Race Report: Starting (and finishing) my first half marathon

“The miracle isn’t that I finished. The miracle is that I had the courage to start.”
– John Bingham

It started out like any normal Sunday. Well, any normal Sunday where you get up at 4 a.m. to get ready and catch a bus at 5 a.m. to your first half marathon. You know, the usual. My first half marathon experience was nothing short of amazing. God spoke to me through Freddy Mercury, I never stopped to use the bathroom, I ran about 3 miles, I kept smiling and joking throughout and got to see almost every single teammate along the way. I am so grateful for this experience.

Me and Coach Anne – the cool kids in the back of the bus.

Team Challenge Wisconsin met for one last team cheer before the walkers nervously boarded our fancy bus to Napa. I was a ball of nerves. Yes, I’m smiling in the photos above, but my stomach was in knots. What had I done? Did I really sign up for this? What the hell was I thinking? Who in their right mind – at 249 lbs – would do a half marathon? I mean, really…

Well, I guess I’m that crazy fool.

Shortly after we boarded the bus, Dave, one of my teammates, said to me, “You look nervous.” Duh. Of course I was nervous. I had been dealing with an upset stomach all week leading up to this moment.

In an effort to calm myself on the bus (something that was much needed), I read through the list of encouragement and inspirational quotes I received from family and friends. Here are some highlights:

  • Always do what you are afraid to do.” -Ralph Waldo Emerson
  • I know you are thinking about Napa as a milestone, but I have already seen enough to know that you can do it. I hope you feel the same confidence in where you are in your training.
  • “As an athlete, when you least expect it, you may find yourself standing on the threshold of an accomplishment so monumental that it strikes fear into your soul. You must stand ready, at any moment, to face the unknown. You must be ready to walk boldly thru the wall of uncertainty.” – John Bingham
  • As you cross that starting line in Napa, do so knowing that all of us back home are cheering for you and sending all the positive vibes we can muster. And, as you cross the finish line … soak it all in. Because you’ll never forget that feeling of accomplishment.
  • “What distinguishes those of us at the starting line from those of us on the couch is that we learn through running to take what the days gives us, what our body will allow us, and what our will can tolerate.” – John Bingham
  • “I can do everything through HIM who gives me strength.” Philippians 4:13
  • All I can say is, “Thank you!” from the bottom of my COLON!

When we got to the beautiful vineyard for the start of the race, my nerves started to subside. I had business to take care of. I had to write names on my arm in sharpie, hit the port-a-potty for a pre-race pee, turn in my stuff at the gear check table, apply my Team Challenge temporary tattoos, apply sunscreen, make sure my race bib, honored hero ribbons, SPI Belt, iPod and water bottle were all situated properly. Oh, and let’s not forget about the most important piece of gear – my inhaler.

The Team Challenge walkers got to start the race about 30 minutes ahead of the runners. Race organizers gave us the option, to make sure there was still race support when we were all out there longer than the runners. At first, I was very much against the idea of starting early, but race organizers still gave us the feeling of starting with the rest of the pack. There was the countdown, the excitement and the camaraderie I hoped to experience in my first big race (it also gave me the chance to line up in the 6-7 minute mile corral… something I will never see again ever in my life).

I also got to line up with the rest of my Team Challenge Wisconsin walkers. I spent the past 16 weeks training with these people. We became a family. We got into this together. We pushed each other. We were going to start this thing together too. We’re not necessarily what conventional thought would describe as athletes, but I can assure you, each one of these people shown below is an athlete. We trained hard. It wouldn’t have happened without Team Challenge. Without the support and encouragement from Coach Anne and Coach Tim, I’m pretty sure some of us wouldn’t have finished the race.

The first couple of miles were congested, as is in most races. We took them slow, and walked as a team. We joked, we laughed, we goofed around.

Mostly, we enjoyed the landscape. Traveling through wine country on foot was amazing. Vineyard after vineyard after vineyard. By about mile 2 or 3, we started to spread out. Most of my running happened between miles 2-7 of the race.

4.5 miles done!

I was amazed at how GOOD I felt throughout the race. I never really felt exhausted. My body was prepared for those 13.1 miles, despite all my worry. I mean, look at me! I was more than a third of the way through the race and I was still a-smilin’! I wasn’t sweaty, either. Ahh, the joys of starting a race in the 50s and overcast! I couldn’t have asked for better weather.

Yes, I am a goof ball. If you don’t believe me, see the race photos below. I am absolutely ridunkulous. Sidenote: my singlet kept rolling up my gut. I’m so happy I brought my black Under Armor tank. Otherwise, there would have been WAY too many photos of my blindingly white gut.

As I creeped up on the 6 mile mark, I looked at my Garmin and knew that I was on track to finish the race in less than 4 hours, even if my pace slipped by 60-90 seconds for the back half. In fact, I finished the first 6 miles in 1:40, 5 minutes faster than my previous 6 mile run/walks during training!

Ok, so remember when I said God spoke to me through Freddy Mercury? Oh the irony, right? Well, here’s what happened. I was so freaking nervous the night before the race, and even though I tried to sleep well, I kept waking up throughout the night. At one point, I began to pray. I asked God to hold my hand through the race. I knew I wouldn’t be able to do it without his guidance. So, I was a little selfish and asked him to give me a sign that he was there with me. I prayed, “God, when you think I need it the most, please play ‘We Are the Champions’ by Queen on my iPod.” You see, I have an iPod shuffle and don’t really have any control over what song plays when. It was my sort of test for God. I know, it was a weird test. And I shouldn’t have doubted him. But I was so scared I needed a reminder.

Well, the song came on my iPod. I looked at my Garmin. According to this GPS watch, I had just hit 6.55 miles into the race. AKA: the halfway point.

God spoke to me through Freddy Mercury at EXACTLY the halfway point of the race. When I realized this, I completely lost it. It’s a good thing I wasn’t with any of my teammates at this point. I was bawling like a baby. I’m pretty sure I shouted a few, “Thank you Jesus!” “Praise the Lord!” and, oh… one of these, “We really are the champions!” Imagine me shouting this while crying and running. Pretty awesome.

Luckily, not long after this mess, Coach Anne came running back to me. I told her what happened and may or may not have teared up again. I am so glad I got to see her at this point. I needed it (and her)!

Mile 8ish

Of course, we were both tweeting. What else would you expect from us?

Somewhere around this point, we ran into Mary and Patty. I ran with them for a li’l bit. It was so fun to see them during the race! Of course, I could only stay at their pace for a short bit, but I ran with them, mmmkay?

Miles 7-9 went pretty well for me. I still felt great. Hell, if I could run for a bit at this point of the race, I must have been doing something right.

Mile 9ish

Mile 9.5ish

Here’s about where I started to hurt. The first 9.5 miles were awesome. Sure, I was definitely feeling the effects of 9.5 miles on my body, but it wasn’t anything I couldn’t deal with. Somewhere between 9.5 and 10 miles into the race, I hurt. A lot. My foot ached. I tried to focus on the race. I was able to keep a positive attitude, despite the pain. I kept my head held high. I kept hydrating. I kept taking my Honey Stingers and Powerbar chews every mile or so. I kept on trucking, smiling and enjoying the experience. As my Garmin chirped for the 10 mile mark, I wrote one more tweet, “Well the 10mi warmuup is done. Time to own this 5k bitches #napaorbust.” I put my phone away for the rest of the race. I knew if I hit the 10 mile mark, I could finish the race. I’ve done more than my share of 3 mile runs. I knew this was it. I wanted to focus on the road. I wanted to soak in the scenery. I wanted to keep the last three miles for me, at least until the race was over.

I’ve shared this whole experience with everyone. I tweeted and texted and facebook’d throughout training… and throughout the first 10 miles of the race. I knew that unplugging for the finale 3.1 miles would help me stay focused. I didn’t need any distractions. It was just me, the road and my iPod. Oh, and an alpaca farm.

I kept on smiling. I kept putting one foot in front of the other. I saw Team Challenge friends at mile 11. I was almost there. The sun was shining. My heart was exploding with pride and perseverance. I cried. I walked with the coach from the South Florida team for about a mile. He said it was too cold for him, which made me laugh. I told him he was crazy and this weather was awesome. He told me he started the race with 4 layers of clothing. He was now at 2 layers and a bit chilly.

He asked how I was doing. I admitted to him that my foot hurt a lot, and briefly explained to him the problems I’ve had during training. He stepped aside and watched my stride for awhile. “Well you’re certainly not favoring either foot, so I think you’re good to finish.” Not that I needed that bit of encouragement – there was no way I wasn’t finishing the race. But, it was good to hear my form hadn’t been altered by the pain I was experiencing.

He was off to walk with some of his racers and I was once again left to my own devices. I didn’t mind. With the exception of the brief moments when I saw runners from Team Wisconsin go past me, and the time spent with Coach Anne, I spent the majority of the race on my own. I’m sure it would have been great to have someone to talk to throughout the race, but I had my tweeps, along with my parents and sister and best friend who texted me the entire way. Honestly, I kind of liked it. It was good to know I didn’t need anyone else to finish this race.

As I reached mile 12, I started tearing up. Again. I realized I had already gone further than I ever had in my life. My body could do this. My body was doing this. I walked 12 miles. 12 miles people! This is nothing for you marathoners, but this is huge – huge – for someone like me. Six months ago, I was sick, depressed and on the fast track to an early death. But Sunday, before most people woke up, I had walked 12 miles. Cue the tears. Again. I knew I was getting close to the city square in Sonoma. I wasn’t in the country anymore.

I was rocking it down a residential street, with people cheering along the way. I got to the park (about 12.5 miles in) and saw exactly what I needed – my friends Rochelle and Sarah walking back along the course to find me and help me through the last mile. I knew they were going to come back and find me, I just didn’t know when I would see them. As soon as I saw their smiling faces, I began to sob. I did one of those ohmigod-you-guys-I-friggin-love-you-I-can’t-believe-I’m-almost-there-I-did-it-and-you’re-here-and-ohmigosh-I-can’t-breathe girlie moments where you fan your hands in front of your face and lunge at your friends for a huge hug.

They told me I was almost there and they were right. I was less than a mile from accomplishing my goal – completing a half marathon. I could see the finish line – it wasn’t a mirage. I saw the crowds lining the streets in Sonoma. I saw orange. I saw smiles. I saw people cheering for me. ME! People don’t cheer for me. But these people were. I couldn’t help but smile… I was grinning from ear to ear.

Rochelle and Sarah kept saying words of encouragement. They asked me what my plan was for the finish line – I didn’t know what to say – I wanted to cross it. I hadn’t thought about anything else except crossing that finish line.

Coach Tim came back on the course to finish with me. I had a freaking entourage people! They were cheering for me and I know they were so proud of what I was doing.

When I saw the 13 mile marker, I started sprinting. I don’t really know what Sarah, Rochelle or Tim said at this point. My body took over my mind and went into sprint mode. I was going to finish this race. I was going to cross the finish line. I saw Tracey and Jason cheering near the finish. Other than that it was a blur until I had that medal hanging around my neck. It was pure bliss. How else do you describe something like this? It was magical. It was amazing. It was quite possibly the best moment of my life so far.

I did it. I walked (and ran) 13.1 (ok, actually 13.25) miles in 3 hours, 49 minutes and 39 seconds. Sure, this time is about 5 minutes shy of a BQ… for a marathon. It took me almost 4 hours to complete a half marathon… but I did it. I never gave up. I never stopped. I never lost sight of the goal – crossing that finish line. My good friends finished the race in less than 2 hours. They could have lapped me. For some reason, I haven’t let this bring me down… why? Because I walked (and ran) non-stop for 3 hours and 49 minutes. How many people can say that? How many people can walk at this brisk of a pace for this length of time? In case you’ve never walked this far, let me tell you – it’s a lot of work. I have runner friends who have told me they could never in a million years do what I did Sunday. They couldn’t walk 13.1 miles. They couldn’t walk for almost 4 hours. Sure, they can run that far or for that long, but walking is a whole different ball game. It’s my game. And I won.

Splits: 17:20, 16:31, 15:38, 17:00, 16:33, 17:09, 16:11, 16:55, 18:06, 18:35, 18:55, 18:25, 18:31, 16:36 (.25mi)

For more photos from the weekend, check out my set on Flickr.

0 Replies to “Race Report: Starting (and finishing) my first half marathon”

  1. Amy – we ALL are so proud of ourselves! I too wondered what in the world I was thinking getting into this-me – an official couch potato and life long smoker to boot! Well it’s been 6 weeks without a cigarette and a half marathon behind me – truly a life changing accomplishment. Thank you for being you and for being an encouragement to me and all the rest of our team! It’s been an honor to meet you and to be a part of the team with you! YOU ROCK!!!

    1. I am so lucky to have met you and mariah. You inspired me so much Karen. Your love for your granddaughter and the determination to do this for her – as well as quitting smoking – is nothing short of AWESOME.

  2. You make me glad. Imagine how different your experience is going to be in Las Vegas when you are down a ton of inches and pounds. You are going to have so much more energy and it will be so much more amazing knowing you REALLY helped your mentor group get to the same point as you. I am so lucky to have you with Team Challenge. Thank you for everything!

  3. I am so freaking proud of you Amy!! Sorry I sucked at keeping up to date while you were there, it is pretty hard being on the other side of the world. 😉
    Keep up the awesome work!!! <3 <3

  4. Amy…you made me laugh and tear up right along with you! I am so proud to call you a teammate. You rocked it, sista!

  5. How could you do it!!!!!
    i mean i am 12 years old and i run 5ks in cross country all the time but i am not as skinny as all those other girls and i am fast. I am actually chubby.
    My mom is hoping one day to do something like you did !!!!!!!!!
    You go girl!!!!!!!!!
    Awesome AMY!!!!!!!!!

  6. @patty: Patty don’t let ANYONE tell you you can’t do ANYTHING. I am 70 pounds overweight and I ran a half marathon. It was my second race EVER. I did a 5k in April, then the half marathon in July. You don’t have to be tiny to be a runner. I am proof of that and so are you.

  7. Oh my goodness, Amy. Somehow, I stumbled across your website while googling wicking running panties. How funny is that?! The awesome, magical thing is that I happen to be training to walk my first half-marathon this September, and reading your experience was just the right thing for me right now. I’m 266#, just reached my 10% loss goal on weight watchers, have plantar fasciitis, and nerves about what I have gotten myself into with a half marathon. BUT, that big goal is motivating me to walk a race a month until the big one. I’ve done two so far–a four miler in February and a 5K last weekend. I’ll make the goal. Thanks for giving me a peek into what that big day was like for you!

    1. LOL! you’d be surprised at the google searches that get people to my site. 😉

      I’m so glad you found my site and I hope that my stories are helpful for you. My plantar fasciitis is finally getting under control and I WILL do another half marathon in 7 weeks!

  8. Amy! I stumbled upon this blog post while looking for half-marathon tattoo inspiration (not sure how google routed me here, but I’m glad it did). I read this post and cried – I don’t even know you but I am so proud of you! I ran a half marathon a few years ago and had never run a mile in my life before training for that half, so I totally understand your well-earned feelings of accomplishment and pride. Is it okay if I send a few of my friends a link to this post? There are so many women out there who think that, for whatever reason, they are limited to doing what they’ve always done, and that is so not true. You are an inspiration, and I know that just this one post can inspire others to dream big and imagine going beyond their limitations.

    God bless, Amy, and keep up the good work! 🙂

  9. I think you are awesome! You help me get over my nerves for my first half-marathon in Vegas. It was a blast and you helped me to mentally prepare for it. YOU ROCK!

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