for the first time ever on the blog, this is me. After the race :)
At the close of my Six Mile July Challenge, I committed to running a half marathon by the end of 2010. And, with just under two months left, I ran the first annual Bird-in-Hand half marathon to benefit the Bird-in-Hand fire department. I didn't take the challenge lightly, I followed a Nike+ running program almost to the letter. My training went well overall, but the longest I ever ran in a long training run was twelve miles. So as I set out for the destination of the marathon yesterday, it was the uncharted territory of those 1.1 miles that had me a little nervous. It took about two hours to get to Bird-in-Hand, Pennsylvania. The village of Bird-in-Hand is located in the heart of Lancaster County's Amish community. As we drove closer to the packet pick-up location, traveling on narrow roads flanked by endless fields of farmland, there were more black horse drawn buggies than cars.
Once I had my packet, which included a race course map, I drove the course- I actually did it twice because some wrong turns led to a seventeen mile loop, and I didn't think I had a good feel for the course after the first drive-through. The majority of the course was flat, with a few up hill stretches and one very long downhill that was nearly half a mile.
I turned in early for the night, knowing I'd be up early to allow enough time carry out my normal pre-run routine, and drive to the race start. That drive was supposed to be eleven minutes, but thanks to there only being one way to get into Bird-in-Hand, it took closer to half an hour, which was fine, since it meant less time standing outside in the 30-something degree weather!
I admit I made a key mistake as soon as I got to the race location- I didn't do my normal stretching routine. I warmed up before leaving the hotel, but I didn't stretch. Why? I had time, so I don't really have a good reason...I guess in the excitement, I forgot. Despite this really amateur error, I was focused. I knew I needed to start easy if I was going to make it all the way through without hitting the infamous 'wall'. So I focused on keeping a consistent and comfortable pace, not getting caught up in passing people to get closer to the front.
Throughout the entire race, I was glad I had taken the time to drive the course; there is something comforting about knowing where you're going and seeing things that look familiar.
So what made my race experience special? There were a few things that I think made this race unique. First, I'm sure people living on any race course come out to cheer on runners passing by, but there were so many people! At the end of nearly every driveway was a family- an Amish family- cheering us on as we passed by. This continued throughout the entire course, and I must say, I was amused, and I really liked it.
The next difference came as I approached mile 2, where there was a bathroom stop. Now I haven't run any other races this long, but I'm willing to bet that there aren't any others that have their facilities at Amish one-room school houses. In case you're wondering, all the schools on the route had a fenced in yard and two small outbuildings- that's right- good old fashioned outhouses for the boys and the girls. I almost stopped out of curiosity, but resisted the urge in favor of a better finishing time.
If you haven't gotten the feeling already, the Amish seem to be a pretty hospitable people. But they did more than just cheer on runners and share their outhouses, they also enthusiastically manned every water station. Men, women, and children held out cups of water as they cried out words of encouragement. It was cool, but it was more moving to recognize that what we were seeing was how the 'English' community of Bird-in-Hand work cooperatively with their Amish neighbors. For a small town to put on a big race like this, it was, well, impressive, and clearly a team effort.
While I was enjoying the countryside and the Amish, around mile 4 I started to get a nagging feeling in my hip, something that started in a long run about two weeks ago. I alleviated it by warming up the muscles before running, which I did today, but clearly my warm up was no match for the 30-degree weather and tense muscles that come with racing. I stopped a few times to warm the muscles up again, and it was bearable. Then somewhere between mile 8 and 9, I started to get pain on the side of my right knee, something I hadn't felt since last spring when I increased my mileage too quickly. I knew it was my iliotibial band. I got through that injury with some iliotibial specific stretches, which I do before and after every run, with the exception of this one, since I forgot. Oops.
The pain was bad, but not enough to stop me. I pushed through, knowing that if I finished strong, there were no upcoming training runs to save myself for. This was it. As I ran into the muddy chute, which was located in a field, I kept running, needing to cross the mats that would register the chip tied to my shoe, and give me my official finishing time.
Feeling the mud squishing under my sneakers, knowing what I'd just accomplished, it was awesome. When I saw the clock, I was surprised. My goal was to finish in under 2:15, but I decided I would be happy with anything under 2:20, realistically. But as I crossed, the big clock said 2:09, and I knew I my chip time would be a little less that that, because I started in the back of the pack. My final official chip time was 2:07:13. A volunteer cut the chip off my shoe, as another placed a medal over my head. I really did it.
As I write this, I am laying on the couch, ice on my knee, heat on my hip, and I have been laying here for most of the afternoon. My body hurts, so, so much. But I have no regrets. Today was another victory, another promise kept with myself, and once again I have proved to myself that cancer has nothing on me. I feel that by running a half, I have proved something to myself, and hopefully to you. If I can do it, so can you. Pick a challenge. Own it. Prove to yourself and the world what you can do. Why? Because I promise, for all the hard work you'll have to put in, accomplishing something like this feels really, really good.
Hope, love, run,
(Half) Marathon Girl...I feel like I finally own that name :)