This was my THIRD TIME running this race. How crazy is that? This time of year also marks my third year of running. Kind of crazy to imagine how far I’ve come and gone since deciding to train for a 5k in the fall of 2011… But that’s a story for another time.
As I had written in a post earlier in the week, I was feeling a mixture of emotions about running the half. I was excited, nervous, and feeling like I was standing on the edge of something important. I knew that completing this race was something that I needed to feel like I was truly back into things; I was leaving all the months of illness and frustration behind, and officially making my come-back. Since I knew I wasn’t at my top level of fitness, I decided to take the race easy and set no goal other than to finish happy. My cousin, Jamie, and her friend, Sam, had registered for the race as well. Sam had never run anything further than a 5k before, and Jamie hadn’t been able to train beyond an 8 mile run due to a knee injury and her crazy nursing job. Knowing that they would be taking the race a little slower, I chose to stick with them and laid out a run/walk interval plan for us. I set my watch for 6 minutes run, 1.5 minutes walk.
(Me and Jame before the race – isn’t she the cutest?)
I arrived early to make sure we could find parking and use a REAL restroom before the race. TMI alert: ever since my gallbladder surgery I have had a very unpredictable bowel schedule, which I was kind of worried about. Thankfully I was able to go before the race, and I thought, “YES! Now I won’t have to use a porta-potty during the race!” (little did I know…)
We milled about the church parking lot and got to say hey to some of my running friends. They all expressed how happy they were to see me back into things, which made me feel really good. Soon enough it was time to gather to the starting area.
(Can you see me?? I’m on the right side in bright orange, acting like a dork 🙂 All photos with the race logo are credited to Gregg Gelmis of We Run Huntsville – See all the race photos here.)
After some announcements, a prayer, and the national anthem, it was TIME TO START! We shuffled through the crowd and past all the people on the sidelines cheering, including my mom, step dad, and Scotty.
The first few miles felt great. The weather was perfect, and I was so deeply happy to be racing again and to be participating in one of my favorite local events with all of my friends. Jamie, Sam, and I were following our walk/run schedule perfectly. We winded through the first neighborhood, and I was pleased to notice that all of the course sentries stationed at corners to direct runners were people that I know. They cheered my name as we passed and by the fourth or fifth one Jamie said, “Chelsea has known everyone we have passed so far,” and I replied, “Yep, that’s what happens when you’re crazy and do this kind of stuff every weekend…”
The crowd remained pretty thick until about mile 3, which was when we exited the neighborhood and looped back through the starting area and around to another neighborhood towards the greenway. We saw Gregg, one of our beloved local photographers, and smiled for a photo.
If you ask me about this course, I will tell you that it’s as flat as a pancake. Which isn’t entirely accurate I suppose, but for the area that we live in, it is about as flat as it gets. In the middle section there are a few minor hills, but Jamie, Sam and I powered up them no problem, still following our interval schedule. Around mile 4 I sucked down my first gel (Honeystinger, of course), and drank a cup of Gatorade from the aid station, and I followed this strategy at each aid stop to make sure I kept a good amount of calories going since I was silly and forgot to eat a pre-race breakfast. Soon we turned onto a long straight-away road called Chaney-Thompson that heads to the greenway, and on this part we started to experience one of my favorite things about this race. At this point the race becomes an out and back– runners follow Chaney Thompson onto the greenway, take the greenway out, turn around at the end, and come back the way they came all the way to the finish. Because of this, all the runners in the front and the back get to see and cheer for each other.
As we ran down we cheered on the lead runners (as most of them simply grimaced, waved, or pointed in response, unable to cheer back due to running so hard), and around mile 6 we took a short break so Jamie could stretch and Sam could eat her very first Gu (unsurprisingly, she didn’t like it very much). After that we turned on to the greenway and continued to see and cheer for my friends. I was feeling surprisingly good, much better than I expected to. I think running the intervals really helped me to maintain a good energy level. We also saw mom and Scotty at this point, and hearing their cheers was wonderful.
(Ha… acting like a goofball for my family, what else is new? I think I was either dancing to the aid station music or doing a twirl.)
We made it to the end of the green way and turned around, and suddenly I was hit with some painful cramps in my lower abdomen. I was feeling so happy and good and wonderful, but as soon as that hit me I all I could do was think, “Oh crap. Race ruined.” I knew exactly what that pain meant– poop cramps. I struggled through a few more sets of intervals and finally we made it to a porta potty. As much as I hate to use those things (as do we all), I knew I would be hating life soon if I didn’t. I, ahem, did my business, and quickly got back into our intervals. I immediately felt worlds better, surprisingly enough, and I felt like I was going to be able to finish strong.
Around mile 9, we finished with the greenway and turned back on to the road. Jamie was hit with some pretty bad nausea, and we slowed our run pace down a touch. Other than normal mid-race fatigue, I was feeling pretty good. Occasionally my stomach would start to feel weird, but it never got bad enough to slow me down too much. I wasn’t sure what the feeling was, and wondered if maybe I have just forgotten what it feels like to be out of gas during a long distance event. With Jamie’s nausea, we took a few longer walk breaks, but we continued to make constant forward progress.
At mile ten I reminded my race partners, “Only a 5k to go, guys!” I was starting to feel excited for our finish. When we got back to the section with the little rolling hills, we altered our interval schedule to be walking up inclines, running on declines and flats. During this part I started to feel a slight finishing kick. During our walk breaks, I started to pull ahead from my running partners (as I am a tall lady with long legs and can power-walk just about as fast as some people run), and slowly over the last three miles we drifted apart, but never so far that I couldn’t look back and see them over my shoulder. At this point I was TIRED. SO TIRED. I wasn’t in pain or anything, but my legs were just heavy and even swinging my arms felt like it took a lot of effort.
Once I saw the mile 12 sign, I knew I was home free. Knowing I was close motivated me to keep shuffling to the finish line.
Finally I rounded the corner and the church was in sight. My mom was waiting for me at the entrance to the church parking lot and cheering loudly. She was wearing jeans, knee high boots, and a sweater, but still she ran beside me to the finish. I was truly 100% exhausted. Running up the slight incline to the finishline felt so difficult, but when I saw my friend Katie Beth standing there, cheering for me with her camera poised, I cracked a huge smile. I DID IT!!!! I cross the finish line, received me medal, a bottle of water, and immediately ploped down on the side to see Sam and Jamie finish. After cheering them through the finish line, I moved to a shady spot to enjoy a well earned slice of pizza and cup of coke. I was so happy and thrilled – my time was much slower than is normal for me, but I did exactly what I came to do: took it easy, had fun, and finished with a big smile.
In addition to being proud of myself, I am SO proud of Jamie and Sam. Jamie was feeling truly dreadful near the end, but she still stuck it out and completed the course. Sam went from never running anything further than a 5k to finishing a half marathon! Not something I would normally advise, but she set her mind to it, held strong to our interval schedule, and finished well. I had a great time at the race, and most importantly, I feel like my spark has been reignited.
The Huntsville Half is a small, but first class race put on by two very wonderful people that I have the blessing to know personally. It’s an amazing event all around, and I highly recommend it to anyone searching for an autumn half marathon. The best thing about this race is the overwhelming amount of support you feel from everyone on the course, from the police workers, to other runners, and all of the wonderful volunteers. I love running, I love my running community, and I love that I have the privilege and ability to participate in events like this.