Monday, October 05, 2009

Sacramento Cowtown Half Marathon 10/4/2009

I survived!  This is me just after crossing the finish line.

Okay, I've been putting this off long enough.  Yesterday after the race, even my fingers hurt, so it just was not happenin'.  But lucky for you, Henry woke up this morning with a bad case of The Snots, and E had to drive up to Tahoe for his internship, so I had to take the day off.  Hence, I now have a lot of time to sit on my couch and think and write.  I just made myself a giant Green Monster (which actually turned out to be purple) Smoothie, and now I can start writing... if I can ever stop myself from talking about how I'm going to start writing.

I have so much to say, so bear with me... this is going to be a long post. (I know, you're thinking how is this different than any other day?--You always have a lot to say.  I'm going to say this is like that +10.) Hang on, kids.  I'll try to recap as much as I can about yesterday.  Before I do, let me say thank you to all the commenters, the followers, Facebook friends, and silent readers who've been along for this journey since I decided to start running.  It definitely made a difference yesterday for me to feel like I had lots of people at home cheering me on.  I appreciate all of you so much.

I noticed a while back that the part about no headphones had disappeared from the race website.  I looked and looked and I could not find it.  I started to toy with the idea of bringing music, but I wasn't sure that it was going to be okay, so I didn't even include it in my Half Marathon Eve post.  I run so much better with headphones.  The night before, I needed something to do, so I made a playlist.  Spending time on iTunes is a good way for me to pass three or four hours without any thought at all, so it was actually a good thing to do the night before.  Other possibilities for the evening included making myself sick and/or driving E crazy, so I think I chose the right thing.  I made sure I had a playlist that was around the time I was shooting for (under 3 hours), and was filled with songs that I wouldn't want to skip.

You know that thing?  When you're exercising, there's a song that you normally like, a lot, and it's somehow just not right?  And you skip it every time...?  For whatever reason, I feel like I'm committing some horrible sin when I remove these little skippers from a playlist (it's not like I deleted them forever) so I usually leave them, only to SKIP THEM AGAIN the next time I run.  Anyway, I made some tough decisions and cut those guys out of my life--err, playlist.  It was like Sophie's Choice over here.

So here's my playlist.  Tried to mix it up, A LOT.  Wanted songs to come on that would make me smile and possibly give me a mental break.  I like to live in a world where Pitbull, The Beach Boys, and Celine Dion can all live happily ever after on one playlist.  Check it out:

Battlefield/Jordin Sparks
Champagne Supernova/ Oasis
Fire Burning the Dance Floor/ Sean Kingston
Hotel Room Service/ Pitbull
I Know You Want Me/ Pitbull
I Wanna Be Sedated/ The Ramones
Mr. Brightside/ The Killers
You're A Jerk/ New Boyz
Party In the USA/ Miley Cyrus
Shake My/ Three Six Mafia
She Wolf/ Shakira
Boom Boom Pow/ Black Eyed Peas
I Gotta Feelin'/ Black Eyed Peas
Evacuate the Dance Floor/ Cascada
Right Round/ Flo Rida
Beggin'/ Madcon
Faded/ Cascada
Goodbye/ Kristina DeBarge
Harder to Breathe/ Maroon 5
I'm the Ish/ DJ Class
Knock You Down/ Keri Hilson
Let It Rock/ Kevin Rodolph
The Rockafeller Skank/ Fatboy Slim
Waking Up In Vegas/ Katy Perry
Shake It/ Metro Station
Forever/ Chris Brown
Pokerface/ Lady Gaga
Closer/ NeYo
Rehab Remix/ Amy Winehouse
Babylon/ David Gray
Here It Goes Again/ Ok Go
Hey Ya/ OutKast
I Drove All Night/ Celine Dion
SexyBack/ Justin Timberlake
Since U Been Gone/ Kelly Clarkson
Maneater/ Nelly Furtado
Beautiful Day/ U2
Higher Ground/ Red Hot Chili Peppers
Just Dance/ Jamiroquai
Crazy/ Gnarls Barkley
Route 66/ John Mayer
Hung Up/ Madonna
Oye Mi Cuerpo Pide Salsa/ Gloria Estefan
Waiting for Tonight/ Jennifer Lopez
Do You Wanna Dance?/ Beach Boys
Help Me Rhonda/ Beach Boys
Ready Steady Go/ Oakenfold
Bodyrock/ Moby
Smooth Criminal/ Michael Jackson
Where Are We Runnin'?/ Lenny Kravitz
Slide/ Goo Goo Dolls

So I made my playlist, laid out everything I was going to wear or need the next morning, and I was in bed by about 10:00.  I actually didn't have too much trouble sleeping.  I just kept telling myself it was just another run, and the only difference was that instead of being all alone, I was going to be joined by a few thousand of my closest friends.  Phew.  I slept well, and I woke up right at 5:30.  I made myself a breakfast of two pieces of AB&J toast and a big glass of water.  Since I'd taken a shower the night before, I just put on my eyebrows and some mascara, then straightened my giant clown hair.  I'll admit it, I wasn't too concerned about my face beyond having my eyebrows drawn on... I knew I was going to sweat.  I did, however, want to tame the wild beast that is my mop.  Nobody likes a frizzy-haired girl.  I did not want to hear shouts along the course of "OH GOD, MY EYES!  FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, WOMAN!"

Of course, straightening my hair meant I was late, as it always does.  I scrambled around for about ten minutes before getting out the door.  I had already put my sport beans in a wrist pack.  I wasn't sure about wearing my fuel belt at the race.  I didn't know if that was dumb, since they have water there.  I came to find out that it didn't matter, but my thing worked too.  I had my phone armband, my headphones, my wrist pack, and basically just whatever I was wearing.  I planned disposable layers in case it was too cold to hand them off to Mari before the race--some blue sweats I bought at WalMart on our ill-fated Hot August Nights camping trip, the $3 bright orange Old Navy Fleece I bought because I was freezing on this ride with E, and a Sophomore Class T shirt from a few years ago that I could live without.  Sorry, Sophomores.  Maybe y'all should have given me a small like I asked for, and it wouldn't have come to this.

I found parking easily.  I was sure this meant I was parking in the wrong lot and I was going to get a ticket.  Right after I got there, Mari called and met me outside the car.  We walked over together and hung out until the race.  I got in line for a porta potty right away, and then we pretty much stood around.  Already, it was good people watching.  Remarkably, one of the things I noticed early on and throughout the day was how genuinely nice people were toward each other.  Such a supportive, encouraging atmosphere.  So unlike the dance world.  I don't know that I would have had the courage to just walk up to people and strike up a conversation, but I have the feeling that it would have been met with enthusiasm.  At any rate, I was thankful to have someone see me off.

I stripped off my sweats and sweatshirt just before I headed over to line up, and handed them to Mari.  It was COLD but I wanted to get my legs used to being out in the air. I lined up around the 12:00 mile sign, even though I was thinking my time was going to be closer to 13:00 or 14:00 per mile by the time I was finished.  I figured I'd just let the crowd disburse while I found my pace and then I'd worry about where I was.  Mari stood right near me; I kept looking over at  her for a few minutes before I started.  It was so nice to have someone there with me.  I can see how it would be fun to run (or at least start) with friends.  The race started, and we all shuffled forward... again, everyone being courteous, allowing each other space... there was this pair of women just in front of me, both dressed all in black--clearly buddies--and one said "You can leave me if I get too tired," and the other one said "I'm not leaving you, no matter what.  We're doing this together."  People were just being good to each other.  It was a happy little slice of humanity.

The first part of the course went through the park, and as it was still early in the morning, it was just beautiful.  There were lots of people along the park, cheering us on.  I did feel a little weird at first, running with all of those people.  It was just so different for me.  The only person I've ever run with was E, and that was only twice... and it didn't go so well.  There's a nice energy to everyone moving forward all a the same time.  Nice, and slightly weird, if you don't mind me saying.  At first I felt like people were showing off a little bit, and I was like why are you guys showing off to me?  I'm just as slow as you are!  Maybe they were showing off for all the other slow people.  Dorks.  After we rounded the corner of the park, we ran through one of the most beautiful neighborhoods in Sacramento... lots of families out on their lawns to watch us run by.  One really cute little girl, holding a bowl of oranges.  (I didn't eat any, but I gave her a big smile...)  There were bands along the course and it was a nice little pick me up to hear their music as we ran by.  My hands were very, very cold for a while. I had to keep doing twiddly fingers (like Snow, in the Nutcracker) to warm them up.

At about mile 2 (?) I started to get bored.  Lots of people were having full-on conversations around me (one pair of girls, discussing their birth control methods for at least a mile!) and it got to be TMI.  I wasn't bored with running at that point, just with listening to nothing.  I'm so used to listening to music.  I popped in one ear of the headphones and tried to zone out.  It worked well.  I listened to my body and I found a comfortable pace.  I wasn't breathing hard at all.  The good thing about running when it's cool like that is that you don't feel all gross and sweaty.  I felt cool and pretty relaxed.  I started to move forward a little, mostly just to find an open space where I wouldn't have to hear about diaphragms.  I noticed that I was running behind the sign for the 2:30 Half Marathon pacer.  It gave me something to follow, so I kept doing that.

Now I know I said I was going to take it slow to start, but I really didn't feel like I was pushing it at all.  I wasn't thinking about my legs/feet/blisters at all, and I was breathing easy.  I just kept going.  I knew (from some night-before thinking) that a 2:30 Half Marathon was faster than I could probably do, but I felt good so I thought I'd just stay there as long as I kept feeling good.  The other funny thing about this is that I'm terrible at math, especially in my head.  I knew a 2:30 was less than 12:00 per mile, but I couldn't remember how much less while I was running.  I probably spent at least a mile and a half trying to do some mental calculations while my legs turned over.  I guess it was a good way to distract myself, but I didn't figure out the answer.  Hooray for English teachers trying to do math while running.  I kept moving forward and didn't have to stop to walk until I was probably just after 5 miles.

Oh!  And I ditched my Sophomore class T shirt just before the 5 mile mark.  The sun finally started to shine on me and I felt sweaty, so I lost it.  At the same time I was doing this, runners were darting into bushes just off the course, right and left.  Ew.  Every porta potty I ran by had a fatty line, so I wasn't about to waste time, even though I had a bit of the nervous bathroom feeling.  I ignored it and figured I'd get in line once it got more pressing.  My first water station experiences were enlightening.  I was really worried about tripping or slipping on one of the cups on the ground, so I walked.  I was also keeping my eyes peeled for my school's cross country team because I knew some of my students were volunteering.  Didn't see them for a while.

Just after I ditched the T shirt I was wearing over my tank, we headed up a gradual hill.  Um, my hill training has been zero.  That hill sucked.  It was long, and not so steep, but that's where I started to drop back from the 2:30 group.  I had been running for an hour straight at that point (no walking) which is already a record for me.  It was totally the energy of the group that kept me running.  Very similar to the camaraderie one feels on stage.  Other people and their energy keep you going.  Even though I felt good, my body wasn't completely used to running that long.  I also could tell I needed some beans.  I managed to make it up the hill and turn the corner (which put me by the river) but then I walked a bit.  I know my track record with running whilst eating beans or drinking water isn't great either.  I'm happy to report that we didn't lose any good beans out there.  I got a little bit of energy, and then I started up running again.

At this point, I noticed this man in a green shirt who was running intervals.  I'd been around him for at least the last two miles.  I decided I'd follow his walk breaks for a bit--I needed it.  I started to get mentally bored again, and since I was dropping back from the group I'd started with, a little down.  Just then, I saw the next water station and one of my students holding a Dixie cup full of water.  Wahoo.  I ran up to him and breathed a gaspy "HEY!" at him (no, I couldn't manage anything as astute as "Hey Chris," or "Hey, it's me, Mrs. P!"  I have no idea why he didn't instantly recognize me (kidding) so I shouted another "Hey!" to which he finally gave me an "oh!  Mrs. P!"  I kept moving, and all the kids down the water line were saying hi and cheering.  Talk about a boost.

That part of the course ran down to a dead end and then looped back.  Just running back by the kids made me happy again.  It was also cool to run back along the runners who were behind me.  I kept staying with Green Shirt and I was finding his intervals to be just right for me.  We rounded the corner and passed the relay station.  People in cow suits shouted nice things at us.  I guess that's cool, if you're into cow suits and people you don't know.  I tried not to get snarky about it.  Just after that there was a short but steep hill.  I made myself keep running so it wouldn't take me so long to get up.  Ugh.  Killer.

Once I got up the hill, I was on the levee road.  B.O.Ring.  You'd think (or maybe, just I thought) that running on the levee road by the river would be interesting.  I love nature, and I love running where it's pretty.  The levee road?  Not so much.  Maybe it was the fact that I'd been running for an hour and a half by then, but I was bored out of my gourd.  It was like running next to a flat blue thing on one side, surrounded by weeds, and a noisy freeway on the other.  What am I saying.  It wasn't like that, it was that.  It sucked.  I was bored, I was lonely--even Green Shirt had left me.  There were no other people around me.  I was being passed by grannies who had just started up at the relay line.  Nothing more humbling than being passed by a person with wrinkly skin hanging out of her compression shorts.  *sigh*  A real confidence booster.


By that point, I wanted to give up.  I was mad that I even signed up to do this stupid race, I was mad that even if I did give up, I'd have to walk all the way back.  I was mad because I wanted to finish and I knew that trying to hurry up and make that happen would make me even more miserable. I had a brief moment of joy when some dudes with a pickup and a sound system were blasting Journey's "Don't Stop Believin'" and I could sweat through a power ballad... but overall, it was Sucktown, Population: Me.  From about miles 7-9 I had a big pity party, accompanied by lots of walking.  I needed a break, and were it not for laughing at people running down the side of the bushes (to avoid porta potty lines, I'm sure) I wouldn't even had anything to entertain myself.  (Side note: I saw none of the actual side-of-the-levee shenanigans, only the desperate running down the hill.)  I said a little prayer of thanksgiving that my tummy and bladder were cooperating.

I had one of those moments at about mile 8 or 9 where you tell yourself to get over yourself because you have to keep going.  I spent a considerable amount of time thinking about the fact that so many people had been following my experience since I started running.  I thought about how excited people in my family were for me.  I thought about my kids--not that they care one bean if I run a Half Marathon--but I thought about Addie and what a sweet disposition she has.  I thought about how smart she is, and shy.  I thought about how I want her to see that I can stick to something, that I can follow through.  I thought about Henry's sense of humor and how he can make me smile.  I thought about his wit and how grateful I am that humor can come in a tiny little package like him.  I thought about how when he's older I'll tell him that I ran my first race just to see if I could do it.

I also thought about E. Boy, did I think about E.  I thought about how much my life has changed since last year.  It was a year ago this October when he and I decided he'd move out, and we'd divorce.  I thought about how much work we did to come back together and how lucky I was that we were able to strengthen our commitment to each other.  I thought about how my running has coincided with a lot of personal, marital, and emotional growth.  It only made sense that I should have such a challenging, but rewarding physical change this year.  I needed to keep going.  I tried not to focus on the finish line, on being done, but just on being comfortable and taking in the experience around me.  Surviving.  Moving.  Persevering.  I started to feel much, much better.

My beans and my little pep-talk kicked in, because I started running steady again at about mile 9.  I was able to keep it up for a while, and I felt good when I got to the next water station.  Thankfully, we came down the levee road and into another neighborhood.  I resumed thinking that this was just another run.  I celebrated the grannies around me.  At that point, I also noticed I was near a friend of Mari's who I'd met before the race--a woman recently diagnosed with breast cancer who was running the relay.  I was proud to be running near someone with her conviction and it strengthened me.  Just before mile 10, a family a teenagers shouted out to their mom, who was right next to me.  We then passed two kids about the same age as Ad and Hank, giving high fives to all the runners.  Adorable.  I totally almost cried.

At the mile 10 sign, I was so happy I almost burst into tears.  Yeah, again.  It struck me, though, that 10 miles was the longest I'd ever run in my life.  I was crossing over into something new.  I was also really hurting by this point.  My right foot was complaining and I knew the skin had come off my blister.  Again.  My butt hurt.  Bad.  My hip flexors were feeling really tired and they burned.  I scuffed my foot on some uneven pavement and tripped a little--this nice woman next to me asked if I was okay.  I needed her, right then.  Even though it was so unlike me, I struck up a conversation and told her it was my first race.  It was her second.  We ran together for a while and I took off again.  Soon I was rounding the corner back into the park.

The last mile of the race felt the longest.  The stretch of park that had seemed like nothing that morning was now laying before me, a massive gap between me and rest.  I had been telling myself all along that I'd get to the last mile and sprint home, but that wasn't a reality.  I felt crummy for having to walk a little in that last mile, but it was unavoidable.  My body was just worn out.  Finally, I got to the sign that said there was a half mile to the finish.  I had tucked my headphones away because I didn't want to get in trouble (still not knowing if it had been okay to wear them) and I didn't want to miss anything at the finish line.  I knew I needed to get a song in my head to push me across the line.  No question in my mind, it had to be "I'm the Ish."  Please don't go and listen to that song if you're easily offended by music... it's terrible.  But I love it oh so much.  I was totally singing it to myself as I headed in.  My theme song.

There were so many people at the end of the course!  It felt so good.  I was scanning the crowd for faces I knew and I heard "Heather!" just as I ran by Mari and her husband Lance.  They told me later that I was earlier than they thought I'd be (me too) so they weren't quite ready.  I didn't see anyone else, but I was pleasantly surprised that they read my name as I finished.  I didn't know they did that.  For a minute, I felt like a celebrity.  Mom and Dad and E and the kids were near the finish so they couldn't see as well, but they saw me cross.  Here are the pics from right after:

So happy to be done!

Right after I got my cowbell medal and a chocolate milk.  
I couldn't stomach anything else right after.


The cowbell

Definitely a genuine grin.  I was so happy to be done.

So how'd I do?  My only goal was this:  FINISH.  I estimated I'd finish between 2:45 and 3:15.  I did better than I figured.  It was really hard, but I'm so glad I did it.  Here are my stats:

Chip time: 2:36:47.0
Gun time: 2:39:21.1
Diff: 2:34.1
Avg Pace: 11.58/M

Last night I spent a lot of time thinking about what I learned from this experience.  The most recent lesson, besides the obvious realization that I'm capable of way more than I gave myself credit for, is probably that life doesn't change that much just because I ran this race.  It's like marriage--you're still the same person you are the day after you get married as you were the day before.  It's an outward sign of your comittment.  I kind of feel like that about running.  I feel like I've shown people that I'm a runner... but I'm still the same I was the day before I did this.  I'm proud of myself for doing it, but it's not magic.  I'll still sweat when I run.  I still won't break a 10 minute mile.  I will still have days when I don't want to run or when it hurts.  I will still need to train.  I'll still need to make time for it, and I'll still need to (grrrr) watch what I eat, or I won't continue to lose weight.  But I did this.  Just lil' old me.  It was a great experience, and I'm looking forward to doing it again.


  1. Hi, I just read your half marathon recap! I'm so proud of you for finishing, and finishing strong! Congratulations on your first half and first race!
    Also if you ever need a running buddy or race buddy, or anything, I'm always up for making new blogger friends!
    So glad you found my blog, and that I found yours! Have a great Monday!

  2. Great recap! Congratulations on your first race! (By the way, it's a little insane and a lot AWESOME that your first race ever was a half! Most people start with little 5Ks!)

    If you haven't read much of George Sheehan's work, I'd recommend it, especially this essay about why he runs and what it does for him:
    I thought of it as I read your last paragraph.

  3. I just came across your blog and I'm so glad. I'm trying to get back into running and reading about your half marathon experience makes me want to do it even more.

    I'm excited to be a new follower, and I hope that you'll check out my blog if you have a chance: Stumbling in Stilettos (

  4. Wow...great recap. Oh and Btw your blogger fans were totally waiting to hear about the race! You inspire me to run. I couldn't believe it when I read you were going to sign up for a half! I am one of those people who does the little 5ks! Congratulations again. You should do another race just so we can read the mile by mile recap! I loved it. I don't run with headphones and I do get bored. Makes me think I should get some but my ears always hurt when I put them in! Your accomplishments feel like I can do what you did! Thanks for sharing

  5. There were so many things about this post that I loved. I loved how it progressed like the race. I loved your shitty moments, your thrilling moments, your little conversations with fellow runners and the PICTURES. You look awesome. That top photo is great.

    I loved when you talked about your kids' personalities. Addie's shy disposition and Henry's sense of humor. So touching.

    Thanks for posting the playlist. Slide by Goo Goo Dolls. Nice! (The Goos are from Buffalo.) Oasis' Champagne Supernova, eh? Weird.

    Great stuff, Heather. CONGRATULATIONS! You SO earned it and you so deserve a Wendy's Frosty.

  6. Wow! Congratulations on doing all this! I admire your drive and stick-with-it-ness. :-)

  7. COngratulations again! You're blog about the race is inspiring me to keep with it, I've been hurting a lot and can barely run a mile lately and felt like quitting, but reading your post makes me want to stay with it, so someday I can write about my first race! Way to go!!! :)

  8. What an awesome accomplishment! You are really inspiring and i'm so glad to know that other people feel that way..the little ol' me thing. I really want to start running and maybe even one day run a half..but it just feels so BIG for little ol' me!! Oh and you're playlist is AWESOME!

  9. yaaaay! so i had no idea you did a half, how did i not know this before? anyhoo i knew you had been running so i decided to stalk your blog and low and behold, just what i was looking for. congrats! and you look fabulous!!! dizaaamn gurl. i just signed up for my first half at the end of january, and im glad i have your experience to go off of. ive only been training 2 weeks and have no idea whats ahead of me, but hopefully i can finish too! =)

    and i need to find Gu or those beans you speak of. I don't know if they have them available here (im assuming they have to) but ill beware of choc frosting Gu because that sounds horrible when you're sweaty and thirsty lol. and ps im jealous of people in cow costumes. only in sacramento haha

    congrats again! you did it!!! and with SUPER good time too!