|Antietam National Battlefield|
While this wasn't my first half (I did a few in 2011-2012), it was my first in several years--and my lazy butt was working back up to 13 miles from couch potato. The first few weeks of training were the worst both mentally and physically (see an earlier post where I questioned whether I could actually finish a 5-mile run), but over time, I gained confidence as I gained muscle memory, and running became (mostly) fun again.
I chose Freedom's Run because of proximity (it starts in West Virginia, only 45 minutes from my house) and scenery (a major part of the course runs through Antietam National Battlefield, which is truly gorgeous). Doesn't hurt that it's a great event with a good reputation in the area: with races at 5k, 10k, half-marathon and full-marathon distances (plus a kids fun run that I believe is about a mile), the directors manage to start everything on time and direct traffic (both foot and car) smoothly throughout the event. There's a big emphasis on environmental impact here, too: race packets don't come with bags full of stuff no one wants or needs; runners are given plastic water bottles and actual glass pint glasses for water and beer rehydration after the race; even the tech shirts given to runners are made of eco-friendly materials. All of which I love.
Despite the fact that I had a serious sinus thing going on the day of the race (I'd just returned from Arizona, which is a lovely state, though apparently one I'm rather allergic to), and the fact that Freedom's course is notoriously hilly (seriously; that hill photographed above was one of many like it, all in rapid succession) I managed to shave 5 minutes off of my past half marathon PR.
For those interested, this was my inner (and sometimes not-so-inner) monologue during the run:
Pre-race: I'm seriously congested. My head hurts. I should have stayed in bed. I don't want to eat this Larabar (the only thing I can really stomach before a race). Did I bring enough jelly beans (caffeinated, electrolyte sport beans are the best)? Is it time to start yet? I'm freezing (it's 55 degrees) and bored and did I mention my head hurts?
Miles 1-3: Science says that if you run far enough, your headache will go away. (NB: I actually have no idea if science actually says this, but I convinced myself of it for a good 20 minutes at the outset of this run.)
Miles 3-5: HILLS. Silently (and occasionally out loud) curse these damn hills while thanking my group running coach for all of the hill training he made us do.
Miles 5-7: HILLS. HILLS. MORE HILLS. Tuck into each one, small steps, remind myself that staring at the top doesn't make the hill shorter or any easier to climb. Somewhere in here I stopped to refill my water bottle from a nice volunteer stop, though that's all a haze, really.
Miles 7-8: The good news: I'm no longer fixating on how badly my head hurts. The bad news: That's because a massive blister on the sole of my foot has taken up all of my spare brain energy. I'm feeding myself a few beans every mile as a consolation prize.
Mile 9: I start humming "Red, Red Wine" to myself because it's got 180 beats per minute, which is the recommended cadence for efficient running. That song is annoyingly catchy and I only know about 12 words for it. Also, there are an inappropriate number of hills on this course.
Mile 10: I'm seriously contemplating walking to ease up on the blister on the arch of my foot when my family, driving to meet me at the finish line, passes me on the road: horn honking, leaning out the window to cheer me on. They have no idea how much I needed that boost.
Mile 11: Tell myself to remember how awful I feel at this point of the race, so that the next time I decide to sign up for a race, or, god forbid, contemplate a full, I remember how much I hate my current life decisions and all these ridiculous hills.
Mile 12: "You can do anything for 10 seconds!," on repeat, Kimmy Schmidt style. I promise myself I am never racing again. I am still humming that one damned verse of Red Red Wine. I still manage to remember to smile for the camera?
Mile 12.5: I'm starting to see familiar faces of other members of my running group who have finished the 10k and/or the half before me. One is yelling--loudly and with energy--at the base of a small parking lot hill here and is, quite frankly, the only reason I make it up that six-foot hill.
Mile 12.9: I couldn't possible have enough energy left to pick up my speed for the finish line.
Mile 13: Spot the finish line. Sprint. I just want to be done already. I hate these stupid shoes and their stupid blister-maker spots.
Mile 13.11: (30 seconds later) That was so much fun! I shaved 5 whole minutes off of my last half time! And I wasn't even trying to PR; I just wanted to finish! Cookies! Beer! I can't wait to do it again! Maybe I'll even try a full next year! I need a nap!
So, onwards and upwards... I'm still not sure if a full is actually in the cards for me (the time commitment alone is enough to overwhelm me), but I'm considering a few halfs next year and already working on ways to keep myself motivated to get out and get mileage in as the weather gets colder (step one: gloves).