There aren’t many better feelings than when you accomplish something that you once doubted you could. Last weekend I crossed the finish line of my first half marathon.
I followed the same pre-race routine I’ve used all season: set an alarm for five hours before the race start time, eat an English muffin with peanut butter and some fruit and yogurt, then go right back to bed. Sure it’s weird eating breakfast at 3:00 am, but it works for me. My body gets time to process the food into energy and my stomach gets to do it’s thing well before the start of the race. It’s been an effective strategy to be fueled for the event yet in control of what goes into my empty stomach once the race begins.
I arrived in front of the Cathedral of St. Paul about twenty minutes before the race start. I then spent the next fifteen minutes waiting in line to use a portable restroom. Apparently I wasn’t the only person with this idea given how long the lines were. But on the plus side, it gave me a chance to meet and chat with new people while waiting. That’s one of my favorite parts about endurance sports, pretty much everyone is so nice and happy to talk about the sport or share advice. Everyone always just seems thankful for their health, happy to be together and excited to race.
The Monster Dash is known for its Halloween theme and costume-wearing participants. Since this was my first race of this distance, I opted for function over fashion. I wore a Batman t-shirt, which happened to match the rest of my mostly black and yellow attire. I was still a little festive while maintaining the gear I’ve been used to running in. Never try anything new on race day!
A quick pre-race Batman pose.
I was assigned to wave H, which I believe was one of the last groups scheduled to start. I think I was placed in this group since I didn’t list a goal finish time during registration. This made me nervous when I approached the start corrals as I’d most likely be wanting to run at a different pace than those in my waves. So I worked my way through the crowd until I found pacers holding 08:24 and 08:47 signs. My goal was to run somewhere in-between those two paces so I squeezed into a space to stand and waited the remaining two minutes for the race to start.
I crossed the start line and ran past the historic James J. Hill house in Summit Avenue. I nestled my phone into my new Nathan flip belt and slid my gloves over my hands. The temperature was just below freezing at race start so it felt good to get the body moving for some warmth. Just like that I was off on my first half marathon.
Look at those costumes!
When I reached the first mile marker, my Strava app reported I was running an 08:08 pace. That was more than thirty seconds faster than planned. I was worried this would happen — the adrenaline would kick in and I’d be running too fast too soon. But I was still alongside my pace groupmates so I kept going.
The first few miles of the course were lined with spectators, and a lot of kids in halloween costumes holding out their hands for a high five. I never pass up the free high five from a kiddo during a race. There’s something about the joy on their faces after the celebratory exchange that makes me smile and wants to keep running. Anyhow, in all that fun I realized I wasn’t paying attention to the split reports in my headphones. I had no clue what pace I was running. But I kind of didn’t care either. I was having fun.
At mile four I was at an 08:00 pace. Wow, I was still moving faster than planned and felt great. This was about the time I passed the pacer holding the 08:24 sign. If I was running very low eights for the first four miles there was no way he was holding his pace. I just smiled and kept running.
It was about this time I felt the urge for a restroom break. I must’ve overhydrated before the race. I was conflicted over stopping as I didn’t want to giveaway time so I just kept running for a few miles, hoping the urge would dissappear. But it didn’t. And I didn’t want to have that feeling for another seven miles. So somewhere between miles six and seven I quickly pulled over for the much needed bathroom stop. Don’t worry, I used one on the many conveniently placed portable restrooms along the course, and it was just a number one. Less than thirty seconds later I bolted back onto the pavement and found my stride. If it wasn’t for the short delay I probably could’ve had four sub-eight minutes miles in a row.
The miles seemed to pass rather quickly. I was still holding in the low eights for pace. During the ninth mile I saw another water station coming up. I figured now was the perfect time to take-in some nutrition. I grabbed a GU Gingerade gel from my belt and sucked it down just in time to grab a water from a volunteer’s hand. Whether I needed the fuel or not, it gave me some reassurance I’d have a little boost to tackle the last four miles.
Running strong in the final miles.
The approach to the ten mile marker had me nervous. Ten miles was the distance of my longest training run. I hadn’t ran further than that before so I had no idea what to expect from here on out. And the finish line for the ten mile race was literally right alongside the course the half marathoners would continue running. At first I thought seeing people finish would distract my focus, making it hard to keep going when others were done for the day. But it did just the opposite. When I saw the ten mile finish I thought, “No way. Don’t wish you were done. You’re doing the full race, Josh.” It motivated to keep going knowing I was so close to my goal.
That motivation was just what I needed. I got a little faster during those last three miles. Seeing the St. Paul skyline come back into view gave me another boost knowing the finish line was not far off. This is when I started to really soak it all in. The bulk of the distance was behind me. My lungs and legs still felt great. It was time to close this thing out. I enjoyed every step within those final miles, especially the step that took me across the finish line.
My mile by mile splits.
I crossed the finish line with a time of 01:45:33 and an average pace of 08:04 per mile (266th place out of 1,774 overall). That’s seven-and-a-half minutes faster than my goal — and that included the bathroom stop. Wow. I was super stoked about that finish time.
It’s funny how my legs felt fine throughout the duration of the race. But as soon as I transitioned back to walking I could feel a soreness my groin. And the lack of movement quickly cooled down my body, reminding me how cold it actually was outside. Oh well, the discomforts couldn’t take away from the huge sense of accomplishment on my mind. I went home and found a nice warm spot on the couch, which, with the exception getting up to take a shower and make dinner, was where I spent the rest of day.
I did it. I completed my first half marathon.
A month ago it was just an idea that sounded cool — an idea that I doubted my ability to accomplish. I made up with excuses about how I wasn’t prepared and didn’t have enough time to ramp up for the distance. I told myself I should probably attempt a 10 mile race, or at least a 10K, before making the jump to 13.1.
All of that doubt and fear triggered something in me though. I had become comfortable in the Sprint triathlons of the summer. I knew I could so those. But I didn’t know if I could pull off a half marathon. That reminded me of the fear/excitement of when I first got into triathlons. The element of the unknown drove me to find out.
The extra training pushed me outside of my comfort zone. I was running distances I had never attempted before. But I just kept going. And now I’m seeing all that’s been accomplished over the last month. All that work lead to an achieved goal. That excites me. It makes me wonder what else can I do. How far can I go?
This idea of tackling doubts and fear can really be applied to just about a anything in life. It’s all too easy to make excuses, doubt our abilities and let fear stand behind us and our dreams. But that’s what makes it all worth it in the end, accomplishing what we thought we couldn’t in spite of that doubt and fear. Nothing ever changes when we do the same old things. Trying something new is where growth happens. This reminds me of a quote that inspired me one month ago: “A comfort zone is a beautiful place, but nothing ever grows there.”
Rest. Lots and lots of rest. I think I’m finally ready to call the 2017 racing season complete. I’ve been training and racing hard all summer and fall. I’m ready to give the legs a break. I’m ready to enjoy a happy hour after work or make dinner plans without needing to think how that fits with my training schedule. It’s time to recharge, relax and enjoy the company of family and friends.
Don’t get me wrong, I’ll still be going for a run or two — weather permitting — each week, or heading to the gym for a spin class or jumping in the pool for some laps. But at least for the next month or two, it will be on a more relaxed schedule.
My biggest racing-related priority is coming up with a plan for next year. I know that over this past year I really enjoyed having my season planned out ahead of time. I definitely want to do that again, but need to decide which races and distances to register for. Which races specifically? That’s a great question that I hope to answer in the next month or so. I do know that I’m riding high off this half marathon finish — and it has me dreaming big for next summer!