The day I had been training for months in advance had finally arrived and I was about to run my first half marathon. On December 5th I got out of bed about 5:30 in the morning and proceeded to get ready to leave for the race. I had laid out everything that I would need the night before so I wouldn’t forget anything. I worry a lot and am always worried that I will forget my race bib or something. Luckily that did not happen and at about 6 am we left under the dark, early morning sky and headed for downtown Orlando.
I had done plenty of parking research beforehand so we headed in that general direction and followed the line of cars heading into a garage. I was surprised to see that it was only five dollars! After we parked we walked a couple blocks to the starting area. There were a lot of people there already. We just walked around and Chris took some pre-race photos of me. At about 7 am I got up enough courage to talk to the 1:50 pacer who I planned on following. I told him it was my first half. He gave me some pointers and I asked him about his strategy. He said to not start off too fast because there are so many people at the start and it is hard to get around them. He also warned me about a hill at mile ten that I should save my energy for. I thanked him and then headed for the restroom line. It was a lot longer than I had imagined and I started worrying about being late for the start of the race. When I got to the front of the line I saw my parents. My parents, along with my sister and her husband, were running the 5k. It started ten minutes after my race in the opposite direction. After I went to the restroom, I said bye to them and then made my way to the half marathon starting line.
The start line area was full of people already! The way it was set up was that you had to enter at the ten plus minute area and then squeeze through the crowd until you get to your appropriate pace. I said goodbye to Chris and did just that. As I made my way up there I saw my pacer and headed towards him. Then it was waiting time. I kept thinking about having finished the race and enjoying the free chocolate milk at the post race party for extra motivation. My heart was racing as the start time neared. I noticed that there was a drone flying right above the starting line and wondered what that could be for. The National Anthem was sung and then the wheel chair competitors started.
A minute later it was our turn to start. I was so worried, but I knew that all I had to do was try my best. The pacer was right, it was pretty crowded for the first half mile or so. I ran right behind him and then a space opened up in front of me. I was feeling great despite the fact that I didn’t warm up, so I ran ahead. I kept looking at my Garmin watch and the pace stayed around 8:20-8:30 per mile. I was very happy with those paces so I just kept doing what I was doing as I enjoyed the run around Orlando.
It was pretty quiet the first couple of miles and then after mile two the entertainment started. The course featured live singing performances, DJs, and multiple water stops. Every time I came to an entertainment stop or cheering section I was pumped up for a bit and then the music and noise faded away and it got pretty quiet again. I’m used to running with my headphones on, but during races I leave the headphones at home so I can take everything in. A lot of the course throughout was run on bricks which was great for me because I had plenty of practice with that running surface in Boston.
I felt great during the first five miles and even thought that I may beat my goal time, but that is when it started going down hill. I started out with an 8:19 pace during mile one, which was great because that was what I wanted my race pace to be. I sped up to an 8:15 pace for mile two; my fastest average pace of the race. During mile three I went back down to my race pace at 8:21. During miles four and five my pace continued to decrease at 8:27 and 8:29 respectively. It was during mile five when my pacer caught up to me. I was able to stay in front of him for about half a mile, but then I lost pace at a water stop and he got ahead. At that point it was getting hotter out and I did not want to miss any water stops. I slowed down a bit as I came to them, tried to drink some from the cup as I continued to run, and then dumped the rest on my head and threw the cup to the side of the street. During one of the stops I misjudged the toss on my head and the entire liquid went over my head. With each water stop I got better and better at my drink and head toss.
Despite having a pretty good pace of 8:23 during mile six, I lost my pacer completely. At one point I heard one of the DJs up ahead mention the 1:50 pacer passing by, but I never saw him again. I was a bit discouraged and started feeling the fatigue. My paces got slower and slower and they never recovered.
Miles seven, eight, and nine were my last miles in the eight minute per mile range at 8:31, 8:39, and 8:56. I ran up to what I thought was a water stop, but in fact it was a beer stop. Who drinks beer while they are running? I didn’t find out what it was until after I had already grabbed one. I thought that it had been a Gatorade. I dropped it to the side causing it it splash and get beer all over my hand. I ignored the horrible smell, wiped my hand on my skirt and continued on. Half way through mile eight they were handing out energy gels. I got excited when I saw that they were they same brand that I had been using during my training runs. I opened it and instantly noticed how sweet it was as it touched my tongue. It was a lot sweeter then any of the flavors that I had trained with. Unfortunately, the gels were given out at a water stop so I had to wait until the next one to quench my thirst after I finished one. I ate most of the gel and hoped that I would last until the next water stop.
It was at about mile ten when my real troubles began. I was able to get water at mile nine and a half, but the gel had made me have a sick feeling in my stomach causing me to slow down considerably. Miles ten, eleven, and twelve were done at 9:11, 9:19, and 9:18, which is my training pace. Mile thirteen was my slowest mile at 9:22. My training plan had said to speed up and run faster than race pace starting at mile ten, but I did the exact opposite. It’s not that I didn’t want to, but I felt like I couldn’t go any faster. I kept thinking that all I wanted to do was finish; I just had to finish. I just wanted to meet my family at the end and enjoy my chocolate milk, but those last few miles seemed to take forever. I honestly thought of how great it would be to just stop running and rest for a bit, but I did not quit. I’m proud of myself that I completed the entire race without stopping once, even through the water stops.
I turned the corner and finally sped up as the finish line came into view. I couldn’t believe that I had made it! It had been a long journey, over half a year long journey, and I was finally there at the finish line for my first half marathon. As I approached the finish line I looked to the right and saw Chris standing there taking pictures and a big smile appeared on my face. I’m thankful that he supports my running. As I crossed the finish line I continued to smile as I did my Jeter fist pump over the timing matte. It was an incredible feeling. As I got my finishing medal I heard my family calling to me. It means a lot that they were there to see me cross the finish line.
As soon as I got my medal I had to sit down in the grass. I guess the race had taken everything out of me. After a quick break and a post race snack we made our way though the rest of the finishing area where there were lots of post race foods provided by Publix including oranges, bananas, bagels, and muffins (there was even a pumpkin one!). During the post race party I was able to get my chocolate milk and some other goodies including a nice bag from OUC. As I was talking to one of the vendors I got really dizzy and had to sit on the ground. The vendor brought me a water and a runner stretching next to me gave me a gel to eat. It seems I still have to master fueling during a race.
My final finishing time was 1:54:55. Though it was a little over my goal time, I am really proud of it. I gave everything that I had during that race and it just motivated me to train harder for the next one and learn how to better fuel. I have already signed up for next years OUC Orlando half and I still have Princess and Star Wars coming up. I am more determined than ever to improve on my running and I can’t wait for my next race!