But one thing I can be sure about is on Sunday, February 12, 2012 I ran/jogged/walked 13.1 miles all over downtown St. Petersburg, FL in the Inaugural St. Petersburg Rock and Roll Half Marathon and eventually found myself crossing the long awaited finish line.
As I stated before, registering for this race was very spontaneous. (impulsive, even?) I randomly signed up after seeing friends post the link to Facebook on 11/11/11 with a discount code bringing the cost of registration down to 60 bucks. After a quick peek at the course map, which covered some of my favorite parts of St. Pete I had an email confirmation in my inbox from RnR and a "what the hell did I just get myself into?" feeling in my gut.
A few weeks later that same group of friends whom unknowingly "got me into this mess" ran in the Las Vegas Rock 'n Roll Half Marathon, bringing some flaws of the Rock 'n Roll series under the microscope in very sharp focus. I recall some people having real qualms about how packed the course was and that they couldn't move, but the two issues that sent me into a panic were lack of aid stations/no water at the aid stations and a shortage of metals for the slower finishers.
WHAT? "Come on people, I only do this for the metals!" I wailed.
Needless to say, this cute little turtle paced gal was legitimately freaking out! But just like any of my freakouts, I got over it and got proactive. I purchased a water bottle with a running grip from Camelbak and reminded myself that they could always mail me the metal later, if they once again ran out at the St. Pete event.
It seems that the RnR group really learned their lesson in Vegas, because I could not have asked for a better first time half marathon experience on my own race day.
So, with all that preamble and no further adieu here is the story of my first half marathon:
The morning started off with a great big "ugh" regarding alarm clocks going off at 5:15am on a Sunday morning, especially when you have stayed up until past midnight with your bestie making positive running shirt signs, watching silly youtube videos, gossiping and chatting about fitness the previous evening. Oh and a double ugh for the 30 degree windy weather awaiting me outside. So yes, it was cold, but frankly I was more concerned about food than the cold snap. (well, when am I not concerned about food, honestly?)
I had discovered the previous week during my last long run-12 miles- that banana and peanut butter didn't go too well as a pre-run meal for me and since I usually eat scrambled eggs/omlete every morning I had this crazy thought that I would just order that for room service at 5am. Um, well, it was a nice plan but no dice, because good 'ol room service doesn't start until 7:30am. (shows you my vast experience with room service-I thought it was 24 hours) The Starbucks in the lobby of the hotel was opening at 6am, so that was my only plan B.
Actually, it was quite a few people's plan B, because the line was 15 deep even though I got there right at 6am. One coffee and a "perfect oatmeal" later I was headed over to the Trop for the start of the race. I did my best to woof down the oatmeal in my car, but it just tasted really sweet and I only managed to eat half of it. (Rookie mistake number 1)
I wanted to stay in my car, nice and warm, but I couldn't hear the announcements on the loud speaker and that was making me nervous so I yanked my ugly yellow sweatshirt on over my long sleeved tech tee and headed out to join the queue for the porta-potties. Fun times, fun times. Fast forward the 25 plus minutes of shivering in corral 12 the race finally started. (rookie mistake number 2-totally could have stayed in the car all that time!)
Another 24 minutes later thanks to the staggered start I was crossing the start line. The first 5 miles were very uneventful. Lovely, very chilly (chilly as in my nose was frozen but snotting at the same time-thanks random head cold that popped up on Friday morning) enjoyable miles, winding around the stadium and covering some western parts of Central Ave. I kept thinking about chunking the sweatshirt as it felt very cumbersome, but then another gust of wind would come swirling down the street at me. Burr.
Just past the 5 mile marker we turned back unto 4th Street South and into blessed full sun. I said goodbye to the uncomfortable yellow sweatshirt and kept on trucking. My plan to run 3x each song on my playlist was working grandly and I was also enjoying the live entertainment on the course. My only slight problem was my pants. Turns out they are a size too big for running (I bought them primarily for yoga) and therefore kept falling down, leaving me yanking them up every third or forth stride. Eventually I got used to them riding low (just on my hips, not my waist where I wanted them...nothing was exposed or anything) just let them be.
The turn around through a residential neighborhood at mile 7.5ish was particularly memorable because I stopped to chat with a friendly homeowner and play with his beautiful Great Dane. She wanted to run with me, which would have been amazing, but of course I had to say goodbye to them both. (It's moments like that I wish I had run with my camera, but I just wanted to keep the race simple) I also said goodbye to the cool sign on my back around that time, or rather the wind said goodbye to it for me. Sniff.
Trotting along the marina and bay was great, even if a bit breezy, because that chilly breeze was laced with sweet, tangy salt. It made me feel alive and happy. And if feeling alive and happy isn't the point of a race, then I don't know what is. The next segment of the race was the down and back along the Pier. When I signed up for the race I was not happy about the idea of this stretch because I figured it would be in the full sun and hot as blazes. It was full sun, but the sun was welcome. Honestly as much as I keep mentioning the chill factor I'm glad it was cold. I would much prefer shivering at the start and having to plan extra layers to shed (and getting super windburned too) over sweating my brains out.
Peace to the Pier indeed. I actually love the "down and backs" of race courses, because you get to better see exactly who is ahead of and behind you. And let me tell you friends, even though I had now long lost the 3:00 hour pace keeper I was nowhere near the end either! And that golf cart that I feared would be on my heels? Not even in sight.
Exiting the Pier left only 3 miles left! Just a 5k, right? No sweat. Ugh. This was the only part of the race where I got a little frustrated and from mile 10.5 to 11.5 I didn't run at all. Remember, rookie mistake number 1 of not enough breakfast? It came back to bite me hard. I knew I needed more calories, but had only had 2 cups of Gatorade (or whatever brand of electrolyte drink it was-they are all nasty to me) thus far, although I had water at all the aid stations. (which were at every mile-making my decision to leave my running bottle at the hotel actually a good one!)
But back to the calorie deficit, at mile 10 they offered Gu packets. Admittedly I'd never had one before, and I know you "shouldn't do anything new on race day" but I also knew I needed something. So I took a vanilla one and sucked down about 3/4 of it with a cup of water chaser. (it actually tastes and "feels" just like vanilla pudding, so I'm a fan for future training/events)
After the Gu pack station the race course turned down the cobblestone street of 5th NE right next to the Vinoy, aka sheer gorgeousness. I have always loved this part of St. Pete and was feeling SO good to be running along it.
That good feeling abruptly disappeared as I rounded the corner off Bayfront onto Beach Drive and two things happened pretty much simultaneously: 1-my stomach started trying to reject the Gu. 2-I could see the finish line party but knew I still had nearly 3 miles to go. (and people who had already finished started wandering on the course-not cool, fyi) Needless to say I wasn't feeling so alive and happy at that moment. I pushed on walking as fast as I could and focusing on keeping the Gu inside my stomach.
Thankfully there was another aid station with water just after mile 11 and after stopping for two full cups of water and some deep breaths I felt much better. Finally all that was left was the out and back across the Snell Island Bridge. Ugh, again. We could still hear all the festivities at the Finish Line Party, and yet we were running (or walking as briskly as possible in my case) away from it.
As we turned and headed back across the bridge I finally got a last spurt of energy. Maybe it was because we were headed towards the finish. Maybe that Gu packet was finally in my bloodstream. Maybe it was gravity helping me down the Snell Island bridge. Whatever the reason I perked up and started trotting along Coffee Pot Blvd with my head held high, knowing I was less than a mile from becoming a half marathoner.
My good mood only improved when I noticed a familiar figure walking in the opposite direction on the sidewalk. With excited recognition I called out "Meghann!" and jumped up on the side walk to give her a quick hug and congrats on her run. (and engagement since I hadn't seen her recently) Little did I know aat the time she had just successfully completed her goal of finishing a sub 1:45 half marathon. She encouraged me to keep moving, since the finish line was just around the bend. I shouted a good bye to her and kept slowly trotting to the finish line.
[Just a quick side story here: I first met Meghann back in 2006 when she was dating one of my childhood friends and we were all home from college for the holidays. We stayed friends on Facebook even though that relationship didn't last and it was thanks to her blog that I first discovered this world of blogging runners, inspiring me to take up competitive racing. So, even though we don't talk on a regular basis, it is because of Meghann essentially that I am even able to write this post. Isn't it fun how small the world is?]
They had photographers set up to catch the facial expressions of people as the finish line came into sight. This was all I could offer.
I call it "where's the finish line?" because that was all I had been thinking for the last 3 miles! I began a slow jog towards the mats, getting really excited when I saw Christine along the fence of the shoot!
Those are my "excited hands."
I was waving and flapping around when I saw her!
The next thing I knew I was crossing the finish line!
Since I crossed solo the annoucers really hammed it up. I believe this is what was said:
And here comes Jess Mahoney. She is 25 and fabulous. And looking so pretty in purple today. Well, I'm sure she always look pretty, but she is sporting that purple today.
It made me laugh and really feel special, even though I'm in the "turtle group" and finished with a time of 3:26:06, a time that many other women can finish a full 26.2 miles in. And awaiting me past that finishing mat was my metal.
My overall pace was quite a bit slower than I thought it would be (I was shooting for more of a 14:45) which also helps to explain why I was closer to 3:30 than 3:00, but I'm very pleased, considering how undertrained I was for this event. And hey, I totally wasn't last! I'm excited to announce after this amazing experience that while this was my first half marathon, it won't be my last! I'm going to focus on triathlons for the rest of 2012 but I'm planning on fully training for another half for the spring of 2013 and will attempt to actually run the whole beast! Stay tuned for that fun!
Phew, writing this recap was nearly as exhausting as completing the 13.1 miles that made me a half marathoner! Thanks for reading, you deserve a metal just for finishing the post!
Love to all,
the "yup, I'm pretty proud to call myself a half marathoner now" gal, Jess
PS. My only other rookie mistake was my poor hands. I didn't wear my gloves, which I did bring with me, but just didn't realize how cold they would be. Also, they got very swollen around mile 6 which you can kind of see in my finisher picture if you look at my wrists. A lady I was chatting with during the "bad mile" told me it was from not keeping them at heart level when when I was taking walking breaks. Lesson learned indeed, because they were incredibly uncomfortable but went back down to normal with in an hour of finishing the race so no real harm done.