The Half Marathon, or a 13.1 mile run, is like a phase change from casual runner to serious runner–like changing from a solid to a liquid. Before I ran a half, I would often go on two or three mile runs a couple times a week and consider that “pretty good” considering how much a lot of people hate running. I’d never run more than ten miles at once (and that happened when I was on my crazy running streak last summer), so the 13.1 felt like a huge leap to me. It’s one of those things where I was always thinking “I’ll do that eventually, once I can focus all my attention on training”. But then I was talking to a friend about Charlottesville around January (the race was April 7th) and just decided to go for it. Looking back, that was easily the best strategy.
For a person who’s in relatively decent shape and exercises 3-5 times a week, it’s definitely possible to run a half. I was talking about the race with my aunt who’s been in an Iron Man (she’s crazy, she was the first woman out of the water!), and trying to pull some kind of sage wisdom from her ridiculous credentials and incredibly zen attitude (she’s a yoga teacher and a mom, too.). I told her that I’d never run that far, and her response to me was “if you’ve run less than half the distance of a race, you’ll be able to do it on race day no problem.” With that advice in mind, (I mean, how could she be wrong?!) I was ready.
Of course being a Hopkins student my race training plan got a little off base…okay, a lot. I had studies and clubs and friends to attend to. I ran, but I was never very organized and it wasn’t that frequent. Of course I do play soccer and work at a gym, so I wasn’t exactly sitting on my couch, but I was nervous. The longest pre-race run I ran was about 9 miles. And that was about a month before the race. I was sweatin’, come the end of March.
Then, it was April 6th, and I was on the road with a carload of friends heading for Charlottesville. I was nervous, but the combination of a really laid back group of people, a fun weekend getaway, beautiful weather, and a bag with everything I’d need in it started to put me at ease. I didn’t sleep for more than 20 minutes that night, and before I knew it, it was 5:30 am and time to get ready. Of course, I laid out everything I’d need in the morning just like my mom taught me before the first day of school. I sent her this picture:
In the picture: Power Bar, Nylon tank, sunscreen (50 SPF!!!), Monster bottle of Ibuprofen, pre-wrap (soccer player giveaway), socks, pinned bib, glide (NECESSARY to prevent nasty chafing),bananas, deodorant, and pre-pinned bib! (There’s shorts under there somewhere…)
As we warmed up and stood at the starting line, I hated that feeling of anticipation-just like the one you’d get as a kid before a scary roller coaster takes off. But I kept a phrase we had adopted from Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings‘s character Tree Beard: “not too hasty.” We repeated it to remember to pace ourselves and have fun. It was the perfect mantra, and I felt fantastic for the first several miles as the sun rose over the absolutely gorgeous UVA Campus.
My friend Maritza and I at the starting line!
The Charlottesville Marathon is known for its beautiful scenery–according to Running Times Magazine, it’s “considered by many as the most scenic marathon course in the East”. From the charming streets of downtown Charlottesville to the historic buildings of UVA, to the rolling green pastures and beautiful landscape, it surely didn’t let me down. The Charlottesville course technically doesn’t allow headphones for safety reasons, and I was worried that might make it harder; but the gorgeous sights and opportunities to reflect on my experience and the millions of thoughts that are always racing through my head was even better. I almost preferred not having music. It really let me choose my own pace.
On the way I met and saw some really interesting people: a man who had run the Cherry Blossom 10 miler the weekend before and chatted with me through mile 5, a man with a large American flag on his back, a man pushing a stroller, a barefoot woman in the front pack of the marathoners, and so many more. I’m a sucker for being a part of something that’s bigger than me, and this kind of race really lets you in on that group euphoria I crave.
A lot of people will tell you it starts hurting around mile 8, and they’d be right. But for me it’s really the hills that are the killers, thanks to my bum knee and my training style. I learned that I need to do more hill training, and I’ll definitely be better with them next time.
Me running up the mile long hill (miles 5-6)! I didn’t stop running!
By the end of the race, people kept blurting out the phrase “kick it”, like “kick it into overdrive”, finish with a bang. At that point, you can’t believe there’s ANOTHER mile to go, and you just want desperately to see the arches marking the finish line. But there’s always some steam left, and I bounded into the finish line at 2:09–almost exactly the time my cousin predicted I’d finish in and a time I am incredibly proud of! I’m not one for speed (at least not yet), but I thought I did pretty decently for my first time.
Charlottesville’s fantastic sponsors greeted finishers with a beautiful finishers’ medal, heaps of bananas, and cups on cups of water and Gatorade. Not to mention, we also got a free carton of Nesquik! We were all pretty psyched about that. The only thing I would’ve liked to see were some 13.1 stickers for sale at the end of the race! I totally would’ve bought one. Or five.
Charlottesville’s Amazing Sponsors!!! Thanks Whole Foods especially, the sponsors of the Half!
Overall, my first half marathon experience was fantastic. I was definitely sore for a few days after, and ice baths are a GODSEND. Up next is the Baltimore Half in October!
Have any cool half marathon locations to share?
How was your first half marathon?