I ran the Queens Half Marathon on Saturday. This was my first time running this race. It was also my first half marathon post-hip injury. I registered for this race not knowing if I would even still be running by July 30. I had no idea how my hip would hold up to the demands of marathon training. But it did, and at 4:59 AM on Saturday, July 30, I was up before my alarm excited to run.
I woke up in my mom’s house actually, because she lives less than a 10 minute drive from Flushing Meadow Corona Park, where the race was held. I drank a green juice and a coconut water, ate a Shot Block, got dressed in a hot pink plaid headband, purple compression sleeves and my slick new running shades. Also, a shirt and shorts. I peed 5 times in a one-hour time period. I am a nervous peeer.
The car service arrived right on time at 6:05 and we headed to the race. I thought I was being extra early, but as it turned out I wish I left even earlier. I got to the starting area and waited on the Porta Potty line. After I used it, I got right back on the line because, as an experienced nervous peeer, I know it would be stupid not to go for round 7. This time, the line was much, much longer.
By the time I got to the front, it was close to 7 am — the time the race was supposed to start! I was getting nervous because New York Road Runners always starts on time and I wanted to get into my corral without extra anxiety.
I made it right on time. I don’t know which corral I entered, if it was even mine, because there was no policing and all the color bibs were mixed together. Still, it seemed like as good a spot as any. Then I waited waited. And waited. The race started at least 15 minutes late! And by that time, I needed to pee again (sexiest blog post EVER. Hello boys) but I couldn’t risk it. I would have if I knew we’d be so delayed.
I had some interesting characters in my corral with me. One older man with scraggly long hair who sang along with the National Anthem in a high pitched voice, and then, after it was over, turned on a small tape player and played America the Beautiful.
Finally I heard the horn that signals the start and we headed to the start. And we were off!
I felt like I was running slowly at first. I mean, I wanted to run slowly. I planned to keep my pace around 10:30 for about the first 10 miles, conserve my energy and hopefully speed up a bit for the last three. I was treating this like a regular long training run, and those have been on the slower side. But I felt uncomfortably slow. As I got around the people surrounding me and sped up a little, I looked down at my Garmin and saw I was somewhere in the 9:30ish range. Too fast! SLOW DOWN, DORI. I really did think that to myself.
Suddenly, I approached the first mile marker. Already??! I was shocked that the first mile felt so short. Usually in races they seem so far.
I looked to my left, the race’s parking lot, and there was my mom’s car pulling in to a spot. At the exact time I ran by! I waved my arms wildly in case my mom happened to look over from the window. She didn’t. It’s just too bad I didn’t go by when she was already out of her car and could have heard me call out to her. Still, that is awesome.
Oh by the way, this is my playlist. Spoiler alert: I ran much faster than expected and I ended the race at #31.
So my music — which I started slow on purpose — got really good, really fast with the Bag Raiders and Feist. I didn’t know how I felt about the race before it started. I am still nervous about my long runs and I just didn’t know what to expect. But my music lifted my spirits and I was feeling so great.
After mile 2, I thought, “11 miles left. The same as that really long distance I ran last week that felt like I was running forever.” The beginning of a half marathon is so daunting. I can’t imagine what it will feel like during the marathon: “2 miles done, 24 to go — ummmm.” “Hittin’ All The Spots” has been a favorite mashup of mine lately — partly because it includes George Harrison, but also because it is just really fun and incorporates lots of good songs.
Slight problem: Every time I looked down at my watch, my pace was in the 9:00-range. It felt totally natural, not at all like I was pushing. In fact, it felt easy. I was worried that I would push it early on and not be able to maintain it and suffer for the last 6 miles or so. I was concerned my knees would start to hurt, which has happened in my other three halfs. I was concerned about my hip.
But slowing down was almost impossible. Every time I’d try, I would succeed for a little, and then look down at my watch and be back at 9:18. Eventually it just seemed silly to try and fight it. I didn’t feel like I was running fast. Something about being around so many people all running makes it easier to be faster. Running is so mental.
On all my training runs, even the short three-milers, my pace has been on the slower side, close to 11:00/mi. They’ve all been very hard for me. I’d feel like I was pushing hard only to look down and see I was running a 10:40 pace. It has been disheartening because I never struggled like this before. So for these miles to suddenly feel so easy, it was strange.
It was sometime during the third mile that the race had a little detour around deep puddles and mud. I still managed to step my right shoe right in the deepest mud, splashing my leg in the process.
It was gross but I didn’t mind that. What I did mind, however, was the anxiety that the mud covering my D-Tag would prevent it from registering at the finish. Common sense told me that is silly, that lots of races get run in the mud, and the D-Tags must be commonly used in those. But the other part of me knows for a fact that they work in the rain, so at the next water station I poured a cup of water on my shoe to get the mud off.
I was still slightly anxious about the D-Tag, and I repeated that action at about two more water stations, but after that initial mile or two after it happened I stopped worrying so much.
During mile 4, my mom happened to get to a spot she didn’t plan on being at the exact time I ran by! She shouted my name but I had my music on and for the first 8ish miles, I was VERY into my music. Smiling and laughing and mouthing the words. Like when “Final Escapade” came on — great mashup — and as soon as I hear Final Countdown within it I think: “But where did the lighter fluid come from?”
Then I laugh.
Stuff like that.
We ran on an out-and-back to CitiField. I always feel a little defeated by out-and-backs because you see so many people who are so far ahead of you. I was happy to reach the turnaround point, and kept an eye out for the other bloggers I knew running this race. I glanced away, but when I looked back I spotted Katherine. It seemed like she was waving to me and by the time I noticed she had given up on me and was looking ahead, but after talking to her it turns out that is not true at all. She didn’t even see me!
I continued on, counting the miles excitedly until mile 8, where I knew a very cute boy and also my mom were instructed to find me. As I approached the 8th mile marker, my favorite unnamed Core Fusion Cardio song, Cardio 6, was playing and exactly right there was the very cute boy. I was so happy.
Evidence of happiness here:
Of course my spirits were boosted after that. I was happy the long trek to the Q-boro worked out and that he got to the right place. And did I mention I was still maintaining my 9:30-ish pace?
After a turn I was heading to mile 9, and I knew that (1) I’d see the cute boy again and (2) I’d definitely see my mom, who I was sure situated herself at 9 only.
It was the ninth mile and I still felt fantastic. I was still running fast. It seemed that every time I looked at my watch, my pace was 9:18. I couldn’t believe I felt no signs of pain or tiredness, and had just run nine miles at this speed. And my favorite part of Girl Talk’s “Triple Double” helped.
And sure enough, there the cute boy was. I waved. His face was blank. I waved some more. Still blank. At first I wasn’t sure if he was just pretending not to see me — after all, I was wearing a hot pink plaid headband and purple compression sleeves, how could he miss me — but when I realized he really didn’t see me I started yelling his name. Then, finally, he noticed me.
There I am.
A few minutes later I saw my mom on the other side of the road (by the way cute boy and mom, thanks for wearing bright green and bright pink) and she also didn’t see me. I started waving and screaming “MOM! MOM!” But I am invisible. The guy next to me helped with the yelling: “MOM!!!”
And then my mom saw me. And I was happy. For about 30 seconds, because then the side stitch/ribcage pain that killed me during a four-mile race a few weeks ago began.
I think it was all the yelling that did it. Yelling the cute boy’s name, yelling Mom . . . it caused something (diaphragm?) to spasm.
The race became a whole lot more difficult.
The pain was brutal and even though I was not far from the finish, I knew the last few miles would feel the longest. I was already missing what a great time I had just moments before, missing how easy it was to run.
Ow ow ow ow ow. I stopped noticing my music, and when that happens it is usually very hard to come back. But I just did not want to lose my pace. I was so close.
So I held it.
On our second loop around the lake, the sun was out in full force. For the first time, I felt hot. I was ready to be done. The hill after the lake, a highway overpass, didn’t seem so bad the first time early in the race. Now, this hill felt like the Harlem Hills in Central Park. I slowed a little but did not stop running. I was disappointed to see the photographer who was perched on the hill during the first lap, who I missed because I ran up the sidewalk rather than the street, was gone by this time.
We all know I love my race fotos.
At the 13 mile marker a volunteer was cheering. He said, “Make it your goal now to finish in under 2:10”
His words really hit home for me. For the last 5 miles or so, I had been looking at my watch, counting up by 10s and thinking if I maintained 1o minute miles for the rest of the race I could finish in under 2:10. But a sub-2:10 half was something I thought I would never see in my life. Sounds dramatic, but I’m totally serious.
I kept pushing. On another out-and-back, this time by the big fountain globe, I felt extra discouraged. All these people were so much closer to being finished than I was. I just wanted to be done. No more. I had no choice but to push. On my way back I saw Katherine again, and this time she saw me! We waved to each other that little sighting perked me up and I felt much better to push through to the end.
I tried to smile here. I really did. I just could not care at this point. I didn’t have energy to smile but I did have energy to give it a final push to the finish.
As I got to mile 13, I saw the cute boy again. And as I approached the finish line, my mom. I sped up and before I knew it, I finished my fourth half marathon. I finished my first half marathon since my injury. I finished a half marathon for the first time in my life with no knee pain. My hip felt fine. And I was a few songs away from the end of my playlist. I didn’t even get to hear my running mantra song, Son’s Gonna Rise, with the line “In a mile you’ll be feeling fine.”
But the words were still true. And then I crossed the finish line.
And, I finished my fourth half marathon faster than I ever thought I would.
It felt good to be done.
A MAJOR PR!!!! My first half was 2:18:53. My second, 2:24:18. And my third, 2:14:44. I did not know I had this in me, but running this race felt much easier than the others. I never in my life thought I would see splits like these, with every mile in the 9:00 range:
I loved the Queens Half Marathon. I loved the course and I loved everything about the race. I loved the misting stations. I loved running in my hometown. I loved that my knees never hurt even though I maintained a sub-10:00 pace for 13 miles. I loved that my hip never hurt, not during the race, and not after. I loved the confidence boost this gave me for the NYC Marathon. And finally, I loved being a runner. Because for the first time ever, I felt like one.