Saturday, April 18, 2009

The IL Half Marathon: My First Half!

Well, it's been a week since I completed the IL Half Marathon and I am still relishing my results.  I completed the half marathon, which started at 8am CT on 4/11/09, in 2 hours and 44 seconds - a personal best for this distance.  My pace was a lot better than I thought it would be too. 

When I began training about 3 months ago, I was on target for a 10:15 minutes/mile pace.  However, the official IL Half Marathon results show I finished a pace of 9:13 minutes/mile.  Considering I took a well-needed bio break during the race, I really feel proud of my results.

You can view a few of my pictures on Picasa.  I forgot to bring a good camera, so excuse the iPhone pictures. I also forgot to study the IL Marathon course map.  Since I attended the University of IL and lived in the area for 4 years, I figured I knew the area well enough.  From the start to the finish, this was one exceptional experience as you can see from my color-commentary below!

T'was The Night Before the Half Marathon
My wife, Dianne, accompanied me to Champaign, IL the night before the half marathon.  We arrived just in time for me to pick up my registration packet and attend the pre-race events. I was a little disappointed with the Expo which was held at the University of Illinois Activities and Recreation Center (ARC) because there seemed to be fewer vendors and "gimmes".  However, since this was the inaugural event, I guess I will not complain.

The marathoners and half marathoners received a long-sleeve, 1/2 zip technical fabric shirt and a custom finisher medal. The shirt was orange and blue, so I was thrilled before the race began (one can never own enough orange and blue clothing!)  I didn't get the medal until I completed the race. It will be placed high on a shelf too!

After we left the Expo, Dianne and I went to Subway where I ordered a $5 foot-long grilled chicken sub. When we arrived at my sister's house in Urbana, I gobbled down the sandwich and drank about 16 ounces of Mountain Berry Blue Powerade.  The sub and the drink turned out to be excellent fuel for the race though I didn't know it at the time.  I probably stayed up later than I should have, but I couldn't resist a good conversation with my wife, sister, brother-in-law, and nephew.  At 11pm, I decided to call it a night but did not sleep peacefully.  Every time I closed my eyes I kept wondering what it would be like to run with so many people.  I had no idea what I was going to experience! 

Race Day
My iPhone sounded promptly at 6am on race day and I hit the snooze button twice thinking I the extra 20 minutes would really matter but it didn't.  I got dressed, ate a bag of oatmeal and a breakfast bar, drank a 5-hour Energy Drink, and waited for Dianne to drive me to the race.  Before we left I checked the weather on The Weather Channel: 35°F in Champaign, IL.  Now I was starting to get concerned.  I have run in colder weather. But, I've never run more than 6 miles and always wore long pants in near freezing weather.  I knew I had to wear shorts or I'd get too hot and want to quit.

When we pulled into the parking lot at 6th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue in Champaign, I could feel the cold air around me.  Walking southwest to starting line at 1st Street and Hazewood Dr. made me realize that this was the Midwest and that Spring had not quite arrived!  It was cold.  By the time I arrived at the starting line, I was ready for the race to start.  I just needed to get through the next 25 minutes and I the race would warm my body least that's what I hoped!

We had a cool DJ at the IL Marathon.  He tried to keep our spirit's up. Most people were jumping around trying to stay warm. About 10 minutes before the race, I suddenly realized what I was doing.  I realized that I was doing something I'd been training for since January.  And even though there were a few times I wanted to stop training, I kept pushing towards my prize: the satisfaction of sticking with the goal to finish my first half marathon.

As the emotions settled in, I forgot about the cold. With my iPod in hand and a very long Gospel playlist ready to blast though my ears, thanked God for being a part of the race and did a final walk through of my race strategy.

10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1 GO! 

The race started.  But I wasn't moving at all.  Why?  Well, I forgot I moved to the end of the race.  Thinking I was probably slower than most runners, I thought it would be best if I started at the end.  That was a cool strategy that worked to my benefit.  About 5 minutes after the gun sounded, I finally started to move very slowly.  Gradually, the crowd moved faster and faster until the end of the pack reached the starting line.  By then I could feel my legs really starting to move.  I was on my way down 1st Street.

Mile 0-1
From the starting line, I could see all the way to 1st Street to Green Street which was about a 1.25 mile stretch.  Wow, look at all of those people - nine thousand runners heading down the streat like cattle! They started us at the top of a decline.  That was smart.  I just let gravity push me as far as it could.  My HRM told me I was running at better than 8:30 minutes/mile.  I'd planned to average somewhere between 9:15 and 10 minutes/mile.  Perhaps I should slow down...naaaaaa!  Running 5k and 10k distances is not a big deal for me, so I decided I'd see how I was doing after mile 4 before I made any adjustments. 

After the first few hundred feet, I noticed I was running much faster than the people around me. Would it be rude to continue running ahead of other runners dodging feet, saying "excuse me", and passing folks like I needed to use the restroom really bad?  I didn't think so, and kept on passing folks for most of the race.  In fact, it kind of became a game for me: I would pick out someone ahead of me and see if I could plan a good path around them without causing an accident.

Just past the 1 mile mark, we were on Green Street. I had walked that street many times when I was half my current age.  This time I was running a race while hundreds of people, if not thousands, cheered like we were in an Olympic event.

Mile 2-6
Just before the 2 mile mark, we headed south through the campus.  Everything looked familiar until we turned south on Race Street between the 3 and 4 mile marks.  That was cool with me because it gave me the opportunity to see sites I'd never seen.  And it took my mind off of the distance and the cold!  Prior to reaching the 5 mile mark, the race went through Meadowbrook Park.  The path through the park was narrown and I was sure someone would fall. 

By this time I was thirsty and wanted to get a drink.  I could also feel my bladder...uh, oh!  Man, taking a leak just wasn't an optin just yet.  I dodged a guy who stopped on the right side of the path and tried to cross to the left side to get a drink (not sure what he was thinking!)  Ok, the bladder is just too full to go much further by mile 5.5.  At mile 6 I stopped at the first portable John available and waited a few minutes before it was "my turn".  The good news was we were out of the park.  Now I had to decide if I would make up some lost potty break time, or just be satisfied with my pace. I ate an extra breakfast bar I carried in my pocket and was on my way.

Mile 7-10
It was unrealistic to think I was going to go much faster after 6 miles, so I just kept doing what I was doing.  I'd never seen this part of Urbana.  There were so many people cheering for us.  I kept thinking surely someone would be protesting the race because a large part of both cities were nearly shut down for most of the morning and afternoon.  But, that wasn't the case.  Kids and adults were giving  "high-fives" and words of encourgement.  Between the 7 and 8 mile mark, we passed a church that was playing contemporary Christian music.  Several runners began to clap and have church as they passed the church.  Now that was cool.

At the 8.5 mile mark, we headed west and I began to notice familiar scenery.  It took a while before I realized we were back on Green Street again!  I got a little excited because I thought the race was almost over. Then it hit me that I was getting very thristy and tired!

At mile 9, I had to get a drink - Gatorade, ahhhhhh!  Even in 40°F weather, Gatorade is the bomb.  However, trying to drink from a cup and run is almost like putting on your pants with your elbows.  If there were 12 ounces in that cup only 4 ounces went down into my stomach. 

Oh well! I was almost at the 10 mile mark when my legs sent a signal to my bran: Hey dude, we are having problems here.  I needed an energy gel or something with sugar to get me to the end of the race.  Shooot! If I had studied the map I would have known where the energy gels were being distributed.  I couldn't think about that now. I had to keep going.

Mile 10-12
We passed the 10 mile mark and headed north on 1st Street.  When we passed Springfield Avenue, I could see 3 young men screaming at the runners ahead of me.  When I got close to them, one of the young men said, "You can do it! You have the heart of a lion!" I gave the dude a "high five" and felt a chill down my spine.  Dude didn't know me but was trying to keep everyone motivated.  We headed northwest down Logan Street - great, an overpass.  I can let gravity take me down hill for a little and get back some strength.

Between mile 10 and 11, we were in downtown Champaign.  I knew where I was although it felt like I was in downtown Chicago because I could feel the wind whipping around the buildings as if I were running on Jackson or one of Chicago's President streets.  At this point, I was praying someone with the energy gels would be at the 11 mile mark.  And sure enough, two ladies had handfuls of the gels just ahead of me.  I tried to grab more than one, but the volunteer seemingly pulled her hand back as if giving two or more gels was off limits.  Oh well!

I ate the energy gel even though I had no idea what it contained.  The goal was to keep the wrapper in case I fainted at the end of the race and the EMTs needed to know what I'd ingested.  However, even holding a wrapper for the last two miles was required too much energy so just let it hit the ground with the rest of the trash.

We were headed south down Randolph Street.  Instead of a decline the course was headed into an incline.  Oh no!  I can do this.  With my head down, I just kept running.  Just prior to the 12 mile mark, the volunteers and pedestrians were really cheering hard.  I think they could say that most of us were out of gas or nearly out of gas.  I didn't think I looked that retrospect, I probably did!

At mile 12 we were headed east on Stadium Drive.  My spirits were lifted as I saw Memorial Stadium.  Amost done now.  All I had to do was finish this last mile.

Last Mile
As we south on 1st Street, I could see some of the half marathoners who had already finished the race.  Ok, I knew I wasn't the fast is halfer in the pack, so I was not bothered to see so many people finish ahead of me.  When we headed east on Kirby Avenue, I could see a large crowd gathered around the stadium.  What struck me the most was that Dianne had found her way to the stadium entrance.  She was preparing to take a picture and was cheering for me.  At that moment, I swear I ran faster than I did when the race started.

Turning to my right to enter the stadium tunnel, I waved at Dianne and gave her the peace sign.  I passed a few runners and felt like I really had the heart of a lion.  I was on the turf now and could see the small crowd inside the stadium.  People were cheering like a football game was being played.  I pretended like they were chearing for me as I ran down the lenght of the field.  Something else caught my eye.  It was a photographher to my left.  Hold on Will, give him a good athletic shot.  Ok, he got me.  Now, keep on running hard.

Passing a few more people who looked like they wanted to quit miles ago, I did a quick u-turn and headed south towards the finish line - the 50 yard line.  I could hear the DJ from the beginning of the race, but I had no idea what he was saying.  When I realize I had done it, I threw my arms up high to praise God!  Looking up at the jumbo-tron, I briefly caught a glimpse of myself crossing the finish line.

Oh, didn't stop there.  I kept on running until I found the goal line.  Extending my arms as far as they would reach, I took two steps, leaped forward with as much power as my weak legs would provide, did a quarter twist while keeping my body perfectly parallel to the field, and landed safely on my right side.  TOUCHDOWN! 

Now, I had finished the race - my first half marathon.


Mark M. said...

Nice write-up and great run! Got chills just reading it. "Runner's High" is no myth. To me, that charge feels like a shot of adrenaline straight to the spine. Amazing - addictive - stuff. Good work, Will. Too bad we didn't meet up after, but I'm sure we'll meet at a race sooner or later.

-- Oblivion

Will Daniels said...

Oblivion--Yes what a high it was! I'm definitely doing it next year barring something unforeseen. And this time I'll manage my time so I can hang out with my Tweets. Actually, I was in a bit of a rush to get home after the half so we could pickup Isis from the Humane Society.

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