What: Half marathon (my first!)
Where: Newburyport, Massachusetts
(the course also meandered into West Newbury for a bit, allowing me to check off another town on my map – yay!)
Who: Just me, with moral support from Drew, my dad, and Drew’s dad
Time: 02:37:58 Automatic personal record!
Splits: (according to Simon)
Mile 1: 11:37
Mile 2: 12:10
Mile 3: 11:51
Mile 4: 11:50
Mile 5: 11:25
Mile 6: 12:21
Mile 7: 13:34 (including a porta-potty stop)
Mile 8: 11:47
Mile 9: 12:16
Mile 10: 11:51
Mile 11: 11:59
Mile 12: 12:30
Mile 13: 10:37
Mile 13.1: 1:32
Recap: (I feel like my reviews have been getting a bit unwieldy lately, so I’m going to try for a slightly different format than usual. It will still be long and rambly, but hopefully slightly more organized!)
Drew and me posing with the Merrimack River after bib pickup.
Green Stride (the race directors) had great communication via email during the week before the race – they laid out all the details, and even offered some encouragement which a nervous first-timer like me really appreciated!
I couldn’t make the bib pickup at the Greater Boston Running Company the day before, so my mini-entourage (me, Drew, and the FIL) left for Newburyport at 7:45 (the race started at 10). We got there just in time to score a parking spot in the public lot closest to the start/finish area, otherwise we would have been looking for street parking. Bib pickup itself was easy and quick at that point in the morning; we had been emailed our bib numbers ahead of time, and pickup was organized by number. With my bib I got I really nice tech t-shirt and a pint glass, which I gave away to another runner who seemed bummed she hadn’t gotten one (our kitchen cupboards are overrun with pint glasses!).
Race shirt and bling
It was a little brisk by the river (upper 40s and windy), so we headed back to our car so my southern Californian FIL wouldn’t get too cold. There, in the shelter of the car, I pinned by bib, put on my new patella straps, and Body-Glided my toes (it feels weird but it does its job for me… I got no blisters!). About an hour before gun time I thought I’d scope out the porta-potty situation and start to warm-up. Holy porta-potty lines, Batman!! The pre-race emails had said “Unlike other races, there will be no lines for porto-potties at this race…….just kidding!” Having never run a race of this distance before, I had never experienced the insanity of pre-race porta-potty lines. Wow. However, the lines moved quickly and they seemed to be mostly clean and in decent shape.
(TMI: I panicked at the sight of the lines, decided I didn’t have to go after all, wandered away to warm-up, and then realized that warming up made me have to go again. When I wandered back, the lines had all doubled in size! Luckily the FIL had gotten in line for himself and sacrificed his place for me, which was very sweet. However, once inside I no longer had to go. What the heck, body?!)
Being goofy at the start
After my porta-potty incident, I only had about 5 minutes to find my pace sign and get situated in the starting area. There was a bit of a crush of people around the barriers by the starting line itself, and I had to squeeze my way through runners and spectators to get down the sidewalk toward the back of the pack. I snagged a spot somewhere between the “10 minutes” and “walkers” signs, and was a little weirded out to find that I didn’t feel nervous at all! I was expecting major nerves but I was strangely calm and it felt a bit anticlimactic, like just any other race. I couldn’t hear the start signal, but the crowd lurched forward, and after a few false starts we were on our way.
The first mile felt great. I made sure to start off slowly, and there were lots of people out on the sidewalks and on their porches cheering us on. I tried to smile at everyone and thanked the ones who cheered, and waved at the ones on their porches. There were a few clusters of kids with their hands out, and I tried to high-five as many as possible. The crowd of runners ahead of me looked intense as it rose up the first hill… it looked like the Boston Marathon, there were so many people squeezed in together! (There were about 4000 runners, so clearly it wasn’t as many as Boston, but it looked like a lot at the time.)
I had planned to take quick walk breaks every 30 minutes so I could eat a chew and have some water – this fueling tactic had worked well during my last 2 long runs – but I was worried that my lack of a good breakfast would mess me up. (I had made myself a bagel with peanut butter and banana slices, but the bagel was crazy stale and it was mostly inedible. I ate what I could, but it didn’t seem like enough energy to carry me through 13.1 miles!) I stopped to have some chews maybe 2 miles in… it seemed early but I was starting to flag a tiny bit, plus there was a sizeable hill so it was a good opportunity! I was so worried that I wouldn’t have enough energy to make it the whole way.
By the time I got to mile 4, I was feeling great again. To be honest, I hadn’t hydrated enough, or warmed up enough, and my breakfast was pathetic, so really I could have probably felt great the whole time but set myself up for weariness. But my mile 4 I was in a groove. The course took us through a state park, which was all nice and woodsy, and then down along a lake. It was gorgeous, such a scenic route! I pulled alongside a guy around mile 5.5 to chat about his run club, the Wormtown Milers (hometown represent!) and spent a few minutes running side by side in companionable silence before I pulled away.
Luckily for me, the race organizers had decided to put 2 porta-potties at each water stop (I somehow missed this vital piece of info in the pre-race emails… if I had seen it, I don’t think I would have had such a weird porta-potty situation before the start!) and the ones at mile 7 were perfectly timed. As a bonus, they were the first ones to not have a line! And, considering how far back in the pack I was, the one I used was as immaculately clean as a porta-potty can be. Probably more TMI, but I was so happy about that porta-potty and set off happily once again, enjoying the rolling farmland on either side of the street.
[This is where I’d love to insert a photo of said views, but I decided to focus on running and didn’t stop to take any photos along the way. I kind of wish I had after all!]
My happiness didn’t last long, though. By mile 7.5 or 8, I started questioning why I was running a half marathon. The sun, which had been out for the first half of the race, had gone behind clouds and the wind off the lake picked up pretty strong. (I was so glad I had worn arm warmers – I had a whole debate with myself beforehand about what to wear, because I get really warm after running a short distance so I didn’t want too many layers – because that wind was chilly!) The pack had thinned out by this point too, and I was alone for a few stretches. The start/end of the loop in West Newbury, where runners around miles 5 and 8 passed each other, and which had had tons of screaming spectators when I was at mile 5, was pretty much abandoned as I came back for mile 8. I still felt strong enough, but mentally was questioning my sanity for having signed up for this thing in the first place.
After running across the bridge back over I-95, the course spent a few miles going through industrial parks. After the supportive spectators and gorgeous scenery of old houses, forest, and lakes in the first half, this abrupt change to abandoned roads and buildings did not help my mood much. On the plus side though, it was flat! The pre-race emails had mentioned a change in course from previous years that removed some hills… I’m guessing the random detour around mile 11 which took us down a street only to turn around halfway and run back was part of that change to make up distance. I was still mentally bummed out, and even telling myself “Hey! Only a 5K left!” at mile 10 just served to depress me further.
At about mile 11.5, however, I started kicking that Negative Nelly to the curb… except I pictured it as the Blerch! Yes, I was a champ who needed her rest, but the nap I so badly wanted would have to wait until I was done running. I tuned out my Blerchiness and steeled myself to finish strong. I took one last walk break at about 11.75 miles, ate a few last chews, shook out and adjusted my posture, and away I went.
It was a good time to steel myself, because I was rewarded with another abrupt change in scenery; the course took a turn onto the Clipper City Rail Trail, a paved-over old railway line which was dotted with sculptures and turned into the Harborwalk, which was part boardwalk and part paved trail. Something magical happened to me on that trail… I reached the point where I felt like I couldn’t stop if I tried, and, knowing how close to the end I was, I started to pick up speed so I could finish quicker. My body felt like a machine and I lost count of how many people I passed. I stopped giving goofy thumbs-ups to the photographers, as I had been doing the whole race, and just focused on getting to the finish line.
When the boardwalk turned into trail again, I picked up the pace even more; I had run this part of the trail during my warmup and I knew how close to the end I was! The crowd was getting thicker and I could hear people cheering as I “flew” past them (I wasn’t sprinting by a long shot, but it felt like I was!). I passed one lady and then ended up stuck and slowed down by people running slowly side-by-side ahead of me on the trail, and the lady I passed sped up to catch me… I don’t think she liked being passed so late in the race. As soon as I spotted a sliver of space between the jogging people in front of me and the crowd, I slithered through and took off even faster toward the finish. Simon clocked my pace as around 7:45 at this point! I spotted Drew standing on a rock taking pictures and I waved goofily before pushing myself even harder. I didn’t see my dad and FIL standing next to Drew taking pictures, but FIL got this awesome shot of me at full stride, rounding the last corner (slightly less scary than the one my dad got):
There was one runner left between me and the finish line, and I didn’t really want to beat her (honest!) but I really, really wanted to be done with running so I set my sights to the right of her (she was all the way over on the left) and decided to gun it:
However, she decided she wanted to meander her way across the front of the finish line to cross closer to the right side, and I ended up having to slow down so that I wouldn’t crash into her. What the heck, wandering lady?! Totally killed my buzz for a moment there. Did she hear me approaching and was trying to block me from beating her? Or was she just oblivious, since she was wearing headphones, and didn’t realize she was blocking me? Either way, annoying.
Done! (Bonus: Drew is visible standing on a rock on the far right of this shot, and my dad and FIL are comparing photos on their phones next to him.)
That annoyance disappeared in milliseconds however, as I crossed the finish line and heard the PA guy say “Dana, you have arrived!” Hells yeah!! I ran a half marathon!!
When I heard the PA man say I’d arrived, I thrust my fist in the air in victory and grinned. A smiling volunteer handed me my sweet finisher’s medal, and I carried on walking away from the finish line and away from the mass of people. As usual, in my experiences anyway, there was no water to be found immediately, so I wandered back and forth by the entrance to the post-race party, not wanting to get lost in the huge throng of people inside until my family found me. They spotted me within a minute or two, I got hugs, and then the dads-taking-all-the-pictures fandango began in earnest:
Showing off my medal, reppin’ the Shammies, and rocking some crazy, frizzy hair
This is my forced, “Please stop with the pictures, I need to find water” smile
And this is my “Maybe if I start closing my eyes in all your pictures you’ll let me leave and get water” look
Finally the photo session stopped, my dad found me a bottle of water, and I stood tottering on my feet as everything sunk in. I had just run (and walked a bit) 13.1 miles! I had just totally killed the last bit of the race! My body became a machine at mile 12! I also kept thinking about how tired I was and how I never wanted to run that far again.
I put on my hoodie (it had gotten cold and the clouds were spitting rain by that point) and we set off for the car. I had two beer tickets and a pizza ticket attached to my bib, but I wanted none of that nonsense… all I wanted was chocolate milk and a place to sit down. As we approached the parking lot, my dad and FIL ran into the cafe that was right there, the Riverside Cafe, to see if they were still serving food (they close at 1 and it was about 1 by that point) while Drew and I continued to the car so I could put my sweatpants on and grab my clothes to change. We spotted some huge cement pipes over by the river and wandered over to take a quick victory picture (which involved my swinging myself up about 5 feet to climb on the pipes… how I managed to do that considering how exhausted I was I still don’t know!)
The dads had snagged a table at the cafe (which stayed open well past 3 to accommodate all the runners, which was above and beyond!), I changed out of my cold, sweaty running clothes, and enjoyed a late breakfast of scrambled eggs, a banana pancake, and chocolate milk. Thank you so much to the Riverside Cafe staff for feeding and sheltering us when you could have gone home!
It’s still a little mind-blowing that I managed to complete a half marathon, especially when I think about how I could still barely run a mile less than 2 years ago. Thank you to my blog buddies for all your support and advice along the way! 😀 Even though I promised myself while running this race that I would never run another half again, I’m already starting to reconsider… I kind of want to see if my body will go all runner-machine on me again! That felt pretty cool. Sigh, such is our fickle, running way!