Fast forward to today, October 23, 2013, three days after my first half marathon. I quit being sore on October 22.
That's right, on October 20, about 14 months after I started my love affair with running, I ran my first half marathon in Des Moines.
I finished it.
No, my time was not ideal, but I was coming off an extremely recent injury and thus had not been able to finish my half marathon training in time.
But regardless, I finished it.
Several months ago, my Des Moines-based aunt, who used to do Ironmans and at age 55 continues to run marathons and organizes the Drake Relays, was happy that I had lost a lot of weight and had done it through running, and she invited me to participate in the Des Moines Half Marathon. She and my cousin were using the half as a training run for the 2013 New York City Marathon, for which they were registered last year, but obviously Superstorm Sandy cut that trip short in 2012.
It took me a long time debating on the issue, but I finally took her up on her offer. I was well into half marathon training when disaster struck: injury. Suddenly, I experienced debilitating tendinitis in the back of my knee, which then extended to a very tight and sore area in my calf that swelled tremendously (to 1 1/2 inches bigger than usual) when I ran at all. It was like running with a giant rock tied to my calf -- huge, hard, and completely inflexible.
I'd been on track to complete my training just in time, but because of the injury, I missed the last four weeks of training for this race.
Physically and injury-speaking, I felt good heading to Des Moines on Saturday, certainly well enough to run. However, I'd run about nine miles total in the past three weeks, and felt horribly undertrained for the race. But I tried not to think about it. I headed off for Des Moines early Saturday morning and arrived to my aunt and uncle's house early in the afternoon.
Shortly after I arrived, we left for downtown Des Moines (and unrelated, experienced the most spectacularly horrible car accident I've ever seen to the cars directly behind us) for packet pickup. It was a very small expo, and they'd run out of women's small jackets, citing that after they ordered jackets, "1,000 more people registered." So I didn't get my sweet quarter zip jacket, but it's getting mailed to me (and it better arrive as promised!)
Afterwards, we drove on the course route for a while as I followed along on the course map we'd received at the expo. It wound through a park and then around a lake, and over bridges crossing the Des Moines River. I cannot deny that it was a very beautiful course -- and extremely flat, perfect for my first half marathon.
We headed to the Locust Street Bridge over the Des Moines River, where the race started and finished, and took our positions. The gun went off and we began. My aunt, cousin and I ran together for about the first three miles, through the road part of downtown Des Moines. My cousin, who ran cross country at DePauw University, is obviously a lot faster than me, so she let us know she'd be breaking off at the half marathon/marathon split (when the two races split courses at about Mile 3) to run a bit faster.
At that point, I was still feeling pretty good. I'd been running at a comfortable pace and wasn't feeling any pain. Just after the split, I got a bit toasty despite the sub-50 degree temperatures and I shed my jacket. For a while, I felt fine. A bit slow because of the long injury layoff, but fine.
It was a little bit upsetting, because not only had I worked so hard to get there, but also because I felt like I was letting my aunt down, and also like I was wasting this gorgeous course and my first half marathon experience on my muscular and breathing issues.
So when we finally approached the finish line, my aunt encouraged me to go into another gear. We bolted for the finish, blowing by the spectator-lined home stretch on the Locust Street Bridge and triumphantly crossing the finish line.
Crossing that finish line after running 13.1 miles, I was pretty emotional, just thinking about how far I've come and how even a year ago, I would never have conceived this possible. A year ago, it took me two weeks to recover from a 5K. By Tuesday (the race being Sunday), I felt healthier than I had in several weeks, since I wasn't having any tendinitis or calf pain, and my hip flexor pain from the race had dissipated.
This half marathon goal was just to finish. Subsequent half marathons will be my time to shine and get a better time. I'm looking ahead to January, to the F^3 Lake Half Marathon I will be running. Now healthy again, I will be resuming my half marathon training and bettering my endurance so that this January half will be more successful. I excel in cold weather running anyhow (my 10K PR was in freezing rain and icy conditions).
I'm so excited for having done what I did, and for what the future holds. People keep asking me if now I will run a marathon. I can't answer that. I don't know if I can or am willing to run that. Yes, I wanted to drop dead after my first half marathon, but a) it was my first half marathon, and b) my undertraining due to injury was evident with my hip flexor and breathing problems. But I actually really enjoyed the half marathon distance. I didn't even run with any music, and it did not even feel like I was running for nearly three hours. If I can do this distance without pain or breathing issues, I can envision myself really excelling at this distance. It's completely surmountable, and that makes me think that in time, a marathon could be completely surmountable.
As for the race itself, I think it was extremely well done. Packet pick-up, besides the jacket mishap, was fairly flawless. I adored the beautiful, scenic, flat course. Aid stations were well stocked, not only with fuel, but also friendly volunteers (gotta love Midwestern hospitality). Portapotties were plentiful throughout the course. What mostly impressed me was the spectatorship, which was pretty remarkable throughout the entirety of the course. The bridge home stretch finish line was totally stacked with cheering spectators, which really pushed me toward the finish. The finish line goodies at the end (food, drinks, etc.) held a very impressive array, with sandwiches, pizza, yogurt, chips, bagels, sliders, I could go on and on with how much food they gave us!
I'd definitely like to thank my aunt, uncle, and cousins for their incredible hospitality and support for this race. Not only did they welcome me no holds barred into their home for a weekend, but my aunt also sacrificed her usual pace to run with me and deal with my stoppages, struggling and coming off injury.
I have no shame in saying that I am damn proud of myself. I never would have thought this possible. But I am a half marathon finisher. And this is only the beginning.
IMT 2013 Des Moines Half Marathon
October 20, 2013
Des Moines, IA