Wednesday, September 17, 2014

The Anything but Normal Race Experience and the Lessons I learned

On September 13th, I had the most interesting race ever, that resulted in added mileage and a whole new experience. It was the Azalea Half Marathon. This was the second year this race was put on and my second year of running it. It was the race that fueled my passions and put me on the road to training for other half marathons, pushing myself harder than I have ever done before. I trained hard through a very hot and humid summer. I started adding speed work. I had not ran on a track since High School! I incorporated more cross training and strength trained more than I usually did. I also upped my mileage to 15 miles to strengthen my base. All the hard work was coming down to this race. Never had I trained so hard!

While I ended up overcoming a lot on race day, things did not go as planned. But in the end I learned a lot of valuable lessons.

I woke up that morning feeling refreshed. I have been on the 7-Day Tart Cherry Challenge through Cheribundi, and had drank the Tart Cherry Restore the night before. I slept like a baby (full review coming soon). Surprisingly, I did not have any of my pre-race jitters. I got dressed, ate my breakfast, drank my coffee, said goodbye to my husband before he went to work, and drove to the race destination.

Pre-race pose: The first time I had pulled out my long sleeved shirt and leggings. The weather decided to go from a week of high 90's to being in the high 40's.
Lesson #1: Don't forget to double check the race time. When I got there, the 5K had just started and the half marathon race had started 30 minutes earlier!

Lesson # 2: Do not assume that they would not let you have a late start. Smaller races are more forgiving and it doesn't hurt to ask. Thinking that it was too late for the half, I jumped in at the back of the 5K, thinking that they would allow my little switch-aroo. Determined to make the most of it, I ran as hard as I could. After I sprinted through the finish line, I was informed that yes I could have started late and I have two options. I can stick with my 5K time or go for the half after all. Apparently I was not the only one late. I was later told that the information from last year had showed up on their website a few days prior due to a computer glitch or something. Hmm, was I actually misinformed or did I come up with a random time all my own? Anyways, I decided that even thoughby this time the race at started almost an hour ago, and I would probably look like the last person finishing, I was going to make all the hard work account for something. So, after finishing a fast 5K which I had no time to stretch or warm up for, I turned back around and headed back out on the course.

This lovely picture is to break up the mood of the blog :) Not sure where I found this picture.
Lesson #3: Do not assume you would remember the course from last year. Always review the course before race day. There was still a bunch of 5Kers coming back so I crossed the street to get out of the way. The course was marked but because I crossed the street, I missed my turn (the start of the race was a zig zag through some neighborhoods, the streets were marked but some of the signs were stolen) and got turned around. Being the stubborn person I was and not wanting to be embarrased, instead of back tracking when I was lost, I swore that I could quickly and easily find my way. I have no sense of direction, and I knew better! After coming across dead end streets and cul-de-sacs, and sticking out like a sore thumb (I entertained some neighbors while running through their streets with my race number and no race in sight).  I turned around and headed for one of the main roads. I knew that if I followed that road for a while I would come across the back country road I needed to be on.

I encountered so many hills! The course is already challenging and super hilly once you get to the back country road, but I think my little experience added more hills!
I finally found the race and was back on track, or so I thought. When I came across the turn around spot, I spied a biker who was out on the course picking up stragglers. It dawned on my that I did not only have 3 miles left like I was hoping for, but I was only at the 7 mile mark. The kind man biked right next to me, talking to me, trying to encourage me. For the next mile and a half, I felt defeated and slowed down. But then I decided that I was not going to let myself feel this way. I knew there was no chance for a PR but I was going to still try to get a PR by the time my watch read 13.1. Even though it was an uphill climb most of the way, I pushed my self. When my watch beeped at mile 13, I looked down and saw that I had came close to my PR for that course. only 22 seconds slower at 2:17.39, only 22 secs slower than last year. I knew no one would really know my actual time for running 13.1 miles but I would. Considering the circumstances and the miles where I slowed down, I was proud of my self.

This encouraged me to keep pushing. I was going strong until about 2 miles out from the finish line, I had to walk part of the hills. My hamstrings were seizing up on me and my calves felt really tight. I was so close but the last couple of miles were the hardest and most mentally daunting. It seemed to take forever. I did pass a few people out on the course, but I came in during the awards ceremony.There was no fan-fare, and no one knew the feat I had accomplished but I did.  I had just ran 16 miles, plus a 5K, for a total of 19 miles. That was the farthest I have ever ran all at once.

The bling!
Lesson #4: Carry extra fuel. The extra fuel came in handy during my extended run.  Because I had carried extra fuel, I kept my energy up and my blood sugar from crashing.

After the race, I felt discouraged and embarrassed by my mistakes. The outcome was not what I had imagined. It felt like a big let down after all the effort and hard work I had pored into my training. That feeling did not go away until after my husband came home from work and reminded me of my accomplishments. Checking the results online, I noticed that I would have placed in my age group for the 5K had I just kept my time and counted my losses. Go figure! Because I headed back out, they did not honor my time for that race!

Since the results show the elapsed time for the half, it reads the wrong time at about 3:11.20 when my real time 2:40.03, according to both my watch and the timing offical. That's pretty good considering its really for 16 miles and not 13.

I could fight it and have the results changed since they will live on forever in the internet world, but  I know the real time and what I accomplished on the course that day, and that is all that matters!

The super cool tech shirt they gave out with registration.
I learned a lot of lessons that day and I finally got my fueling down perfect. It was the first time my blood sugar didn't start dropping during the last mile. That's another accomplishment in my book!

Now that I have told you my embarrassing story of getting turned around, I would like to hear your experiences if you have ever gotten turned around or lost in a race. Surely, I am not the only one.


  1. Wow Michelle, that whole experience was crazy! This was a race about mental, physical and emotional stamina. Way to stick with it!

    1. Yes it was, but I learned some very valuable lesson! I feel like I finished a different person. Thank you so much Michele! <3