This posts marks the end of my journey as a swimmer who dabbles in running. This is Week 16 of Chronicles of a Swimmer. Try to contain your tears. It was long race that took four months that happened to end in 13.1 miles at the Woodlands Half Marathon. I kind of don’t know what to write for this post because there is just so much I could talk about. I could look back on my favorite runs, or why I never use the gym in my apartment complex any more, or how the runner world is a cult and why it’s super annoying to talk to people who have run like 1342542 marathons. But I think it would be most appropriate to just reflect on what it was like for me to run a half marathon for the first time.
The Night Before
The race took place on Saturday in the Woodlands, and since we had to pick up our packets the night before, we decided it was best to just spend the night up there so we didn’t have to make that long drive multiple times from Houston. So I’m packing up on Friday night and naturally I whip out my old tried and true water polo bag and I start packing as if I was going away for a weekend tournament. That routine was so familiar to me, it was a bit calming and very reassuring. Thanks to my training I knew exactly what to expect and what to wear. The weather was expected to be about 37 degrees at the race start. Fortunately (or not), I’ve ran in freezing temperatures before at Notre Dame and even in freezing rain in Houston. And I’ve realized that I would rather run in the cold than the heat so I wasn’t complaining about the near-freezing conditions.
After packing, I meet up with my friends Annie and Christen and we drive up to the Woodlands. Christen, like myself, also classifies herself as a swimmer who dabbles in running. She went as far as to pack in a rolling bag because she didn’t want to put any weight on her shoulders. We had a good laugh realizing that, uh yeah, wait, you don’t really use your shoulders in running….
We arrive in the Woodlands safe and sound. Check in. Get loads of free stuff in the pre-race fair: water bottles, ice packs, t-shirts, power bars, coconut water, etc. Then head over to Market Street for dinner. We eat at La Madeline and I have a major throwback dejavu moment because that same La Madeline I ate at when my high school water polo team went to state my senior year of college. Proof below. Make it to the home where we are staying. Have some tea because #hydration. Stretch out a little bit. Set the alarms and ptfo at like 10pm.
The Morning Of
I wake up before my 4:30am alarm and feeling well rested at 4:15am. Totally normal right? I put in contacts, get dressed, have a minor-freak out thinking I left my ear muffs at home (find it a few minutes later), eat some nuts and roll out at 5:00am. So fun fact. No one is on the roads at that ungodly hour in middle-of-no-where Texas. It was just my car and the occasional truck (probably going hunting somewhere). Highlights of the drive include some fabulous wake-up-and-get-amped-to-run-for-two-hours jams, including Get Your Freak On (Missy Elliot), Jungle (Jay Z), Sugar (Maroon 5), Dog Days are Over (Florence and the Machine), Shut Up and Dance with Me (Walk the Moon), and basically anything by Taylor Swift. It was a good drive.
Around 6 am we made our way over to gear check. Where we had to take off our coats and scarves and check them until after the race. You have to get into your “corral” about 20 minutes before the race start at 7 am. So we’re standing there in 37 degree weather, before the sun has come up, in just our running gear. I was chilly but not dying as I had elected to wear long pants and a long sleeved tshirt under my running jacket. There were some fools who were just wearing tank tops and shorts. Like I get that you generate heat when you run, but not that much. Meanwhile we’re all excited and snapping away and maybe over-confidently planning the next half marathons we want to run.
Mile 1: At 7am, the first group starts. I cross the start line with my friends at about 7:05. We’re pretty excited to be finally running right now. The goal now is to run fast, but not like too fast because we do have a lot of miles ahead of us.
Mile 2: We run past my family and some of my friends! Apparently the beer was running out at the finish line so that certainly made us run faster.
Mile 3-4: Still a bit of a warm up at this point in time. I normally hit my stride around mile 4. My hands finally defrost and I regain feeling in my fingers.
Mile 5-7: My favorite miles. I’ve done these many, many times through normal runs and long runs. I am most comfortable here. I’m reading and laughing at all the signs, jamming out to the cheering stations that have music, tapping the signs that say “touch here for power.”
Mile 8: I see my glorious family cheering me on for a second time. (I don’t know how they made it there so fast) but then after I pass them the inevitable happens and I get one of those horridly debilitating side stitch cramps. So I’m basically dying and can’t breath and am doing all sorts of math–none of which looks positive because no matter which way I cut it there’s still like 5 miles left. The struggle is REAL. Annie is telling me to raise my arms above my head because that helps with your breathing. So I’m doing that and probably looking hella ridiculous. But am pretty desperate because like I said, 5 miles still left.
Mile 9: An angel appears. Some old man who is just trotting along sees me clearly in pain (was it that hands in the air that gave it away?) and offers all sorts of advice. He stays with me for like 5 minutes giving me some solid tips on how to get rid of the cramp (bending over, breathing deeply). LIFE. SAVER.
Mile 10: Just 3 miles left. That’s a 5K. How many times have I run a 5K? Zillions of times. This race is just a 5K with a 10 mile warm up right? I got this.
Mile 11: It starts to drizzle. It’s warmed up to a nice 39 degrees. And I am MISERABLE. I am tired and cold and still borderline fighting that cramp every now and then. My fingers have refrozen. I am very over this race. Remember when I was thinking about the next race I was going to sign up for before the start? Yeah right around now I was like uh, this is dumb. Who’s great idea was this? I just want to walk. It’s no big deal. I’ll finish eventually. I don’t like this at all. But then I kind of realized where I was. In water polo we had a phrase that described what I was feeling. It was that dark, dark place past exhaustion. And Mile 11 friends, was a very dark place. But I knew I had been there before. I had been at that edge, in that dark place, where I was so exhausted it didn’t really matter if I stopped or continued in water polo many times. It sounds melodramatic but it’s such a real phenomenon. And having been there so many times in my water polo career, I knew I could survive this first time in my running one.
Mile 12: The dark place continues. But I’ve caught up with Annie and Christen and we are keeping a nice strong pace towards the finish line. We even pass a few people along the way.
Mile 13: We hold hands and cross the finish line together. I couldn’t be more pleased to have had them by my side for the entire journey that happened to end in this race.
The moments that immediately followed the finish were a bit of a blur. I was in a daze. I thought I was going to vomit, but there really wasn’t time to because volunteers are shoving water and medals into your hands. My family is there. Christen’s dad surprises us with tshirts (officially part of the Hou-Crew #love). And as it turns out a bunch of my friends showed up. I officially have the coolest most amazing group of friends because they work up at like 7am on a Saturday to drive up to the Woodlands and stand in the cold and the rain to watch me cross the finish line. Like I could not be any more happier. And the best part? They brought beer and shotgunned with me after the race. My brother facetimed in, my mom got it all on snap chat, and I drank (maybe) half a beer in honor of my half marathon. Not my best effort, but given the fact that I couldn’t pop the tab on my beer because my fingers were so frozen, I commend my effort.
I recovered from that dark, dark place at Mile 11. Had a great post-run meal with my friends and family. And realized that I’m not burnt out on running at all and look forward to going on a run this week and maybe (probably, definitely) signing up for another half marathon. Until next time. GO IRISH.