Friday, September 9, 2011

Every Accomplishment Starts With the Decision to Try

I did it! I ran an entire half-marathon! And I feel SO SO good about it. What a journey this has been.

I got a good night of sleep on Sunday night, and woke up at 4:45 a.m. on race day feeling excited and nervous. I ate two pieces of toast with peanut butter and jelly, and a banana. I drank a little bit of water, but was SO hydrated from the few days leading up to the race that I didn't feel the need to drink too much.

I got dressed, stretched a bit, said goodbye to a sleepy Brian, and headed out into a VERY COLD, quiet, dark Colorado Springs morning.

I walked briskly from my parking spot to the race start, and hung out by the bag check until the very last second because I was scared to take my long-sleeved shirt off in the cold. I could see my breath as I stretched. I kept thinking I had to pee, but it was really just nerves.

About 5-10 minutes before race time, I peeled off my last warm layer and headed to the start line. I worked my way about 2/3 of the way back in line so I wasn't feeling pressure to start too fast. I made small talk with a couple people standing around me and stretched a bit more. Before I knew it, they were counting down the last 15 seconds and then the starting gun went off! I immediately teared up...I couldn't believe that this day and this moment were finally here after all these long months of emotional and physical commitment!

As I had planned (and especially since it was so cold), I started out very slowly. The course was crowded at first and I just focused on staying loose, and slowly working my way up to a comfortable pace. I looked around and enjoyed the view of a colorful sea of runners. After a couple miles, the crowd spread out and I was really able to get into my rhythm. I started thinking forward to Mile 4, where I knew my family and friends would be waiting to cheer me on.

At around 3.5 miles, my knee started hurting, pretty badly. I immediately started worrying. I felt like there was no way it would get any better if I kept running; it was bound to only get worse! And I still had 9 miles to go! I also decided in that moment that I would keep going until my knees gave out on matter how badly it hurt. I wondered if it would be helpful to take the Advil I had stashed in my shorts at some point.

Before I knew it, I could see my mom in the distance, right off the trail, watching for me. I waved my arms so she'd know it was me. And I started getting really emotional when I saw my family there cheering for me...which in turn led me to start hyperventilating. This picture was taken while I was trying to keep myself from completely sobbing. Sobbing and running don't work so well with each other...

I was worried the most about the middle 5 miles of the run. I figured the first 4 miles would be easy, and even if the last 4 miles were really tough, they'd be the last 4 miles, and I'd have Brian with me to help me through it. But I felt like those middle 5 miles would make or break the race for me, and I was continuing to worry about my knee.

I ended up introducing myself to another runner who I'd been running near since the start of the race. And we ended up chatting away for the next 3-4 miles. Very strange. I am SO anti-talking-while-running, and always have been. Normally I refuse to talk while exercising, I can't do it, and I think others who do it must be crazy (or in really great shape). But for some odd reason, this woman and I talked and talked and talked through those miles....and they just flew by. I wasn't focused on my knee, and it ended up changing from a sharp, shooting pain to a dull pain. I definitely got a bit of an energy boost from hitting the 6.5-mile turnaround point. I loved seeing the half-marathon front runners coming past us in the other direction (man, they were going fast!!!). And I started looking forward to getting back to Mile 9, seeing my cheering section again, and having Brian join me for the last leg of the race. This picture was taken at Mile 9. I'm still looking relatively happy!

When Brian first joined me, I was thinking to myself that I didn't need him..I was feeling fine..I was all over this race. And then at about Mile 11, I started feeling like, "oh my god, this just got really hard", and I told him so. Brian was SO great about encouraging me, telling me what a great job I was doing, and how proud of me he was. His presence and encouraging words were SO crucial to keeping my mind on that finish line. At the appointed place, Brian jumped off the course and I finished the last 0.10 mile by myself. As I wrapped my way around the park towards the finish chutes, I picked up my pace to the very fastest my legs could carry me. I wouldn't call it a sprint, but it was fast, and it felt good to finish strong. As I crossed the finish line, they announced my name and and where I'm from.

Again, my emotions started overwhelming me the minute I crossed the finish line....and I sounded like I was having an asthma attack or something. I turned down the offer of medical attention (no thank you, I'm just a sobbing mess...), and let a volunteer place a finish medal around my neck. I grabbed a water and joined my family who had found their way to the finish line. I finished the race in 2 hours, 22 minutes, and 33 seconds. I was 33rd out of 46 in my age group, I finished 143rd out of 236 female finishers, and 324th out of 456 finishers.

I won't get into the 2 bathroom stops I made during the last 4 miles of the race, but Brian thinks those took up at least 10 minutes (I think maybe a little less). But nonetheless, I averaged just over a 10-minute mile, which is what I was aiming for.

I felt fine after the race, and great after taking a shower. I ate some breakfast with my family and friends, and then I started going downhill pretty quickly. I was cold, my stomach was VERY upset, and I just overall felt horrible. I spent much of the rest of the day in bed or on the couch and went to bed very early.

On Tuesday, I woke up feeling fine energy wise, but my entire body was sore, even my upper body. My knee was quite painful and I limped my around work that day. But by Wednesday, I was back to feeling good. I've had a couple nights of lots of ice for my knee, plenty of rehydration, and long, deep nights of sleep and am feeling pretty much normal.

Now I'm taking some time to reflect on this experience and what it means to me. This was so much more than a running race to me. This is the final step in what has been an amazing 9 months for me.

Nine months ago, I was coming off a particularly gluttonous and unhealthy fall and holiday season. I had gained a lot of weight and had no energy. I was heading down a slippery slope of bad habits that I've gone down more times than I can count.

Then some girlfriends and I talked each other and our husbands into a couples weight loss-challenge. You can read about it here. Brian and I joined the rec center, and we both started running. I refocused my nutrition plan and started making better food choices on a more consistent basis. In the past year, Brian and I have lost over 110 pounds!, and we've lost over 80 since the beginning of the year. The visual proof of our changes is pretty startling and exciting!

A friend and I completed the Boulder Bolder in May 2011. I realized that the goal of that race was the thing that got me out of bed most mornings, and quickly decided that I needed to set another goal for myself if I wanted to stay on track with my healthy changes. With the encouragement of several friends, including Selena and Michelle, I decided I wanted to start training for my first half marathon...and I started documenting my progress and struggles here on this blog on Friday, June 15, 2011!

I've learned so much during this process....
  • I must exercise in the morning, or it won't happen
  • The early morning wake-up only hurts for the first few minutes.
  • I feel so much better during the day after exercising in the morning, and I sleep better at night. For someone who has struggled with insomnia for much of my life, it is a beautiful thing to fall into bed every night, exhausted, and sleep soundly until the alarm goes off the next morning.
  • Running is a great way to have some ME time...something I don't get quite as much of as I'd like.
  • Training with others (virtually and otherwise) is so inspiring and makes it harder to give up.
  • Music makes me move. Thank goodness for music.
  • The human body is an amazing thing. Six months ago, 13 miles seemed nearly impossible.
  • I will never be able to express to my friends and family how much their support and encouragement from afar, on Facebook, on the phone, through the mail and email, and on the morning of the race (they got up earlier than I did to be there for me!) means to me.
  • Things get weird after 10 miles. Your body can't be trusted.
  • Now I feel like I'm capable of just about anything.

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