Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Hershey Half Marathon

WARNING: This is a long post (my first half was kinda a big deal to me ;)

My first half-marathon is DONE!! I still can’t believe I did it. Not that I can’t believe the weeks and weeks of training paid off, I just can’t believe it was a goal to even consider running a half-marathon! I NEVER would have imagined this when I first attempted to start running 3 years ago.

We (me, hubby Michael, son Ryan) left Friday afternoon to drive up to York, PA were my buddy Jeff lives who is also running with me (his first half too). Although not looking forward to a 7 hour drive, I had been excited about the race all week. I wore a pair of compression calf sleeves to help my legs for the long ride. I also had several Running World magazines to keep me busy. We ate lunch before leaving so we only made one quick stop for a bathroom break and refreshment…fro-yo!

Sweet Frog fro-yo is my fave!
We got to York around 8:30 or so and were ready for dinner. Jeff’s parents stopped by and we all went out to eat. Time to start carb loading. I had a yummy cheeseburger and fries, nothing like American classics! We chatted for a while at the restaurant and some more at Jeff’s house before calling it a night.

Saturday morning I had an easy 2-3 miles on the schedule. I wanted to get that out of the way before heading into Hershey for packet pick-up. After a banana for a quick breakfast, I went out and ran 2.5 miles. I actually didn’t go at the easy pace like I thought I would. Probably because Jeff took off like it was 5k race day! I kept my pace around 10:30 but it should have been around 11:30. The run was just supposed to keep my legs moving anyways. After everybody got ready we headed up to Hershey.

The race expo wasn’t super big. They had about 40 vendors and quite a few of them were local vendors. I was still excited since this was my first race expo! The bag was a nice reusable bag and had 2 tickets to Hersheypark After Dark, a piece of chocolate, pen, noise maker, and the race t-shirt. The main thing I wanted to get at the expo was the 13.1 magnet that has a Hershey Kiss where the "dot" is. But I also ended up buying these BondiBands. I’ll have to post a review on these after I have a chance to test them out.

Yes, it looks like I have a drinking problem, but these were funny to me!
After the expo we headed to the Under Armor outlet where Jeff’s girlfriend Laura works (we picked her up before the expo). The prices were somewhat less expensive in the outlet but with Laura’s additional discount, the prices were really good. But I didn’t find anything I really needed at the time. Next stop was lunch at Houlihan’s. It was very good. I got a grilled chicken sandwich with mashed potatoes (sounds odd but I wasn’t in the mood for fries again). The mashed potatoes were actually really good!

The day was flying by so when we got back to York, we decided to just make spaghetti at Jeff’s house instead of going back out to eat. We thought it would be best to just chill out and get some rest since race start was at 7:30am! Remember when I said the race sold out before we could get my hubby Michael registered? Well, all week he had been looking online at craigslist for race bibs. There were actually some out there but we never contacted the sellers. Thinking we may find one when we got here, Michael packed his running stuff just in case. He must have got a little excited after the race expo because all afternoon he kept trying to find a bib for sell online. Finally Saturday evening we found one and that meant he would be running his first half-marathon too! Who decides to run a half 12 hours before race start?!? Not me.

After dinner, I got my running stuff together and tried to relax but I was too anxious. I knew it was going to be tough to sleep especially since I had to wake up at 4:30am. I got some sleep but woke up around 3:45 and just stayed awake. I got ready and went to eat breakfast. A slice of whole wheat toast with peanut butter and a banana seems to be the best pre-race fuel for me. It was cold and dark but we were on our way to Hershey. First we had to meet the people selling Michael the race bib. I’m sure we looked odd at 6am in a Wal-Mart parking lot doing a "race bib deal" but it was all good. The race organizers don’t transfer bibs but if someone gives you their bib it’s okay but you have to race under their name. So Michael’s name for the race was Tara Jo or TJ as we like to call him. He’s also a 30 year old female!

We got to the race site a little early and I’m so glad because we got a good parking spot and there were no long lines for the bathroom! It was still cold and dark. I planned on wearing a short sleeve shirt since the temps were supposed to be 50 degrees and sunny, but it was around 42 degrees at 7am and I was cold. We all decided to put long sleeves on over and we could just take them off if we got hot. I’m glad I packed extra "everything" just in case!

Pre-race me and Michael (aka TJ)

Jeff pre-race stretching

Me and Pat (Jeff's mom) she looks so warm!
We went to start lining up at our corrals and I felt like I wanted to make one more bathroom stop but the lines were crazy long! Like so long, there was no way that people were going to make it through before race start. Good thing I already went. I thought I would line up at the 10 minute mile pace even though I expected to be closer to 11 minute miles. But for some reason we all decided to line up together at the 9 minute mile pace. We weren’t going to run together since we were all different paces (them being much faster than me) but I think it helped being at the start together. Michael was thinking he would just run with me (maybe since his name wasn’t actually on record for this race, hmmm) but I told him that was crazy. He needed to run his own race I would be fine. Five seconds later, he was gone.

I guess nobody really lines up were they are supposed to because once we started, people were passing each other like crazy. Even I was passing people. They were even race walkers in front of me. I knew I was going to fast that first mile but I felt great. Coach Jen’s plan was to break the race up into thirds. Run the first 4 miles at a nice easy pace, next 5 miles more at a tempo run, and then the last 4 miles you run with all that you got, strider the last .10 (a strider is like a sprint). I tried to slow down but I couldn’t do it. My first mile was 10:01.

Right after we started the sun was out in full force! I wasn’t even done with the first mile before I got hot and took off my long sleeve shirt. I thought about tossing it (many other people we doing that) but decided to just tie it around my waist. If it bothered me too much I could toss it later. The first 2 miles were around Hershey Park and the stadium. The third mile was actually through some of the park which was kind of cool, although a bit crowded. You really had to pay attention or you could run into a park bench or tree or even a ride!

Once we made our way through the park the course went through downtown and into residential streets. It was so great to see all the crowd support. Lots of people were holding up signs and there was plenty of cow bell! One of my favorite signs was "Worst Parade Ever"! The miles were just going by and I was still feeling good. Although I did slow my pace down. I kept noticing that the mile markers were about .20 miles off from my Garmin. I factored that in when it was time to refuel at the halfway point. I ate 3 chews when my watch said mile 6 and by the time I was done, I was at the aid station for water.

Mile 7 was a little tough for me. The course was hillier than I thought it would be and I was starting to wear down a bit. I guess the chews hadn’t kicked in yet. Trying not to let negative thoughts into my head, I focused on the crowd and their cheers started to help. Then, one of my favorite songs ever came on my iPod, "These Days" by the Foo Fighters. All that helped me to refocus and pick up my pace. I wanted to enjoy the race and tried to take in all my surroundings. I loved the crowd support! Several spots had kids cheering us on and they would have their hand out so you could slap it as you ran by. There were a few country scenic areas that were so pretty with the fall leaves and bright sun.

When I got to mile 11 it really hit me that I was really going to finish and I started to get a little emotional. I was wondering if I would cry tears of joy when I crossed the finish line. Would people think I was crazy if I did? I was wondering about Michael and Jeff and how they finished. I decided to see if I could pick up the pace and started to think about a goal finish time. Finishing was all that really mattered but of course I still had an ideal finish time. Originally it was 2:15 but during the training I realized that probably wasn’t going to happen. Now at mile 11 I thought I may be able to do 2:20.

At mile 12 I looked up and saw a familiar shirt. It was Jeff. Something must have happened because he should have finished at least 15 minutes ago. I ran up beside him and asked him if he was ok. His foot had started hurting really bad around mile 7 and he had to run/walk ever since. I felt so bad that happened to him. We ran together for a little bit and then we got to another hill around the 12.5 mile mark and he needed to walk. I ran on because I was ready to get to the finish line and I thought I could make my 2:20 goal time.
I saw the stadium and there was one last killer hill. I thought we would be entering after that hill. No keep running down and around into the stadium. I was still expecting to see the finish line but didn’t. I heard a voice calling my name that sounded familiar. I looked up and saw Michael, Ryan and Pat (Jeff’s mom) cheering me on. Finally I saw the finish line. I threw my arms up as I crossed in excitement! I got my medal and started walking towards the recovery area. I got a bag with snacks, a foil thing to wrap up in, and water. I was feeling a little disoriented and my legs felt like jello. Michael found me and gave me a big hug and said how proud he was of me…awwww. Jeff finished right after me and once we got everybody together we headed to the field to recover.

Heading to the finish line
We ate some snacks, stretched for a bit and took a few pictures. I didn’t get a picture at the "official wall" and I wished I had. Michael said it was over there but I didn’t realize what he was talking about until we were gone. We stopped at a diner for some much needed blueberry pancakes, bacon and chocolate milk! Yeah, I was expecting chocolate milk at the finish but there was only water. Come on Hershey! After showering and resting for a few hours, we headed back out for more food and HersheyPark After Dark. Although we really didn’t feel like walking around an amusement park, this was the ONE thing we promised Ryan. It actually wasn’t so bad thanks to my compression socks! We rode a few roller coasters and walked around long enough to satisfy Ryan and called it a night. What a weekend!

Everybody with their medals!

Ryan still rocked the UNC sweatshirt even after their lost to Duke and in Penn St. country!
It feels so amazing to have completed my first half-marathon! My official chip time was 2:22. My Garmin actually had 13.33 miles, what?! Guess I didn’t efficiently run the tangents. I’m very happy with my time. I know I’m not fast. My two goals were to FINISH the race and to run the whole time. And I did both! I did take water at all the aid stations and slowed down to a walk for those but that was only for about 10 seconds so they don’t count! I had an ideal finish time and I came close to that. I am a little disappointed in the medal…a Reese’s cup? Don’t get me wrong, I love me some Reese’s cup. But I was expecting a Hershey Kiss since that’s what I saw online. I guess that was last year’s medal…how dumb of me not to think they would change it!

We left PA Monday morning and on the ride home I was already thinking about which half-marathon is next! Maybe one at the beach on a nice flat course, that sounds nice!

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Women's Only 5k

After 10 weeks of running dedication, it was finally time for the Women’s Only 5k and the WRS ladies to shine! The Saturday morning of the race was beautiful weather. It was sunny and cool; we were thankful those hot and sweaty days of summer were gone! For me, this race was two weeks after the horrible Race the Bar 5k and I really didn’t have any time expectations. I was just glad to finally be able to participate in this race (first attempt – injured; second attempt – injured I was able to volunteer; third attempt – not injured but had to work). I was of course hoping for a much better race than the last one, but the main excitement was to see all the ladies I help coach cross the finish line!

The race start was at 9:30 but the Running Club (GRC) wanted us there at 8:00 for pictures. I was being a single parent that weekend as my hubby was out of town working a triathlon race in VA. I figured my son didn’t want to hang out around 3,000 plus women for several hours so we both got up early and I dropped him off at my parents’ house before heading over to the race site. It took a while to get everyone together and get pictures. By the time we were done, it was already 9:00. Time to find a bathroom before race start! As expected, they were all crowded. After that long line, it was time to line up for the race.

I saw most of my group lining up and wished them luck. I found some of my running buddies and lined up with them. Janet was there, yay! In the Kirkwood 5k this year, Janet was a great pacing partner for me. She’s faster than me so I just focus on keeping her in sight. That was my plan for this race too. One thing I didn’t realize until minutes before the race start was that it was a gun start. The race was chip timed but you didn’t go through the start/finish line or cross over the mat at the start of the race; only when you finished. Does that make sense? This was my biggest race (number of participants) so far, so maybe a lot of the big races are like that. Unless you are at the very front, your finish time is going to be off. I’m not sure I like that, but in the end my chip time and my Garmin time was only a few seconds off.

The first half mile was very crowded until it started to break up. I felt good. I even passed quite a few runners (maybe I should have started closer to the front, ha!). I kept Janet in sight and at some times, we were actually running together. The course was out and back. As I approached mile two, the leaders were coming back on the opposite side of the road. I cheered on a couple of fellow GRC members. Man to be that fast! Since I didn’t want to put pressure on myself for a specific time goal, I only looked at my Garmin after each mile. The first mile was 9:50.

On the second mile, I still felt good. Just like every race around here, it was hilly. On my way up the hills it was my turn to see all the runners and walkers on the other side of the road. I cheered on all my ladies and many other friends as we passed. I approached the top of the hill, all I could see where hundreds and hundreds of women in their pink and purple shirts (this year’s race shirts were purple hmmm…) carrying signs and cheering everybody on. It was truly a sight! It felt great to run downhill. Especially because the worst hill was not far away. Mile two was 9:33.

Janet and I were actually still together as we approached that monster hill. I looked at my Garmin and for a moment, I thought I may have a chance to PR. I focused on getting up that hill without having to walk and somehow, I did it. I kept telling myself, just concentrate on the effort not the pace. Janet had passed me going up the hill but I could still see her ahead. Mile three was 9:30. I really started to think I could actually PR. But what I didn’t realize was that the worst part of this course was about to come. It finishes on a gradual uphill. Not steep like that monster hill, but the last quarter mile of this race was just plain bad!

People were cheering us on and one lady said "you’re almost there". Well, I looked up and still couldn’t see the finish line. I thought I was almost there! My legs were tired. I wanted the excitement to take over so I could sprint it in, but it didn’t. Once I finally saw the finish line I picked it up a little bit, but I already knew this would not be the day for a PR. My chip time was 30:37. My Garmin time was 30:33 and 3.15 miles. But that’s not really a big deal (who’s OCD?). Janet finished just ahead of me.

Overall, I was very happy with my time. Besides that last quarter mile, I really enjoyed this race. I grabbed some water and saw Heather (she crushed it in less than 29 minutes!) and we cheered on all the WRS ladies as they crossed the finish line. We spotted some royal blue visors coming across and it was Shelly and Amy! They finished their first 5k just under 39 minutes!!! I was so excited for their awesome time; I had to fight back tears of joy! I was so happy and proud of all the ladies in our group – not at all for what I had done coaching – but proud of how far each of them had come since that first day. All of us runners had to start somewhere and we all had the very first day of running. I remember it seemed like I was going to die after just 2 minutes of running! One by one all the royal blue ladies crossed the finish line. There were cheers, high fives, hugs and congratulations. For me, this was the best part of the day and I’m so glad I had the opportunity to coach and I already hope to do it next year.

WRS 2012 Royal Blue

Race the Bar 5k #3

Going into this race I knew it was going to be a tough course. Like most races around here, it was hilly. But not just hilly, major hilly with a variety of long gradual up hills and long steep hills. No just nice and short hills and you’re done on this course. To top it off, temperatures at 3pm were around 85. Yeah, all those nice days of low 70’s disappeared for Saturday (the race was on Sept. 22 - late posting).

The first time I've raced in shorts!
If you can’t tell by the first paragraph, I didn’t have such a great race. I didn’t want to stress out about the race and the series standings, so all week I just kept thinking…"no big deal, just go out there and run. I should finish around my same 5k time and I’ll be fine". So I didn’t get super excited about the race trying to keep this "no big deal" attitude.

I did a one mile warm up at a nice easy pace about 15 minutes before the race start and felt good. I was already sweating after that but I figured after running in this brutal heat all summer, 3 more miles wasn’t going to kill me. The first mile was the only downhill part and I knew not to go out too fast. The start was crowded and I actually had to pass several people to get going on my pace. I hit the first long gradual up hill. This should be ok – I’ve ran this hill before in the Beer Run. It was hot. The sun was out without a cloud in the sky. And the course had hardly any shade.

Mile one 9:50. Not too bad. Only two more miles to go. But then, I just fell apart. Once I passed the one mile marker sign, I was done. Not physically done, but mentally. All of a sudden I thought, I don’t want to be here; I don’t want to do this; I’m hot; I don’t feel like running any more. Then I started walking. Seriously?!? I know I can run 3 miles without walking, what the heck is wrong with me?

The next two miles were horrible. The mental game kept going in my head. I just wanted this race to be over. I kept taking walk breaks, especially up the hills. Every time I glanced at my watch I knew my finish time was going to be bad. I talked myself out of caring about the series standings. I was disappointed in myself but I just wanted this race to be over.

Finally it was over. I didn’t even sprint to the finish line. I just wanted to cross it and be done. My chip time was 33:39. That looks like a 5k finish time from last year. I’ve improved since then. Recently, my finish times have been under 31 minutes (but still not under 30 minutes). Two minutes is a lot for me. I guess I shouldn’t have done all that walking.

It did make me feel better to hear the elite runners say it was a tough course. My hubby Michael was about a minute and half off (although he finished fourth overall and first in his age group). My BIL was two minutes off and finished second in his age group. Yeah, I finished like thirteen out of twenty-five…no trophy glass for me!

BIL and hubby (in white) pre-race
Of course to be expected, I’m no longer in third place series standings…I’m in fourth. Great. Now to decide if I want to race in the last race and hope for a better time to possibly come in third place (I’m sure I wouldn’t place higher) or do I just forget about it and not race at all. I would hate to race and do well but still finish fourth. It’s not something that I really had my heart sat on. Once I realized it was possible for me to actually win something, that sounded pretty good. I’m never going to be fast enough to place in my age group or overall; unless it was a super small race and I was the only one in my age group!

The last race will be after my half-marathon and another 5k, so I think I’ll just see how I’m feeling and make a decision a few days before the race. Either way, it’s not the end of the world. It’s just a race and there are plenty more out there!