19 October 2010

Race Recap: B.A.A. Half Marathon

"The half-marathon is my favorite distance: you feel like you’ve accomplished something significant, but your body isn’t all beaten up the next day."

Mary Wittenberg, president of New York Road Runners, was quoted in The New York Times over the weekend saying the above. Having run my first half marathon last weekend, I completely agree. Here is a very long narrative of my experience...

I ran the 10th Annual Boston Athletic Association Half Marathon on October 10th. The BAA is a very prestigious organization known primarily for the Boston Marathon, but they organize several other races throughout the year, including a 5K the day before the Boston Marathon (which I participated in this year) as well as a half marathon and cross country races. Over the summer when I decided to register for my first half marathon, I was torn between the BAA race on October 10th or the Newport Half Marathon on October 17th. I decided on the BAA Half for several reasons: 1) It was a four day weekend due to Fall Break at Simmons so I could properly rest and recover  2) I could stay in town and not worry about travel expenses or logistics and 3) I heard nothing but wonderful things about the race from other Somerville Road Runners members.

Knowing it was a very popular race, I was at my computer at 9am sharp on a hot July 14th morning to register online. After several errors, the transaction was eventually completed and I was officially signed up for my first half marathon. Incredibly the race sold out of all 6,000 entries in just over two hours! Being one of the lucky entrants already had me motivated to train, although October felt so far away.

Feeling I already had a fairly solid base and didn't want to train too hard for the race, I created a 10-week training plan via Runner's World Magazine's online training tools. I added  each week's runs to my iCal because I knew that some days it would be challenging to lace up my sneakers. But when something is on my calendar, I tend not to make excuses. I tried my best to follow the training plan exactly but reminded myself I could absolutely still finish with adequate preparation. 

The hazy, hot and humid summer days segued beautifully into crisp autumn days this year. After school began, I looked to my runs as a respite from class, work and the stress of adjusting to my new endeavors and environment. In the days leading up to the race, I found myself obsessively questioning my preparedness; literally all I thought about was running (yes, even more than usual). I didn't want to do anything to compromise the impending arrival of 10.10.10. Everything was calculated. I didn't drink any alcohol for a week, avoided chocolate, ice cream and my other favorite sweet treats, replacing them with extra fruits, vegetables and proteins; I also slept more and hydrated like I'd never have access to water again. I carefully watched the weather forecast, bought new running capris at the Gap (thanks for the suggestion, Michelle!) and Hammer Gel. I was ready to rock, err, race.

I prepared a delicious baked salmon, sweet potato and asparagus dinner on Saturday night and somehow fell asleep as a decent hour despite feeling like a kid on Christmas Eve. When I woke up at 4am on Sunday, wide awake, I made the brilliant decision to eat breakfast then go back to sleep. I had one of my favorite breakfasts that worked quite well throughout my training: Nature's Path Crunchy Vanilla Sunrise Gluten-Free Granola with a banana, almond milk and chia seeds. I woke up at 6:15am, got dressed and was picked up by my roommate Molly's friends Tara and Amy who live down the street and were also running the race at 6:45am. There was no traffic so flew down the Mass Pike, parked at UMass Boston and took a school bus shuttle to the start/finish at Franklin Park. We used the surprisingly fast-moving port-a-john lines, checked our bags, stretched and got into the corral for the race start. It was very crowded but everyone was in very good spirits on what was a truly beautiful day.

Before I knew it, the gun went off, everyone cheered, and within a few minutes I officially crossed the starting line and was embarking on my first half marathon. The first few miles went by very quickly. My pace wasn't as fast as I would have liked but I reminded myself my version of being "in it to win it" that day was finishing -- simply finishing was winning! There were lots of spectators on the sidewalks cheering for loved ones and all the runners. Encouragement from children was especially meaningful and made me smile. Somewhere around Mile 7, I decided to open up my raspberry Hammer Gel. This terrified me greatly as I had never tried it. Yes, I realize this could have gone terribly wrong, leaving me with an upset stomach for the last half of the race, perhaps even unable to finish. But I guess it was part of the adventure of running 13.1 miles. Thankfully, I actually liked it!

Before I knew it I was at Mile 10 and I was so incredibly happy -- only three more miles to go! But somewhere around there tragedy struck. My right IT band just completely blew out. It was like my knee was crushed then set on fire. A common issue for runners, I've had problems with it before running and hiking intensely, but had absolutely no issues throughout my training. I was shocked, angry, disappointed and frustrated but there was absolutely no way I was not finishing the race with less than three miles to go! I stopped to use a port-a-john, something I did not want to do during the race but felt was a good way to collect myself for the last leg. I started up again, ate the rest of my Hammer Gel, paid attention to my surroundings and the cheering crowd and found energy from my music. I also thought about Terry Fox and his amazing determination (if you are unfamiliar with his legacy, do yourself a huge favor and educate yourself). 

At this point I had to take walking breaks and knew that I was not going to finish within my projected time of 2:20, and I most likely would not finish within the BAA sanctioned 2:30 cutoff either. There was still a significant amount of runners in beside me and behind me, many of them hobbling along like me, so I felt like I was in good company and we were all working toward the common goal of finishing a half marathon. The course was changed this year from prior years, with some very large hills to tackle at the end of the course. When I got to Mile 12, I started to get emotional because I absolutely knew I was going to finish. Miraculously one of my favorite songs, "Turning Home" by David Nail, came on my iPod at this point. Although it's a slower song, the lyrics speak directly to me and I actually ended up playing it twice in a row to finish the race. I was tired, in excruciating pain and obviously disappointed in my unexpected injury, but I was going to achieve a dream. 

It gets a bit hazy for me at this point, but I remember hearing my name and looking up to see my dear friend, the aforementioned Michelle, on the sidelines. Although she had to be at work at noon, she came out by herself to cheer me on to the finish line. She snapped an awful picture of me (which clearly indicates how much pain I was in) and gave me the final push I needed to finish strong. The last 400 meters of the race were inside the track at Schoolboy Stadium and the cushy surface was a welcome relief. I was so happy to see spectators still in the stands cheering and BAA announcers still working despite it being past the 2:30 mark. I still don't know why they did that, but it made me very happy. I ran hard across the finish line where I was immediately given a finisher's medal and directed toward the post-race festivities. 

I was a bit dazed and confused, but I did it! I knew I needed to keep moving and I was surprised how quickly my legs locked up. I absentmindedly grabbed a bottle of water, a banana and a bag of potato chips, eating half the banana and entire bag of chips while picking up my very nice long-sleeved technical finisher's shirt. I made my way to the bag checked, rendezvoused with Tara and Amy (who were only two minutes shy of a PR!) and got on the shuttle back to UMass where I ate a Balance Bar. I was back home in Brighton around 12:30pm and was so sad the race was already over. I made lunch and tried to nap but the epinephrine was still flowing through  my veins. Despite injury, I ran my first half marathon in 2:39:33 and I am incredibly proud. 

I'm also very hooked. That afternoon I started to search for other half marathons in New England to register for before the winter. It seems like every race is sold out or conflicts with the American Dietetic Association Food & Nutrition Conference & Expo, but hopefully I'll find a way to run another half in 2010. If not, I have very ambitious plans to run what I am calling "11 in '11" -- eleven half marathons in 2011. I definitely plan to run the Hyannis Half Marathon in February (yes folks that's 13.1 miles on Cape Cod in February -- I'm crazy) and planning the rest of my calendar in the next few weeks. The more I run the more I realize that our bodies are totally meant for this activity; 13.1 miles doesn't feel long to me anymore. I guess now that I know what I am capable of I just want to push myself to run harder, faster and stronger. 

Today registration for the 2011 Boston Marathon closed out for those who qualified in just over eight hours, shattering records like never before. I don't want to get too far ahead of myself, but I hope to run the 2012 or 2013 Boston Marathon with a charity bib, as my first marathon.  Running keeps me sane, focused and energized and I can't imagine living without it. I've been using The Stick daily since the race and I am so happy tomorrow morning I am going to run for the first time since the race. Catch me if you can...


  1. The BAA Half Marathon last year was my first half marathon. And like you, between the 13.1 mile distance and the great job that BAA did, I'm now hooked on half marathons. 11 in 11 is a great goal! I'm planning on running 3 half marathons.

  2. Hey Gina, this is an inspiring story. Way to be determined and work through what to me seems impossible. Awesome.

  3. I love the Boston marathons, I missed it dearly. The yellow leaves look awesome!!! I miss the fall in new england too! Wonderful blog you have. I hope you don't mind me following it.

    Have a great weekend :D