Country Music Half-Marathon Race Recap
Holy heat and hills, batman. The fact that I earned this just makes me extremely proud:
Before I delve into how the race actually played out, let me just say that completing this race without ending up in a medical tent is the hardest thing I’ve ever done. I’ve never pushed myself so hard, mentally and physically, and I can say with 100 percent certainty that I left every single thing I had left in me on that race course. Did I accomplish my sub-2:00 goal? (SPOILER!) No. Did I PR? Again, the answer is no. But I’ve never felt so good about myself because I didn’t give up and I simply kept moving when I thought I couldn’t anymore.
So let’s go back in time, to 4:30am, when my alarm sounded.
I pounced out of bed, raring to go. I woke up a few times throughout the night, but felt completely rested and ready to race. I ate my Clif bar and banana for breakfast, drank some water and finished up my goals blog post so y’all had something to read while I was pounding the pavement (Or in Jocelyn’s case, something to read before she kicked some serious asphalt ).
Dad, Dustin and I drove out to Centennial Park at 5:30am, easily found a parking spot and relaxed for a bit. I used the porta potties, which didn’t have very long lines, stretched a little and chatted to keep my nerves at bay.
I sent the boys packing a half hour before the start so they could get to their watch posts and I could do my warm-up in peace. I jogged around the park to loosen up, then did dynamic stretches for about 10 minutes. Walking lunges, hip openers and knee raises became my best friend. I felt loose, light and more than ready to go after my goal.
Rock ‘n’ Roll started right on time and the wave starts went off without a hitch. I was in corral 8, so I didn’t wait very long before it was our turn. Just like in D.C., I got to toe the start line for a few seconds before the gun went off for my corral. That feeling is so awesome, and one of the many reasons I love Rock ‘n’ Roll’s start protocol.
The first mile was great, but I constantly checked my watch to reign myself in and make sure I didn’t go out too fast. I kept things in check and clocked a 9:03 pace. My goal was to maintain between a 9:00 and 9:15-pace for the first 5K, which I ended up nailing.
The big thing that needs to be mentioned about this race is the HILLS. There are a ton of them. Remember when I said in my goals post that I wasn’t underestimating them? Yeah, I thought I wasn’t. I knew there would be a decent amount, but I did not fully understand just how many. They never stopped. And they didn’t all lead to a glorious downhill. Sometimes it was an uphill, flat ground, then another uphill. I know this is good in the long run (pun!) because it forces my body to use different muscles, giving others a break, but man, the constant change was tough on me mentally. When they started rolling out in the first mile, I thought it was different but that the hills were probably front-loaded early on in the course and the end would be more flat. WRONG.
The second 5K went fairly smoothly, but I could tell I was already feeling hot. I took in much more fuel than I normally do and started keeping an eye out for volunteers with salt packets. I kept double checking my forehead to make sure I was sweating, but I had a gut feeling I was going to need it later.
By the time I hit mile six, I was extremely hot and felt thirsty the entire time. I was supposed to see Dustin and Dad at mile 3, but missed them because they couldn’t cross the street. Which means I didn’t get some extra water and I wouldn’t see them until mile nine. I grabbed an orange from a volunteer, then decided to grab a Gatorade at the next station.
I should have known better.
My stomach doesn’t react well to Gatorade during races. It never has. I tried it once during my first half-marathon and swore it off after that because it made me feel funky. But I was so concerned about the heat that I wanted to get something more substantial than water in me. I hadn’t found a salt packet yet and didn’t want to take any chances. So I drank half of a cup of Gatorade and my stomach felt off the rest of the time.
The hills were still rolling and there wasn’t much shade, but there was a ton of crowd support. I give Nashville a lot of props for this – the volunteers were fantastic and the crowd was amazing. So many people thanked the volunteers for simply coming out to be there, and there wasn’t a single area of the course where I felt like there could’ve been more people cheering. In the more quiet, homely areas, people were out in their front yards, sitting in lawn chairs and blowing bubbles to cheer us on! One man even set up his garden hose as a spray so we could run through it. What a blessing.
Around mile eight, I finally found a woman with salt packets. I desperately grabbed two and tucked one in my pocket. The second was immediately ripped open and dumped in my mouth. That was my first time taking just pure salt and I could tell I needed it. I don’t ever put salt on my food because it’s just too strong for my liking, but this tasted like pure gold to me. I could’ve easily taken the second packet in but wanted to save it for later.
At mile nine, I did some quick math and registered that I could still grab sub-2:00, but that I would have to push for sub-9:00 miles. I simply wasn’t sure if I had it in me because I was pushing as hard as I could to maintain a 9:30 pace. I started looking for Dustin and Dad, knowing they would have water and a pick-me-up, but they were nowhere in sight.
And then I saw Dustin at mile ten and it was the most glorious moment ever.
He must have seen me coming because he already had the water undone and was ready to hand off. I asked him to run with me for a bit, so he ditched Dad (don’t worry, he picked him up after) and went a few blocks. I carried the water, which funnily had a koozie attached to it, and tried to get my breathing back in check. Dustin told me I was still running a good pace and the 2-hour pacer was right with me, so I just needed to push. I sent him back to my dad, digging deep , praying the hills would stop so I could get that time goal.
I set my sights on the 2-hour pacer and vowed to hang on for as long as possible. Up and down a few more hills we went, in the complete sunshine, and then the heat finally started to slam down on me. My pace slowed more at mile 11. I tried every mental game in the book: only 2 miles left, you’ve gone this far, cranking my favorite playlists, my favorite song, encouraging myself, scolding myself, dedicating the miles to my coach, etc. I pushed and willed my legs to move faster, but the damn time on the clock kept getting higher, instead of the other way around. I dumped the other salt packet down my throat and prayed I could just finish the race. Another hill came and I could no longer see the 2-hour pacer.
We hit the last mile and it turned into a game of Just. Keep. Running. I only talked to myself about the next .05 of a mile, telling myself to forget about the rest. Run the next .05. That’s manageable. You can do that. One foot in front of the other. If you get to a downhill, then you know you can do .1 of a mile. Forget about the rest. Eventually the finish line will show up; just focus on the next .05.
It got really scary in the last mile. A lot of runners simply dropped like flies, passed out in the middle of the course. I was sprinting my heart out (or at least, I thought I was). I couldn’t force myself to move faster. My legs felt heavy, my head was spinning, my stomach was in knots and I felt like I was going to throw up. I told myself to just keep going. You can’t stop when you’re this close to the end. The faster you run, the faster you’re done. It’s OK if you feel like you’re going to vomit. It means you’re working hard. You’re almost there, Sam. Ignore your stomach. RUN.
And then I threw up.
I’ll spare you the details, but it happened at 12.63 miles, with less than half of a mile to go. Luckily, I was on the side of the road already (I tend to stick to the right side of the course) and there was a gap in the crowd. I kept telling myself I wasn’t actually going to puke; I just felt like I was. With less than half of a mile to go, I just needed to push a little harder and I’d be done. And then I lost it. I blame the damn Gatorade. I shook my head, held back my tears and started to jog again. Fortunately, someone in the crowd had a bottle of water they let me have (thank you again!), so I rinsed my mouth and kept moving. Focusing on .05 at a time, at this point, I just didn’t want to pass out. My A and B goals were gone; I just needed to finish.
I saw the finish line and pumped my arms and legs as hard as I could to get there. I’m sure I looked like I was dying and in no way do I think I’m going to have any sort of attractive photos from this race. But I made it. I didn’t see Dustin and Dad as I crossed, but they were there once I was in the corral. I immediately started sobbing and forced my arms above my head to keep from crumbling to the ground.
So yeah, I didn’t get my sub-2:00. In fact, I ran my second slowest half-marathon. But I’m completely OK with that. I gave this race every single thing I had. I didn’t even let myself think about DNFing, and even when sub-2 was long gone, I kept repeating it to myself so that I would move as fast as my legs would take me. I finally know what it feels like to push my limits and leave every single thing I have out on the course.
And the other great part? I now know for a fact that I have a sub-2 in me. Someone get me to a flat course with slightly cooler weather and I know I can crush that time. I wasn’t so sure of that going into Nashville, but I’ve left more confident in my body’s abilities than ever before.
What about you? Did you race this weekend? A ton of my friend’s KILLED it this weekend on the pavement. Send me links to your recaps, or just tell me all about your adventures!