Runlikely: The Humbling Half Marathon

Miles: 13.1
Pace: Moderate-hard, for me
Time: 2:43:41
Emergency poops: 1 (shoutout to the perfectly placed porta potty)

The long and short of this post is: the half marathon went fine!

I woke up early, managed to use the bathroom in the morning (not always a given), wasn’t feeling especially nervous, and got to do a few stretches before the run. Great! The weather was pretty excellent — not raining but not super sunny the whole way. And I hit my time goal (or very close to it) at 2:43 — I’d been half-hoping to get close to 2:40 and basically feel like I managed it.

On the other hand, it was not without its trials and tribulations. Over the last two days, my period had been threatening to start–just a little bit of blood but then it would cease. WEIRD and not a thing I’ve experienced before. So in addition to being worried about my gut, I was also worried I might start bleeding at any moment.

At the beginning of the race, I started too fast, which I do not know how to stop doing, and then eased off into more reasonable paces. But that first couple of miles were rough on my system—my stomach started cramping early and my I felt a weird kind of anxiety in my body, which I think was because the sun was shining directly on me the first couple of miles. I was warm and running too fast and thinking, oh shit, what have I done. What am I doing!?

Once the sun backed off and my pace slowed down, my mind cleared more and I tried to just focus on the run/walk intervals I set for myself. First 2 minutes runnning/30 seconds walking, and then when that felt like too much, backing off into 1:30/30. I thought about standing up taller and increasing my cadence. Most of the time, it just felt like a long run where people cheered me on every once in a while.

Other times, I caught myself thinking: I am the slowest person out here. And I am trying so freaking hard.

I was mostly able to keep those at bay for the first chunk of the race. I kept a couple of runners in eyesight distance and was like, it’s fine, there’s someone else out here about my speed. I was in the first wave of runners who started at 8 a.m., and I tried not to pay too much attention when another wave of runners who had started behind me sped past—or even lightly jogged past. Good for them!

I’d brought tortillas with me as food for the run, because I haven’t had much luck with sugary foods and my gut. (Admittedly I’m still unclear if it’s sugary foods that are making my stomach cramp or if it’s spicy food the couple of days before a long run, but I didn’t want to risk either.) Eating a tortilla while running is challenging, and anyway, it didn’t work. After eating my stomach was like, “who wants to eat at a time like this!?” and started bothering me.

It calmed down after a few minutes, but then when I tried eating again, it bothered me again. Cool. I kept an eye out for porta potties, which the race had said would be along the course, but wasn’t spotting them. Well, better hope I get lucky, I thought. Then I spotted one, but there was a line of a few runners and my stomach wasn’t actively bothering me. Nah, I’ll just keep going, I thought.

And I did, and it was fine, and then I picked up a cup full of Nuun around mile 9. Maybe I needed electrolytes! I thought.



Not only did it taste gross (in my opinion), it immediately made my stomach start grumbling again. It calmed down, but lowered to a dull roar of discontent. Like imagine the Jaws music here. I knew there was something in the water and it was getting closer, even if it had not yet ripped off any limbs.

I tried to just focus on my run/walk ratio, and gave up watching my pace and hoping for the 2:40 finish, because now I was just hoping I could finish without having to poop my pants and/or poop in one of the random farm ditches on the side of the road (I had certainly seen other racers dash off to the side, but I’m assuming they were peeing. ASSUMING.)

Luckily, up ahead: a porta potty! With — oh god, was there no line!? My stomach chose this moment to cramp hard, and I got myself into the unoccupied toilet, gave my butthole a moment to unclench, and then got to pooping. “Excellent timing, body!” I told myself.

I was in there for about three minutes (I counted later) and walked out feeling pretty good. My legs were a bit stiff from the lack of movement, I figured I definitely had to let go of my 2:40 dreams, but: I was OK! I had not had to shit in a ditch! And I was not bleeding through my pants!

That said, at around mile 9.5, I was definitely not going to be putting anything in my mouth again, thanks. Figuring out long run nutrition would be a problem for next week’s Colleen. Unfortunately, I probably could have used some carbs, as the last miles reeeeally dragged. I just kept focusing on the run/walk. You only have to run for 1:30 and then you can walk.

And as those miles dragged, I also started thinking: oh God, what have I done signing up for a 50k?

I am not even 1/3 of the way through what I will be doing in a 50k.

This race is FLAT. In the 50k I will have climbed 2,000 feet by this distance.

There is no freaking way I can do a 50k.

Luckily, right in this particular pit of despair, I spotted a friend who had come to cheer me on, Julie. I wasn’t sure it was her — her hair was especially blonde — but she had her two pugs with her, and she was STARING at me. So I stared back. And then she waved and I imagine said something encouraging that I cannot recall anymore. The course went on a detour before doubling back to the start, so it would be a quick walk for her to the end. “I’ll see you at the finish!” she said.

Instant mood lift! My legs moved a little faster, and as I turned toward the detour, I saw two other friends, Natalie and Loomis, and my husband. I waved and they waved back. I’m doing it! I thought.

The next two miles dragged, even though it was the prettiest section of the course, the shaded Lowell Riverfront Trail. Runners were passing each other regularly, since the course doubled back on itself, so people were throwing out “good jobs!” left and right.

But I just wanted to see the turnaround point, where I knew it would be a straight shot back to the finish. Run, walk. Run, walk. Run, walk.

At the turnaround point, I spun around the cone and then started feeling like the end was in sight. I was tired, but I was also passing the (admittedly few) people who were still behind me. “Good job!” I said. Good job good job good job. I started saying it to everyone. And then, as the end came into view, I picked up my pace. I saw Natalie and Loomis and Mark and Julie. And across the finish line I went. Natalie said they were all surprised I was smiling, since other folks had looked really beat. I’ll take it!

Afterward we got some food. I was tired and definitely started hobbling as my muscles cooled down, but it was nothing worse than the day after a hard backpacking trip.

The spiral really started when I got home. Even though I’d done what I’d set out to do — hit the pace I’d been trying to hit, made it through, didn’t feel especially beaten up — I couldn’t get that thought out of my head. How the hell am I going to do a 50k? I thought about how I wish I hadn’t started this blog series because then I wouldn’t have to try, I could put it off for another year, two years, forever. I’m just too slow, I figured. If I’m a 12:30 pace at a moderate-hard effort on completely flat ground, my pace is going to be impossibly slow on trails and elevation gain and over 30 miles. There’s no freaking way.

So I do what I always do when I’m stressed, and I googled the hell out of it. I read 50 reddit threads. “slow runner 50k??” “back of the pack 50k” “chasing the cutoff 50k”

None of it satisfied the part of me that was essentially asking: is this even worth trying, or is this 100% doomed to fail?

And it’s worth saying that it’s not the possibility of failure that bothers me. It’s the possibility that everything could go RIGHT — my stomach could be fine! the weather could be perfect! my legs could handle the terrain! — but that I would just be too slow. For some reason, that activates a very scared, very sensitive part of me. I can accept that crappy things happen that you can’t forsee, and it sometimes changes your plans. I really don’t like the idea that you can prepare, train hard, and not be good enough to even participate.

I posted the question of whether this was possible on reddit, which is a dubious choice, and mostly got encouraging feedback, and then also got feedback that I should already be running 40 miles per week if I want to achieve a 50k and that I’m essentially stupid for not doing that. But I’m pretty convinced that it would be very difficult for my body to maintain 40 running miles per week for more than a few weeks at a time, at least in this stage of my running experience. I’m pretty sure it would be more likely to open me up to injury than success. And I want, at the very least, to make it to the start line.

So after all that, I might be reworking my training plan a little bit to try to get a few more miles in ahead of the 50k, turning runs into hikes when I’m feeling fragile, and even backing off of mileage if I feel like I’m courting injury. I’m back in the boat of thinking: I can at least try. My focus is going to be on maintaining my easy running stamina while trying to improve my uphill hiking, which is pretty weak at the moment, and to not get injured.

But it’s pretty clear to me I’m going to be chasing the cutoff. And as much as it’s going to be physically challenging to run/hike 31 miles in 10 hours, getting my brain to be kind as I try may be the hardest part of all.

2 responses to “Runlikely: The Humbling Half Marathon”

  1. William Leman Avatar
    William Leman

    I am so proud of you!


  2. Elizabeth Frazier Avatar
    Elizabeth Frazier

    Wow, this is beautifully honest. On my first biking tour I had nothing but encouragement. I made it-but hardly.
    Just do what you know. You’ve got good instincts and a ton of cheerleaders!


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