About 24 hours ago, I completed my first ever half-marathon race (13.1 miles) in 1 hour and 56 minutes. Given the fact that our goal had been 2 hours or a little over, I was elated at this accomplishment. The course took my friend Anthony and I around Prospect Park in Brooklyn twice and then out onto Ocean Parkway straight to Coney Island (see map here). The weather could not have been more perfect despite the constant rain all last week and the overcast/misty day today, and even at 7 a.m. temperatures were nice enough to be totally comfortable in just shorts and a short-sleeve shirt. Turning onto Ocean Parkway required a run down an actual highway onramp and then across 4 lanes of what is clearly a well-traveled highway when it’s not shut down like it was for the race. Like all big accomplishments, there were parts that were mentally tough, but the crowds on the boardwalk at Coney Island really helped to drive you home across that finish line.
Miles 1-4: felt really good, and I quickly burned through the breakfast I had earlier so at mile 4 we took one Cliff Bar chocolate gel shot and washed it down at the fluid station after the mile 4 marker. So far, so good.
Miles 5-6: second time up the beast of a hill in Prospect Park, but no qualms here. In fact, I’d easily say that the Ocean Parkway miles were more difficult than the two trips up this hill. Having been around once already, we knew we wouldn’t see a fluid station down the entire west side of the park, so we decided to stop before the mile 6 marker for Gatorade. I didn’t know it at the time, but the Gatorade was a powder mix variety and not from regular bottles, which became a big problem for me because the only other time I’ve had a powdered mix drink like that in a race, I felt ill and actually threw up after I managed to get across the finish line.
Mile 6.5-7ish: my stomach isn’t feeling so hot and I’ve traced it back to the Gatorade I’d had before mile 6. Feeling ill starts to set in. Damnit, this isn’t good.
Mile 7: the fantastic crowd at the exit from the park was amazing (holding signs like “run now, tequila later” and “Chuck Norris never ran a marathon”) and really, really motivating. We stopped at the fluid station after mile 7 but I steered clear of the Gatorade (which I did for the remainder of the race) and stuck with the water. We got out onto Ocean Parkway and saw what no runner wants to see: a straight shot route with no end in sight. Also, previous mapping of this route indicated that the Parkway was relatively flat and even downhill most of the way. Reality said otherwise.
Miles 7-11: stomach-ache and feeling ill is still not going away and combined with never-ending road in front of us, my mantra simply becamse “one foot in front of the other.” Each mile marker I passed I mentally checked off as one less mile I had to run while feeling like crap. When I started feeling really ill, I’d imagine the music videos for songs that came on my iPod that had videos I remembered (one of them was Peaches’ “Boys Wanna Be Her,” which is a trip to think about while you’re running a half-marathon).
Mile 11: there it is. Nausea. I stopped at the water station, took 2 cups of water, ripped open my last Cliff Bar chocolate gel and consumed it, and walked past the station while making sure I drank both cups of water. This resting/ingestion period lasted for about 30 seconds and as soon as the nausea subsided, I started again and told myself that even if I had to do 11-12 minute miles, I was running those last 2.1 miles.
Mile 12: either my feeling ill subsided, or the fact that the stiffness creeping into my legs was overriding it, but I forgot about the ill feeling I’d had for the past 5-6(ish) miles and just powered through. It also could have had something to do with the freshly-paved section of the road with the nice oil fumes that accompanied it. Why yes, that’s exactly what I want to be breathing in right now! When I reached the boardwalk there was a huge crowd that was going wild, and (of course) Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way” was blaring. As I turned onto the boardwalk and spotted the 13 mile marker and the finish line shortly after it my only thought was “there! Go!” As soon as I crossed the finish, I was ecstatic. Not only had I successfully completed the first half-marathon I’d ever attempted, I did so in under 2 hours and despite the fact that my body was fighting me for it.
Afterthoughts: I could not, for the life of me, figure out why the Gatorade had made me feel so ill because I’ve had it plenty of times before in the middle of long training runs with no problems. In fact, during a 9 mile training run we had done a few weeks prior, Anthony and I both stopped for a 20 ounce Gatorade along the route we’d mapped out, and I had no feelings of nausea or anything during the rest of the run or after. The one and only time I’ve gotten sick from something was at the Japan Day race back in 2010 when I had a powdered mix drink that had been handed out when I picked up my race bib at the NYRR offices. After that incident, I resolved to never again drink anything like that during or before a race. I learned on the train ride home from other runners that they also had problems with the Gatorade yesterday, and while it didn’t affect him like it did me, Anthony also said that he thought something was off about it. Next time I’ll be bringing my own.
That part aside, having a stomach ache and feeling ill like that really made those middle miles feel loooooong, and it’s a classic example of the mind/body fight that can happen as an athlete. Your body is sending you every signal to stop and your mind is battling it because you know that there’s “just X number of miles to go.” Especially when I got to miles 10, 11, and 12…I am too stubborn of a person to have gotten that far to just give up there. There’s a limit to how far this battle can go before you really start taking some unnecessary risks, but in this case, I fought and I won. And I crossed the half-marathon finish line in less than 2 hours despite that struggle. Not only are you battling the same elements everyone else is (the humidity, the hills, the psychological effect of seeing the Parkway and thinking “oh my god it’s never-ending,”) but you also have this additional element that afflicts you and only you. But, I did it!! And I’ll be doing it again in Queens at the end of July on the road to the big one: the 2011 NYC Marathon on November 6, 2011.
Lined up and ready to start!! This is a shot of the front of the pack in our respective starting corrals (assigned by pace time, so naturally the faster people are up front and the slower people are in the back…we were lined up in the 3000s and I believe the number went up to the 8 or 9000s).
Our view for the last (roughly?) quarter mile of the race from the boardwalk! Every race should end at the beach!
Post-race happy / pre-shower disheveled look. 😉