Sometime around late 2011 my roommate and I had a crazy idea: let’s run a half marathon in the spring. I don’t recall exactly who first proposed the idea, but we both heard about the Flower City Challenge Half Marathon and decided it sounded like a cool thing to do. The interesting part? I could barely run a mile at the time.
I was definitely overweight and had been carrying around some extra post-college pounds for a few years. Despite that, and the fact that I seriously considered shopping to be a good cardio workout, I somehow still considered myself to be somewhat athletic (I guess my brain never grew out of the old high school athlete phase, even during some very sedentary years). A false sense of confidence can cause one to do things they might never otherwise do, including signing up for a half marathon with no experience, guidance or even base level of fitness.
My “training” for this race was laughable. I started out by running one mile on the treadmill at an excruciatingly slow pace – nearing the 15 minute mark. Basically, what most fit folks can accomplish during a brisk walk. In late winter and early spring 2012, just a couple of months before the race, I decided to foster a greyhound for my aunt’s rescue organization. This was actually a good thing for my “training” (I’m using that word loosely here). I was able to get in a short one-mile treadmill run at the gym after work and rush home to take Flyer, my foster dog, out for a 1 mile jog around the block. It was all super helpful until I sprained my ankle chasing him down a flight of stairs. Luckily some R.I.C.E. and a couple of weeks off seemed to help enough to start running again – a couple of miles per day and the occasional longer(ish) run on weekends. I don’t think I ever ran more than 5 miles at a time in the months leading up to my first half marathon.
Does this sound like sufficient training for a half marathon? Nope! But it was also the most running I had done in my entire adult life. Over a couple of months those two miles a day did good things for my body, and I lost almost 20 pounds in just the first few months of the year. I toed the starting line of the 2012 Flower City Challenge Half Marathon ill-prepared but lighter, so much so that the running pants I purchased to start training were baggy on me by race day (I still wore them anyway!).
Running 13.1 miles that day was every bit as grueling as I expected. I surprised myself by running the first 6 miles of the race without stopping to walk at all, and at a faster pace than I had ever run before. Of course, I paid for this during the second half of the race in typical rookie fashion.
The last several miles were very slow, alternating jogging and frequent walk breaks. There were times when I thought about giving up, but when I would check the time and see that I was ahead of my goal pace/finish time, I was filled with a new motivation to finish the race and crush my goal. What goal was that, you might be wondering? Well, this event had a cut-off time of three and a half hours, so I was hoping that I might finish around three hours. I crossed the line at 2:55:30, nearly 5 minutes ahead of my goal!
Five half marathons later and that is still my slowest finish time yet (my PR is 2:26:00 – almost a 30 minute improvement!). Despite my lack of training and the needless suffering it caused – blisters, muscle aches, exhaustion, all avoidable with proper training and preparation – the moment I crossed that finish line is one of the most memorable moments in my life. That was the moment I completely fell in love with running and racing. The Flower City Challenge Half Marathon course takes runners through some of the most historic and beautiful parts of Rochester, and it was amazing to learn how much you can see and explore in 13 miles.
What was memorable about your first race? Share your experiences in the comments below!