Wednesday, June 30, 2010

My first half marathon

I’m back! And I’m now a half marathoner! Wait, is that a term? Whatever, it’s what I am. And I have a metal (and two black toenails) to prove it!


Let’s back up to the night before the race. I ran this race with Team Challenge for Crohn’s and Colitis. So if you’ve ever run a race for charity, you know how it all works.

There’s an inspirational pasta party that’s set up to pump you up and remember the cause. Everyone shares their stories, makes connections, and carb-loads before the big day.

After dinner I ran a few errands, got some breakfast from the grocery store, and went to bed. I had to be up at 3:45 a.m. so I got all of my race gear ready and passed out around 10.

When my alarm went off, I realized how crazy I really am. Who wakes up in the middle of the freaking night to go run a race? This girl, that’s who. And all you other crazy runners out there know exactly what I’m talking about.


Since I didn’t have a spoon and I was NOT about to pay room service a $4 fee to have them bring me one (are you serious??) I had to improvise. I bought some plain instant oatmeal, a banana, some coconut water and the all mighty Barney Butter. There was about a year where all I read about was Barney Butter, and for the life of me I couldn’t find it. So when I move out of Boston they finally receive it in stock? Go figure.

The verdict? It’s good but nothing to call home about. I will say it was definitely tasty, but I think it’s just that I like peanut butter better. And this little tub cost me nearly $7!

OK back to breakfast.

So it’s kind of hard to eat breakfast without a spoon, but I didn’t let that stop me. I made some oatmeal with the help of our handy dandy room coffee maker, used my finger to dump in the Barney Butter, broke my banana into little pieces, and basically drank it. It was quite the ordeal but it got the job done.

We got on the bus at 5 a.m. On the way over, I talked to my coach about my concerns with the course. I heard it was hilly and I wasn’t sure how I felt about not seeing the course beforehand. He told me he had spoken to a few other coaches who ran the course and said it was really not as bad as we were thinking.

“You have nothing to worry about,” he said. “You’ve been running for a while and I’m confident you’re all ready to do this.”


So this is the map of the course along with the hill grades. Believe me, this map does not do this course justice. These hills were h.a.r.d.

I lined up at the front of the pack only because my “running partner” wanted to go where it was less crowded. I was planning on lining up by the 10 minute mile pack because I didn’t want to go out too fast, but I figured we’d be OK where we were. The gun went off, and my partner Lisa and I started moving. The race had begun and all I could think was “Holy crap, this is what I’ve been training for! It’s finally here! BRING IT!”

This feeling lasted until we got to the first hill. That was only mile 2.

I pushed myself up the hill and told Lisa, “Shit, if this is what we’re up against, I think I’ll be slowing down sooner than I expected.” She laughed at me and said, “You’ll be fine.”

For the first 3 miles we kept around a 9:40 pace. I didn’t want to go faster since the hills were already showing their faces, and I knew I had a loooong way to go.

Now, let me explain that I had 4 goals:

  1. Don’t walk. No matter how hard it is, just jog your way through it. This was only because I was trying to prove a point to myself. I was running for Crohn’s and Colitis, a disease that has changed the lives of so many people, including Dennis. He didn’t have a choice, so I was trying to put myself in a position where I didn’t either.
  2. Run under 2:30. It was my first half, so I didn’t want to put too much pressure on myself. This was my “I’ll tell people I want to run under 2:30” goal. You know, the goal I’ll say out loud. My real goal was under 2:15 (or I should say, closer to 2 hours.)
  3. Not to burn out by mile 7. Every long run I’ve run, I’m good through mile 6. After that, it’s all down hill. I brought some extra fuel with the intention of Gooing up at miles 4, 7 and 10. I figured the earlier I start, the better I would finish.
  4. Enjoy myself. I spent so much time trying to push myself through the Cherry Blossom that I didn’t really enjoy the race. Last year when I ran the Boilermaker 15K with my friend Ann, we had so much fun. We chatted, we laughed, and we truly enjoyed ourselves. Well, until the last 2 miles of the race…when I bitched about how badly I wanted to stop.

Keeping those things in mind, I’ll take you on the course with me.

Miles 1-4 were the testers. I figured if I could run this part slow and steady; it would prep me for the rest of the race. However, these miles smacked in the face something fierce. The hills began almost immediately, and I was struggling to keep up with Lisa. After the start of mile 3, I decided to stay behind. This is when I knew I would not be running this race in 2 hours. I was OK with this decision only because I knew what lied ahead: many more of the same hills. I’d rather slow it down now and finish with dignity than end up feeling like garbage at the end.

At mile 4, I took my first Goo (Ok, so I wanted to stay Au Natural, but I honestly didn’t have enough room in my bra to hold anything other than a few Goo packets.) Starting early was definitely key for me. This really helped get me through the mile 7 wall.

The first 4 miles were hilly but doable. However, my pace had dropped significantly. I was jogging my way through the hills and just trying to take everything in.

Miles 4-8 were just the beginning of the pain.

We were told this course had “rolling hills.” Rolling my ass. How about hill after hill after hill. That’s more like it.

I was feeling frustrated with the fact that people were speed walking up these hills faster than I could run. I passed a woman who blew by me with a power walk, so I joked with her and said, “Geeze, I should be following your lead!” She laughed and said “Just take big steps!” But I had a goal: no walking allowed! I just kept pumping my arms and pushing my way up the hills. I actually tried taking a picture of myself running up one of these hills but it was extremely unsuccessful. I wanted to send out a few texts along the way but that didn’t happen.

Mile 7: Goo #2. A downhill stretch helped break up the string of hills, and I thought this would be a good time to try making up some of the time I lost. My training coach had said that the best thing to do when tackling hills is to save your energy running up, then push yourself to make up what you lost running down. He said this was much easier than using everything you have on the hill, especially when the course is mostly hills.

I pushed myself through a stretch of flat/downhill, trying to pretend like it would actually help get me back on track. I passed by a little boy in a wheelchair cheering on with his mom. This was the first time I was happy to see a spectator.

Before I knew it, I was back to climbing up hills. It was this stretch, 10-12, where I thought I was going to die.

Not because I didn’t have the energy, not because I was hitting a wall, but solely because I was sick of hills. My God, when are they going to END? And since I had taken a glimpse of the map beforehand, I knew a massive hill was on its way and this scared the crap out of me. This was around the time where my mantra REALLY started to kick in.
“Dennis didn’t have a choice…Dennis didn’t have a choice…Dennis… didn’t…have...a …. Choice……” It was harder than I thought. Aren’t mantras supposed to help inspire you? Ha! Ok, it helped, but not as much as I hoped.

At mile 10, I decided to go for my last Goo. I knew the “hill of death” was around the corner so I figured I’d tackle it with lots of energy since I knew I’d need all the help I could get. I came to the start of what was a mile and a half climb and just decided to take it slow.

11 mile mark-are you kidding me?? Really? Yeah, this is bullshit. Seriously, this hill was MUCH HARDER than I thought. It was hell and I was struggling. This was the point where I knew walking was not an option: it was a must. I was barely keeping a 13 minute mile pace jogging, and just as before, I was getting passed by people speed walking. So, I decided if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em. Believe it or not, my speed increased by speed walking because, just as that woman before said, my large steps were covering more ground than my little tiny jog steps were.

At this point, another of my four goals went down the tubes, but I did the best I could given the circumstances. You gotta do what you gotta do to finish right?

I knew that our Team Challenge race coordinator was at mile 11.5 waiting to cheer us on and I was determined not to let her see me walking, so I walked until I could hear her screams (she’s very upbeat and had clappers, so I knew where she was.) I started running and slapped her five when I ran by. Luckily at this point, it started to flatten out…for about ¼ mile. Then, back to climbing (and cursing) I went.

Mile 12. This was a PR for me. Inside I was cheering but I had no one to share it with.

Only 1 mile left. I can do this. You’re almost there! DO IT!

Another hill. Holy hell really?

At this point I started to hear people really getting into it on the sidelines. “You’re almost there! You’re coming up on the end! Keep going!”

In my mind, I’m thinking, “Yeah right…that’s what they always say.” When I ran the Boilermaker, spectators were telling us we’re almost done 3 miles before the end. It’s all relative, I thought, and kept pushing through.

This is when I started seeing race finishers cheering us on.

“The finish is right around the bend, you’re almost there!”

Ok , maybe … maybe….

And then I came around the bend and it was like heaven: The clock.

This was the point where I just gave it everything I had. I sprinted through that last quarter mile like I was running a sprint race in high school. I passed by people screaming my name, and I bolted past 5 people at the end.

And as soon as I got through that finish line, I lost it.

Everything I had went into that race. 6 months of training, raising money, talking to people about what I was doing and why, and 2 hours of hell….all of these emotions put into one moment … it was so amazing and overwhelming. I just burst into tears like a 2 year old. Looking back at it now, it’s funny (and slightly embarrassing) but at the time, I was a mess.

I came around the corner to find my friend Elizabeth waiting for me. I lost it again. What a baby I am!


Thank you SO MUCH Elizabeth for getting up at 5 a.m. to cheer me on! You ROCK!

So let’s check my goals:

1. Don’t walk. Ummm, yeah, mile 11 did me in.

2. Finish under 2:30? Check. Official chip time was 2:22:21. The other time goals … well, yeah they went out the window at mile 4.

3. Don’t burn out by mile 7. I’m proud to say that my fueling system worked and I will definitely continue this routine from here on out. 3 Goos worked well for me.

4. Enjoy the race. Weelllll yeah, I did enjoy the race. I was pissed at the course but enjoyed the experience.

My coach said this race was the equivalent of running 20 miles on flat ground. Don’t tell me that….putting ideas of a marathon in my head….

So there you have it; my first half marathon recap.

I was a little sore Monday and Tuesday but I’m feeling much better today. I even went for a 3 mile recovery run and felt great.

What’s next? I’m not sure. I’m signed up for the Army 10 miler in October, but until then I have nothing to train for. I’m relieved but bothered by that at the same time. We’ll see what I stumble across in the next few weeks. Until then, it’s just time to run for fun.

Happy hump day!


  1. oooh I have been waiting for your race recap!!! CONGRATS!!! What a wonderful result given those hills eeeek! You rock!

  2. Yahoooo!! You rocked it, I knew you would. Thanks for the great update! I see a marathon in your future :-) hee,hee

  3. OK, so I admit I'm a walking hormonal time bomb these days, but this post made me so emotional Nicole - I was totally tearing up at the end. I am so so SO proud of you, and goodness, I'm exhausted just after reading this. The hills sounded much more intense than I thought they would, and there is NOTHING wrong with walking up them. Honestly, I think a lot of people probably complete a race faster then they would have if they add in walking breaks.

    I'm glad you found a refueling routine that works for you and that you didn't completely hit the wall at mile 7. I knew that you could do this...again, so proud! Thanks for sharing your race with us!

  4. I so proud of you!! YOU did great!

  5. You're never the same after your first (half) marathon. Life changes in an amazing way. You've gained something only 1% of the population know. The victory of the finish line!!!

    Glad to have found your blog. Keep it up!!

  6. Great job on your first half!!!

  7. awesome job, nicole. thanks for the recap! congratulations on a successful close to the season!

  8. Great job, Nicole! I'm very proud of you. Thank you for all you do for my brother. You're the one who saw firsthand what this disease did to him, and maybe all your research on the disease, your PR work in regards to raising money and awareness, and the strength you've gained through this process in so many ways is the reason God tested you as you and Dennis struggled through his symptoms before and after his surgery. You're a very impressive human being.

  9. Way to go Nicole! You totally rock!