September 8, 2011

Race Recap: Virginia Beach Rock 'N' Roll Half Marathon

Let's make a deal: You refrain from pointing out the glaring fact that this race took place on Sunday and it is, in fact, Wednesday... and I will spare you the gory details of how, in just the past two days, I've picked up several hours of overtime thanks to a mini-crisis at work. Sounds like a fair trade, yes? Clearly, a large percentage of the three (or so) of you who may happen to read this are only here to find out whether or not I'm still alive after my first attempt at a half-marathon. It would be a shame to give everything away too early, so first you'll have to endure a few terrible pictures and some very fuzzy memories of 13.1 slightly torturous miles.

We made it to the expo on Saturday afternoon, just in time to be reminded that I had only a few short hours left before hitting the road. I've never run a race with a real expo, so it was fun to roam around, drool over all the amazing running gear, and generally soak in the excitement. I picked up some GU, a tube of Nuun, a 13.1 tumbler, and a few great stickers:

These cracked me up, and I'm dying for it to stop raining so that I can finally put the 13.1 on my car. 
After the expo, we went to scope out the next morning's parking situation, and then headed to check into the hotel, grab some dinner, and go to bed super early. Unfortunately, even though I turned off the light around 9:30, I only managed about 2 or 3 hours of sleep. The rest of the night I spent tossing and turning and dozing off just enough to have nightmares about the race. 
Honestly, the 4am drive to the parking area and the shuttle to the start passed in kind of a haze of exhaustion and nerves. I woke up enough to warm up a little bit, stand in line for the bathroom (twice), and then squeeze my way into the corral a few minutes before the start.
the view from corral 12
They ran the wave start quickly and I crossed the starting line right around 7:16. Finally, after months of training and anticipation, we were off...
Miles 1-6 were surprisingly wonderful. The course started off through downtown and then headed out a flat stretch of road lined with trees and dotted with neighborhoods. I felt incredible, my splits were fast (too fast), and I allowed myself to stick to the outside, working my way past crowd after crowd, gaining adrenaline with each group I overtook. There was a voice in the back of my head urging me to slow down and conserve some energy, but I ignored it like an idiot pro.
For miles 6-9, we took a turn down a rural road, enjoyed a bit of shade, and I started to get a little concerned. My pace leveled out to around 9 minute miles, and my body started to give the first hints of fatigue. I started to regret my choice to carry a water bottle with me, as it all of a sudden weighed about 25 pounds in my hand, but I was generally able to keep it together mentally and fight through the stress.
Miles 9-12 were rough -- my legs got tired, my stomach started to feel unhappy, and, worst of all, my mental game began to fall apart. I struggled to keep putting one food in front of the other, and questioned whether I was going to be able to make it to the end. My uncle was running the race with me, and luckily he caught up with me right around mile 10, talking me through the last couple miles and to the boardwalk.
The last mile was probably the worst, stretching along the boardwalk with the sun beating down and a gazillion people shouting "You're almost there... you're almost there..." As hard as I tried to hang in there and   push all the way to the end, I kept looking towards the finish line and deciding that it. wasn't. getting. any. closer. I considered how embarrassing it would be to collapse, in front of all those people, just half a mile from the end. I wondered whether there was any graceful way to sit down right there in the middle of the course. I wanted so badly to stop and walk, but everyone around me was running and even if my pride would have allowed it, I was pretty sure I'd get trampled. But just when I didn't think I could take another step without falling apart, I looked up to see the finish line looming, and finally my legs kicked in, carrying me towards the end as if my life depended on it. I'm honestly not sure how I got there, but the next thing I knew, my foot hit that pad, someone shoved a bottle of water at me, and I was suddenly floating on the knowledge that I'd just run 13.1 miles... and finished.

My official time was 2:00:36, almost 15 whole minutes faster than my goal time. I was elated, even though part of me wishes that I had dug in during those last few miles and come in under 2 hours. Honestly, though, I'm. thrilled that not only did I get a pretty awesome pr for my first half, but also a built-in and readily-achievable sub-2:00 goal. (More on goals another day, but this is going to be on the top of my list for the next few months)
Overall, despite the major psychological struggles, the race was fantastic -- a wonderfully flat course with awesome volunteers and practically ideal weather. Not only am I proud of my time, I'm extremely excited to have just finished this race: until just a few months ago, I would never have guessed that I could get through 13 miles on my own two feet. It was an incredible experience and I'm so thankful that my months of training paid off so well. I can't wait to keep training and start thinking about the next few races on my calendar!



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