Observations From a First-Time Half Marathoner
I've never considered myself a runner. Fourteen months ago, if you told me I'd run any sort of race, I'd have laughed at you. But three weekends ago, I proudly finished my first ever half marathon.
Aside from running a 5K or two when I was fifteen, I'd never really run and was convinced I wasn't cut out to be a runner. I hated running: Everything about it felt wrong. But last year, I finally tired of hearing all my best friends talk about running marathons — so I put on my tennies and went for a jog. After a few weeks of hell, one day I decided running wasn't so bad, and somewhat inexplicably I haven't stopped since. When I joined a local running group, the San Francisco Road Runners in 2010, I decided to build up the base mileage needed for a 13.1-mile race.
I kept my race goal simple — merely to finish — and didn't impose any time constraints. I felt confident going in: I'd already completed a 14-mile practice run. I planned to use a run-walk program. I ate pasta the night before and turned in early. Best of all, I had two other runner friends on the course with me: a friend from my running club pace group, and the other one of my best friends, who's a hard-core marathoner and triathlete.
The race went steadily; at mile eight, one friend had to use the restroom, and in the spirit of camaraderie, my best friend and I waited for her, despite the fact that it slowed us down by about 10 minutes. In our excitement, my best friend suggested that we make up the time by picking up the pace a bit for the rest of the course. Which was fine — that is, until I started to burn out at mile 12. I out of fuel, and too tired to dig through my fuel belt to find food. On top of this, the last mile of the race was uphill. I could've kept on going, but I was dying at our faster pace.
Right at the most brutal moment in the race, I spotted a San Francisco Road Runners coach in the sidelines and waved. She could tell I was dying, and even though I didn't know her, she joined me and, like a running angel, ran by my side — every step of the way to the finish line. It was still incredibly hard — I think at one point, I yelled, "Where is the f**king finish line?!" — and that last 0.1 mile was the longest distance I've ever known. But my two friends and I crossed the finish line holding hands and smiling.
The San Francisco Half Marathon might've been my first distance race, but it certainly won't be my last.