On Running My First Half Marathon

When I started this journey, I had never run more than 4 miles. On Sunday I ran all 13.1 miles of the UPMC Health Plan Pittsburgh Half Marathon in 2:16:32 — that’s a 10:25 pace, which is 30 seconds faster per mile than my training pace [insert a happy dance here]. But more importantly, I had the most fun running it, and frankly, I was awestruck by the support of the crowds, my family and my friends.

My dad and I after 13.1 miles. We are RUNNERS OF STEEL :)

My dad and I after 13.1 miles. We are RUNNERS OF STEEL 🙂

Training and running this half marathon has been an incredible journey. But before I reflect on the 13.1 miles, let’s review last week.

Last Week:

Planned Schedule
Monday: 4 miles
Tuesday: Boot Camp
Wednesday: Resting
Thursday: Resting and hydrating
Friday: Resting and hydrating
Saturday: Resting and eating delicious carbs
Sunday: RUN 13.1 MILES OF THE HALF MARATHON

Actual Schedule
Monday: Day of Rest
Tuesday: Boot Camp
Wednesday: Rested
Thursday: Rested and hydrated
Friday: Rested and hydrated
Saturday: Rested and ate delicious carbs
Sunday: RAN 13.1 MILES OF THE HALF MARATHON

So I didn’t run at all last week, I merely consumed carbs, hydrated, slept, and mentally prepared … and it actually worked.

Running the Half Marathon

The Night Before: I oscillated between excitement and panic all evening. What if I hadn’t trained enough? What if I hadn’t clocked enough miles? What if I slept in? What if I blew up and failed? My kind boyfriend comforted my crazies. I couldn’t fall asleep until 11 p.m. and spent the first hour battling anxiety dreams before finally really resting around 1 a.m. Good thing I had to wake up at 4:30 a.m.

All of my gear the night before! My chews, my clothes, and my bib!

All of my gear the night before! My chews, my clothes, and my bib!

Before the Start: I woke up at 4:30 a.m. unbelieving that the day had finally arrived. I stumbled to gather my gear, and made sure to eat a full breakfast — half of a bagel with peanut butter, toast with jam and an egg — before getting into my car. I didn’t face any traffic (phew!) and found parking at 5:30 a.m. in a gravel lot on the North Side (but not before panicking and stopping to ask race officials where to park). I walked from there over to the Liberty Ave to hit up the gear check and find my dad. If I am being totally honest, I just wanted to find my dad. I felt like a small child for a few minutes there, and just wanted the comfort of knowing my dad would make sure it all turned out alright.

Pittsburgh at 5:30 a.m. What a beautiful sight from my walk over to the starting line.

Pittsburgh at 5:30 a.m. What a beautiful sight from my walk over to the starting line.

Starting Line: Once I found my dad (cell phones are a dream), we hung out by Corral D (the last corral, which we lovingly nicknamed the party corral) and used the Port-A-Potty. We entered our corral at 6:30 a.m., little did we know that Corral D would not be able to start the race until 35 minutes after the race started — that’s not the fault of race officials, it’s just the way it works, but it was the worst. Here we were, standing there, shivering in the cold, anxious to start, watching the race begin.

My dad and I at the starting line!

My dad and I at the starting line!

If I have any advice to future runners, if you plan to run the entire time at a moderate pace, go to Corral C. And another thing, while we waited, the Racejoy app, which is supposed to track you for friends and family spectating, promptly crashed (don’t waste your money). By the time we finally began, we were flustered and frazzled, but excited.

Miles 1-3: The Worst Miles

I always hated the first few miles when training, but I had heard from others that these beginning miles would just float by on a cloud of crowds and happiness. They did not. I spent the first few miles surveying my body — my ankles hurt already and I had to pee — and panicking that it would be a bad run. It took a while to find our stride (we went off too quickly in our rush to just start already), and it took a while to learn how to weave amongst the many walkers.

Another pro tip: There are lines at every single set of Port A Potties. That means stopping and standing in the middle of the race. I know this is horrible to say, but hold it if you can. I only say that because it’s exactly what I did.

Miles 4-7: The Fun Miles

Once I reassured myself that I was okay and felt fine, my dad and I started to hit our groove. We found our stride and I let myself enjoy the spectators. Since we were in Corral D, all of the crowds had been cheering for at least a half hour before we arrived, but they kept up their energy to greet us. I was most awe-struck by the crowds. People who spent their Saturday mornings cheering on strangers. I wanted to thank them all individually. They made the race downright enjoyable. We spent these miles cruising, and looking back at my Nike App, we ended up running our fastest miles during this time, enjoy it!

It was hard to fathom the finish in the early miles.

It was hard to fathom the finish in the early miles.

Miles 8-10: Oh Wait We’re Running A Half Marathon

By Mile 8, we had a lot of people walking. And while I respect anyone who walks, I was angry by those who didn’t have the courtesy to get to one side or the other. Some would stop in their tracks right in front of you, others would walk with a line of their friends — I hate to admit it, but I got so angry at a line of five people walking, blocking all others from passing that I actually yelled, “Don’t walk in a line!!” — tensions start to run high at mile 8.

My mom was planning to spectate at Mile 9 (station square), so I actually called my mom on my cell phone while running (how ridiculous). As we approached where she was spectating, I grew incredibly anxious to find her. I just wanted to see her, and suddenly, there she was (along with a very kind and dear family friend). I was so happy to see my mom, I yelled, “Mom, I’m doing it!” as she shouted and cheered me on. Seeing her boosted my morale and made my absolutely jubilant. My dad said, “You needed that.” And with that energy, we blasted through mile 10 like it was nothing.

Mile 11: The Hill  (Which really wasn’t that bad but still was not pleasant)

By Mile 11, we knew we were going to finish without walking (an original goal), and we felt confident, which is really all it takes to step up our game. Throughout the entire race, my dad had been cheering me on from beside me, running with me step-for-step and telling me how great we were doing. I leaned on his motivation heavily in the hilliest mile, and I am so grateful for his unwavering confidence and support. With his help, we made it to the top of the hill without any major problems.

Mile 12 and 13: Victory Miles

Once we reached the top of the hill, we took off running — meaning my dad started really pushing the pace since he knew we had the energy. I think I may have entered a slight state of shock. Here I had been training for this event for three months, through many weeks of sickness, self doubt, and hard work, and I was actually doing it. I was actually running a half marathon. I just reveled in that feeling as we ran that last stretch. I called my mom again to let her know we weren’t far out, and I ate my last energy chew (I ate one HoneyStinger chew at every mile and they were great).

The cheering crowds were really roaring now, but all I saw was the finish line and my dad yelling, “Come on!” I had a stitch in my side by Mile 13 (and even though you think you can ignore those things, they hurt just as much as they did in fifth grade gym) and I sprinted with him the last .1 miles. We crossed the finish line together, and we had done it. We had finished the half marathon.

Runners of Steel at the finish!!!!

Runners of Steel at the finish!!!!

I couldn’t believe it. I couldn’t process that we had just run 13.1 miles. It was all a blur until we met up with my mom and boyfriend at the food stands. I couldn’t stop hugging them and saying, “Wow, that just happened.” I gorged on chicken on a stick as we recounted our miles for them. With medals around our necks, we sat amongst the other runners, and I just couldn’t believe I was one of them. My dad and I hugged and parted ways, and it just felt wrong — like we should go spend the day just talking over the run mile-by-mile, reliving it. But alas, we had to head our separate ways (mostly to shower … I was gross).

The rest of the day, I was tired and experienced some pretty painful stomach cramps (probably from dehydration), but it didn’t stop me from performing in an improv show that night. I wasn’t very sore the next day, but instead, I was amazed at the number of friends and family who reached out to congratulate me. Even though I have been keeping this blog, running the half has always been a personal goal, so I was amazed when so many people reached out to hear how the race went. I felt so loved. (Which sounds silly, but truly meant the world to me).

I think what surprised me most about the run was how much fun we had. I knew the race would be fun at times, but it’s also work, because of the whole running 13.1 miles thing. But I really, genuinely enjoyed every step. I never hit a wall. And with my dad, I never faltered.

How did it feel for all of you fellow runners?

To all of you reading this, thank you so much for your support. I couldn’t have done it without you (seriously, I could not have trained without someone holding me accountable). Thanks for your advice, comments, and readership. And thanks for joining me on this journey to complete a life goal. I don’t know what my new goals are, but I hope this inspires you to complete yours. If there is anything I’ve learned it’s that you can do anything, if you work hard and have an amazing support system.

Your partner in running always,

Jessie

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One thought on “On Running My First Half Marathon

  1. Congrats on your first half marathon! You got an awesome time too! So cool that you got to run with your Dad. All your hard work paid off!

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