Monday, February 14, 2011

I did it! Mercedes half-marathon race recap

A poorly planned and tired finishing pose.

I’m having trouble finding words to describe the race yesterday and I’m not sure where to start, so I’m just going to write as much as I remember about how I felt throughout the last several days. Feel free to skim, read all of it or skip altogether since this is mostly for my own benefit and I know it’s quite long.

As far as the actual race, it’s hard to recall all the details I had racing through my head at the time they happened because now that we’ve all crossed the finish line, I can only recall the feelings at the end – the reward. The one where you feel like the world is in your hands and you can accomplish anything.

Saturday night with the 5 of us racing the next day (and spouses) gathering at the lovely Jen West’s house for a delicious carb loading meal and Apples to Apples. It was a great, low key way to spend the night to get our minds (at least mine) off the impending race the next day.

There’s something about big events and races where I don’t sleep well the days and nights beforehand. I didn’t sleep well Friday anticipating my trip to Birmingham. Saturday I tried napping and never was able to fall asleep and Saturday night was the worst. I was in bed by 9:30, didn’t fall asleep until 11, woke up again at 2AM, couldn’t fall back asleep until 3AM and my alarm (all 3 of them!) went off at 5:15AM. Sigh. Luckily, I had enough excitement pumping through my veins to get me through with no cause for worry.

I was out of bed by 5:30AM and getting ready. First, I brewed a cup of coffee and ate my breakfast (whole wheat bagel, almond butter and banana). I wanted to do this step first in my routine to, ahem, let things settle. I followed the half a cup of coffee with about 12-13 ounces of water. Then I got dressed, put my race number on and did one last bathroom check and out the door I went!

I was lucky enough to be staying just 2 blocks away from the start line. So, I got down there quickly and just hung around. Fortunately, I ran into Jen and her husband Mike to snap a few pre-race pictures and get some excitement out chatting it up. About 20 minutes till start time we parted ways and I made my way to the back of the start chute. The slowest corral they had marked was 13+ minute miles. Ha! I am about a 17 minute mile, so as the corral filled up, I moved further back as to not block the way of those who were actually running.

Ready to go!

I forgot to look at the clock when I crossed the start line beginning my official time. My guess would be it took the back of the chute a minute or two to get up there. The act of actually crossing the start line was pretty anti-climatic and off I went. I didn’t put my ear phones in right away. I wanted to take in my surroundings at the start.

Mile 1-3: Pretty non-descript. The course as a whole was a little boring for me as I was in a foreign city and had no idea where I was walking, though I did end up seeing several familiar spots I visited on a previous trip to Birmingham. It was also different for me in that I had no chance to see anyone I knew unless it was on the course, as everyone I know in Birmingham was doing the race. Chez, who I met the night before, did pass me during the first 2 miles and I cheered her on. The first few miles felt slow. I started my strawberry banana Power Bar Energy Gel Blasts at Mile 3.

Mile 4-5: I finally felt in the groove. I did the first 3 miles in around 47 minutes. Pretty typical for me, but I still found myself being concerned with those passing me or trying to pass people. I struggled with this until Mile 6. I also kept looking over my shoulder to make sure the sweep up crew (those who take people off the course that aren’t keeping pace within the maximum time) wasn’t coming for me. I know it sounds silly, but I’m paranoid like that.

Mile 6-7: Despite hearing sad news that Jen blew her knee out and gracefully ended her run to prevent further injury, this was the portion of the course where I finally talked myself down from feeling self conscience about either getting passed or passing people. I kept repeating to myself, “This MY race and I’m going at my own pace. I am not doing this for anyone but me.” Finally having that in my mind helped me relax and get in my own world. Around Mile 6 the marathoners started passing us (not the cause of my passing anxiety, because…well duh) since it is a double loop course. It was pretty cool to see the leading runners pass by. I had 2 more Energy Gel Blasts at Mile 7.

Mile 8-9: At this point, I was staying strong on my 16 minute pace and it crossed my mind I had a chance of finishing at my never-vocalized, aspirational goal of finishing in 3:30. I held on to this thought, though not too hopeful, until about Mile 11 when my pace slowed. Mile 8 I was very excited as I counted on my fingers, “ 8 to 9, 9 to 10, 10 to 11, 11 to 12, 12 to 13 – only 5 miles!” I also started getting really emotional at Mile 9. After I had swore up I would never do another one again, I was doing another half-marathon. And quite frankly every mile was infinitely better than the first marathon I did in April 2009. This realization made me teary-eyed.

Mile 10: THERE ARE RAZOR BLADES IN MY SHOES. Really, that’s what it felt like. This is when the pain from blisters on both feet started. It felt like knives were stabbing my feet with every step I took. I can’t really explain why I got bad blisters. I haven’t had a blister at all throughout training and I did everything exactly the same. Wicking socks, Vaseline, same shoes. The only thing I can figure is that it was a combination of it being so hot outside (aka sweatier feet), my insoles wearing down (I’m ready for new ones) and my shoes being a half size too big, since my feet are shrinking with weight loss. I continued on, hoping the pain would subside. I was glad to only have 3.1 miles left at this point. Two more Gel Blasts before mile 10.

Mile 11-12: The emotions started pouring in again at Mile 11 where Lulumon was cheering on racers with inspirational signs. I started thinking about my brother, for who my journey for health was started for. After his death in 2006, I made a promise to myself that I didn’t want my parents to have to bury two of their children. Had I continued my life the way it was back then it could have happened that way. At Mile 11, I had to hold back as to not become a blubberer 2 miles before the finish line. The blister pain subsided temporarily, but I also slowed down considerably the last two miles (to about am 18-19 minute pace). I had the last two Gel Blasts at Mile 12.

Last mile: Felt like the longest on the course and there was a very clear hill ahead. A hill at the end - REALLY? This also happened to be when I received text messages from both Jen and my former co-worker, Liz who also ran the half, telling me they were waiting to cheer me on near the finish! What a boost! I love, love, love how encouraging everyone is on the last mile. Between the racers who are already done, walking opposite, or the spectators there who tell you, “just a little further” or “right around the corner and you’re done.” I love it. This was probably my favorite part of the race (besides finishing). At the top of the hill I saw Jen and Mike and was SO ENCOURAGED, I sped up a tiny bit to finish strong.

Finish line: So, one of the cool things about Mercedes is that they announce your name as you approach the finish line. Since I was the only one coming down the half-marathon chute at the time, I felt like I had my own personal cheering section. They announced my name and I took off running towards the finish. Yep, I ran the last couple hundred feet or so. AND THEN I WAS DONE and got a pretty medal. My unofficial time (as in, my guess) is 3 hours and 40 minutes. A 16:45 per mile pace.

I grabbed water and met up with Liz briefly, which was really fun since she is from Nashville. It was so exciting to see seeing a familiar face from home at the finish line. Then, I stretched out and headed over to where Jen and Mike were waiting for Chez to come in, within minutes she was crossing the finish line.

Then, it was time to see Stephen and Will across the finish line. As they were nearing the home stretch, Jen had the great idea to go down to cheer them on and support them by walking with them the last quarter mile or so to the finish line. It was overpoweringly emotional to see them cross the finish line and have the race director there waiting for Stephen to hand a medals and beer off to them. We were all across the finish line!

The beautiful and amazing half-marathon finishers medal.

Mimosas and brunch at Silvertron followed and made a perfect celebration for all of our accomplishments.

It’s hard for me to find words to describe the immense accomplishment I feel. I don’t know why, but I didn’t I feel that when I did my first half-marathon. This time, for the first time in my life, I felt like an athlete. Whether I am or not, well, I guess that just depends on who you ask. But the point is, I’m encouraged. If you can’t tell, I’m very competitive with myself. Shaving approximately 38 minutes off my half-marathon time from April 2009 until now encourages me that I can make this body of mine do whatever I set my mind to. I already have my eye on the next prize – details to come soon.

A couple notes about the course/day:
- Well organized event. Great supply of water, Powerade and GU for constant hydration and nutrition during the race.
- Perfect weather – in the 30s to start, hoodie was off by mile 3 and Sunny and 50s most of the race.
- Some of the roads on the course are in need of some major resurfacing. It was hard on my ankles to navigate all the tiny holes and cracks.
- Major hills! There weren’t a lot of “OMG I CAN’T WALK UP THAT” moments, but it was definitely very up and down throughout the course.

I feel incredibly lucky to have the friends and family that were rooting for me from near and far. Thank you to everyone who tweeted me along the way and throughout the race (I’m looking at you especially Brittany and Cyndi). Thank you to EVERYONE for your Facebook messages of encouragement and congrats (Sarah, we WILL walk a half-marathon together). You will never know how much those messages and tweets mean to me and how much it encouraged me along the way. Many thanks to Stephen, because if it wasn’t for him I never would have decided to do another half. Thank you to Jen and Mike, who are honestly the most genuine people I’ve come across. To KG; Miss Lynn; Jenne, Joe and Audren; Kari, Drew and Emmalyn and the rest of my Nashville and St. Louis friends, who continually tell me they are proud of me. Of course, I can’t forget my mom who replied to my text confirming I finished with, “That’s fast walking!”

There were a lot of great signs people put up throughout the course. My favorite was "It's not sweat, it's your fat cells crying." (no pic)

I didn't pilfer the super pictures others took before, during and after the race, so go read race recaps and see more pics from Jen ( and Will ( at their respective blogs.

UPDATED: Here is Stephen's post-race recap.


Diana P. said...

AMAZING!!! Great job! I totally know what you feel about being an athlete....isn't it an awesome to feel so capable? You're so inspiring. I'm planning on doing a sprint triathlon with my husband this summer for my "big event". Thanks for writing about're awesome! :)

Big Life, Little Blog said...

Thank you so much Diana! You'll do great at your triathlon!

Emmie said...

amazing! And that finishers medal is DA BOMB. Luxe!
You have me so excited for my half in April. So. excited.

Miss Lynn said...

Love you, Emily! You are a rock star!!!

Heather said...

So glad Karen told me about this. You are an athlete for sure and you are absolutely my new hero. (sorry KG--you can be co-heroes). LOVE LOVE LOVE.

Big Life, Little Blog said...

Emily - you will totally do GREAT in April!

Thanks Lynn!!

Aw Heather, thank you! I will gladly share the co-hero title with KG if she'll let me :)

Oliver K. said...


you are doing absolutely great - and I know that "razor blades in my shoes" feeling pretty good as well :-) Sometimes it also feels like running on shards, but that's for the better days.

Running a long distance is always such a tremendous achievement, no matter in what time. It will always lead you to acknowledge that if you can do this, you can do everything (ok, but fly maybe!)

Keep it up,


Emily said...

YES!! I'm so proud of you, girl! :) I've never attempted something so enormous - a HALF MARATHON?!!? You're AMAZING!!


-Emily @FitandFreeEmily

Brittany said...

Oh Em GEE!!!! SO PROUD OF YOU!!!! Can i just say i kinda got goose bumps reading your re-cap?!?! So proud! <3

Cenandra said...

Congratulations on completing a Half-Marathon! I think that is a wonderful accomplishment in your new weight loss journey!

Jen said...

Oh wow! Congratulations!! I live in Birmingham and the cost kept me from signing up for the Mercedes half, but I'm planning to do the Talledega half in April—my first half marathon! This story really inspired me. Thanks for talking about all the ups and downs. And great job!!! You should be so proud!

Big Life, Little Blog said...

Jen - you will do great at Talledega! Thanks for reading!

anna said...

Congrats! You walked the streets of my hometown...although I've been away most of my life so would probably feel just as lost.

I did my first 1/2 marathon in 2003 and reading this brought back all those memories...especially the part about remembering that this race is about you.

Poppy said...

Awesome job! Thanks for the recap. I'm working toward running my first half, so it was cool to read about your experience.

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