Thursday, April 10, 2014

GO! St. Louis Half Marathon Recap

It's hard to believe that it's almost been a week since I did my first half marathon!  I admit that I was feeling a bit of the post-race letdown earlier this week.  Focusing on the race was really therapeutic for me and to a large extent, helped distract me from all that was going on the past few months, especially with my Dad.  I definitely had a bit of the "now what?" syndrome, but I'm feeling better as the week goes on and I'm already planning for my next half marathon this fall.

I did not go to bed nearly as early as I should have on Saturday night, partly due to the fact that I did not feel well.  I didn't eat anything terribly unusual that day, but I felt very nauseous when I went to bed.  I didn't think much of it and went to bed.  When I woke up on Sunday morning, though, I got sick to my stomach and had a little anxiety.  I couldn't be sick on race day and I just hoped that it was simply a case of race day nerves.

I got ready for the race and grabbed a Larabar and string cheese and headed outside to meet my friend, Mary.  We decided to carpool down to the race; her family was planning on coming down to see her finish, so she planned to catch a ride back to my house from them and it worked out well.  I really, truly did not feel like eating anything, but I knew it would be a bad idea to run on an empty stomach.  So, I choked down the bar, the string cheese and some water.  We arrived downtown in plenty of time, parked my car, and headed to the start line.  It was a little chilly that morning, but the temperature was expected to get into the lower 60's, which is perfect race day weather!  Mary and I had a great time people watching in our starting corral and commented on how much we felt like legitimate runners with our water bottles and Garmin watches.

My super awesome training partner, Mary, and I in our corral pre-race

We decided to start the race together, but I told Mary that when she was ready to take-off to go on without me, especially since I wasn't feeling too well and I run a bit slower than her pace.  We crossed the starting line about 10 minutes after 7 and I was pleasantly surprised by the fact that it wasn't too terribly crowded at the beginning.  I had expected to feel a little crammed in the beginning until we thinned out, but it wasn't too bad at all.  Mary and I split up about a half mile in because I was slowing down to pace myself.  I always get caught up in the excitement of the start, but I didn't want to get too overzealous and wear myself out.

As I was coming up one of the first small hills, I heard a strange sound behind me.  Shortly thereafter, a man passed me trailing a car tire behind him.  I'm fairly certain he was running the full marathon or at a minimum, the half (he was not a relay runner) and he had a belt around his waist with about 6 feet of rope trailing him.  Tied to the rope was your run of the mill car tire.  It wasn't a big tire by any means, but it was a tire nonetheless.  I have no idea how he got that past race officials, because I'm pretty sure that isn't sanctioned by the race organizers and I'm also perplexed by the purpose of this exercise.  Kudos to you, friend, for dragging a tire behind you for 13.1 or 26.2 miles, but I don't understand the logic.  

One of the things I liked most about this race was the scenic route it took through the city.  It really highlighted the sights of the city and we started by running through the Soulard neighborhood and through the Anheuser-Busch brewery, which was pretty cool.  At about mile 3, we reached our first truly significant hill and it was a bit of a doozy.  Quite a few people slowed to a walk and it took all of my strength to not stop to do the same.  Around this time we also came to our first cheer station which seemed to be sponsored by one of the Soulard neighborhoods.  All of the locals were standing on the corner in their pj's with cowbells and music and they were a fun crowd.  

I also received my first compliment on my skirt around this time.  I was actually surprised that I didn't see more sparkly skirts/tutus, although I did see two women dressed in Wonder Women costumes, which was awesome.  In any case, a woman ran past me in the brewery and complimented me on my skirt and my "pink"-ness (it occurred to me that nearly all of my gear was pink save for my sparkly purple headband and my green sweat band; the pink one was dirty).  As I approached the first water station around mile 4, I took my first GU in anticipation of Holy Hill at mile 6.  I had the Salted Caramel GU and it was actually quite tasty, although I'm sure it would have tasted a bit more heavenly if I had felt less nauseous.  The Salted Caramel has been my favorite flavor so far by leaps and bounds, though. 

As we ran out of Soulard and away from the brewery, I started to feel the urge to walk but I kept going since I wasn't even 5 miles into the race yet.  However, somewhere near Busch Stadium (again, cool route through the city) we ran past a White Castle.  I should note that I am not a fan of White Castle and the smell of it makes my stomach turn on a good day.  I got a whiff of the White Castle and almost got sick again, so I decided to walk for a bit.  I made it about 5.5 miles and I was a little irritated at myself since I knew I had at least had 8 miles in me, but I cut myself some slack since I wasn't feeling good.  

After we ran past Busch Stadium and the new Ballpark Village, we traipsed around downtown for a bit and then headed up Olive, which is affectionately (?) known as Holy Hill.  Holy Hill is a nearly 2 mile uphill stretch of the race and it is a race within a race.  You receive a separate time for the Holy Hill portion of the race and special awards are passed out to those who complete the Holy Hill section the fastest.  As we began up Holy Hill, we were blessed by priests with holy water, which was an interesting touch.  I walked much of the Holy Hill stretch and fell pretty far behind my anticipated pace, but it didn't phase me in the slightest.  

Mary called me right as I began going up Holy Hill and told me she had just finished it and it wasn't that bad, which was nice to hear.  After I finished Holy Hill, though, I thought to myself "That was actually that bad; I wonder if Mary just told me that so I wouldn't psych myself out."  Come to find out, Mary wasn't quite finished with Holy Hill when she called me, but she was a trooper and kept going.  There was a chocolate station after Holy Hill, but they were shutting it down as I went past but, in all honesty, the thought of chocolate was really unappealing so it worked out ok.  

There was also a GU station right after Holy Hill so I grabbed a TriBerry GU and went on my way.  The TriBerry flavor wasn't too bad, but it wasn't Salted Caramel!  As we approached mile 9, I was getting into familiar territory, as I was in the neighborhood of my office in the Central West End.  There were some great cheer stations in this area, including a group blaring 80's songs like Come on Eileen and 867-5309/Jenny.  When I got to the half marathon turnaround (literally right around the corner from my office), I watched some of the marathoners head into Forest Park for that leg of the marathon and I was in awe.  I know that I am the same woman who said she would never do a half marathon and I did this past week, but I have firmly convinced myself that I will not be doing a full.  I admire tremendously those who do, but I will stick to halfs! 

At this point in the race (around mile 10), I was definitely doing more walking then running, but I knew without a doubt that I was going to finish the race and that was a great feeling.  I got a text from my mom indicating that she, Matt, and the boys were settled at the finish line and I told her to expect me in about 45 minutes.  My legs felt very heavy and when I would start to run, they fought back so hard with the urge to walk.  This was probably one of the most valuable things I learned from this experience:  once you start to walk, it is very hard to make yourself run again.  Or at least it was for me.  

As I approached the last water station right before mile 12, I was giving myself an internal pep talk to run the last mile.  There was a woman next to me running with a friend who seemed to be in need of a pep talk and I felt like we were kindred spirits.  She and I both were keeping the same pace and both of us were desperately trying to tell our legs to run but they were not cooperating.  The woman's friend was running a bit to the front and side of her to cheer on her friend.  She was very energetic and kept saying "Come on!  You can do this.  Just run to the next stop light.  You will look back at this and think that it wasn't as hard as you thought."  When the friend stopped to walk, I could tell the other woman was disappointed and she said "Don't stop now!  Keep running, pick up your feet."  I appreciate what she was trying to do for her friend, but neither her friend or I were in the mood for such things, so I picked up my pace a bit to get out of ear shot.  For some reason, when I am that focused and struggling through something, I just need quiet so I can get in the zone and I feel like my kindred spirit operates much the same way.  

After I left the last water station, I could start to hear the finish line announcer, which gave me a nice boost.  I started running intently again at mile 12.5 so I could finish out the last half mile or so.  I started to keep a look out for my family for that extra boost near the finish line.  Thankfully, my mom wore a bright orange shirt so I spotted her fairly quickly, followed by Nick and Matt, who had Jack on his shoulders so he could see Mommy.  I was glad to see all of them, especially since last year, I missed seeing Matt and Jack at the finish for the relay.  Nick had made a sign that said "Go, Mom, Go!" and he had a megaphone I had picked up from one of the vendors at the Expo the Friday before.  It was really good to see them and it gave me a great energy boost to get across the finish line. 

I was so excited when I crossed the finish line and I made a beeline for the medal area.  I don't think I could have wiped the grin off my face after they put the medal on me; I was beaming.  I walked by the folks handing out the mylar blankets with no intention of getting one, but I felt like it was a rite of passage for a distance race, so I grabbed one.  I am so glad that I did, because shortly after taking my finish photo, I got incredibly cold, even though it was sunny and temperatures were well into the 60's.  I had goosebumps, though, and was glad to have the blanket!  

The mylar blanket looks like a cape and adds a superhero feel to this pose!
I took my finisher photo and then made my way through the post-race food area, which was literally a taste of St. Louis.  The finisher food included St. Louis staples such as toasted ravioli, Ted Drewes frozen custard and Dad's Oatmeal cookies (which happened to be fashioned together to make an incredible ice cream/cookie sandwich).  I also picked up a banana, a pbj graham cracker concoction, and some chocolate milk.  I started to feel a little light headed after I met up with my mom, Matt, and the boys, though, so I sat down on a curb and drank the chocolate milk to see if it would help.  I took a few bites of the ice cream sandwich, but gave the rest of the food to my family.  We had planned to go out to brunch, but I asked if we could do a celebratory dinner later that night since I was feeling lightheaded and wanted to go home to take a nap.

We started walking back to the car, but I didn't make it too far before I needed to sit down again.  Matt made sure I drank some water and after a few minutes, I was able to stand up and walk the few blocks to my car.  I'm not sure if it was dehydration combined with lack of food due to the nausea or if it was something totally unrelated, but it was strange.  

After a hot shower and a long nap, we went out to dinner to celebrate and I shamelessly wore my medal throughout the whole meal.  After dinner, though, I still felt a little sick so I came home and went to sleep.  It was the strangest sensation, just a weird feeling in my stomach, but luckily it was gone by the next morning.  I should add that I also shamelessly wore my race medal to work on Monday and strong-armed Mary into wearing hers when we went out for a celebratory lunch with our co-workers.  A huge shout-out goes to Mary for crushing the half marathon; she ran the whole race and I am so proud of her!  I also admit that my medal is still in my purse so that I can pull it out whenever anyone asks about the race and it will probably stay there for another few weeks!  

Me and all three of my guys after the half
My official finish time was 3:16:40 and I officially reached my good goal with this race. I am incredibly proud of myself and how far I've come in my road to a healthy life.  About 5 years ago, my mom and I walked in our first 5K, our local Komen Race for the Cure.  It took us about an hour and a half to walk those 3.1 miles and I literally could not move the next day.  I spent the entire day in bed and had aches in my body that I'd never experienced before.  Now, 5 years later, I am capable of being in motion for over 3 hours with very little complaints from my body.  I had minor soreness in my quads and calves as well as some aches in my shoulders, but nothing catastrophic and I was definitely mobile the next day.  It was pretty amazing to reflect on my first post-race experience and compare that to my experience this time around.  

It was a really amazing day and I cannot wait to do another half later this year!  I think one of the neatest things to happen post-race was that my mom told me after I finished that she was thinking of walking the half next year!  I think that is a wonderful idea and as I told her, she can definitely do it if she sets her mind to it!  If a half marathon is something you've considered (even remotely), I encourage you to go for it!  It is a wonderful experience that will challenge you in the most unexpected and beautiful ways.  You can do anything you put your mind to and if you need a little encouragement, let me know and I'd be glad to support you!

Thank you all so much for the encouraging posts on my blog, the supportive texts, and the wonderful Facebook messages!  I am blessed to have you all in my life and I can't thank you enough for supporting me on this adventure!  

"She believed she could....and she DID!"