Monday, May 17, 2010

My First Half Marathon

If you want to win something, run 100 meters. If you want to experience something, run a marathon."

- Emil Zatopek, 1952 Olympic Marathon gold medalist

On May 16, 2010 at 7:00am, My friends and I kicked off together from the start line and ran a Marine Corps Historic Half Marathon, all 13.1 miles of it. The journey was simply incredible.

Almost everyone I meet asks me, why did I run this marathon? I thought about it deep and the honest answer is, I simply wanted to know if I could. During the entire race, I remember saying to myself... "This is for me, this is for me...". And that's why I did it.

Four months ago, when a friend suggested that we run a half marathon, I never seriously thought that we will actually ever enroll in a race let alone finish the race. Later I thought, what the heck lets at least start walking together and see how far we can take it. Well, we took it all the way to the finish line.

I started this journey with a dozen friends. While the journey is not yet over, I did finish the Marine Corps Historic Half Marathon with every single one of them and enjoyed every single moment of it. I could not have done it without their motivation, support, encouragement, camaraderie and most of all their humor.

We started our training in November. Because of the cold weather we started our baby steps by walking inside a mall. Some of us created our own training calendar. Others followed a marathon training schedule. I started by creating my own schedule with cross training, strength training and jogging, but inevitably found myself focusing only on two things, cardio and slowly increasing endurance every 2 weeks. The first few times we barely managed to walk 3-4 miles in 2 hours. Every week we added 2-3 miles more. Once the weather got warmer, we started training outdoors. Most of our training was on flat trails and most of us walked. There were a few among our group that ran. By race day, every one of us had completed at least one run of 13 miles, even though it took us a full 4 hours.

The night before the race, we all got together at a good Italian place, filling up on carbs. Since the race was out of town, we stayed in a hotel. That night there were plenty of jokes and humor going around but none of us slept well. It was probably the combination of excitement, nervousness about getting up early the next morning, and the fact that we were not sleeping in our normal beds.

On race day, we all got up and dressed in time uneventfully. Ate bananas and bagel and not to forget the all important Advil. The day was a bit overcast, a bit cool. The expo center (near the start/end line) was full of people most of them standing near the portable pottys. We all stretched, made multiple trips to the porta potty just in case and joked around to get rid of the nervous energy and then lined up. As a group, we stood in the back with the slow runners & walkers. At 7 am, after the national anthem and a loud cheer, the race started. It was amazing to see 7000 people all start running almost at the same time. The street was lined by people, both kids and adults, all cheering with bells in hand. For the first two miles, there were plenty of fellow runners all around us. As the miles increased, the runner crowd dwindled. The faster runners went way ahead and novices like us tried hard to maintain our pace. It was soo encouraging to see the cheering crowd, from the bagpipers to boy scouts to families handing out water and tequila shots and kids with their school bands. Every single cheer, every single bell, every single note of music and every single smile from a fellow runner added that much energy to my step. I stopped to take a bathroom break around mile 4 and then a few pictures at mile 6...god knows whose camera was used but at that moment it did not matter.

I had trained as a walker, but because of the varying elevation of the course I had to jog most of the way to maintain with my pace. Some friends ran past me. I passed a few friends. There were the three of us from our group who stayed together. Though still jogging, my pace slowed as I hit a wall around mile 8. It was 1 hour and 46 min since the race had started. The sun also came out and we started to really feel the heat. The runner crowd dwindled. Most of the fast runners had long gone past. Other repeat runners almost towards the end of their races. We the novice runners who were still midway were likely the ones who had something to prove to ourselves. For me, my race time did not matter, I just knew that I had to finish the race. Periodically, I slowed and waited for friends to catch up and then took off again. I saw a few fellow runners stop. This was the end of their race. They stopped and waved and became part of the cheering crowd. Still others ran past.

Mile 10 to 11 were the hardest. This was the biggest climb of the race with a 200 ft elevation. I was with two of my friends. There was no way we could jog up this hill so we three just walked together.

The last mile seemed the longest even though the finish was in sight. There were tons of people lined up on both sides cheering. My husband later asked, "when you saw the finish line did you get an extra burst of energy?". No, I replied, it was the people who were standing and cheering us along that last mile. Since it was too embarrassing to just walk amidst their cheers, so I simply ran that last mile. I now know what Forest Gump must have felt.

The finish was too sweet and the journey simply amazing. All I know is, this was only the first half marathon race, the last one is yet to come. I don't know why I will run the next race. I just know that I will.