Monday, December 16, 2013

Down 2 Earth Off Road Half Marathon - Amelia Earhart Park - Hialeah, FL

My first Half Marathon Ever
1st place Female, 2nd overall Men and Women

Our 13.1 miles turned out to be 15.5mi.
It was a long run by all means, especially for me, but surprisingly I felt very strong during the whole race. It took me 2 hours and 13 minutes to finish.
The trails were twisty, hilly, rooty and wet, but also so much fun to run on...

I was trying to make the long story short but I think it is better to explain how I really got here…
So we will have to rewind five years into the past when I set my eyes first time for an Half Marathon.

Back then I was a table tennis player with not much running experience and I picked myself like any new to the sport person would: 12 week program off the internet to get ready for a big Palm Beach Marathon that was going on in December. I had a plan and I followed it and I ran almost every day according to the recommendations. I was progressing and did build up to running 4-5 miles a day on the road when my knees simply gave up. The pains were getting sharper and more annoying every day. At some point I had them all taped up and still tried on running. With only a few weeks left to the event I called it quits. It was too much and too soon for my body and I realized I will not be anywhere near being ready on time.

After my first Xterra in 2008

Since then I went to my first Xterra triathlon the following March (Xterra Miami) which I completely loved and have been doing it ever since. Running off road I found is very kind on my legs and is so much more fun that I abandoned running on the streets for good.

Overtime my legs got stronger, my endurance improved and I can run when uninjured normal 6.2 miles which is the standard for an off-road triathlon race completely happily and pain free.

But 13.1 miles is still a far reach from six but I always knew at some point I was going to do it one way or another.

Was it finally the right time? Don’t know, but I set my mind on it and decided to try to get ready even if I was not going to race. I bumped up my long run mileage each week, from 5 to 6 to 7 with ending up doing three weeks before the race with a 8 mile run and two weeks back a 9.5 mile run. That’s it. This is the longest run I ever did and I was very proud of it. I was still hoping to do one more run and possibly get to 10.5 miles to feel more comfortable with the distance and know that I will have very little more to add to during the race and this would take all the “what if’s”  out of my head and make me feel better . But this didn’t work out and my bike training schedule got in the way and I missed my final long run…

Ready or not I showed up on the race site early morning.

Race site on race morning...

Being slightly late I had not much time to prepare or think much about what I’m about to attempt.
I just jogged from the parking lot to the race start for less than the minute, did some stretching, listened to race director Marlon and was about to get sent off.

Through the twisty single-track...

There was a nice group of guys and girls that I completely did not know. Some decked out in nice running gear while I was there kind of incognito nicely blending in. I had no clue what to expect. Some of the girls looked quite fast but how would I know.

I positioned myself in the crowd and just minutes later we were running. We started first on the gravel path next to the lake for less than a few hundred feet and quickly we were turned through the deep grass, mud holes and straight into the biking single track. I looked around and I was in the group of the few leading guys. For some reasons I didn’t see any girls near me, it was weird, why did they hang all in the back?

Just some quick minutes into the run I felt I was going maybe too hard, I was breathing faster, started to overheat and was wondering for how much longer I will be able to keep up with this pace. It was only the beginning of the first lap and we had four to go. Since I didn’t preview the course I wanted to make sure to stick with the guys for the first lap to make sure I don’t get lost in the trails and will know where to go, so I just hung in there. At some point two guys with Army shirts just went by me and I wondered if it was just the beginning of the passing trend to come. I was hoping it wasn’t. We were running on some nicely padded and flat and twisty single track but also the arrows often pointed us to the hilly parts of the course with monster climbs, roller coaster like sections and those wet and full of slimy roots and big mud puddles parts of the course. We got a bit of everything really and I remember thinking how much more difficult it has to be to run on this for that many miles than on the flat pavement. I had to relax my pace at some point and on mile three I got passed by an amazingly tall and fit lady. Later on I could see this cute runner in white and very girly outfit somewhere in the squiggly single track way behind me. I started to feel the pressure but at the same time the most important thing for me was to listen to my own body.

Through muddy paths and puddles...
First lap went by and I was just a few seconds back from first place. The heat and humidity definitely was getting to me no doubt and maneuvering through the wet and tricky terrain wasn’t easy. It took me some trial and error also to figure out my drinking pattern. Very early I discovered that I would not be able to use the water provided from water station since it was a few feet away from the trail and I was not going to run in a different direction to get water. Thankfully I had some Salomon flasks of different sizes ready and quickly discovered which one worked best for me. I ended up running with the smallest 50ml flask in my left hand while when needed having Clif Gel in my right hand. It worked really well and I kind of felt I wasn’t there completely on my own having something to hold on to. Of course I had there my amazingly supporting husband Pax who was extremely happy with how I was doing and at some point even gave me two thumbs up. Hmmm, I normally never get that. Apparently I was doing well. After the second lap I couldn’t see any longer lady in front of me. But amazingly I felt very much in the zone on my second and third lap and was happy and quite surprised with my decent pace. It was way better than I expected and especially felt good when I finally passed back one by one two army guys…

Somewhere in the mid of the third lap I finally saw once again the lady in front and it gave me hope that maybe I have a chance to get by her or at least hang on near for the rest of the race. I think I picked up my speed and remember approaching her and finally passing somewhere in very technical single track. And just a second later totally tripping over some root and falling right in front of her. I picked myself quickly and continued with my dirty now hands but still holding to the water flask.  I was getting away from her pretty quickly and remember looking down on my GPS and oh my, I crossed my “I have never been there” point; I was already on over 10 miles and kept on going. Funny since it was apparently the furthest quest for my running GPS also when the display said “battery low”; we were both in the unknown zone…

Up and down the bridge...

At this point I started getting discomfort in my left ankle but besides that I was still pretty good. I watched my every step much more carefully on the final lap, where not getting injured was my main priority, therefore I took the turns and descends and technical sections more carefully. Also the body is so tired at that point that your noodle like self doesn’t really feel like getting up those big climbs.  But I didn’t care, I was determined now to keep on going and finish my long dreamed about quest. The laps were long and extremely tiring, way longer than they should be. With my GPS showing me 3.5 miles per lap, in reality they were 3.88 miles long…

And finally at the finish!

So I was not even prepared as per my own feelings for a 13.1 run but what about running here for 15.52 miles…  In the final parts of the race I just kept thinking of moving legs one in front of the other, it seemed as this rhythm would continue as long as I didn’t allow it to change a bit. I knew that my body was in this constant, trance like almost motion and I didn’t want anything to disturb it. I also remember thinking after this magical ten mile mark that how weird was it that I didn’t even want to run in this race since I didn’t feel completely ready. But at the same time I thought of all those other moments that life takes us to and we are not really ready for them also, but somehow we manage. Like we are not ready to get married, or take a college exam, or go for your first job interview or have a baby. But the saying “if you wait for the right moment, you shell never begin” kept popping in my head. And this is my advice for anyone out there who wants to do something challenging in their life but doesn't feel ready. Just know that you will never be ready, and everything will not miraculously align itself perfectly for you to achieve what your mind is set for. You just need to give yourself a good amount of preparation and give it a go. You never know until you try. For certain I didn’t.

Best podium ever! We got here some amazing ladies from different parts of the globe!

So I am glad I listen to my husband and friends who thought that I can do it, while I was not that convinced.

We are full of surprises and deserve to be given a chance.

When I finally was running my final steps to the finish line I saw my husband, Marlon and the race crew.

I finished, I was happy and just moments later I was told I was the second person overall to finish the race with only one male runner finishing just shortly before me. I was stunned, happy, amazed, tired, glad…

Other ladies and racers were arriving one by one slowly with each passing minute. There was a lot of people still there on the course battling their bodies and minds and pushing their boundaries for a long time after we were done...

It was a good day in the park, beautiful sun was out and we tried to do a little biking afterwards to spin the legs out but my legs were done for the day. It was time to head home and rest…

Huge Thanks to Salomon for the Best Trail Running Shoes - Mantras

All in all I ran 15.5 miles and averaged what my husband's goal for me was - 7mph or 8:33 per mile.
Ha when I think about it, it is faster than my first Mountain Biking Race which I did in Oleta in 2008! ;-)
Pretty crazy if you ask me...

Big Thanks to Pax and my friends who knew and believed I can do it!
Race was nicely put together by Marlon from Down 2 Earth:

Marlon and I, the Race Director. Please note those COOL glasses. ;-)

I highly recommend it!

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