Yesterday I took on my first 20K, and I did it for time — unlike my first half marathon in Disney World last month. It was a race organized by a local music teacher and runner that benefits music education in schools, and I thought that was a great reason to get out of bed at 6:45 on a Sunday morning — even after losing an hour of sleep to Daylight Saving Time! — and see how I would fare in a 12.4 mile race. I’m a piano teacher, and plus, I’ll take any excuse to race in a themed outfit/costume — even if I am the only one! — so I was looking forward to participating in Miles for Music.
After some issues getting out the door on time (because, you know, that’s new!) and then having parking difficulties — my tardiness meant that all the lots near the park where the race was being held were full, so I had to park at the nearby university and jump on a bus to the registration area — I made it to the start line with just minutes to spare. Note to self: Do NOT cut it that close to the start of a race EVER AGAIN; I was nervous enough without having to worry about missing the entire damn race!
As you may have read in my last post, I had signed up for the Miles for Music 20K with the strict intention of putting my half marathon training to the test: I didn’t get a chance to run “for real” in Disney World, so now I wanted to see exactly what I could do. I was placed in the first corral at the Disney Princess Half Marathon, which was designated for runners who had submitted a proof of time that indicated finishing the half marathon in 2:15 or less.
Based upon my most recent 10K, I had submitted an anticipated finish time of 2:05, but photo ops and character visits — not to mention unseasonably warm temperatures — had caused me to cross the finish line in 3:30! I was determined to use this race as an opportunity to prove to myself that I could have done so much better.
However, since this was my first time running anything longer than a 10K for time, I was pretty much terrified of what it would feel like to run more than 12 miles without stopping — my long runs always include brief walk breaks and pit stops, but I try my best not to walk during races. I know there’s no shame in it; it’s just a mental thing.
When the race began, I put my race day plan into action: in my sleeplessness the night before (will I EVER reach a point where I can actually sleep the night before a race?) I had decided to try my best to maintain a steady pace that would help me reach my goal of completing the 20K in under two hours. I figured a sub-2 hour 20K finish would be more than enough evidence to prove to myself that I had belonged amongst those Corral A runners in Disney World! My normal pace is pretty much a solid 9-minute/mile now, but I know I tend to slow down quite a bit in the latter half of my long runs, so I also wanted to see if I could practice maintaining a steadier pace.
The course all took place in one park: we completed 2.5 loops. It was a really nice park and all, and while it’s not necessarily a bad thing to know exactly what to expect in the second half of a longer race (read: I knew after the first loop that there would be NO HILLS to climb!), there are definitely some cons when it comes to a race that takes place all in one location. For starters, you get lapped by all the faster runners — yes, there were some crazy fast people headed for the finish line when I was just starting mile 7! — and secondly, the scenery can get kind of boring. Not to mention, once you know just how long it takes to run that first lap of the park, you might not be so thrilled about having to do it all over again. At least I wasn’t!
Anyway, the first three miles flew by, and I was maintaining a solid 9:05-9:10 pace. According to the 5K clock, I beat my 5K PR (27:59) by a few seconds, so I was feeling pretty good.
As I pounded my ways through miles 4, 5, and 6, I consciously fought to keep my pace to about 9:15-9:20. It was in these miles that for some reason, my right foot decided to go numb. Yes, that’s right…suddenly, I was getting these sharp pains in my foot, but there was no way that I was going to allow myself to slow down or walk when it was this early in the race. My left foot is a little sore after a long run from time to time, but I never had any issues with my right foot…and now I was dealing with this tingly pain that was making me EXTREMELY uncomfortable as I finished the first 10K. Admittedly, the time on the 10K clock did help brighten my spirits a little bit — I had beaten my last previous 10K PR by almost 40 seconds!
Here’s where things got tough — in addition to the physical discomfort I was already experiencing, I knew the second half of the race — uncharted territory for me — would prove to be a serious mental challenge. I felt my energy levels starting to take a nosedive, so I reached into my Spibelt to cram a few Clif Shot Bloks into my mouth right before the first post-10K water stop.
I was planning to allow myself to walk through the water stops after the first 10K, but a quick glance at my Garmin and some simple calculations told me that I really didn’t have all that much extra time to play with if I wanted to finish this thing in less than two hours. So I changed my “walk through water stops” plan to a “stop briefly to gulp water/Gatorade if needed, but then start moving again IMMEDIATELY” plan.
I’ve already started to block out my memories of miles 7, 8, and 9. I had come so far already, but I found myself agonizing over just how much further I still had to go. My foot was really bothering me, and although the temperatures were great for racing (40s), the sun was shining and I was starting to feel pretty hot in my long-sleeved shirt. My legs had already been a little sore from Friday night’s Taekwondo class, and now I could really feel my muscles tightening up. I tried my best to ignore the pain and instead focus on enjoying my race day playlist and keeping my pace steady — I had slowed down to about a 9:40 pace by the time I was approaching the 15K mark.
And then, finally, it was time for the last 5K. Every time I’ve done a longer race, I always take the time to reflect on how much I look forward to that last 5K — it’s a distance that seems so easy to me now, and yet it was less than a year ago that I ditched a local 5K I had signed up for because I was convinced I wasn’t trained properly and wouldn’t be able to finish it.
Still, the last 5K was brutal. I was tired, I was hot, and I was ready to stop on the side of the road, yank my sneakers off, and throw them in the garbage. My right foot was KILLING me, and I was so ready to be done with the race.
In fact, I believe it was in mile 11 that I started to seriously ask myself if running half marathons was something I REALLY wanted to do.
I kept pushing myself to go as fast as I could, especially since my pace was now averaging about 9:50-9:55 and I knew I needed to keep the remaining miles under 10 minutes in order to meet my 2-hour goal.
I wondered why I had willingly decided to put my body through this kind of discomfort, and started to doubt my ability to ever run anything longer than a half marathon…or if I even actually WANTED to run another half marathon.
The Disney Princess Half Marathon had so much excitement and fun along the course that I just sort of forgot about the distance…but this race showed me just how long 12+ miles can be.
But then I finally — FINALLY — saw the group of volunteers directing us to the finish line, and suddenly and amazingly and magically, all of the pain disappeared. I saw that the clock read 1:58, and I knew I was about to achieve my goal of a sub-2 hour finish time…and prove to myself that I most certainly could have finished my first half marathon in under 2:05. And as soon as it was over, I could not WAIT to do it again. Please, SOMEBODY help me make some sense of that! What kind of sick and twisted addiction is this?
I crossed the finish line, refueled with a soft pretzel, hot chocolate, and some Gatorade — LOVE — and took some photos with my race day swag: a baseball cap and winter gloves — which I also loved. Overall, it was definitely a well-organized event.
In closing, I assure you that I will not giving up on running any races longer than a 10K. After you stop running and the pain and soreness subsides, it becomes abundantly clear why I cannot and will not give up on running future 20ks or half marathons — or maybe an even longer race someday, if you catch my drift.
Yes, running can be hard in the moment, whether you’re hobbling through a long run or forcing yourself to ignore your legs or your feet or your knees when they’re screaming at you to just stop running in the middle of a race. But I don’t think it’s any secret that the hardest things in life are, more often than not, also the most rewarding…and to me, running makes me feel as though I can do anything. My foot pain went away, and my sore, achy legs will eventually feel normal again, and then all I’m left with is this incredible sense of pride and accomplishment…and like anything in life, achieving your goal suddenly makes all of the obstacles and the hardships and the adversity you face along the way so very, very worth it.
Okay, so who has long race tips for me? Please tell me it gets easier!