the keyboard while I started this post.
The Salem Wicked Half Marathon starts at 7 AM, which led to a 4:35 departure from home. I thought it would take an hour and twenty minutes to get to the race site, but I like a buffer. Getting to a race an hour before the starting gun is right on time for me.
While at home, the head cold that started on Tuesday (and started moving into my lungs on Thursday) was behaving. The cold mostly stayed out of my chest. I haven’t been coughing much, and I got a good night’s sleep for someone who had to get up at 4 AM. I have no doubts that I will be able to finish. Before I got sick, I would have set a time goal for this morning (2:25 or better), but as it is now, I just wanted to be able to run the whole thing with no walk breaks.
I left the house about five minutes after goal, and realized immediately that while I had my number, my safety pins, my phone, my earbuds, my hydration belt, my hammer gel, etc., I didn’t have any water. On the heals of that thought, I started coughing. A lot. I decided to drive as far as 7-11, and see if my lungs don’t calm down during the first ten minutes of my drive. They don’t… but I bought a bottle of water and hit the road again. At this point I’m hoping that this is just my body getting rid of accumulated mucus from the night before.
I turned on my audio book, and tried not to think. Just drive… and it worked. After another 30 minutes or so, the coughing stopped.
I arrived to the race site at around 6 AM, and sit in the car for about five minutes collecting my thoughts. I met up with some of my running club teammates from work, and we took turns telling each other we were ready to do this, going through some light stretches, and talking race strategy.
The Electric Insurance Running Club fielded 10 runners! I met up with all but one at one point or another. Quite the showing for our fledgling group.
At just after 7, the race started, and 39 seconds later, I crossed the starting line. My first half marathon is officially on.
The following are some random thoughts from the race.
The end of mile 1, 10:28 in. I’m running about a minute per mile faster than I planned… but even though I thought I started toward the back of the pack, people are passing me left and right. The Chevin’s The Champion is rocking in my ear buds. Deep breath… try to slow down.
Ten minutes and 14 seconds later, I realize I’m actually running faster, not slower. At the end of mile two, my average pace is 10:22. “C’mon, James, slow down.”
I managed to drop back to 10:28 mile pace for mile three, but that was the last I would run so slow for this race. I had good tunes playing softly in my ears, and even though my RunKeeper app was telling me that I was running under 10:20 from that point on, I felt good.
It was about this point that I ran past my running buddy Jackie. She and Ollie were there with a sign to cheer her friends on. Something about seeing a sign with your name on it sure puts a spring in your step! THANK YOU Jackie!
For the longest time, I was running next to a couple where the man would wave his arms in big, enthusiastic arcs at anyone who clapped as we ran by. After using them to pace myself for a couple of miles, I felt like they were starting to slow down. As I made my move to pass, someone clapped, and I came very close to taking a forearm to the nose. That was my mistake… take a note. If you know how this guy is running, give him some space!
My friend Christine told me that the Salem Wicked has “Lots of hills… just saying.” It’s true… but not as bad as my neighborhood runs. 633 total feet in elevation climb. I didn’t notice going back down those hills, but I sure noticed going up. Around mile 8, I started to feel it. Not much… but enough to wonder if my pace wasn’t going to get the best of me. Especially on those hills. I remember wondering if I had 5 miles left in the tank. I remembered how good I felt at the 5 mile mark. Only 3 miles later, and that happy feeling was gone. Still, Baby Seat by Barenaked Ladies was playing. “You’ve got to stand on your own… don’t admit defeat.” Okay… just keep swimming (Finding Nemo reference).
At the end of mile 10, I’d been on the road for about an hour and 42 minutes. Thanks to some downhill runs, and a little motivation from Florence + The Machine’s Dog Days Are Over, I had just logged my fastest mile of the race. “Slow Down!” Running is mental, and I’m not getting my own point across to myself. It was about this point that I ran past Jackie again. She must have seen how I was feeling on my face, because she asked me, “Are you doing okay?”
I hate that I said that. Yes, I was struggling, but I was still running. I chastised myself briefly, then shook it off. Best way to tackle that negativity was to run away from it. I resolved to do so.
I’d been falling a woman in a Jack In The Box t-shirt for that fast mile, and I reminded myself that I wasn’t here to run her race, I was here to run mine. I let her leave me behind, and added about 15 seconds to my pace. It’s not a lot, but the difference between a 9:56 mile and a 10:12 mile is something I could definitely feel at that point.
After I passed the 11 mile marker (1:52:36 into the race), I was down to willpower and and resolve. Sometimes you resolve to be stubborn. Then you decide that because you’re stubborn, you have willpower. Because you have willpower you can resolve to do whatever you want. Let those arguments run around your skull and see if they’re circular or self-reinforcing. I started muttering with every exhale. “Obduro.” Breath In. “Obdurabo.” Inhale. “Obduro.” That’s Latin. Obduro means “I endure/persist.” Obdurabo means “I will endure/persist.” Miles 12 and 13 blurred together. I missed the mile marker at the end of mile 12, so I had no idea how much further the race was. I thought we were getting toward the end, because even though I hadn’t slowed down, a few people were passing me. Then I turned the last corner, and saw the finish line. Just a tenth of a mile away. 180 steps to go.
I nearly ate some asphalt as I entered the parking lot. I don’t know what I hit, but my right foot struck something, and with arms pinwheeling wildly, I somehow found some extra speed down at the bottom of the tank, and ran through my stumble. I quit counting steps. I pulled my ear buds out. I found another gear, and I ran.
- Fortune favors the prepared. I know some of my running club team mates were running that distance for the first time, but for me, having successfully completed this distance at home a couple weeks before made a huge difference. It gave me a tremendous amount of confidence. Without knowing that about myself, I might not have run given the cold I’m carrying.
- Don’t pass someone who is swinging their arms like a crazy man without giving him a wide berth.
- Run your own race. Some people like to “tailgate” another runner as a way to keep their pace up. That’s not going to work for me.
- Don’t change your hydration strategy on race day. I carried Gatorade instead of water for the first time, and it didn’t take long for me to get sick of it.
- Be careful at water stations. It’s amazing how many people start to walk the second they get their cup of water. One of my race goals is to NOT walk, so that throws me off.
- Don’t carry so much liquid on a race course. I’ll probably still carry water when I run Rockfest in a couple of weeks, but I will not have four bottles. With all the water stations, two bottles should be enough.
- It’s okay to run faster on race day than you do on your regular runs. Just don’t go crazy!
- Distance: 13.1 mi
- Duration: 2:13:28
- Average Speed: 5.89 mph
- Average Pace: 10:11 min/mi