The AFC Half Marathon: Race Day

When my alarm went off at 3:50 am Sunday morning, I was too anxious to be tired. I will admit, I rolled around a bit before getting up ten minutes later. I called my sister Melanie to make sure she was up. She isn’t much of a morning person, I called her three times that morning to make sure she was really up. I was nervous.

I got up, braided my hair and put on my new Halo head band. I had my most comfy running clothes on and I was ready to go. As I looked in the mirror, I was happy with the person looking back at me. I grabbed my light-weight brooks running shoes, my S’well water bottle, coffee and my bag of race day goodies.

We drove down in what still seemed like the night before. It was so dark, I couldn’t remember the last time I was up that early. It was Melanie, her friend Erin and me. Erin was sleeping in the back and I was super chatty in the front. As we got off the first freeway exit, I could feel my excitement as well as my stress rising. There was a line of cars and brake lights waiting for lights to change. I do remember Melanie telling me to “chill the F out” at one point. I have a tendency to over-stress, especially when it comes to time.

AFC Half Marathon
Mel and I waiting in line for the port-o-potties getting in a race day selfie.

We finally got to a parking lot and followed the massive sea of people in multi-colored running garb to the shuttle area. The bus ride to Cabrillo National Monument was longer than I anticipated, but I just observed the people and the scenery around me. I have never done a race that wasn’t out and back, so shuttling to one point was a new experience. We got there with half an hour to spare. This meant time to hit up the  port o’ potties. We all did our thing and then waited patiently at the start area.

Runners are such nice people. We chatted with a few different runners while waiting. Endorphin’s make you happy and every one seemed pumped. The views of the bay were gorgeous. The sun slowly started rising and as it got closer to 7 am. The heat started rising also. A fellow runner shared with us that it was about 74 degrees as soon as we were about to start. Eeek! It was going to be a hot one.

AFC Half Startline
The sun was starting to come up and temperature was starting to rise.

I have a tendency to take off really hard my first couple of miles, so I thought since this is my first time racing 13.1 miles in ten years I should probably take it easy. Not knowing how to do that on my own quite yet, I ran with my sister for the first mile and a half. She ran with her GPS, so I know my first mile was about 8:20 pace.  After a few minutes more, we said “Have fun!” and I picked up the pace.

It was so awesome to see how many people there were. There were pre-teens, elderly, moms pushing strollers, new runners and experienced runners. I ran with a crowd pretty much the entire time. We ran through the rolling hills of the first neighborhoods. There were people on the sidewalks and people sitting on their lawns watching and supporting. The camaraderie of the group made my endorphin’s heighten. I felt good or felt not really much at all. I couldn’t tell. I controlled my breathing making sure it was rhythmic.

I had no idea how fast I was going until I hit the 10K mark. The heat definitely sucked, but I feel I did an OK job preparing for it. I stayed on top of being hydrated. I took water every time I passed by a station. I didn’t always drink it because I didn’t want a side-stitch. I either put it in my mouth and spit it out or poured it on my head. I poured a lot of water on my head. I may have been soaked, but it definitely dropped my temperature down by a lot. The Ultima helped quite a bit as well. I sipped it, not guzzling too much. Everything is good in small doses.

As I came into the 10K, I was coming up on a group that had a runner with a box on his head. I give that man some major props. To run with a faux-robot head in 80 degree weather on black top is quite an impressive feat. Not only was he running with a cardboard box on his head, but at 6:30 pace too. Wait…step back. 6:30 pace?! This guy running right in front of me was running 6:30 pace. That means I, me, myself was running 6:30 pace. I couldn’t believe it. You know when I heard that I was like ‘ohhhhh yeah I am a bo$$.’ I totally got a second wind and stayed with the pack.

At mile 7, I kept moving up. At this time, I tried my Clif Shot Bloks. I will forever be grateful for this invention. I haven’t really used these electrolyte chews before. It was like the life came back into me. I started to zone out and look at the ground, but these totally helped me. I was glad I decided to bring them. (Thanks Erika for the advice).

It was around mile 9 when I started to feel the pace hit me. I stayed strong, but it was a mental game at that point. I had already ran faster than my ‘in-shape’ pace. I had to keep holding on and looking up. I knew my boyfriend, Nic, and his mom, Kathy, would be at mile 11 waiting for me to come by. Just knowing they were going to be there kept me alive. I saw them for a split second, but it was everything. I smiled, waved and felt good about what I was doing. Their faces made me so excited to be in that race.

Then the monstrosity of all hills came around the corner. This hill I will never forget. This last-mile death hill was my most humbling experience in running. I mean I knew I was a bad ass for even doing this race, but holy cow this hill was an experience. I was even told that it was bad and I believed it then, but physically climbing this hill after 12 hot miles at 7 minute-ish pace was not something I could imagine.

First my hip locked up; I need to work on my hamstrings as well as stretch a lot more than I do. I felt it coming up this hill. I started to slow, but kept my mind from giving up on me. I stayed with the same group of people, so I was just talking myself through it. I turned left up and it kept going. I thought ‘oh come on, you have got to be kidding me.’ I kept driving my legs and pumping my arms the best I could, but I was definitely tired. I was definitely slowing. The group I had passed earlier, passed me back and took off. I slowed a ton from my current pace. I just kept telling myself not to walk. Thank goodness for people with signs. That’s when I needed to laugh the most.

AFC Half Marathon Finish
Erin, Melanie and me at the finish. Thank you Marathonfoto!

As I was turning on to El Prado to go over the bridge, I was running with a man who was encouraging me. I have no idea what he said now, but just knowing that we were running together made me feel much better. He was right in front of me and when I hit the 400m sign. We both took off. I kicked in as hard as I could at that point. I am pretty proud of that kick considering I didn’t think I was going to make it up that hill. There were so many spectators at the finishing stretch it made me feel as special as I did when I was in college races.

My official time ended up being 1:33:56 with a 10K split of 43:00. My average pace overall was 7:10 pace. That is the fastest pace I have ran in 3 years. As much as I wanted to run under 1:30, I am pretty proud of myself. I surprised myself with my natural ability to race. This is because I love it. I have already signed up for a few more races, one being the Carlsbad Half in January. I plan on completing the Triple Crown in 2016 and much more. I will come back for that hill and I will master it.

AFC Half Marathon
Nic and me after the race.

5 thoughts on “The AFC Half Marathon: Race Day

  1. Funny how after running that hill and letting it get to you that you crave a rematch with it. Next year. Next year I will not let that course defeat me :). You’re a beast Steph, keep after it!!


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