As my legs took their first step on the road to 13.1, I felt a wave of excitement rush through my body. I ran my first half marathon in May 2010 at the Capital City half in Columbus and I swore I would never do another one again. It wasn’t because I didn’t love the hard-work it took to get to race day, the sweat and effort that was put into all of those training runs. However, it was because I doubted my own abilities. Running my first half was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, mostly due to the fact that I had no idea what to expect and wasn’t sure if it was even possible for me to finish. Turns out though, it was possible and I pushed my mind and body to the limits to succeed. Following that race and for days, weeks, months after I thought it would be the only half marathon I would ever run. I knew how difficult it was and I wasn’t sure if I wanted to put myself back through the pain and sacrifice my time to train. However, at this point in my life I needed a fitness goal, I needed something to work toward, and proving to myself that I could run another half marathon seemed like just the ticket. That’s right, the racing bug had bitten me again, but this time in a city south of my alma mater. This time I was in Cincinnati.
My husband gave me a quick kiss and wished me good luck. We had decided before the race that we would stick together and pace each other during the run, hoping to finish at the same time. However, if either of us fell behind (ahem, if I fell behind), the other person would keep going and we would meet at the finish line. Although we had trained together, we also realized that finishing was an individual goal as well. We both wanted the best for each other, so if that meant running at our own pace, then that was how it was going to be.
The sun was continuing to rise in the sky as I took my first steps across that starting line. The crowd was full, but at least where I was standing, was nothing as cramped as the Capital City was, or even the local ‘Turkey Trot’ we do every year. I expected it to take a couple miles for the crowds to wean out and for us to really pick up our pace, but we were running at our pace goal within seconds of beginning. I looked up at the clock and we were about 6 minutes or so behind the first runners. We started down the street and ran past Great American Ball Park where the Cincinnati Reds play. The last time I was roaming this city was for one of those games last July. I remembered it was hot, humid and sticky, so seeing it in the morning’s light with temps in the 60’s felt like such a blessing.
Before I knew it, we were at our first bridge, maintaining about a 9:20 second mile. This was a little faster than our training runs, but I knew that the first few miles of the race were likely to be my fastest. I knew about those hills that would be coming later on, but I tried to put them out of my mind and run my little heart out at the start. I couldn’t believe what a beautiful morning we were given: bright blue skies, not a cloud in sight, and bright sparkle coming off of the Ohio River, a reflection from the sun that was slowly climbing higher and higher into the sky.
At this point we were coming to the end of the bridge and I spotted Newport on the Levee, a place that I celebrated my 22nd birthday, only days before I would become engaged. Last time I was there I had no clue what the future had in store, but this time I knew and had him running right next to me.
Before I knew it we were coming off the bridge and were now in Kentucky. It’s not everyday you can say you ran from ‘Ohio to Kentucky’ then back from ‘Kentucky to Ohio’ and not be telling a tall-tale. We kept our speed up as we crossed mile 1, and then mile 2. It was about this time that my stomach started to feel a little rough and I could feel the cramps slowly sneaking up on me. I decided to push it out of my mind at this time, but I couldn’t help but know it would possibly be making its appearance again.
The first few miles weren’t bad at all. I grabbed a water at every stop, (there was a water station at almost every mile, which was awesome), and kept up the pace. We had to go uphill on the bridge that headed back to Ohio, and although it was a difficult hill, it was definitely doable. About this time, Meghan branched off from us and it was just Tim and I. My stomach was killing me, but I was hoping a few sips of water here and there would help. I tried to focus on my music and my pace as we headed off the bridge and back into the city. We were so blessed the race started as early as it did for the sun had not quite rose high enough yet and the buildings were blocking a lot of the heavy rays. The mile long stretch between three and four was filled with spectators, which helped keep the momentum up. There were signs being held, cowbells being rang, and children reaching out for high fives, offering some of the best encouragement of the day.
About mile four and a half is when the hills started. At first it was a low incline, but as you came around the corner, the huge hills couldn’t be missed. Now I knew they were coming, but I didn’t expect them to be quite so high, and quite so many. I thought I had ‘trained hills’ in my neighborhood, but no, they were nothing like these. We started up the hill and I could already feel my stomach cramping up worse. This is when things start to get a little blurry and my memory gets a little foggy. All I could think about was that I was only at mile five, and I was already looking for the finish line. Suddenly all of those great feelings I felt for the first five miles went away and I was stuck worrying about the next five. I knew we had been speedy initially, so I thought the best bet for myself at that time would be to walk up the hills and then make up for the time in the last downward stretch. I told Tim to go on ahead and at this point he took off, and I realized I was suddenly alone. I was alone with my thoughts, and even with thousands of people around me, I felt alone in the race.
I started to doubt my capability of finishing as my stomach began feeling worse and worse. I was truly disappointed for I had hoped not to walk at all, but I tried to push these negative thoughts out of my head. I knew my body, and part of my deal with myself was that I would not only listen to it while training, but also during the race. I said my prayers for positive thoughts and help when I needed it the most, and kept pushing ahead. I think a lot of runners probably wage a battle like this inside their heads. Running is so much more than physically crossing that finish line, it’s the mental aspect that can be the hardest feat of all to accomplish.
Miles six and seven were all hills, but I kept with my walk-run strategy. It seemed to be working fairly well, but my stomach pain would not stop. I passed rest stop after rest stop, but as I finally came around mile eight, I knew I needed to stop. I didn’t want to, but I was sick and knew I had to take care of myself. Afterwards, I felt better, but still not great. I felt dehydrated and light headed, even though I had been drinking water at every stop. I had ran quite a few long runs and had never been sick and felt upset that it happened for the first time during the race, but as mile nine came around I tried to push the negative aside again. I may be feeling sick, and I may not end in the time I had hoped, but I was going to finish this race and I was going to finish strong.
By mile ten, we had started the downhill run back into the city. When I say downhill, I mean that the incline was as low as the hill incline was high. I had to be careful not to go down too fast for fear of falling. The end of the run was a welcome relief though. I knew I was going to finish and I wanted to make up a little of the time I had lost during my mile five through eight struggle. I looked down at my Garmin and I was keeping a steady running pace between an 8:50 and a 9:10 mile. At this point, I had never been so happy to see mile twelve in my life. ‘Only one mile to go,’ I reminded myself as I began a silent countdown in my head: 9 minutes to go, 8 minutes to go, etc. etc.
Crossing that finish line was obviously a wave of happiness and relief all rolled into one. Tim found me in the crowd of runners immediately and gave me a big congratulatory hug. We walked toward the recovery stations where I got my medal, quickly chugged two bottles of water, and grabbed a cup of gatorade, a banana, and a recovery protein bar. My legs felt tight, but they were no where near as sore as they had been my first half. And you know what? I had PR’d this race. Definitely a little slower than what I had hoped, but I still beat my original time by two minutes. I finished in 2:14 and I couldn’t have been more proud of myself. This was a tough race, and my body didn’t feel as great as expected, but I had finished and finished strong, which is all I could really hope.
Although I was feeling rough, I was smiling from ear-to-ear. There is nothing like that post-run high, which I hadn’t truly believed existed until I first felt it myself. So will I run another half marathon someday? I am not ready to answer that question, for I have proclaimed no before and here I stand today just completing my second. I know initially I am planning on cutting back on the running and trying some other exercises that have fell to the side, but maybe someday I will be crossing that finish line again. Only time will tell!