My First Half Marathon, the unexpected Part 4

Don’t miss out on what English teachers, like myself, call the exposition or the set up and build up of the story.
Part 1: Night Before Preparation
Part 2: Pre-Race Excitement
Part 3: The Race itself (part 1)

After my 1 mile walk break, I knew I would have to start running again because my body sure was getting comfortable walking albeit speed-walking.  I changed my ipod to my “Pump It” list full of club and electronic music.  Songs that I promised myself in training I would never, ever walk to.  In an agonizing adjustment, my body became like steel, frozen and heavy.  The only way to get through this was to attempt to separate my mind from my body and swim in the music.

Apparently I picked up my pace, since I got to Kris’ last support stop quicker than he expected.  I was so focused on the drumming base in my headphones that I didn’t even see him at mile 10.5.  I asked for a quick hug to keep me moving.

Barely smiling, but still going

I remember seeing mile marker 11 on the first leg of the race, so I knew exactly when it was coming up. I kept thinking, “Oh my God, just 2 more miles, I do 3 all the time at the gym, come on, 2 more.”  By this point I was relying on the repetition of 5 songs to keep me jogging: “Blow” by Kei$ha, “Ghosts n Stuff” by deadmaus, “Satisfaction” by Benni Benasi, “Only Girl” by Rihanna, and “Take Over Control” by Afrojack.  Miraculously I made it to mile 12. Finished runners were walking back, calling out, “You’re almost there!”

My body was weak.  I was desperate.  My mind and body constantly fought each other for control of my movements.  Sometime after the 12-mile marker, I had to walk because I was determined to run the last part of the race.  I walked approximately ½ mile, then saw the 13-mile sign.  I reset “Take Over Control” and picked up my pace.  I was going to conquer that last mile.  Here are some pictures from the race photographers.  How was I so silly and upbeat after 12 miles?  It remains a mystery.Race volunteers encouraged us.  “See the white tents over there?  That’s the end, you’re almost there!”  Well, yeah I saw the tents, but I wanted to know EXACTLY where the finish line was.  Random white tents above the tree line were too nebulous for me.  “Just a quarter mile left!”  In the middle of the race path, I saw a paramedic putting a woman on a stretcher, but it didn’t phase me; my mind was on one thing: the finish line.  It flashed after I skirted around the paramedics.  My sense of pride had kept hidden a last boost of energy, and I sprinted.  Whatever was left in my whole being conspired together to help me sprint that last tenth of a mile.

The final sprint

I saw the time clicking away, getting closer to 3 hours.  I ran even faster, trying to get in under the 3 hour mark.  I crossed at 3:00:46, but with adjusted time, since I didn’t cross the start line right away, my time was actually 2:59:52, just under 3 hours!  Exhausted and not thinking straight, I wasn’t sure where the finish line was-the white sign or the end of the mat, so I ran to the volunteer, making sure I crossed the blue mat so I was fully finished.I got a medal, and a volunteer asked me to wait while she took off my ankle timer.  I was thankful for that since I didn’t think I could bend my legs.  Kris found me and gave me a giant hug.  Out of exhaustion I exclaimed, “I know I’m not supposed to sit down, honey.  I’m supposed to keep my legs moving so they don’t cramp up, but all I want to do right now is sit.”  I didn’t even wait for his reply.  I found a table nearby and collapsed in the chair.  I drank some water, and Kris gave me an apple.  Its juicy sweetness refreshed me.  With every bite, I chewed methodically, crunching the soft apple meat and tough skin.  I felt each piece drop into the abyss of my stomach.  This apple must have been what Adam and Eve felt tasting the apple in the Garden of Eden.

My sister joined us and gave me a fabulous sign. Remember the paramedics at the end of the race?  Ironically, while taking pictures, Kris got a call from the race organizers saying that paramedics took his race participant to Alameda Hospital after she collapsed.  He explained that I was standing right in front of him.  The lady on the stretcher had the same last name as me, and her name started with an “S.” I suppose since my name is Sarah, they just called the first name on the list.  Kinda surreal since I had passed her less than 10 minutes ago.

Remembering the advice from the lady at the beginning of the race, “The first rule is don’t lose your champagne ticket; the second is have fun,” I scoped out the various tents for my glass and the champagne station.  As much as I was looking forward to it, after jogging/walking for 13.1 miles, the bubbly alcoholic drink just didn’t seem too appealing, but my apple still was.  Still Kris and I toasted with the champagne and some water while taking our final pictures of the day.  What a feat!


My First Half Marathon!! Part 3: The Race Itself

I’ve got a lot to say about my first half marathon.  Here are the 2 previous pieces of the story.
Part 1: Night Before Preparation
Part 2: Pre-Race Excitement

Part 3: The Race Itself I have broken it up into 2 pieces since it’s a long story.  I know, what started as 2 posts, then became 3, now has 4.

It was a perfect day for a race, cool, sunny with some cloud cover so the sun wasn’t too harsh, and best of all, perfectly clear.  So clear that during much of the race, we had a perfect panorama of San Francisco and its Southern peninsula. The start of the race was a little hectic as people tried to space out and set their pace.  I began nice and easy, not wanting to exert too much energy since I wanted to push myself.  I had only gone on a 9-mile jog/walk before, so I was very scared that I wouldn’t be able to finish.  On my ipod I started with a “This American Life” podcast called, “The Psychopath Test.”  It made me laugh and gasp in shock, exactly what I needed to distract my mind from running.  The first (and last) leg of the race scooted along the San Francisco Bay, and on this clear day the view inspired confidence.

At mile 4, Kris made his first spectator appearance; we’d planned 4.  Pace was constant, hydration excellent; I felt good.  Here are a couple of photos.  I’m in the teal tank top.

Being silly helps pass the time

Shortly after these photos, at mile 5, we got some of the gu long distance runners use.  It’s an electrolyte enhanced energy gel-“food.”  The race information packet had said we’d get gu at mile 7, so I felt exhilarated, wrongfully thinking I was already half done and maybe the mile markers were off.  A volunteer dangled the packet in the air, and I snatched it, ripping the top, curious what this gu stuff really was.  It was blackberry flavor, but tasted and felt like sugary glue, coating my teeth, gums, inner cheeks, and tongue in its viscousness.  I only had half because I thought it would make me vomit from its sugary taste and stick-to-everything texture.  Gulping down water helped wash out its stickiness.  I vowed to not eat anymore gu, even though my husband had said, “You’ll get really hungry, and the gu will help.”  So far, my stomach was fine I thought, and I don’t want that nasty gel-food.

My body was starting to rebel, but I was able to just keep telling myself to keep putting one foot in front of the other.  When we passed mile 6, I realized the mile markers weren’t off, the passing out of the gu was.  My stomach started to contract on itself.  My nerves prevented me from eating much breakfast, all I had was a piece of toast with almond butter.  Kris’ warning about hunger began to materialize.

We snaked our way through a commercial area.  Then, a little after mile 7, the ocean view snuck up on us again, giving a boost of salt fresh air.

San Francisco around mile 7

Kris took these fabulous photos, I was a little busy.

SF peninsula view

Kris made his second support appearance; he’d found a friend who was cheering his wife on.  Coincidently, Kris saw this man 3 times throughout the race.  I challenged myself to keep running past my husband, which was another way I played mind games with myself to just keep putting one foot in front of the other. husband makes me smile even after running 7 miles

My stomach felt like a Ferris wheel, and just after mile 8, we received another gu packet, I randomly grabbed a vanilla.  Maybe it was my hunger, maybe the different flavor, but vanilla wasn’t quite as vomit-inducing as blackberry, still sweet but not as much, and it did somewhat (I use this word generously) taste like vanilla.  The glue-like texture however felt counter-intuitive: I wanted the gu to go down into my stomach, not cling to every surface area of my teeth and cheeks.   Swishing water moved it down into my stomach to help tame the hungry beast.  At this point, I walked for 1 mile, “savoring” the calories from the gu packet.  To be continued…

My First Half Marathon!! Part 2: The Pre-Race Excitement

Click here if you missed Part 1: the Nervous Night Before

Obsessive that I am, we got to the race an hour and a half early, got my registration and the timing chip which shackles around the left ankle.  There was nothing left to do except wait, which only reminded me of how nervous I was.  I went to the bathroom 4 times in that limbo period; I was even the first person to go to the bathroom in one of the Porta Potties; they actually smell like chemical cleaner at the beginning.

As the time started to get closer and closer, more and more women showed up, including these awesome ladies sporting tutus for their half marathon.  I loved it. People had orange pirate bandanas, rainbow striped leg warmers (remember those from the 80s?), and red shirts that said “Red Diva Lady” on the back.  I wish I had pictures of all the ways people try to stand out in the crowd and have fun.

The MC for the morning was warming up with funky chicken dance moves and wild head bobbing.  She was fabulous at alleviating pre-race jitters At 7:40, she led a funky warm up to 1980s music, including her funny, borderline crass aerobic commentary.  She’d call out an exercise and 2 ladies dressed in outlandish fluorescent rainbow costumes with hot pink and blue wigs would demonstrate.  “When you squat and jump I want to see everything bounce,” she said, creating a stir of laughter from the crowd; it was a predominately female event.Nervous anticipation diminished with our entertaining warm-up, and at 7:58, all of us, about 1200 women and a sprinkling of men, lined up and waited expectantly at the start.  It was the first half marathon for a woman in front of me.  Her friend told her, “The number one rule is to have fun.”  Then she hesitated and told the See-Jane-Run-virgin, “Wait, the number one rule is don’t lose your champagne ticket for after the race.  Number two is have fun.”  I smiled at that, fingering my own champagne ticket attached to my race bib.  Some women started to run in place, waiting for the moment to bolt.  At 8 am on the dot, the MC hollered for us to start, and 1200 people, myself included got a-runnin’.  

My First Half Marathon!! Part 1: Night Before Preparation

I started in February barely able to run an entire mile, and yet on Sunday, June 5, 2011, I ran my first 1/2 marathon, 13.1 miles.  What an incredible feat.  I have so much to tell that I’m going to make it into 3 (it used to be 2) posts, so part one is about preparation the night before.  Part 2 will be the hilarious pre-race happenings.  Part 3 will relate my experience during the race.  Enjoy.Kris helped me prepare the night before.  Since it’s been sporadically showering in NorCal the past couple of days, I was anxiously expecting rain and having to run 13.1 miles in showers.  Kris had me lay out my clothes for his inspection: black running pants (borrowed from my mom, so they are a petite size and sometimes look like floods), my teal sports bra, teal tank top, and husband-borrowed long sleeved-mesh top.  There’s a reason I’m called “kleptomaniac” by my family members.  Kris also scoured our camping gear for an old rain cover he used back in his running days; it would keep me reasonably dry.

We also packed a change of clothes.  I knew that if I was going to be sopping wet, I’d want to change the first instant that I could and wrap my feet in my fake Uggs.We got simple snacks ready for after the race.  Kris said I’d be very hungry, boy was he right about that.  Those green apples were some of the most delicious apples I’ve ever had in my life.  They were juicy and sweet, light, crisp and refreshing; perfect for after the race, water and a little sugar and fiber.We looked at the course map and planned out four places Kris would meet me at.  For Kris, we got a blanket, umbrella, extra jacket, folding chair, plus the current book he’s reading.Of course if there was anything that would get me though this race it would be water and music.  I made some last minute purchases on itunes for my “Pump It” playlist, both recommendations from students; they seem to be more up to speed on current music trends.  I definitely made sure that the ipod was charged.  Kris got a gallon of water ready (he thought I might get thirsty); in addition 2 water bottles to swap in case I needed more.  We placed these at the entry table.  Right, in case we forgot everything else, at least I’d have water and music.I was so nervous the night before, and when I get nervous, I have to pee A LOT.  In the 2 hour period before going to bed, I must have gone to the bathroom 6-7 times, and that’s not an exaggeration.   Insomnia also plagues me when I am nervous, and I got about 4 hours of solid sleep.

At 6 am, with the sun peeking its way behind the clouds, we set out.  It was a beautiful morning, the kind that can come only after a hard rain like Saturday’s.  The air was clean, fresh, and held a sense of anticipation for the day to begin.  Here’s the first photo of the day; it’s all fake bravado by the way.Part 2: Gettin’ Ready during Pre-Race soon to come.

Half Marathon Music Vol 6

After that 3 mile mark, I need to switch to my “Pump it” playlist. Sometimes this worries me, after all, how will I get to 13.1? This song, like my volume 5 song, connects to my internal monologue as I jog.  Usually it just repeats, “Oh my God.  Oh my God.”  However, this song’s chorus keeps me moving by telling me to go “Harder, better, faster stronger.” I just put one foot in front of the other and somehow I make it to the end.  For previous music finds check out Vol 1, Vol 2, Vol 3, and Vol 4.

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Battle Scars of the 7.33 mile long run

It was our second day without rain for the past 2 weeks here in NorCal.  Our first day with actual sunny, clear skies, and it was the day for my 7.33 mile long run.  I had to call in the troops for back up since I felt so intimidated.  Kris came to my rescue and agreed to come along on the run.  We’d go out for about 3.5 miles, come back, and since we always park our car outside of the regional park (we’re too cheap to pay the $5 day use parking fee), the rest of the way to the car would be the last .33 miles, give or take.

My husband, Kris, is a runner.  He ran cross country in high school and has completed the Minneapolis marathon in less time than it will probably take me to wog my half marathon.  He also comes from a family of runners.  I’m sure by now you’ve deduced 2 things: I jog at the same speed as he fast walks and what has taken me 6 weeks of training to get to (the 7 mile mark), he can complete on a whim.

We head out to a local reservoir park.  The beginning part of the run is great, a concrete path, light hills, mix of shade and sun.  An avid bird watcher even stops us around mile 1 to let us take a peek at a double-crested cormorant getting ready for mating season.

Photo courtesy of

This was the best photo I could find that reflects the stunning beauty of the bird this man showed us through his telescope.  The bird was perched on a submerged tree stump.  Its eyes pierced, a sharp turquoise.  Iridescent feathers fluffed on its back and chest.  The man even explained how the markings on the beak looked like teeth, and its crests only came out for mating season; all part of a young male’s show.  The birdwatcher stopped everyone who came by to share the spectacular sight.  I, for one, was thrilled to oblige a quick stop to sneak a peek at the bird.

Once we reached the end of the concrete path, we clearly became outliers.  With the recent rains, the now dirt path was muddy for about a 1/4 mile, plus we had to cross a bridge covering a flooded marsh.  We dubbed this part of the run “the Amazon” because of its muddy and water-ridden obstacles.  It was difficult to walk in this mud, so jogging was out of the question.  After “the Amazon,” the rest was dry land.

We went another mile or so and came upon our half way mark, a steep hill.  Pure elevated torture.  At least a half mile climb, straight up.  I couldn’t run it, so we climbed together.  My legs wanted to fall off, and all I can remember thinking was this is only the half way mark?!  What kind of insanity possessed me to wog a course with a steep half mile straight -up climb right in the middle of it?  “Once we reach the top, it’s all a downhill coast from there,” Kris tried to keep me going.  I kept thinking of another runner who’d passed us with a San Francisco marathon T-shirt that said “Hills make you go Higher.”  Humph!  Hills made we want to lay across the path and block anyone else from making the same mistake.

My feet were wet and muddy. Sweat dripped down my back and front.  Saliva accumulated in my mouth, and Kris told me runners just spit it out on the path.  Every step of my right foot corresponded to a moan or grunt to…just…keep…going….

Ladies do not get muddy.

Front of pants

Ladies do not sweat.

Back of muddy pants

Ladies do not spit.

Kris' muddy shoes

Ladies do not complain or show signs of pain.

But ladies don’t get battle scars from a grueling 7.33 mile trek.

Half Marathon Music Vol. 5

Ooophs…I’d been doing pretty well, training-wise, but I haven’t really found much new music, so I’ll post one of my old songs that gets me through my workout.  For those of you new to my Half Marathon Music Collecting you can see Vol. 1 here, Vol. 2 here, Vol. 3 here and here (it was a surreal week), and Vol. 4 over yonder.

Since my first real long run, I’ve created 2 different playlists, and it’s been quite successful.  There’s “Movin’Along” with its fun rhythms and melodies, then there’s the secret, my “Pump It” play list.  There are 3 songs that I rely on heavily, my last ones, all in this order: “Only Girl,” by Rihanna, “Ghosts ‘n’ Stuff” by deadmaus, and “Satisfaction” by Benni Bennasi.

Few songs in my playlists actually have lyrics that connect to my interior monologue as I jog; “Satisfaction” is one of them, and the version I have lasts about 6 plus minutes, not the measly 2.5 of the music video.  The main phrase that gets repeated is “Push, push, push, push…”  Granted, I know that the lyrics have nothing to do with pushing one’s hardest while exercising, I can project my needs onto the the lyrics if it will help me jog one more mile.  I’m not feelin’ the music video, pretty women with power tools is not really my thing, but I must admit, this song’s beat, tempo, and (most) lyrics, forgive the pun, “push me.”

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How to Not go Insane Jogging over 6 miles on a treadmill

Jogging on the treadmill is not my preferred method of working out.  Trust me, working out in the world not only goes faster, but offers much more engaging scenery.

However, when Mother Nature downpours, I have 2 options for my long run schedule: fuggetaboudit and feel guilty all week long plus make it even harder for myself on the next long run, or suck it up and do it at the gym.

I can handle 3.5 miles on the gym treadmill, not that bad, but this long run was 6.6 miles long.  At my slow pace, about a 15 minute mile, that’s 1.5 hours. So, I now have a new realization about the gym treadmill.

The treadmill at the gym is Purgatory.  It is a state of limbo, of going somewhere-nowhere.  If you prefer the Greco-Roman mythology,  the gym treadmill is Tartarus.  The display tells me I’ve gone 3 miles, yet here I am, staring at the same broken TV screen that has a pixelated picture of some sports journalist, frozen in time.  I watch as EVERYONE else comes, goes, probably wins the lottery in the time it takes me to finish.

The only thing that keeps me sane is completely covering the display with my hand towel.  I have ABSOLUTELY no desire to watch numbers infuriatingly go up by .01 mile.  The treadmill display is cruel like that.  I try to look away, only to see above me the same pixelated frozen frame of the Philidelphia reporter, her long, blonde hair like one of those cut-outs where you can change the face to someone else’s.  You’d think I’d remember her name since I looked up at it every other second.  I suppose that’s how repression works.

My saving grace is music.  Since there’s nothing to look at in purgatory except a display that moves up .01 miles in what feels like a minute or at Miss Philadelphia’s blurred square face, I’m able to drown my boredom in music.

Don’t get me wrong.  This boredom had nothing to do with easiness.  Wogging 6.6 miles gave me the feeling of an out-of-body experience, since all I wanted to do during this long run was forget that I even had a body.  Well, I didn’t run the entirety; I’m not that talented.  I walked .25 at the beginning and .6 at the end.

Still…I did it.  Yup, folks, I’ve passed the 6 mile mark.  This magical number has held such mystery for me.  I always thought that if I could run 6 miles, I’d be one of those gorgeously athletic runners.  Ha…reality, like the treadmill, is a malicious jokester.

My first ever really long run

Part of training for a long distance event, like a half marathon, are the weekly long runs.  At the beginning of my training, I didn’t pay much attention to them, as I was focused on being able to jog more then 2 miles.

So, Natalie and I met last Saturday for our first ever long long run.  Our training schedule said 5.66 miles, and we were going to meet, wog together, then go our paces, and meet at the end.

5.66 miles, definitely the most I’ve ever wogged in my life.  I’d been able to do the 3 and 4 mile wogs fine, but this past week, I really wanted to challenge myself with how far I could jog.  So far, the max had been 3.5 miles.  Ultimately, I was unable to jog the entire way, I still was able to jog about 4.5 miles of it, the most ever in my life.  Yup, a proud feat.

There were 4 strategies that helped me get through that first long run.

1.  Making an exercise date.  Natalie and I made plans to meet at the park, so I couldn’t procrastinate.

2.  Making 2 different playlists on my ipod.

One I call my “Movin’ Along” music.  It has good songs with rhythmic beats, but the songs are not that intense.  “Movin’ Along” includes songs like “Rolling in the Deep,” “Ride a White Horse,” “Bad Romance,” “Telephone,” “Billie Jean,” among other songs.

The second playlist is called, “Pump It.”  It’s for when my body does not want to jog anymore, but I have to somehow trick it to keep going.  Songs on this playlist include, “La Loba,” “Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger,” “Hot n Cold,” Only Girl,” “Ghosts ‘n’ Stuff.”

3.  Playing mind games with myself.  Here’s how some of my interior monologues went: I have to jog just until the end of this song, oh no, I like this next song a lot, I’ll jog until the end of this song instead.  What?  Only .75 miles to the end of the trail, ok, I can jog another .25.  Only 1/2 mile left, OK, just one more quarter mile.  Oh goodness, come on now, I can see the end of the trail.  (Cue the ghosts ‘n’ stuff for the 2nd time in a row)

4.  Walking when I really have pushed myself.  After 2 miles, I walked about 1/2 mile.  Then, I started back up again and was able to jog about 2.5 more.  See #2 and #3 for how
I was able to miraculously do that.

Here were a couple of my mistakes:

1.  Eating bacon for breakfast.  OK, it was 1 piece.  Kris made Swedish pancakes, and they are oh so good, so I ate a few of those too.  After about 3 miles, I started to feel nauseous, and got burpy, and guess what flavor started to come out above all others?  This tells me that I need to really start figuring out how to eat properly before a long run.

2.  Not stretching.  This is a big one for me.  I have not been very consistent with my stretches, but it’s been slowly changing.

Oh my goodness, my body was in pain the next day.  Sore, but at the same time, I have never felt so proud of myself.

Half Marathon Music Vol. 3 revisited

Remember when I was stuck without internet for 5 days on a Southern California college trip? I wrote about Shakira’s song “La Loba,” but couldn’t share the video, well, time to change that.  I don’t know what’s up with her 1/2 there, 1/2 not outfit; it reminds me of one of those cheap hypnosis spirals.

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