To write this post I decided I need to know exactly how many marathons I’ve run. Even though it doesn’t really matter, I realized when I was running my last one that I don’t know how many I’ve done. Here’s my tally, in totally random order:
- Hobble Creek: x3
- Different halves down Provo Canyon: x2
- Halloween Half in Provo Canyon: x2
- Halloween Half in Little Cottonwood Canyon: 1
- Moab Other Half: 1
- Snow Canyon Half: 1
- Provo City Half: 1
- Nebo Half: 1
- Prospect Park Half: 1
So…13 half marathons so far.
(And one full marathon.)
(And three Ragnars.)
I think I started thinking about this during half marathon #14, when someone asked me how many full marathons I’ve done, and I was embarrassed to answer “only one.” Thirteen halves (14 now!) isn’t very many, considering I’ve been running for 18 years now.
(Reminding myself of what I wrote in my last post. How many marathons/halves/ultras you’ve run doesn’t make you a runner. Just running does. But I’m still feeling like I’m sort of lazy and unambitious.)
My fourteenth marathon was in Louisville, Colorado, which is just outside of Boulder. It was held in conjunction with the Skirt Sports ambassador retreat (which I’ll be writing a different post about). It was called the Skirt Sports 13er because “it’s not HALF of anything.”
I always feel like every race teaches me something about running and about myself, and this one was no exception. I’m going to start with the negatives first and then get down to what really matters.
The two things I didn’t love about this race were 1. I prefer a non-looped course. The route for the 13er was two loops on the trails of Davidson Mesa. I realize this is simply personal preference, but having done two looped races recently (my fall half in Brooklyn was four loops of Prospect Park) I can be certain that I like a course that doesn’t loop. For me, I want to see as much of the place I’m running through, especially if I’ve traveled to get there, so a loop gets a little bit frustrating. That said, two loops is definitely better than four! And the mesa does have some really pretty views of the mountains. 2. More porta potties. I’m not sure I’ve ever run a race that had enough porta potties. Especially out on the course; I try to achieve peequilibrium (the state of taking in enough water that you’re not dehydrated but you don’t have to stop to use the bathroom) but when I don’t, waiting for a bathroom is torture. Dear race directors: Always get more porta potties!
But I loved everything else about this race.
Part of the course was a loop around a little pond, and that was definitely my favorite part. There were geese all along the trail—I even had to clap some of them off the trail so I could get around them. This little detail brought me happiness because it made it feel more like running in nature. I said hello to the geese and a few honked back at me!
I wasn’t sure how I would do on this race, since I was recuperating from pertussis and the longest run I’d done in preparation was just under 9 miles, and I’d done it three weeks before the race. I took ten days off of any exercise, and in the week before the race I managed to run three 3.5-ish mile “long” runs. (I wanted to do four so at least I would’ve done a total of 13+ miles, but I had a bad day.) I wouldn’t recommend this training “program” to anyone, especially if it is your first half marathon. For me, I knew I would be slow but I decided to give myself the grace to accept that and just had the goal of finishing without having any coughing spells.
(I kept my inhaler in my pocket just in case.)
For almost all of my running years I’ve kept a pretty consistent pace that’s between 9 and 10 minute miles. I always set the goal of finishing a half in under two hours; sometimes I’ve made it, but the majority of my halves I’ve finished in just over two hours. My PR is 1:38, which I did at the Nebo Half, which is entirely downhill so it’s not really a true statement of what I am capable of. (But I still claim it as my PR time!) When you’re running at that speed, you’re basically at the back of the middle of the pack, with runners who run the whole race without walking breaks.
For this half, I did repeats of run for 10 minutes, walk for 3 minutes. I walked through every water stop; I drank water (and one exceptionally delicious cup of ice-cold lime flavored Nuun which was delicious) and had either a block or my one Gu at each water stop. This put me farther back than the end of the middle of the pack, and while I was trying to extend myself that grace I mentioned, I started getting frustrated because I kept passing and then being passed by the same people. I also didn’t really find anyone to run/walk with me because my intervals were odd. So another thing I learned is just how much of a little energy spark I get from passing people. (I say that without any bragginess intended, as A—I get passed plenty of times myself and B—I firmly believe that we’re really only racing against ourselves, or at least most of us who aren’t winning races.) It feels like a different way to measure your progress than only counting miles, so it helps me to feel like I’m accomplishing small goals in smaller intervals, if that makes sense.
So one of my take-aways from this race is a goal to get myself back into good enough shape that I can run a whole half marathon without taking walking breaks again. I won’t even start working on this goal until September, when I should finally be over the pertussis.
But here is the best thing I learned from the 13er: when the focus of the race is camaraderie, encouragement, and positivity, it helps every runner. Even this one suffering with irritated lungs!
All along the course, women were cheering each other along. When people passed me they often said “you look great” or “keep going!” or something else encouraging. When people passed going the other way (because there was also a 10k and a 5k, and because the first mile or so wasn’t part of the loop) everyone was so positive and kind.
In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever run a race quite like this one, with women so encouraging of each other.
At the end of the race, you came around the corner and could see the finish line, and there were other runners cheering. Up to that point, my mantra had been “don’t cough, don’t cough,” but hearing all of those women cheering and shouting and encouraging me to finish strong made my mantra change to “don’t cough! Don’t cry!” because it seriously gave me a lump in my throat. It was one of the most beautiful and positive running experiences I’ve ever had.
Even if it’s a loop again next year…I’d still run it again. The encouragement overcame my health issues enough that I loved every step of the 13.1 miles.
(Even if my finishing time was an entire hour longer than my half-marathon PR time!)