I did it. I completed my first half marathon, and accomplished my goal of finishing under two hours. It wasn’t a seamlessly perfect experience, however, and I learned a lot from this race.
I got there about 45 minutes before the start of the race, and ate my usual half a banana and hydrated a bit before my warm up. The weather conditions were pretty much the best you can expect for a race in the beginning of December in State College, PA. It was a little above freezing and sunny, with the only downfall being the occasional strong (and icy) winds. I ran about a mile loop for my warm up and then stretched a bit, trying to keep my body warm as I waited for the race to begin. The nerves started to settle in as I lined up at the starting line. It was almost surreal to stand there, amongst hundreds of other runners, after so many months of training. I was just praying that I would make it through the course alive and not let myself down.
Suddenly there was movement. The people at the front of the pack started moving forward and I realized the race had begun. I started to jog. This was it! There was no turning back now.
As I started to run, I quickly realized that my hat would not make it through the race. It was already starting to slip off my head. Great, I thought. Two minutes into the race and I’m already struggling. I tried to cast aside those negative thoughts and decided I would take my hat off and throw it to the side by the starting line as we passed it, since the course made a loop to that point anyway. As I tossed it aside, I prayed that this would be the only misstep of the race.
The first three miles flew by. The first two were a loop around the Agricultural Arena and were pretty flat and easy. Once I got through that, I was ready to hit the streets and start the ‘real’ part of the course. The following four miles or so were on a long road toward the airport with a gradual climb. I was feeling pretty good and was keeping pace without tiring myself out. The first real challenge was a long hill by the airport. I was starting to feel my first bout of pain. However, as I would soon learn, this would not even come close to the challenges ahead. As the road ended and we turned right, a series of steep hills began and I just kept thinking to myself, “You’ve ran up these types of hills so many times. You’ve trained for this. You can do it.” My motivation increased as I passed fellow runners who were too tired to keep pace. This is what I came to do, so I might as well put my all into it. As I got through each hill (there were about 3 hard ones on this road), I became increasingly tired but I knew that I was getting closer and closer to the end. I was shocked as I passed the marker for mile 10 and looked down at my watch to realize I was about 4 minutes above my goal pace.
Then, another minor roadblock came along. Something felt strange, so I looked down at my feet and saw that my left shoe was untied. I quickly tore my gloves off and bent down to tie my shoe, only to realize that my fingers wouldn’t cooperate with me. My brain was telling them to move, but it was so cold out that they were too stiff to tie my shoes. I started to panic, worrying that I’d waste so much time trying to tie my shoes that it would throw off my pace. However, I pulled myself together and used the adrenaline to get my fingers moving. Finally, after 15 seconds or so, my shoes were once again tied and ready to go. Crisis averted (half marathons involve lots of drama, as you can tell).
The last leg of the race was by far the toughest. It was a long and seemingly never-ending climb on Houserville Rd up to Orchard Rd and to the finish line. This was my most dreaded part of the race. All the reviews I had read about this course warned of this climb—with one even claiming that the last mile is designed to make you see God. I tried to prepare for these frightful few miles a couple times during my training by running the last portion. I was thinking to myself, “Ok. I got this. I’ve done this before, it wasn’t that bad, just take it one step at a time.” But oh my God, was I wrong. The feeling that I had trying to defeat this hill was unlike any feeling I had during my training. This was the first time in the race when I really considered taking a break to walk. I had to keep reminding myself that it was almost over and I may as well use all the energy I had left in me. I remembered the shirt I saw someone wearing earlier: “Pain is temporary. Quitting is forever.” So, I pushed forward as I made it to the top of Orchard Rd and onto Park Ave toward the finish line. Which, by the way, was still uphill. I kept going, trying to stay positive and push myself to the limit. As I turned left onto Porter Rd (still uphill) an overwhelming feeling of pride came over me and I almost started crying of happiness. Now, I don’t know if any of you have choked up while running, but it ain’t comfortable. I couldn’t breathe and was gasping for air as I tried to pull myself together. “Now is definitely not the time to get emotional, Anna,” I told myself. I mean, really. Who the hell starts tearing up during a race?
Once I got my emotions in check and my breathing was back to normal, I had just a few hundred yards left to go. I climbed up the final hill on Porter Rd and turned left into the parking lot of the Visitor’s Center where the finish line would be. As exhausted as I was, I decided to push myself one last time and sprint to the finish. As I crossed the finish line, I looked down at my watch to see my time. 1 hour and 54 minutes! I was so excited that I had beat my goal time by a few minutes. All of my training had paid off and, as I chugged my water and tried to get some feeling back in my jelly-like legs, I felt so much joy and pride.
My official time was 1 hour 54 minutes and 15 seconds, with an average pace of 8 minutes 43 seconds per mile. I placed 10th within my age group, which was 20-24 year-olds.
But, now what? Now that I’m done with the race and reached my goal, I’m at a bit of a loss as to what to do next. I’m thinking I may sign up for another half marathon for the spring. I’m hoping to participate in a bigger one, maybe in a city.
Overall, I think my first half marathon couldn’t have gone any better. Although I had some hiccups (the hat, the shoestrings), in the end I did what I came to do and I’m so happy with myself.
I guess I can start calling myself a runner now.