Last weekend I travelled to Philadelphia and took part in the festivities for my first half marathon! My excellent husband agreed to watch our kids and our friends’ son so that the three of us (my 2 friends and myself) could stay in Philadelphia overnight since the race began at 7am.
We arrived in Philadelphia on Saturday afternoon and checked into our hotel which was about a mile from the race start. As soon as we arrived we started to get excited- there were signs everywhere welcoming us to the race weekend. We were given our useless breakfast vouchers (breakfast opens at 7, even on “race weekend”) and dropped our bags into our room.
Many (3) moons ago, I completed my first triathlon! It was awesome! In a moment of post-triathlon high, I agreed to do a half marathon thinking that it might also be awesome. My friend declared: “We should train now before the weather gets bad so we don’t lose it all before the holidays!” Despite that I had never really had any real interest in long distance running and despite the fact that my job is notoriously hectic in October, I agreed to run the Half Marathon version of the Philly Marathon on November 22. I began looking at some plans to see how I should begin.
Lesson #1: Look at the plans before you agree to do something.
My hard core friend Ted found this plan:
It’s difficult to see, I know, but let me assure you, it’s a lot. In addition to running 4 days a week, two of those days are back to back long days. You run, for example, 6 miles on a Saturday and then 11 on a Sunday. But that’s OK because you get Monday off.
In fairness, Ted’s crazy plan is actually among the more sane half marathon plans I found while I obsessively scoured the internet to find something that might work for my life. Most of them have you running 4 days and then instead of rest days for the other 3, they have you cross training or strength training or doing intervals on two of them. I found this plan, advanced by the Pop Star Ellie Goulding in the feminist magazine: Self.
This plan has you run 3 times a week and then dictates a bunch of yoga and strength training. I essentially took those runs and ignored all the cross-training and thought: that sounds reasonable!
Lesson #2: It is oppressively hard for me to work out 2x during the work week.
I have a job that is often and unpredictably early and late. I have a husband who is finishing up an MBA, a daughter who started kindergarten (HOW IS THIS HARDER THAN DAYCARE????) and a son who is a 3 year old boy. As such, it’s just NOT GOING TO HAPPEN that twice a week, every week, for 12 weeks I am going to be able to get out and running by 6, home by 7 and showered and off to work by 8. So I don’t… and then it’s the weekend and I have to run really, really far having only run maybe 3 miles since the last time I ran really, really far. This is a bad way to train for a half marathon. It was very hard on my calves. But I did it! I made it from 4 to 5 to 6 to 7 to 8 miles just like this.
Lesson #3: There is a tipping point at 9 miles.
7 miles takes about an hour and a quarter. 8 miles almost an hour and a half…. right about then 2 thoughts start hammering at your brain:
I decide I better quit. This is not a good idea. It’s dangerous, I tell you! I start floating this idea out there… I mention it to my husband who tells me “Well, you should do what you think is best, but we’re fine! And anyway,” he drops his voice, “you don’t want to quit something you told the kids you were going to do.” Straight for the jugular!
That very day my running friends ask if I’m ready to register and reserve the hotel. Oh and by the way, the race is $135!!! WHYYYYYY does it cost that much??? Either way, the moment of true commitment had arrived!
The next day I’m having a meeting with someone with whom I’ve shared my half marathon saga. She has also done a half marathon and really enjoyed it. When I told her I was right at the 8 mile mark she said “you should stay in it for one more mile! I felt like 8 miles was the WORST. After that I piled on 9 and then 10 and 11 and it was nowhere near as hard as going from 6 to 7.” I decided to DIG DEEP and go for it. “I can keep my word a be a good role model! I can! And anyway, if my legs start barking on the higher mileage runs,” I thought, “I could take a good form running class!
Lesson #5: Don’t try to change your stride in the middle of training for a half marathon.
So I signed up for a Chi running class on Thursday nights for four weeks (“At least it will get me one more run!” I thought). Chi running is very interesting and I can see how it will be a much better, lower impact way to run. I imagine that as I work over the winter to change my form that this will be all good.
No matter how great the change is, it’s still a change to your stride and carried over 8 or more miles at a time, things go CRAZY in your legs. Suddenly my ankles were on FIRE. The top of my foot was sore like someone hit it with a hammer. My calves were much better but my arches were tied up in knots. And at this time I have to RUN 10 MILES! It was nuts. I’m in a weird catch 22 where I run 10 miles and then my legs hurt too much to run for a FEW days and then it’s time to run 10 miles again. Gah. I went to the PT last week and he says I just need to stretch my arches and everything will be OK. He also recommends not running the new way right now.
So here we stand ONE WEEK from my half marathon. I’ve run 10 miles a few times and I’m confident I can do 13. I need to do 3 runs between now and race day just to keep my legs loose and my head in the game. Last Friday I was supposed to run in the morning but I woke in a super bad mood and spent a lot of the day with a headache. After a heartfelt conversation with my husband I was feeling better so at 4pm I decided to go for a run! My plan was to run 4 or 5 miles so I could be done by sundown, but then I got on a roll and decided to visit this park that I like and do 8 instead. The route takes you down a long wide Avenue (Ridgewood), into a major park with an almost 2 mile loop around (Brookdale), out one of the side entrances and down some neighborhood streets to the park I like (Yancataw Brook Park). Somewhere around Yancataw the sun goes down so I take to the reasonably well-lit city streets. My legs are tired and I decide to cut through Brookdale park to save a little time and immediately knew I had made a terrible mistake.
Lesson #6: NEVER, EVER run through a park after dark.
Let me make sure that no one thinks this is some sarcastic joke. It was terrifying! It’s the darkest place I’ve ever been and I’ve been on country roads in Ohio at 2am. Those at least have moonlight! You run on a path around the edge of the park in what is shadow during the day but is the darkest darkness at night; lots of dark corners for a psychopath to hide.
My friend Jenni’s Dad told her about a crazy killer in Texas who jumped out at a person in a park and hacked at them with a machete who was running at dusk with headphones on. Let me tell you- you can’t UNSEE that once you’ve visualized it, and as I was running around Brookdale I was totally freaked out.
At one point I was running along (FAST, because I was TOTALLY SPOOKED) and suddenly there was this guy on the path having just finished pull-ups on a pull-up bar. I may have shrieked. I certainly watched him with hawk eyes over my shoulder while I ran like the dead were after me. As I emerged from the park and back onto Ridgewoood avenue I thought about stopping and sobbing and/or calling David to come get me… but instead I just ran two more miles. Thus ending the last “long run” of this training plan.
In one week, I’ll close the book on this adventure. I’m pretty sure I wasn’t ready to run a half marathon, but I have learned many valuable lessons. Here’s the final one.
Lesson #7: You can actually accomplish a lot with terrible execution and poor follow through.
Obviously things are better with excellent execution and follow through… But most things, if you show up and do them now and then, they get done. I know this sounds like terrible advice but sometimes l think I wait unti l’m able to really DO something, rather than just taking a bite out of it. Hugh Laurie agrees with me, so it must be true.
Yesterday I became an official triathlete by way of the Jersey Girl Triathlon. It was QUITE an experience.
As you know, I did my very first Ocean Swim on Saturday, just one day before the triathlon itself. Because I took a bit of a tumble on Saturday I was kind of nervous as I went to bed on Saturday night. I went to bed at 9pm, but I think I didn’t truly fall asleep until after 10, and that was after I gave myself a good talking to (“Yes, you could get tumbled again, but that will happen one way or the other tomorrow. Your job is to be rested so that if you do get tumbled again you don’t fall apart!”) and some self-induced hypnosis (highly recommended for forcing sleep when your brain is busy wringing its little synaptic hands).
4am: vibrating phone. Eyeballs open: It’s time!
Here’s something to know about me. I used to have a job where I travelled a good amount for work. During that time I completely stopped packing in advance for trips. On the morning of a 3-4 day trip I get up and pack my suitcase. It seems to work out fine. But NOT for the triathlon. I ran around my house between 8 and 9pm on the night before obsessively finding things and putting them in my bag (For example, I brought three pairs of socks because I didn’t know if i would want thin socks, thick comfy socks or really short socks). Thus, when I woke up at 4am all I had to do was grab my stack of clothes (tri top, tri shorts, sports bra, socks (these socks did not make the cut for the race, by the way), running shoes and jersey girl t-shirt to wear before and after) and head out of the bedroom. David got up with me because he’s awesome and checked to be sure my bike and helmet were on/in the car and to be sure I got my water bottles out of the refrigerator. I grabbed an ice pack for my heel spur, he handed me a to-go coffee and an apple and off I went! On the road at 4:30!
5:30am: Arrival at Ocean Place Resort/Transition Set Up
The trip down to Long Branch took about an hour. As I got off the highway I started to get nervous as I didn’t see a single bike on the back of any cars. Where were all these women? Was I late, early? Was this the wrong day? It wasn’t until I was directly across the street from the Ocean Place resort that I saw a bike on the back of a car… and I saw HUNDREDS of them. A stream of SUVs driven by women with bikes attached were pulling into the parking lot. We were given a $5 rate as participants and were able to park right next to transition. I got out of my car, got my bike off the back, threw my bag over my shoulder and followed the flow of women to transition.
The transition area was a patch of grass with rows and rows of bike racks. But not the typical bike racks with a number of slots where you stick your wheel and your bike stands up, but essentially a single bar where you hang your bike either by its seat or by the handlebars. Like this:
Once you have your bike hanging you spread your stuff out on a towel and get it organized. Here’s my cookie monster towel with my stuff organized underneath. You can see my helmet with sunglasses inside, my race belt (Who knew my trusty spibelt was also a race belt!) with my run bib, my shoes with socks tucked inside (I went with the thin socks) and my bag full of crap behind it. I also put some energy gummy things so I could grab it on my way out. I was so organized! What could go wrong?!
6:30am: Transition Closes, Get to the Beach!
I spent the hour I had in transition sort of roaming around… going to the bathroom, getting body marked (they put my number on my arm and my age on my leg), walking back to the car to get my phone (so I could take the above picture of transition), figuring out a heuristic for getting back to my bike from the swim (walk past the white sign and then go 5 racks into aisle 9). Despite all that time, when he called “Get to beach, ladies! Transition is closing! Everyone who is swimming, get to the beach!” I panicked. I ran off towards the beach, then realized I was wearing shoes. Back to the rack. Back to the beach! “Ah! I have no goggles!” Back to the rack. Back towards the beach. Shit! Where is my swim cap! Back to the rack. Back towards the beach. “I should really have some goo” Back to the rack, and FINALLY, on to the beach with swim cap, goggles, ear plugs, no shoes and mild jitters.
The first three heats were lined up in the swim corral and the rest of us were congregating on the beach more or less near a person with a stick that had our heat on a sign at the top. I ran into my new friend Jess and her cousin, Heather and we shared our excitement and nerves, then I joined heat 8 and stood watching the first group of women go into the water. The ocean was much calmer on the day of the event than it was the day before so I felt my nerves calm down. I wasn’t too likely to get attacked by a wave. Thank you King Triton.
The ladies of heat 8 chatted somewhat casually as we moved towards the corral. When 7 went into the corral we got a little bit more serious. We were on deck next! We started watching the heats go in and talking about the waves. Two super cool things happened while we were waiting to go into the water.
Heat 8 is in the corral. Heat 8 is next. Heat 8 is ON THE BEACH! “GO HEAT 8!!” shouts the woman on the beach and off we go! There were TOO MANY PEOPLE going into the water to actually swim. I dropped back and back and back and finally, when I turned at the first buoy I was able to go out into the ocean a little bit and actually swim. It was FINE! Totally fine! At one point I think I ran a kayaker back some because when my head popped up to breath he was backpedalling and said, “Head back in!” I was headed out to sea again! But I made a sharp turn towards the buoy and made it into the beach area without incident. I was nervous and probably spent an extra minute looking behind me to be sure I didn’t get hit by a crashing wave, but eventually I sort drifted into shore and a volunteer helped me up. “Good job! Off you go!” and I was running across the beach to transition!
I want to give a shout out to Jersey Girl right now– they made that swim so much nicer than it could have been. When you went out to stand on the beach they were full of encouragement. “You are about to become triathletes! You are going to do great!” and there were men in gold speedos who would swim beside you carrying a noodle THE WHOLE WAY if you were nervous (Swim angels, they were called). And the kayakers were there keeping you (ME!) from swimming out to sea and there were volunteers helping you up out of the water. Honestly, it was GREAT. If you want to do a triathlon for the first time, THIS is the one to do. 7min, 51 seconds in the water.
7:17am: Back to transition.
I run across the beach, up the stairs, stop to get my feet sprayed off and then run over to transition. I flop down on the ground, dry my feet on cookie monster and put on the thin socks. I lace up my shoes, grab my helmet and stick it on my head. Grabbing a pack of energy gummies, I snag my bike off the rack and move towards the out door for the swim-bike transition. Time in transition: 2min, 43 sec.
I hopped on my bike and started powering down the street and at the first turn WHAT DID I SEEE????? Two adorable children and one awesome husband holding signs!!! One that said “Run like a girl- FAST!” and one that said “My Tri Mommy Rocks!”
I almost cried. I know, enough with the crying! But my kids were on a street an hour away from our home at 7:20 in the morning holding signs! For ME! I could cry right now. But I won’t, I’ll keep writing.
The bike route was very flat. It was sort of graded up on the way out and down on the way back, but mostly it was flat. After taking a few minutes to drink some water and eat my gummies, I put my head down and pedaled hard. For the first time in my life I had that moment that my husband describes ever single time he does something athletic: I looked ahead and I said “I could pass those people.” AND THEN I DID! “On your left!” and I slid right by! Once the Ocean Place Resort came into view I realized I might be “Leaving the run on the bike” by pushing too hard on the bike ride. “Well,” I said to myself “If you’ve done it, you better do it!” and I dug deep and flew down the rest of the course. As I zipped around the corner I saw 2 adorable children and one awesome husband again. Alex had a look of total awe and excitement that made my heart sing. I geared way down and stood up in my pedals for the last 500 meters so get some feeling into my legs and had to be told to “Slow down for dismount!” which I did and crossed the timing mat at 44 minutes. 4 minute miles!!! Two things are crazy about that time:
8:04: Back to transition!
I walked my bike back to the cookie monster towel and hung it back up. I threw my bike helmet down, grabbed my race belt and headed out of transition towards the run course. They lost my chip time for T2, but I think it was probably about the same as T1, about 2.5 minutes.
I grabbed a cup of water, downed some goo, and trotted across the timing mat. I started my watch (I hadn’t been running the watch the whole time because I forgot to charge it! grrrrrrr) and realized I was running a 9:26 mile. I run 11 minute miles so this was TOO FAST. I tried to slow down so I didn’t completely lose it by the end and was able to slow down to about 10:30 miles. As I mentioned, I was pretty sure that I had left the run on the bike, but I actually found that running was not too arduous. I kept my pace and followed the course. The course went down the beach to the right, turned around and then down the boarwalk to pass (not cross) the finish line and then down and turn around to come back and cross the finish line. I don’t love courses like that because I don’t really want to think about the finish line until I’m at the finish line, but there was a certain motivation to hitting mile 2 and hearing other women’s names being called as they crossed the line.
Guess who I saw just before mile 2??? Two adorable children and one awesome husband! They were cheering for the other women and Abi was looking particularly excited this time. “Yay Mommy!!!” she shouted! Alex was looking kind of grumpy… probably because he was confined to a stroller. But he smiled at me as I ran by waving at him.
I did the last turn around and looked at my watch. I had dropped to an 11 minute mile. Well, I said, I might as well DO THIS THING and I pushed it up to 10:30 and when I got to the cheering crowd I sprinted in at around 9:30 and cross the finish line right in front of two adorable children and one awesome husband!!!!!
“AMANDA CROWELL!” the announcer says and I might have done a little jump! I did it!!!
Total Run time: 34.15, Total Race Time: 1:24:49:55.
I DID IT!!!!!!! Proving once and for all:
more on that theme soon. :):):)
It was awesome and I will most certainly do this event again next year! I want to give one more shout out to Jersey Girl. They ran a tight ship with nice volunteers, great coaches, and lots of encouragement. The ladies who were competing with each other were nothing but kind to each other. Lots of encouragement and high fives. One woman was obviously struggling on her bike on a hill so I told her “You are almost to the top! You got this!” and she said “Thank God! Go get ’em girlfriend!” as I passed her. It was the most amazing show of female camaraderie and girl power I’ve ever seen. It was amazing and I’m so, so, so glad that I got to do it… and in full sight of one adorable girl-child who needs to know that being an athlete is not about being a skinny bitch, it’s about being a fearless, good friend.