But I managed to get a great nights sleep, woke up at 5:10 and caught my 5:42 bus downtown. I found $20 at the bus stop and made a friend (Nikolay, originally from Bulgaria. It was his first half too. I checked his stats after the race and he killed it - 66th in his age group, he finished almost a full hour before me.)
The first few waves had already started by the time I got there, so it wasn't overly crowded. I walked down to the Wave 7 corral, then worked my way back up to the start line with the throngs. It was a beautiful morning - overcast but no wind. I started out cognizant of my pace, making sure I didn't go out too fast. I giggled when, within a quarter mile of the start, runners were already waiting in line for a nearby bathroom.
I couldn't help but smile for the first few miles. I had been planning, training, working towards this run for 3 - 6 months and it was finally here and I felt great. I knew the first hill was well before the bridge (which still looked a tad far away from me, I thought disconcertingly)... I destroyed the hill. People around me stopped to walk and I plowed right up it - pumping my arms and singing "Hills are for Heroes!" in my head. Denver altitude was paying off.
Around miles 5-7, across the bridge, I was picking up a serious pace. Or so I thought. No matter how fast I felt like I was pushing, I always seemed to be passing the mile markers at just over 11 minute miles. At 7.44 miles, just over the bridge at a major turn around point, my average pace was 11:12. Overall I ended at 11:25 minute miles.
After crossing back over the bridge, I knew I had about 3.5 miles of the hilliest portion of the race. I felt really good up until 11.5 miles. At that point, the arches of my feet started to really ache, my hips were hurting and I still had three solid uphills. With under 1.5 miles left, I just pushed through. While people passed me on the downhill, I plodded past them as they walked the uphills. I didn't walk once, mostly because I was afraid that if I stopped, I wouldn't get going again. Even during my long runs in training, I had always stopped halfway.
The last 0.5 mile was fairly brutal. A final uphill through a park. Thank goodness there were onlookers to cheer us all on. Somewhere in the 11th mile a guy was holding a sign that on one side said "Last Hill!" and on the flip side "...Until the next one" which made me laugh. By the time I saw the finish line I was able to muster up a sprint to the finish. I watched the marathoners run right past (they had to pass our finish line along with the corral with all of the food for the half finishers, which seemed cruel to me) but I thought to myself, I can't imagine running another 13.1.
Unlike most of the other, shorter races I've done, I thankfully didn't feel the need to boot at the finish. I just tried to keep walking so I wouldn't tense up. I wandered around the finish area, onto to the shuttle busses back to the Embarcadero then made my way back to my cousin's. Since I was happily wearing my finishers medal, a few people on the street congratulated me on running and one asked if I had won first place. I should have said yes - yes, the slightly chubby girl limping through the Muni system won first in the half marathon. Since our first names were on our running bibs, someone in Muni said "Congratulations Rebecca!" which was equal parts creepy and appreciated.
After brunch I promptly laid down on my blow up mattress for a few hours and every joint hurt once I finally moved. I did my best to stretch throughout the day and force myself to go for a few walks around the block. Changing from sitting to movement hurt for about the first three blocks, but then I was fine. This morning I was delightfully surprised to find out that most of those aches were gone - just a bit of knee pain, no doubt from a lot of those steep downhills, which I've been remedying with ice and ibu. Overall I feel surprisingly great!
For my next half marathon (and there will definitely be a next - my mind is already made up to run the National Half in March), I will be a bit more diligent on my training. I didn't skip an overwhelming amount of runs, but enough that I think would help with those last two miles. During this plan, I only focused on the miles, not necessarily the speed of them. For now, I'm going to back down my long runs to about 6 miles and then include speedwork during the week to try to speed up these clydesdale legs of mine.
I'm glad that I pushed my body to do this. I like to challenge myself but never would have previously thought that doing a half marathon would ever be something I could accomplish, much less something that I'd WANT to do. I 100% credit Katie for fueling this crazy idea that my body can do whatever my mind thinks is a good idea. Starting with that first 10k back in December 2008. What a far way I've come.