Five years later, I gave it another shot and followed through with it. Thanks to my mom's encouragement, I started and completed the North Shore Classic Half Marathon.
Here is my first race recap, which I will divide into four parts: The First Mile, The Speeding Section, The Pace Group, and The Final .1 Miles.
The First Mile
My mom and I arrived in downtown Highland Park (one of my favorite places on the North Shore!) an hour early to check our gear and to wait in line for the port-a-potties, use them, stand outside, realize that we had to go again, stand in line, and the cycle continued. I only had to use them twice (my mom probably went four times), but my bladder felt completely full again while we were waiting in our corrals. By this time, there was no time for the portable toilet. It was time to run!
I took the advice of other experienced runners who told me to start at a much slower pace and hung out by the 10:30 pace group at the beginning. My goal was to commence with them and pull ahead when I felt comfortable. At first, I was anything but comfortable. I desperately had to pee, I felt an undesirable burning sensation up and down my legs that I soon realized were muscle cramps, and I was crammed into a small space with dozens of other runners. This was a smaller race (about 2,000 runners, I believe) in a residential area, so half of the street was still open to traffic for part of it. There were traffic cones going through the center of the street to keep us to one side, but I often got pushed out on the other side from the volume of runners. For about ten seconds, I contemplated sitting down on the curb, waiting for my mom to find me, and letting her know that .5 miles was enough for me (but it was a good effort!). Then, I pushed that nonsense out of my head and kept going.
The Speeding Section
The crowds thinned after the first mile, but I still felt like there were too many people around me. Also, I was running too slow for me. I sped out of the 10:30 group and attempted to find a steady stride. The pain in my legs subsided, I no longer had to pee (I didn't pee in my pants; I just didn't feel like I had to anymore), and I passed my first water/nuun (a flavored electrolyte powder mixed with water) station. I tried to drink the nuun while running and nearly choked. I started coughing profusely (it took me a few more times to figure out that running and drinking are not compatible), recovered and dumped the cup aside, and kept at it.
Based on my Run Keeper app, I was at a 10-minute-mile pace. I had a new goal in mind: catch up with the 10:00 pace group. (For those who are not familiar: many races have optional pace groups designated to keeping a consistent pace and finishing at a designated time. Each group has a "pacer" or a experienced runner who is responsible for keeping that pace. For the entire race, they hold signs on poles with their pace [ex. 10:00, 10:30, etc] written on it.) I'm going to backtrack quickly to say that, as I've been increasing my mileage on my long training runs, I've been sticking to a sub 10-minute-mile pace. I did nine miles at an average of 9:29 (minute-miles), 10 miles at 9:47, 11 miles at 9:42, and 12 miles at 10:13 (it was my first humid run and I was MISERABLE). I figured that running this half marathon in 2:10 (a perfect 10-minute-mile pace) was a good goal for me.
I could see a white pace sign ahead of me, and I knew that the 10 Group wasn't far ahead. I started to pick up speed. By now, I was about four miles into the run. When I finally caught up to the sign (they're hard to see because they're waving around), I was devastated. It was an 11-minute-mile pacer. Was my Run Keeper app off? I was wracking my brain, trying to recall if the 10:30 group passed me and left me in the dust. What I didn't know was that the pace groups were staggered. In other words, the 11 Group that I passed was in a corral ahead of me. They just got an earlier start, and I caught up to them. Since I didn't know this at the time, I was livid. I was angry with my phone for lying to me about my running speed and wondering if this race was messing with my head. Mile 6 was my fastest (9:13), probably because I was sprinting (or so I felt) to bite onto the hind legs of the 10:30 group. I soon caught up with another pace group, but it wasn't the 10:30. It was the 10.
The Pace Group
I mention the hills, because the course was hilly. We went up and down some elevation changes that I thought were big, but when we swept past the beach (see the photo above) and rounded a corner, we may as well have been running a half marathon in San Francisco. The hill felt that steep. We were already more than six miles into the race with tired legs, and this was brutal. Without having one of the pacing coaches at my side, I don't think I could have run it. He instructed us to look up (not at the ground), slow down, and shorten our stride lengths. We ran slower when we got to the top of the hill, and once we recovered, we were moving again.
The pace group allowed me to catch my breath when I needed to and propelled me to keep going when I just wanted to lie down spread-eagled on the street and dump a cooler of nuun on my body. I could have pulled ahead or lagged behind, but I stayed with them at all costs. We talked and laughed and waved at people. We power-walked through the water stations, and they got us back on track so that we could keep our time. Wasting energy to catch up to this group was by far the smartest decision I made for this race.
Somehow, we made it to 12 miles. Right beforehand, one of the pace coaches asked me how I was doing. I told him that I was "tired as shit", but I was going to finish. He agreed with me. He told me that we had 1.1 miles to go. Despite having such a small distance to cover, the discomfort got much, much worse. My legs felt like they each had 50 pounds of some unknown heavy substance attached to them, and my knees ached. I was breathing harder than I cared to admit. I asked one of the coaches if we were there yet. He said no. We approached another hill. The F-word audibly escaped my mouth at least one time. It probably wasn't a very big hill, but it really sucked. People were in my way. These people were in my beloved pace group, and I now wanted to shove them to the side. We passed one more water station, where I slowed down and drank too much water. I then saw the 13-mile sign, and that's when I pulled away from my group.
The Final .1 Miles
I ran for the 13-mile marker despite every inch of my body protesting. I was so excited to be done that I pulled ahead of my group. From there, the group of spectators thickened. I don't remember much of that .1 miles except for that I wanted to sit down on the side of the road. As a spectator in the Chicago Marathon who has hung around the 25.2-mile marker many times and wondered why the runners were walking if they were so close to being done (or why they started walking at that point), I finally understood. I also wondered how in hell I am going to double this distance in October, but that's something to worry about on another day! The good news is that I ran, breathing ugly-sounding noises, and passed the finish line.
People clapped. Somebody handed me a medal, and another person gave me a wet towel that I promptly put on the back of my neck. I also remember taking more nuun, a bottle of water, and a bag of post-race snacks. My breathing returned to normal. I drank my water and sloppily ate my banana and walked around the finishing area while waiting for my mom. Soon, she was done too.