Monday, November 5, 2012

Race Recap: My first half-marathon!

I awoke like a child on Christmas morning. My alarm wasn’t set to go off for another 30 minutes but I was simply too excited to go back to bed. It was the day I’d been obsessing about for almost 6 months: my first half-marathon. I'd originally registered for the race due to pressure encouragement from Melanie. She was originally planning to walk the half-marathon distance and told me that if she could walk it, I could run it. I had a lot of doubts and no idea what I was getting myself into but I eventually agreed. I am SO thankful that I did. I am also so proud of Mel because over the last 6 months she has become a runner and she ran that 13.1 instead of walking it. 

Yesterday’s weather report called for a 30% chance of rain but thankfully it never showed up. It was a chilly morning and I was grateful for my nervous energy keeping me active & therefore warm(ish) near the start line. I waited near the back of the pack, where I noticed an older gentleman in front of me dressed in blue jeans. I wanted so badly to ask, “Sir? Do you know you’re about to do a half-marathon?!” For the record, he did it. I watched him cross the finish line later that morning.

The beginning of the race was a blur of excitement as I activated my trio of technology (heart rate monitor, interval timer, and RunKeeper app). Then, I was off and running. I tried to hang with the 3:00-half pace group because we were both doing intervals but we weren’t in sync, so we leap-frogged for a bit. I hadn’t run for a few days prior to the race and my legs were so ready to move! It was only a matter of time before they got the best of me and I surged ahead. I came upon a friend of mine who was running the full marathon and we chatted for a few minutes before yet again I forged on. It was about this time that I realized I was feeling too good and moving too fast. Coincidentally this was also when I faced the first of many hills; I considered it a speed bump.

The folks around me at this point in the race were in great spirits and very vocal. A man running with a stroller paused to let his toddler daughter out for a run. As I passed them he told the little girl “Don’t let her beat you!” It cracked me up. There was also a man in front of me who was keeping an amazingly steady pace. I would fall behind him during my walk intervals but pass him during my runs. I thought about trying to talk to him but wasn’t sure if that was taboo, so I made it my goal to stay near him.

The course quickly took us into the heart of downtown Raleigh, which was fun because we passed a lot of local hangouts and monuments. Somewhere between miles 3 & 4 I spotted the paparazzi and tried my best to smile and look photogenic. We shuffled past a fire station where about 12 firemen stood quietly watching our efforts. They seemed disinterested but I smiled and waved anyway, which seemed to catch their attention. 

Soon after I encountered the second water stop, which was manned by volunteers in pretty tutus. As I rounded a corner I was greeted by a family on the side of the road and three young girls with their arms extended, looking for high-fives. Three high-fives later, I continued on my journey up yet another hill. We ran toward the state capitol building, past church-goers in suits and dresses, past the cow parade and the huge globe situated outside the museum of natural sciences.

After running past one of my favorite pizza places I started to get excited because I knew that I was almost at mile 6, where Rose was stationed as a course monitor. I was beginning to realize that my pace was still too quick, that I needed to fuel more consistently and I was really looking forward to seeing a familiar face. As I approached the intersection where the course monitors were stationed, I started waving happily to those on the left side of the road but no one waved back. Then I heard someone calling my name on the right side of the road and there was Rose! It just so happened to be time for one of my walk intervals so I got to chat with her for a brief minute before continuing on. Thanks for cheering for me Rose, you made my day!

The race took us up another hill past a huge shopping center where the finish line for the 10K was located. There were more spectators in this part of the course and I heard lots of cheers, music and cowbells, which energized me. I knew my parents were expected to show up on the race course at some point and I was really hoping it would be here. I scanned the crowd for familiar faces but didn’t see any. Then I spotted my favorite sign of the whole race, it said “You look sooooo skinny!!!” Haha! Why thank you.

At the top of the hill was another water stop and a teenager with a sign that had a bull’s-eye on it and said “push here for power boost”. I high-fived his sign and sped up a little bit, pretending I was in a video game. A couple of miles later I realized that my water bottle was nearly empty. Having never run a long-distance race before, I was unsure what my water situation would be. I have trained all year with a 20oz handheld bottle and this is what I carried with me on race day. I had serious water-anxiety throughout the race and had stopped at every water stop on the way to be sure I was properly hydrated. Just after the 8-mile marker, I approached another water stop and the first volunteer I saw was a man holding a pitcher of water. I ran right up to him and he said “this is for bottle refill”. I already had my bottle open and as he filled it up I told him I loved him. He probably thought I was crazy but he was in the right place at the right time!

At the top of yet another uphill (was this whole race uphill??) was a sweet blonde woman cheering us on. We thanked her and she said she had just run the Marine Corps Marathon last weekend and wanted to cheer on some local runners before heading to church. How sweet! She wasn’t kidding either because I saw her two more times on the course; she just kept appearing out of nowhere every time I was hoping to see my parents. The last time I saw her, around mile 11, I told her she was like our little angel. Even though I didn’t know her, she too made my day.

Miles 9, 10 and 11 were a series of out & backs so we were constantly running past each other. I thought I would hate that part of the course because it was repetitive and there weren’t many spectators but I actually enjoyed seeing several of my running group friends and we all shouted encouragement to each other. The volunteers, police officers and course monitors were truly amazing and made such an impact on me too. I tried to give a thumbs-up or a thank you to all who offered kind words or a smile. One woman sat on the edge of her front lawn with her speakers blaring Rapper’s Delight, which cracked me up. She told me I had the best smile she had seen on anyone all day. I was really starting to feel tired at this point so I was proud that I was still smiling.

As I neared the 12-mile marker I saw an amazingly fast guy bolt past and heard a volunteer radio that the first marathoners were back on the shared part of the course. That was both awe-inspiring and humbling, knowing someone had just run twice the distance in the same amount of time as my 12 miles. The closer I got to the finish, the more vocal the course monitors got. “You’re only a mile away!” “Half mile to go!” Tears of pride formed at the corners of my eyes but I willed them away, telling myself I couldn’t cry until I crossed that finish line and made it official.

The last quarter-mile was tough, as my feet started to cramp on me. I kept pushing through, telling myself not to stop running until I crossed that finish line. Finally the line was in sight and full-marathoners were flying past me at lightning speed. The closer I got, the louder the cheers and shouts became and I gave everything I had left. I saw someone step out from the crowd, their arms waving, and I realized it was my dad. In front of him was my mother, furiously snapping pictures. As I drew closer my dad stuck his hand out for a high-five and the look on his face was the same as when our favorite hockey team made it to the playoffs. I think the last time my parents came out to support me like this was in high school; it meant a lot for me to finally see their faces.

My amazing acorn-shaped medal

I glanced at the clock as I crossed the finish line, bowed my head to receive the medal that I had worked so hard to earn, and posed for the photographer. When I registered for this race 6 months ago, my goal was just to finish it. Despite caution not to set a time goal for my first race, as it drew closer I resolved to finish under 3 hours. In the weeks just prior to the big day, I secretly hoped to make it in around 2:45. When the results were officially posted later that night I was overjoyed: 2:47:54.

Training for and running this race has taught me so much about me and what I am capable of. This was not just a race of 13.1 miles; it was a journey of 31 years and a transformation of my life… from obese couch potato to half-marathoner. I couldn’t be more proud.


  1. So awesome! Congratulations! You look so happy and proud (and pretty too!) in your picture!

  2. Girl, this is one of the best recaps I've ever read (and not just because I'm in it! You looked great at mile 6, BTW). Your happiness about acheiving your goal is amazing! And the part about your dad!! I'm so glad you had a great day! Congratulations!

  3. Yay!! Your are awesome!! Heart you!! I wish I would have written my thoughts of your post as I read it because I am soo tired that I already forgot what I was going to say. I'm sooooooooooo proud of you!

  4. Yay, Bang! This was so fun to read! I'm so happy for you. Congratulations on being a half marathoner!

  5. Amazing! Congratulations! I'm registered for my 1st half in March and I'm scared to death - my longest run to date was 4 miles last Saturday. You're an inspiration.

  6. First off- here I am crying tears of joy for you! I am so flipping proud of you! You did a fabulous job! Yay! So happy, so proud!

    Second-I love this recap. It makes me so excited for my half on Sunday. I can only hope it goes as smoothly as yours. My plan is to enjoy the crowds and the other runners and take it all in. the whole experience. same as how you did it. really just have a fun time.

    3rd- i am totally going on itunes right now and download rappers delight. Thanks for that!

  7. you're amazing! very, very inspirational!!

  8. You are amazing Monica! I am so proud of you. Sounds like you had a great experience. it's amazing the things the body can do when we put our mind to it.

  9. Congrats on the race! And what an awesome medal to get for your first half!!

  10. Congrats! That medal is gorgeous!

    2:47 is my PR, too!!

  11. Congratulations on your first half marathon!! You definitely deserve that medal :)

  12. I am SO SO proud of you! Congrats on a great race! It has been so awesome to read about your journey along the way. You are a true inspiration, and I'm excited to see what is next for you! You are a half marathoner!!!

  13. So proud of you!!! BANG BANG!!!!!