...about yourself, your training and your motivation for doing what you do.
It will also teach you things about layering, socks and just how grateful you can be over a granola bar.
In a nutshell, the lessons I got that were loud and clear were:
1. I could have pushed harder (always true)
2. Cardio and stamina were not my limiting factors
3. 13.1 miles is just the beginning, I think
4. If I can do this while experimenting with a training plan, think what I can do when I get good at it!
5. Long bike rides taught me to always bring a snack no matter if you think you need it or not. The Cherry Pie Lara Bar I brought along saved my run!
6. There's nothing wrong with stopping and stretching things that are sore
7. ..and finally, nothing replaces experience. I'm excited for the next one!
The MIT (Most Important Thing) I learned was that I need to find a Cross-Training Plan that I can incorporate into my every day life so I can kick some of the lingering issues that WERE my limiting factors during the run, in the arse. (I know exactly who I'm going to turn to, too!)
I want to get stronger from head to toe--I have good overall fitness but I can definitely improve. And I think it's the only way to become the kind of runner/person/athlete/adventurer that I want to become.
And, now, for those who don't mind hearing about the actual race--a brief play-by-play:
It was a perfect day for a race this Saturday as all 5500 of us lined up for the Rock the Parkway half-marathon.
It was a wave start and, back in February when I signed up, I had chosen the 2:40 group to run with. Because back then, it sounded like a nearly impossible thing to even FINISH let alone run it in under 3 hours.
I was in a group of other first-timers--everyone around me was talking about how crazy it felt to be there and how they were never going to make it, etc. Basically echoing all the things I was saying to myself.
Once things got under way, I was floored at how relaxed I felt. There wasn't the same pressure to "get on it" as there is in the 5ks that I run. It was amazing. I was able to get warmed up for the first two or three miles and find a pace that I was comfortable with--I've always been an endurance athlete more than anything--I swam long distance races in High School and love 70 mile road-bike adventures more than a sprint.
This being said, I experienced something that I've never felt before--miles gliding by. I felt like I had literally blinked and we'd run 7 miles. It was exhilarating. Everything felt good, too. I had already moved well beyond the initial pace group I'd started with and was hanging out and talking with some of the other runners.
Now, I know this means that I should have probably been running harder/faster, but it was actually really nice to just be running and enjoying other runner's company. We were all in it together and we were hashing stories and thoughts on training and talking about the upcoming course--it was pretty cool.
Once we hit mile 9 is when things got...saucy. I had gone into training with a cranky ankle/left arch issue and had been training around it by only doing one run a week with other forms of aggressive cardio (biking, swimming), interval training (also biking and swimming) with yoga and martial arts as my cross-training.
I knew that the ankle wasn't going to be just perfect for race day, but I'm actually quite surprised at how good it did feel overall.
So, well into mile 9 the ankle that I'd been subconsciously babying started to hurt. Quite a bit. Also, all the muscles that you're supposed to use for running: hip flexors, hamstrings, calves, quads, etc. got tired and worn out. And, much like anything, the impact of running moved to the next thing it could find--which was my right IT band.
The good news is that I was able to keep the IT band issues at bay by really focusing on my form (Thank you Eric and BTR!) so it wasn't a dealbreaker but it was definitely really, really tight by the end of the race.
I made it through the last 4 miles though basically in tact--I would've loved it if I could have ended the 13 miles feeling like I did at mile 7, but I think that I can overcome some of the problems I've been having by making a few promises to myself and a few small-ish lifestyle changes.
Promise 1: I have to keep up with my yoga practice. It keeps my calves from dying and gives me a good mental base to build from. It also helps me figure out where I'm too open (usually in the hips) and shows me where I can build more strength for the activities I love.
Promise 2: Piggy-backing off of that, I want to find a Cross-Training plan that I can incorporate into my everyday life. I want to be leaner and more efficient in everything I do. I'm not just a runner--I'm a swimmer, cyclist, rock-climber...and to do those things, you have to have balanced strength.
Overall, it was an awesome experience that I'll never forget. I had such a rush when I saw the finish line and knew that I was going to make it and that I'd done it.
I wish I would have run a little faster but, I accomplished my goal and have recovered from the whole thing quite well. I felt good, I had fun and I crossed the finish line smiling--all of which more than makes up for any twinges of regret I feel for finishing in 2:32.