Friday, May 14, 2010

Illinois Half

The other big thing that recently occurred in my life that I haven't taken the time to write about is...

I completed a half marathon (13.1 miles)!!

A friend and I ran the Illinois Marathon in Champaign on May 1st. It was a beautiful, sunny day, but not too hot and the course ran through a lot of nice neighborhoods around Champaign and Urbana. We actually finished on the 50 yard line of the Illini Football Stadium!

I started training right around the middle of January for the race. I trained alone, in the snow, sleet, rain and mud for the first 10 weeks but as the weather improved my friends Linda and Chrisy started training with me. We spent our Saturday mornings running 6, 7, 8, 9 and 10 mile routes around Greenville. It was such a relief to share the drudgery with others. It really made it enjoyable.

Chrisy was training for the half in Indy on May 8th so Linda and I were the only ones headed to Champaign....well, us and 14,000 other people!! Yeah, it was incredible. Once they said "Go!" it took us 9 minutes just to walk to the start line and begin our race!! (Times are determined by a GPS chip attached to each runner's shoe. The chips aren't activated until the runner crosses the start line. This makes the staggered starts fair.) It was wall to wall runners for the first mile or two and then it spaced itself out a little bit. We ran 11 minute miles for the first 3 miles and then decided we wouldn't be able to maintain that pace for 10 more miles and slowed down.

At the 3.5 mile mark Linda's knee really started bothering her. (She had been fighting an IT band problem for several weeks prior to the race.) So I stopped and stretched with her every mile through miles 4, 5, and 6. Eventually at mile 7 she had to give up running because of the pain. She decided to try to walk the rest of the race. At that point we parted ways and I took off.

My goal all along was to finish the race in under 3 hours. I was worried that I wouldn't make it, so I really kicked it in for miles 7, 8 and 9. Then at mile 10 my ankle really started to hurt. I had strained it the week prior during my 10 mile training run (well, actually during a slide down a muddy hill while trying to find the trail for my 10 mile run....long story). The last 3 miles were pretty painful. It was hard to stay motivated being all alone in a sea of runners.

I took water and Gatorade every time it was offered and I tried to stay in a good rhythm. I also grabbed a pack of GU Carbohydrate Gel at one aid station but I chickened out of actually eating it. It was espresso flavor and just didn't sound that appetizing at that point. The one thing that probably helped me the most was the little Dixie cup of M & Ms that a church was handing out along the way. It really gave me a little boost that I needed.

It also helped to see all of the people standing in their yards or driveways cheering for us and providing entertainment. There were elderly men sitting and playing the guitar, little boys playing the violin, a group of PeeWee cheerleaders doing cheers, a Jr. High aged girl playing her keyboard. There were plenty of kids handing out homemade lemonade and even one house offering fresh strawberries. At one point we had to run through a park. In one of the picnic shelters there was a rock band playing the theme from Chariots of Fire! I almost couldn't run for laughing so hard.

As I entered the stadium after 13 long miles I could hear the man on the loudspeaker say, "72 seconds left to make it under 3 hours!" At that point I just started sprinting as hard as I could across the AstroTurf (which I must say felt SO good under my feet after 13 miles of pavement). I ran under the clock just as it said 2:59. Phew! I made my goal by 1 minute. The thing I failed to remember was that the was the time from the moment the word "Go!" was shouted at the start line. My time wasn't based on that. It was based on the time I actually crossed the start line. So.....I actually made it in 2 hours and 50 minutes!!

It was a great feeling. I was frantically scanning the crowd to find Brian and the kids. I thought it would take me forever to spot them in that huge stadium. But I saw them almost immediately. They were jumping up and down and cheering. I just started crying. I couldn't believe I made it. I also couldn't believe I would have to walk up 10 flights of stairs to reach my family in the stands! My ankle was killing me and my legs were so weak I didn't think I could make it, but I did. Once I had caught my breath and hugged my family I set off to find the post race food (I was starving) and wait for Linda.

We both had a good cry when Linda made it into the stadium half and hour later. Our 15 week journey was over! The race hadn't gone exactly the way either one of us wanted it to but we made it and we are planning to redeem ourselves next year. Overall it was an awesome experience that I really enjoyed. There were times when it was painful and boring and long and tiring but mostly it was so gratifying to run further than I ever imagined I could. I don't think I'll ever run a Full Marathon but I can see myself walking one (or walking and running one) and another Half Marathon is definitely in my future.

Prior to training for this race I had never run further than 2 miles in my entire life. I started slow and finished slow but I ran the whole way. It is possible. When you get right down to it it really is mostly mental. The body is amazingly able to do much more than the mind imagines. I'm so glad I didn't let the thought of 13 miles stop me from running those first 3 or 4.


Tia said...

Way to go Crystal! Congrats on your amazing accomplishment!!!!

Christina M said...

Congrats! And I am glad you didn't hurt your ankle any worse when you went down the massive mud slide in Edwardsville!