So many of you reached out when I whined a little (okay, maybe a lot) about feeling totally unmotivated to train or run and told me that taking Buffalo easy, running it with my cousin, and absorbing everything from a different perspective would “fix” me. I’m back to say that was the best decision I’ve made about running in quite a long time. Truthfully, I don’t think I stopped smiling from the time I woke up at 4:15am until I came home and realized how exhausted I truly was.
As it was my cousin’s first half marathon, her main goal was to finish happy. She had an idea of where she wanted to run (9:00 to 10:00 minute pace), but ultimately she didn’t want to walk and didn’t want to be miserable. I figured I could handle that. I was totally nervous after not having run much since Pittsburgh (thank you, exploding thyroid cyst) that I wasn’t going to be able to run with her for an entire half marathon at that pace, but I was determined to do everything I could to stay with her.
The night before she came into town to stay since she lives about 45 minute away and we busted out the fubed (Laura and Heather know plenty about this). We enjoyed Chinese food delivery (sweet and sour chicken) since neither of us really have issues with eating certain foods before our runs and watched way too many episodes of Catfish on MTV. It wasn’t the best weather for sleeping because we hit a record high on Saturday near 90 degrees and Sunday was going to be better, but still rough especially for the marathoners.
Flash forward to Sunday morning, which came way too quickly. We found parking, even though my usual route was blocked off; I dropped off my dropbag and she picked up her packet. We got ready and hung out near the car, finishing our fuel, taking one last bathroom break, before heading to the start. Since I have a rental right now (oh yeah, on the way back from my friend’s wedding in Nashville, we got sideswiped on the thruway and my car has been non-drivable since May 23rd, and will be until at least June 13th), I had to run with both giant keys and the stupid tag Enterprise attaches to it. Check off another reason why I was happy that I wasn’t racing, on top of the weather, my neck, and everything else. We positioned ourselves between the 2:10 and 2:15 pacer and I told Courtney our goal would be to start around 10:00 and see how we feel after a few miles.
Our first mile was right on track at 10:08, then we picked it up a little and ran 9:54, followed by 9:41. At this point we were both feeling good, but decided to reign it in a little bit to avoid dying later in the race which I know can be trouble. We were successful and slowed it down for mile 4 (9:52) and 5 (10:07). We were remaining consistent with our hydrating, I personally started with Gatorade which didn’t feel good to me at all, so I was taking one water to drink and another for my head throughout the rest of the race. They also were handing out ice at a few of the stops, which was so great (and a new, late addition due to the heat).
From the beginning of the race, we were basically counting down to the beer at the finish. Granted, the race started at 6:30am, but that didn’t stop us from thinking “just about two hours until we drink beer,” and saying it out loud… though nobody else seemed to share the same excited sentiment. More for us, people!
After mile 5, we had already seen all the people we would be looking for so the focus was on staying strong and making it to the finish. It was a very slight hill back to downtown before we turned to run through the west side and towards Lake Erie. I don’t know if it was the excitement of seeing everyone or what, but we knocked out mile 6 in 9:35 and she joked that it was going to be her fastest mile, followed by her slowest, yet every time I asked how the pace was, she kept saying “this is fine!”
Miles 7 through 12 are my absolute favorite for scenery, despite struggling through them last year. You run through a part of town where you most likely won’t run any other time, then you head down Porter (uphill) towards the lake and if you’re not from Buffalo, it’s really cool to see the sign that points out Canada is literally right there. After that, you’re running through the marina and get to see the beautiful condos, Lake Erie, the boats, and it’s a really good spot for course support. Finally, you head next to Canal Side and the Naval Park, all of which looks so great since it’s built up more. After that, you have just over a mile to go and while hearing the finish at mile 12 sucks, you just have to push through.
So Courtney started to pick it up and I followed, without realizing her pace. She knocked out mile 7 and 8 in 9:33 and 9:27, respectively and still didn’t look like it bothered her. We saw the 2:10 pacer just ahead after mile 8 and I asked if she wanted to try to pass them now or keep them in our sights. I started to come up with mini-goals here, like passing that 2:10 pacer and never seeing him again. She said we could stay behind them, except then she just took off and we ended up trying to pass the whole group of them on this tiny bike path. It’s funny because I remember doing that to Laura during Chicago, particularly in the finish and she had no idea that was coming. I’m glad we took off here because this is when my favorite race photo came, too. This part we ran in 9:30, followed by 9:22 (that’s when we made our move).
The miles through the marina stayed consistent and fast, but still she wasn’t even breathing that hard. I kept asking if she wanted to pick it up because truthfully we had just a 5k to go. I just kept saying “thirty minutes until the beer!” and reminding her how close we were to the finish, so if things weren’t hurting we should probably push the pace a little bit further. We were approaching closer and closer to being under 2:05, I realized. Mile 11 the water stop got jammed up and a girl stopped abruptly in front of us, so we slowed a little bit (9:42), but not because of our legs. I think it was around here when she asked if I’d ever run another marathon, which I said I would, and her response? “Good, because I want to do one, too.” Who says that in the final miles of their first half marathon?!?!
I think around here, even though she kept saying the pace was fine, I started to pick it up. It was partially because I knew she had it in her, but also because I could hear the finish and I knew just how close we were… it’s so hard to keep your legs in check! Mile 12 was 9:09 and I pointed out the turning point where other people were heading towards the finish. I basically said that whatever she has at that point, to just sprint to the finish because it’s about half a mile. We kept on running, passing everyone on that part of the block with an 8:39 final mile. My stomach started to lurch like it usually does in the finish now and I just tried to hold on. I hoped for a picture of us finishing side by side, so I had to do whatever I could to stick with her. As we headed towards the chute, I just kept clapping and running, trying to sprint ahead a little to make her sprint in, too. We finished in just over 2:06 (with a 7:37 pace for the final sprint), I was about a second behind her on the side and we didn’t even get a finishing photo together!
While that last sprint nearly put me on my ass, I felt really good afterwards. It didn’t matter that I hadn’t run last month, my legs and lungs cooperated. The pace felt comfortable despite the heat and that makes me happy to think I didn’t lose too much fitness. We took our finisher pictures and got her ringing the PR bell, then chatted on the way back to the post-race party. She said she felt pretty great still and could have gone further, so she felt like she should have run faster. Hindsight is always 20/20, but you never know how the first is going to go and personally, I think it’s better to have a great experience so you want more in the future. Besides, isn’t the best thing a huge PR on your second attempt at the half marathon or full marathon distance?
Afterwards we drank more than enough beer, hung out with family, and talked about doing another race. I caught up with Heather, saw my friends from the gym, and just overall had a great morning. My uncle joked about me being so peppy and having way too much energy, which maybe I did, but it was seriously uplifting to run the race with her and enjoy the atmosphere and have fun.
I took another 5 days off running after the race, and even when I did run it was just a mile with James and Dunkin. While I’m not miserable running (I’m happy to do it!) and I have the itch, I have my focus on something and a new way of training… but more on that soon! I’m just relieved to feel completely rejuvenated about everything from fitness, to life, and everything in between.