Hey, I ran 13.1 miles yesterday!! 😀 Sorry it took me a day to post my race report, but I had to wait until I got all the pictures. For once, I wasn’t the main person behind the camera for an event! Plus, I had a lot to write. Sit back and relax, this is no short story. 😉
Then, I walked 2 miles in a parade in the sun while my kids roller-bladed with other members of their hockey teams.
Then we drove out to north Ann Arbor (an hour from my house) and picked up my race packet. While at the Expo, I had a chance to meet two of the pacers for the half-marathon…Pacer Bill (the 2:15 pacer) and Pacer William (the 2:30 pacer). I asked them to explain to my son what a pacer was, and they gave a really good explanation. According to William, a pacer:
- Keeps you on target for your goal, making sure you don’t start out too fast.
- Ensures that you hydrate when necessary.
- Motivates you and encourages you to help ensure you meet your goal.
I thought that summed up pacers pretty darn well!
Pacer Bill was doing a 10:18 pace—that would be really fast for me! But Pacer William’s pace was an 11:27, and while that was certainly a possibility for me, depending on the state of my injured knee, I didn’t want to be in that group! They were both really fun, personable guys, and it made me kind of want to run with a pacer, even though I shuddered at the idea of trying to maintain any kind of “goal” other than to finish!
After the packet pickup, I went to the campground where my mom and her fiancé set up their RV for the summer so I could drop the boys off. While I was there, we discussed the plan for her to bring the boys to the finish line the next morning to cheer me across. Then she said to me, “How will I find you in all those people?” She was really worried about it, so I told her I would find a way to make myself seen.
I had to make a Meijer’s run on the way home, and I had a total impulse buy when I was in the girls’ department: I saw a bunch of sparkly, tulle skirts in all different colors, and I just fell in love with them. 😉 I wanted the lime green one so badly (it would’ve coordinated with the race shirt!), but it didn’t come in the largest girls size. But I decided that the blue was cute too, and for $10, it couldn’t be beat! I also found a sequinned scarf for $2 on clearance (also in the girls’ section). I was geeked to find an actual “race costume” for $12!
Sunday morning, I was up at 5am, because I wanted to have a light breakfast and some coffee, but I also wanted to make sure my stomach had a chance to mostly process it all before I started running. 😉 With all that time to kill, I not only put together a play list for my iPhone, I even did my hair and makeup. Don’t judge me—I found the normalcy of my daily routine relaxing! 😛 Trust me when I say it was all for naught, lol!
My wonderful friend Renee showed up at 6:25 to take me to the race. Now that is a TRUE friend!! I was so grateful to have her there the whole morning, not just to drive me to and from, but to be supportive and act also a calming factor. It was nearly an hour’s drive to Dexter (the start of the race), and we chatted about pretty much anything but running the whole way.
After a McDonald’s pit stop, we arrived in Dexter by 7:30 and I made a bee-line for the porta potties. No lines! Then I came back and sat with Renee while I got my stuff ready. It was about that point that I realized that I had forgotten my headphones. I was disappointed for a few moments, and Renee was even willing to go out and try to find a set (we had 40 minutes before race start), but we realized that the roads were closing soon and I decided it wasn’t worth the effort. I was sad, but at the same time, I knew it wasn’t the end of the world.
Meanwhile, it was a perfect day for a race. It was actually a bit chilly and even windy when we arrived, but I’d certainly rather have that than 75 degrees and humid! After some stretches and one last bathroom break, Renee took a shot of me in my race attire.
I was so proud of my outfit. 😀 Renee and I were surprised that there was such a lack of costumes at the race. But that’s okay—it made me feel extra special. 😉
After the Star Spangled Banner was sung, the “gun” (horn) went off, and we were on our way. Well, sort of…there were so many people, we just pretty much walked at the beginning. Renee wanted a picture of me starting out, so I obliged:
I love that shot because I’m pretending to run, but you can clearly see everyone around me is still walking, lol!
After that, we got going for real. On the website, the course is described this way:
“Hilly and fairly challenging — though not overly so — the race is run on paved surfaces throughout the entire course, and features its only real flat stretches of any length for two miles during the entire race.”
Awesome. Did I mention I live in the flatlands of Michigan farm country? We don’t have hills where I usually run, and the one place I did run with (a few) hills, I hurt my knee! So, needless to say, I was rather nervous about all the hills!
On the other hand, the hills did make for a pretty run. Our first turn put us on a decline, and it was neat to see the mass of people ahead of me. I tried to get a shot, but this is the best I could do.
Everything you see in front of me is just wall-to-wall bodies. That’s a lot of people on a little road, lol! At one point, when the throng of people began to thin out a bit, I passed a guy (this in itself was exciting—me, passing someone 😉 ) who had on a little top-hat with a shiny, colorful pinwheel attached, as well as a festive, colorful shirt. He caught sight of me as I caught sight of him, and we both chuckled. “I’m glad I’m not the only one who decided to dress up,” I told him. “Right on!” he answered. “It’s supposed to be fun, right?” “Exactly!” I said. 🙂
For the first two or so miles, I ran just behind Pacer Bill’s group. I was surprised to see that my pace was actually faster than a 10:18, their stated time. I was averaging about a 10:04! This was surprising, since Pacer William had specifically told my son that pacers were there to help keep you from starting out too fast. It really messed with my head for a while…I kept thinking I should slow down, but the 10:18 pace group was just ahead of me, so maybe was Garmin was off!
As we ran into downtown Dexter, I remembered what my friends Katie and Jessica had told me…remember to enjoy the race. I love little downtowns (I’m a history major, I love that stuff!), and I made sure to look around me and I realized that I had been to Dexter before! Just once, but I did remember it.
It was as we passed through downtown Dexter and hit mile 2 that I suddenly understood the logic behind the pace of the 2:15 group: they were going a little faster than the average pace to build in a cushion for water breaks! At that moment, when I realized just how brilliant that was, I decided that if they could stop and walk through the water breaks, so could I. I figured that if I stayed close to them, I would be assured to beat any kind of goal—real or imagined in my wildest dreams—that I might set for myself. After the water break, it wasn’t hard for me to catch up with Pacer Bill and his group, so I did. Pacer Bill was telling a story to a few people in the group, and I joined into the conversation. Pace Bill had a helper with him (Pacer Gilberto), who I learned later had volunteered to hold the sign for him. (Pacers hold signs for the whole race, which have their goal time on one side and their goal average pace on the other.)
I continued to race with the “2:15 group” for a while. I found it wasn’t too hard for me, actually—and I had the added benefit of fun conversations and camaraderie with people running with me! Renee was so awesome—she actually went to the spectactor spots along the route and got a few pictures of me. Here’s a shot of me just leaving the water station at mile 5.
I was feeling good at this point…my knee was a bit sore, but nothing I couldn’t handle. I even remembered to stop and look at the scenery quite a bit. We passed the entrance to a Metropark, and we followed the Huron River most of the way, with some lovely views. We also passed through heavily wooded areas, and by that time, the sun was beating down on us, and we all welcomed the shade. It was just amazing to run through a “tunnel” of trees. 🙂
Pacer Bill had a lot of great stories about his own past races as well as interesting stories from his pacer friends. He was quite funny. He also had some very good, useful tips, such as when we were getting ready to conquer a really tough hill: as we approached it, he called out to everyone, “Okay, 2:15s, here’s the plan: you either focus on the ground the entire way, or you pick a cute butt in front of you and focus on that.” Told you he was funny. 😉 As we got to the top of the hill, he instructed us to relax and let our bodies be “rag dolls,” allowing gravity to take us back down. It sounds kinda silly, but it really worked for me!
Beyond the tips and entertainment, though, what was most impressive to me was Bill’s genuine concern for the people in his group. Both he and Gilberto would often “check-in” with the other runners, addressing them by name and asking how they were feeling. If anyone lagged back a little, Bill or Gilberto would call out their name and say, “Are you still with us? How you doing?” It was truly awe-inspiring and heart-warming to see how much they cared. I swear, it was like having your own personal trainer running with you, motivating you and educating you—for free! What a deal!!
I loved being with Bill. He had great stories, but he also asked questions of the runners in our group. I had made an off-hand comment about how many Weight Watchers points I would earn with my run, and that led to a conversation about my weight loss, my running mentors Renee, Katie, and Jessica, and how I swore to them just last year that I’d never be a runner. 😉
I have to relate one conversation in particular that I will probably always remember. 🙂 I was keeping up with Bill quite well at around mile 6 or so. He was talking about his experience as a pacer and how much he enjoyed it. I was asking him questions, and I asked if he varied his goal pace for each race that he “paced.” He said he typically did the 2:15 mark for half-marathons, because it was his favorite.
“And do you know why it’s my favorite?” he asked.
I thought for a moment. “Because it’s an easy enough pace for you that allows you to comfortably converse with the runners in your group, but still feel like you’re getting somewhere?”
“Well, yes, that,” he answered, “but the more important reason is because I’ve discovered that a lot of hot women run in the 2:15 group.”
That garnered a few chuckles from the group (those that weren’t trying to conserve their energy, at least). After a moment, Bill then turned to me. “Okay, Stephanie, now I want you to run ahead a little…”
I figured he was having me speed up to get ready for a water station break where I would walk, so I started to speed up to pass him.
“…and then I can have some eye candy,” he finished with a smirk.
That time, everyone in the group, even the tired people gasping for breath, laughed loudly. I laughed too, but I still smacked Bill on the arm. 😉 We hit mile 6 not long after that, and I took half of my chocolate GU, which tasted good and seemed to provide me with a bit of energy.
Back at 8am, as we waited for the race to start, Renee had gave me some advice. She told me to enjoy myself, but she also told me that at some point, I would hit a wall. At that point, she said, just do the best you can and know that no matter how you feel, you can get through it. I nodded and said okay, but I wasn’t sure what she was talking about…I’d heard about this “wall,” but I hadn’t really experienced it that I could remember. It wasn’t until mile eight, right after we crossed over the Huron River, that I understood.
I didn’t hit the wall—it hit me.
A mile earlier, I was feeling invincible, but all of a sudden, my legs hurt, my breathing was labored, and every step felt so hard. Pacer Bill was still talking and telling stories, but I was barely listening. I wanted to join in the conversation of those around me, but I just couldn’t. I feared that if I even expended the effort for a laugh at one of Bill’s funny comments, it would do me in. As I lagged behind a bit, Bill asked me how I was. I told him I couldn’t lie—I was tired. His response: “Well, whether you run fast or slow, you’re still going to be tired, so why not go faster and finish sooner?” It sounded good in theory. :p
As I look back on all my Garmin’s stats (distance, heart rate, elevation), I can see that all this coincided with that one “big hill” I mentioned earlier (the one that Pacer Bill helped us all through). This hill was big enough that the folks coordinating the race even had special signs for it (“Who’s afraid of the big, bad hill?”). I chuckled at the signs, but I can clearly see that my heart rate went up even before I got to the hill (probably when everyone started talking about the fact that it was coming up), and it just continued to stay high (>175 bpm) from that point on.
After that one big hill, things just went downhill from there (ha! I made a pun!). I walked through the water station at mile 8, but I found Bill and Gilberto started running again way before I was ready. I found it incredibly difficult to catch them, and I was only able to get to about 5 feet behind them. At mile nine, we had another water station, and I was so grateful for the walk, but this time, it was even harder for me to start up again when I saw Bill and Gilberto go back to running. By this time, I was at least 20 feet behind them. I decided that it was okay, though. After all, their pace was much faster than I had ever intended to run this race, and even if I just stayed a little behind them, I was guaranteed to beat any goal I had set for myself.
It was right after the mile 9 water station that I found myself running next to a woman in her 50s. I could see that she had slowed down to talk to me, and I was surprised by it.
“Hey,” she said easily, “I saw you when I was with the 2:15 group earlier, and I thought I’d come back and see how you were doing.”
After getting over my initial shock at seeing her there, I told her I was really getting tired. She told me she was going to run with me and help me get back to the 2:15 pace. I couldn’t believe she would do that for me, when she was clearly able to run faster. I told her that was really sweet of her and thanked her. She just shrugged and said, “I’ve been running a long time, and I’ve found that I really like to help others when I can.”
I wanted to cry at that moment—what a kind, sweet woman! She fell into step with me and began chatting. She had heard me tell Bill and Gilberto about my story, and she commented on how impressed she was and asked me more questions. I was giving pretty much one-word answers at this point, and she must have sensed that I wasn’t up for talking, because she asked if I would mind if she told a few stories. I encouraged it (anything to keep me from having to talk!), and she told me a few funny stories as we ran.
We passed through the mile 10 water station and I gratefully walked again and took a little bit more GU. Renee was there with many other spectators, and she took another picture.
I clearly remember her telling me that I only had a little over a 5k to go at that point, but although I smiled for the picture, inside I was thinking, “Three more miles?! I can’t do it!”
With Margaret beside me, though, I trudged on. I was getting more tired with every step, but I tried to focus on the view and on Margaret’s stories. As we got closer to mile 11, I told her I was going to need to walk when we hit the 11 mark (I didn’t realize there would be a water station there). She agreed and I focused on getting to mile 11. When I saw that there would be a water station, I was thrilled—a legitimate reason to walk!
When we got to the water station, I started to walk, but Margaret was right there next to me, calmly but firmly instructing me, “Don’t walk, just take the water and keep going.” I mindlessly started to do what she said and began to speed back up to a run (I’m a good rule-follower, obviously!). But then she continued, “That’s it, keep going! We’re going to catch up to the 2:15 group.” At that point, my body and mind rebelled. They were at least 50 yards in front of us, and there was just no way.
Exhausted and frustrated, I said the first thing that came to my mind.
“No, we’re not!”
Margaret looked pretty stunned (poor lady, she was just trying to help, and I practically growled at her!), but she nodded and said, “Okay, well I’m going to catch back up to them. Good luck—you’re doing great!”
And with that, she was gone. Sadly, I never saw her again, so I never got to say thank you to her for getting me through those two very tough miles.
Unfortunately, I soon had a bigger problem: after I realized that I couldn’t possibly continue with Margaret’s plan to catch the 2:15 pacer, I immediately slowed to a walk again. This whole scenario amounted to a very fast stop-start-stop sequence, and in the process, I twisted my sore knee. Suddenly, that “slight soreness” I’d been feeling became a sharp, shooting pain. I gasped and had to bite back a rather colorful curse. It hurt so bad! Bad enough that I knew that if I stopped, I wouldn’t start again—period.
At that point, I made a split-second decision. I tossed my cup of water aside and started running again. It hurt, but I could handle it. My pace for that next mile was slow…a 10:42, whereas I’d been averaging below a 10:30 for the previous 11. I just kept going, though, not willing to stop for fear that my knee would give out. I really think that continuing to run instead of stopping at that point where I twisted it made all the difference—I was able to work through the pain quickly, and the movement helped keep it from getting worse.
We hit another, smaller hill right at mile 12. By that time, I was really tired. I tried to use Pacer Bill’s suggestion of just focusing on the ground and not looking up, but I got to a point where I thought for sure I must be almost done, so I looked up—only to find I wasn’t even half-way up! I won’t lie—I muttered some choice words under my breath at that point. 😉 But I kept going, passing by the folks who had slowed to a walk. When I got to the top (finally!), I slowed for a brief moment to catch my breath, but I knew at that point I only had a mile to go, and I wanted to be done. There was one last water station right after mile 12, but I didn’t bother…I was afraid I wouldn’t start up again if I stopped!
By this time, we were close to downtown Ann Arbor, a place I’d never been. I was happy to be on a bit of a decline at that point, but I was still struggling. Then, suddenly, I turned a corner and—what the hell?! Another *bleeping* hill?! At this point, the curse words were reverberating in my head. Something along the lines of, “Who the *bleep* puts a *bleeping* hill at the end of a *bleeping* half marathon?!” I do have a pretty impressive repertoire of curse words under the right circumstances. 😉
In retrospect, the hill wasn’t really that big, but after 13 miles, it sure felt like it! A well-meaning spectator called out as I was trudging up that *bleeping* hill: “You’re almost there! You can see the finish line from the top of the hill!”
In my head, I shouted back, “The finish line? The finish line?! Are you *bleeping* kidding me? I’d damn well better see untold riches, a papal dispensation, and Chris Hemsworth in full Thor regalia at the top of that *bleeping* hill!”
Somehow I made it to the top, and not far ahead I could see a white sign on the ground. The finish line! There it was! I was so happy I could have cried. As I got closer, I kept telling myself, just a few more steps, I can do this. And then…I got closer…and…
Damn it!!! That wasn’t the finish line! That was just the sign telling you to go left for the half, right for the 5k. ARGH!!!!!!!!! These people hate me!!
I’m sure it was only another 50 feet to go at this point, but for those few seconds, my disappointment was crushing. 😛 But somehow, I managed to find the strength to go a little bit faster to get to the real finish line. My mom was there, as promised, and got a few shots of me.
See me in my skirt on the left? Also, see the hill I just scaled behind me??
That’s one of my least favorite pictures, but my mom’s favorite. 😛 She says that when she saw me come up the hill, and I looked so exhausted but so determined, she was just as proud of me as she could be. Awwww. 🙂 But I still hate the picture, lol!
The moment I crossed the finish line—oh my God, I was done!! I found my mom quickly and gave her a hug across the barricade. I cried a little. So did my mom. 🙂 My kids tried to offer me some Timbits. Because you know, Timbits fix everything. 😉
Me in my costume at the finish line. I was really proud of that costume!
After I got over the initial emotion, my brain kind of left me and I walked around in a daze for several minutes, not even sure where to go or what to do. I was so exhausted! My mom caught a shot of me doing just that. Ha!
Eventually I made it to the “snack” area—I wasn’t hungry at that point, but I was going to get my free banana, damn it! To my astonishment, besides the usual bananas, oranges, and bagels, they had one other food item.
Seriously? Pizza? Who wants pizza after a half-marathon?! Okay, maybe the 5 or 10k’ers were interested, and maybe the more experienced half-marathoners, but not me!
I looked around for Pacer Bill, because I wanted to thank him for getting me so far. I knew my pace was going to be much, much better than I had ever expected, and it was Pacer Bill and “the 2:15s” that had done it. Unfortunately, I never saw him (funny, he wasn’t walking around carrying that 2:15 sign anymore ;)).
I found Renee and I hugged her like I hadn’t seen her in 20 years, lol! I cried some more and she held me up for a while. 😉 Then we found my mom and my boys and got some post-race shots.
After that, Renee took the boys and I home. 🙂 I was so glad that Renee was there to take me home—I can’t imagine trying to drive with my two wobbly legs!
As we drove home, I checked my pacing using the QR code on my bib, and I was ecstatic!
I finished in 2:16:17! I was only about a minute behind Pacer Bill’s group, and my pace was 10:24—that was way faster than any of my last 4 long runs!
I burned 1300 calories during this race. Awesome!! I suppose I should have sat around all day and done nothing, but I really wanted to use those 1300 calories on something special. So I got up and made myself a treat:
From scratch, baby! 🙂 Another recipe I’ll share someday, though if you’re looking for a diet-friendly cake, this isn’t it. It was well worth the points, though!
After that very long race report, I can essentially sum my race up in the three things I learned from it:
- I discovered I’m definitely a social runner. Forgetting my headphones was the best thing I could’ve done! I loved talking with strangers and loved being forced to look at what was around me instead of focusing on keeping my earbud in or fumbling with my wires. I’m pretty sure I won’t ever run another race with music!
- Running with a pacer is a great benefit. I can say with a certainty that I would never have continued at the pace I did for as long as I did without the 2:15 pace team. Not only did it distract me, but it gave me a reason to keep going for a long time—I didn’t want to disappoint my new friends! Even when I lagged behind toward the end, I knew I wasn’t far behind, and the knowledge that I was keeping close to the 10:18 runners was exhilarating! Although I never did find Bill to thank him, I plan to send an email to the pacing group to express my gratitude.
- I will definitely do another one. 🙂 It was hard, but it was fun, too. I loved, loved, loved running from one town to another, and I loved the feeling of accomplishment that came after I got over the initial exhaustion. 😉
All in all, it was an amazing day, and I felt so blessed to have friends and family there to support me and cheer me on. I also felt like I managed to do something truly amazing—I never, ever would have expected a few years ago that I could have run a half-marathon. And to have run it in 2:16—well, I’m still in awe and still smiling about that. 😉
As for my playlist that I worked so hard to create for the race, well, today I had a lot of running around to do, and I put my playlist on when I got in the car and drove around town listening to it. So instead of listening to my favorite upbeat songs while I was struggling to run 13.1 miles, I jammed to them while driving around with the windows down, sunroof open, with a tremendous sense of triumph at having accomplished a 13.1 mile run. Not just accomplished it, but conquered it! 🙂
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