My first half marathon, on September 13, 2009, was run at Almaden Quicksilver Park, in San Jose, California.
On August 8th, I attempted to run up to the peak of Half Dome in Yosemite, with a few 10+ mile runs on flat land, and one 9-miler on a hilly course. It was nearly impossible to run up Half Dome most of the way. But I ran wherever I could, I took a long, less crowded route down. I made it to the top and down in 4 hours and 48 minutes.
So when I heard about this Trail Half Marathon, I figured if I could "run" Half Dome, I should at least survive a hilly half marathon, right? Two weeks before the race, I went out to the park, and explored the trails for a long run. There was no chance for me to find the actual race course - it was too complicated, with too many turns. I ended up getting "lost" (on a wrong turn) and I end up logging over 15 miles total (according to my Garmin Forerunner 50). The hills were tough and it forced me to walk many times, which made me a bit nervous for the next two weeks!
On race day, I got out to the course around 7:15AM, one of the first out there, after grabbing breakfast at McDonalds (Sausage McMuffin w/ Egg Sandwich). And yeah, it doesn't sound like a healthy breakfast before an important race, but I've done it before long runs before, so I knew it wouldn't kill me. I found out from the Race Director that over 120 people pre-registered for the HM. According to the results, only 79 people finished the HM, with more people running the 10K. A week before the race, I had gotten an old high school buddy (old cross country teammate) to join me in the race. We both were on the slower end of the spectrum in high school, but our times were always very close. He had been logging a lot more mileage than me, so I had no doubt that he was going to kick my butt. I was very happy to have an old buddy to race with. It was the highlight of my morning up to that point.
What was my goal? What was my strategy for the race? My goal was to do my best to run a strong race. Try not to walk on the hills, try not to burn myself out too early, and find someone with a reasonable pace to "stick to".
The race started at 8am sharp. And right away, I started out fast. And I thought to myself, that's just who I am; I always start out fast. The adrenaline will wear out and I will settle in to a more comfortable pace. The first couple miles go uphill at a steady incline. After about 2 miles, there is a break followed by a few steeper hills, which I have to slow down for. I got passed by a one or two runners there, most notably by a gal who probably saw that I was struggling a bit, and kindly spoke a few words of encouragement ("Good job" or something simple like that). Kind words of encouragement go a long way in moments like that. And I survived that hill more strongly because of her.
The middle section of the race had some steep declines and this is where I ran the best and felt the strongest. I passed a few runners by really turning up the speed going downhill. And I used the downhills to "power up" many of the smaller uphills with momentum. At around mile 10, my high school buddy passed me up. I clapped him on the shoulder and told him "Good job!", proud to see him doing so well. And that also gave me an energy boost. I skipped the next aid station to keep as close to my buddy as possible. It was then, that I hit the last, really tough, grinding, long uphill. Its the kind that you can't see the top/end of. Its the kind where after you turn a corner, hoping there is an end, you find that you've only just begun. My pace slowed dramatically, and just before I had thoughts of walking, the uphill ended. And it was then, that I felt the closeness of the finish line (maybe 2 miles away), but mostly downhill. I turned up the pace in anticipation, knowing that the tough parts were done. And I kept getting closer and closer to the next runner, a 22 year old that had passed me somewhere back in the hills. I started to sprint down the final stretch, thinking that there was no way I could lose to this guy. Of course, he heard my footsteps and the tight photo finish was won, by a hundredth of a second, by the 22 year old. But heck, that was a fun finish. It was the perfect cap to a great race.
I had a huge grin on for the next hour, and I felt like I could run another few miles on that runner's high. I felt so alive. There was a great sense of accomplishment. Sure, my time wasn't "great" for a Half Marathon (1:55:57), but it was a tough, hilly course. And it turns out my high school buddy beat me by only 38 seconds! I placed 22nd overall. I found out that the winner, from the UK, ran it for a course record in 1:26:55, who, according to Jean Pommier (2nd place, and experienced blogger) runs a 1:12 HM. Reading Jean Pommier's blog, who ran it in 1:29:15 (with a HM PR of 1:15:04), was very enlightening.
Jean Pommier's blog:
To make a long story short... my first half marathon was a huge success, and its awakening my love for running again... Now I have a passion for tennis AND running (... And with this success, I think I'll shoot for that full marathon real soon (possibly the CIM in Sacramento, CA, on December 6th)!