Let me just say that I’ve thought about how to begin this post for a long time. I always wanted to start off by stating that I am NOT a runner and not anywhere close to being one. And then I realized that that’s what pretty much everyone says, or at least the majority of people crazy enough to sign up for things like a half marathon. But I promise you, I REALLY am not a runner… I’m not one of those girls who says that and then pops out a 10’30 pace on a 2 or 3 mile run. Nope, not me. I just don’t have the “running gene” as I’ve coined it over these past few months. So why in the WORLD would I EVER sign up for the Nike Women’s Half Marathon?!
I remember seeing a sign up in the food court of the Johnson Center on campus my sophomore year of college and thinking, “That would be so much fun.” I had a friend who was a pretty avid runner and she’d lost a lot of weight and gotten into really good shape by picking up running, and she had inspired me. I wanted to get into shape and be able to say I’d run a half marathon. Plus, you got a Tiffany’s necklace at the end!! If there was ever a race made specifically for girls… this was it!!! But my sophomore year I couldn’t find anyone to do it with me, and the deadline passed and before I knew it I was seeing Facebook posts of a few friends who had ran it and accomplished that 13.1 goal. I signed up for The Color Run 5K in May of 2013 to test out the running waters. It took me 50 minutes to “run” 3 miles for that race. That’s about a 15 minute pace. Granted I didn’t really RUN much of it because after the first .5 miles or so, I was done. My lungs were burning and my legs hurt and it just wasn’t fun at that point and I enjoyed walking MUCH more. I was there to have fun and I hadn’t really run in preparation so I just took it at that!! I didn’t think I’d be running another race anytime soon.
Then last Fall rolled around and I saw that Nike had made the annoucement for a 2nd annual We Run DC half marathon. I think I posted just one message in a group text about maybe wanting to do it, and 8 or so of my girlfriends said they were up for it!! So while I was taking my second business law exam of last semester, Justin was out in the hallway signing me up under the college student registration, which not only discounted the price to sign up, but also guarenteed our admission to the race. Only 15,000 people from around the world get to race in this half and we signed up in November and were all set to start training! I don’t take anything in my life lightly (lol but really, my friends can attest to this), so I was SO ready to really commit to a training program. Nike’s official training program for this race was sent out in mid-January and by the first week of February, I was out on my first official training run!
Over the course of three months, I ran close to 200 miles, usually running 4-5 days a week with agility cross training mixed in. February was a bit of a light start, putting me at 12-15 miles a week. My second day was a 4 mile run and I hit it in 52 minutes and then wanted to die. It was SO hard. But after a couple weeks, hell froze over, and the 3 and 4 mile runs actually became my easy days. Then March arrived. March was brutal. I was running closer to 25 miles a week with 6, 7, and 8 mile runs getting added to the mix. I remember my first 6 miler just DRAGGING by. I kept looking down at my distance and thinking, “there’s no way I’m ever going to make it to 13 miles.” At the end of March, I ran a 10 miler in 2 hours (which was an 11’30 pace) and then pretty much thought I was going to die afterwards. I was so lightheaded and weak that I almost passed out in the shower, and that moment was so scary for me that I decided that I had to back off a bit. It was okay if I didn’t hit the week’s exact mileage every week. I had still made a ton of progress and I didn’t need to be at the top of the Nike Plus app’s leaderboard every single day in order to feel accomplished (even though I pretty much always was because I was clearly the most insane of my 30 some Nike Plus friends). So the first week of April, I started running only 3 days a week, and the longest distance I made it to was an 11 mile run for which I slowed down my pace a bit and finished in 2:20. I wasn’t exactly thrilled at where that would put me for race day, but after two and a half months of spending hours running the same loop around my neighborhood, I was just ready for race day to BE here already!
And then just like that… it was. After months of throwing my Smartwool wind resistance leggings and headband and gloves on and running in below freezing weather, I was finally facing the start line at the Nike Women’s Half Marathon!! I had really let up on my running at this point so I really wasn’t sure what my pace was going to be like, but I was pretty confident that I could get to 13.1 miles without having too much trouble at a 13’00 minute pace, which was how fast I’d been going for my 8 miler earlier in the week. If I could get something in the 12’30-12’45 range, I’d be happy!!! Tessa and I entered our pace corral (10’29-11’30 because we’d had HIGH hopes people) and started trying to warm up.
One thing I really didn’t expect was how chilly it was going to be!! My toes and fingers were actually starting to feel a little numb after standing in our pace corral for the 30 minutes before the race. But we had PLENTY of room. I’d been so nervous about how crowded the pace corrals were going to be yet Tessa and I were literally in a huge open space all to ourselves. It was wonderful. And we didn’t have a huge crowd barreling down on us when we started!! We were getting so pumped up by the music playing and the waves starting to roll out that I was jumping up and down and getting a tad emotional. I’d worked for this day for so long it seemed like, and I couldn’t believe I was about to run the streets of DC with 15,000 other women!!!
As soon as we crossed the start line, our chips officially started to track our time, and we decided that our friends behind us would most likely see us as they caught up to us because we were probably starting at a relatively slow pace compared to everyone else. My goal was to keep a steady pace the entire race, so when everyone else was flying forward with adrenaline at the beginning, I was going to try to keep myself at a 11’30 pace the entire time. And that’s pretty much what we did for the first half of the race! We ran the first 0.5 just the two of us, then our friends Heather and Healy came up behind us and we ran with them until mile 4 or so. I remember being scared that they were going to run faster than me and I would mess up my steady pace, but they kept it at about 11’15-11’30 too, so it was perfect. I knew Justin and my dad and my sister were going to be waiting at the Lincoln Memorial for us around mile 4, so I had something to look forward to for that first portion of the race, which helped keep me going so much. There’s nothing like seeing people literally cheering you on as you’re trying really hard at something. Their support was by far my favorite part of the day.
Keeping an eye out for us girls…
And here comes Becky!! Somehow she had passed Tessa and me without seeing us, which I was bummed about, because I would have loved to run with her… she would have been a good pace (11’00) to challenge myself with!! Mia noticed her and caught some really good pictures of her!
And then I spotted Justin and starting waving and ran over to them to give hugs!! It made me so happy to see them!
Our friend Justin Escueta had also tagged along for a specific purpose… to surprise Heather, who had no idea he’d be there cheering her on!! Tessa and I actually stopped for 30 seconds or so to look back (we had just lost Heather and Healy) and see Heather’s face when she saw Justin, but when we couldn’t spot them, we decided to just keep going. Turns out Justin and Justin (lol) couldn’t find them at that mile 4 spot either!! They would just have to hope to run into them a little further into the race! It would have been so sad if Heather couldn’t see this awesome sign Justin made for her! (Her favorite movie is Finding Nemo!)
I didn’t know when the next point was that I’d be seeing Justin and my family, so I didn’t know which spot to look for them in next, but the mile markers Tessa and I were now looking forward to were the food and water stations every 2 miles or so. We ran past the Lincoln Memorial, across the Memorial Bridge, up past the Kennedy Center, and back towards the Lincoln. Aroud mile 7 or so, we spotted Justin and them again, and they had spotted a few other people too!!
Our friend Kaitlyn (in the green long sleeves) was so in the zone during her running that she didn’t spot anyone that tried to wave her down… Tessa and I had passed her as she was making her way back across the Memorial Bridge and we came within a foot of her and she didn’t see us! Justin apparently yelled pretty loud but she was too focused on trying to “catch up to everyone” even though she was in front of us all!!!
And here come me and Tessa again! I almost didn’t see Justin this time!
And then… Heather spotted Justin!!!
Can you tell she was surprised?!
I didn’t know it but at that half way point was the last time I’d see Justin and my family while I was running. The good thing was that the race honestly just flew by. I would ask Tessa to let me know when we were at .5 intervals and it seemed like those were happening right on top of each other. Before I knew it, we had ran the longest stretch of the race down the East Potomac Island (where there are pretty much no spectators from miles 7-11) and we were headed for the final two miles of the race!!! I remember passing mile 10 and seeing a group of spectators and they were yelling, “Just a 5k with a 10 mile warm up!!!” and it was so encouraging. Tessa was getting pretty worn out at this point and I was telling her, “3 miles! That’s nothing!!” and then “Just 2 miles to go! That’s like 20 minutes!! We can do it!!!” There was even a brief flicker of hope around miles 9 and 10 that I thought I could hit sub 2:30 for my final time, but I realized that my Nike app tracking was off and that I’d have to run really hard the next two miles to MAYBE hit 2:30 on my own tracking time (which was different than chip time, which hadn’t been paused when we stopped briefly for water cups and to stretch one time). And around 11.3, Tessa started to fall behind, and I had to make a decision of whether to stay with her or push forward, which was really hard to do. I kept telling her, “We’ve made it this far together, we can finish together!!!” but at one point after passing a water table I looked back and couldn’t find her. I kept looking for the next 5 minutes or so before I accepted that I was finishing this race alone, just like I had run those 200 miles alone over the past 3 months. In the final mile of the race, we ran back through the tunnel under the National Mall where we had run the first mile of the day and they had put the wall with all our signatures that we had all signed at the expo about why we were running this. I started to cry halfway through the tunnel and then realized that by crying I was making myself hyperventilate and mess up my breathing so I just tried to calm myself down and focus on the people ahead of me. It was so amazing hearing all the girls around me support each other. “Let’s finish this!” “You can DO this!!!” “Just a little more ways to go!” I was by myself, but I was far from alone. As we came up out of the tunnel we could see the finish line and it was RIGHT THERE. I was about to finish my first half marathon!!! There were these huge screens with our names flashing up on them and I felt so invincible in that moment. I, the girl who was laughed at during sports games in middle and high school, the girl who always finished last while running the mile in P.E., the girl who begged to sit out during gym class so that I didn’t have to embarrass myself, the girl who struggled with her weight her entire life…. THAT girl was going to FINISH A HALF MARATHON.
I remember feeling like I was flying to the finish line. I was running SO fast – a 7’00 pace – that I was passing literally everyone around me. I had thought people were going to race each other to the finish and either they were doing that and I was just the fastest or nobody really had the energy because I was just flying. Tessa’s mom shouted at me from the sidelines “GOOOO MEGAN!!!” and I felt like I was on top of the world. I ended up crossing the finish line at 2’37 according to my Nike plus tracking at a 12’00 pace… an entire MINUTE faster than any of my training had been.
I was intially pretty disappointed that I hadn’t hit 2:30… but then I remembered all the work I’d put into getting myself into better physical shape these past 3 months. I had run so many miles on the coldest days, in the snow, in the Grand Canyon and at Bryce at 8,000 ft. elevation, in the desert of Las Vegas, in the flat country roads of Indiana, in my neighborhood loop with my many neighbors cheering me on. And I had run significantly better and faster on race day. That’s all I could let myself think about.
A lot of us met up past the finish line to recover together and to take pictures. It was so awesome congratulating each other and getting to rest for a second! As sore as I was, I was still on an adrenaline high and really wanted to keep running! I can totally see how people do marathons now…!
And here is one of my favorite parts of the entire day…. Heather had a big surprise waiting for her at the finish line!! :)
It was such a sweet moment!!! Justin and I are so happy for Heather and Justin!!
All in all, this whole half marathon taught me a LOT. I learned a ton about running in general and how much of it is really a mind game. I learned that I really can go so much farther than I think I can if I really try. And I learned that in any race we run in life, we can’t get bogged down by comparing our journeys to others around us because we are all so different and have our own personal struggles to overcome. For me that was my lack of athletic ability, my bad knees, and my “snapping hip” that’s apparently pretty common in new runners with weak hip flexors. The fact that I didn’t just give up and let those things stop me even when it hurt proved to me that I’m a lot stronger than I believe. I’m not sure if I’ll run another half marathon again, but if I gained anything else from this, it was even more love and respect the people who encouraged me from before day one of training even began all the way through the race. Dad… Justin… Tessa… Alexa, Mia, Melissa… I love you all and I honestly probably wouldn’t have been able to do this without your support. Thank you!!! Until next time…