I am a runner; a bold statement that has taken me a long time to feel I deserved to say in regards to myself, to my identity. Today, not only do I very proudly refer to myself as a runner, I can also add half-marathoner to that. I still can’t believe it. This past weekend feels like just a dream, I keep asking myself if it really happened, looking at the pictures, trying to put myself back into those moments that were so precious and fleeting.
I’ve sat down to write this post numerous times, only to be at a complete loss for words which, for me, is practically unheard of. All I can say is that some of the greatest moments of my entire life, precious blips of time that I will never forget and that have changed me forever, are wrapped up in this past weekend.
My racing experience up to this point is a couple of small 5Ks and one major fail 10K, with participants capping in at a couple of hundred of people at the most. The grand scope of this event was completely new to me, I had no idea just how big this whole thing was going to be, from the expo, to the number of participants (over 24,000!) and the never-ending stream of spectators speckled throughout the entire course sending all kind of good energy out to complete strangers, and the course itself that went over the busiest border crossing in North America and through the only underwater mile. It makes you feel kind of like a rock-star for a day. I’ll follow this up with a more nostalgic post, but for now I’ll just get to the play-by-play of this weekend’s events!
FRIDAY: The Race Expo AKA Runner’s Paradise
The closest I’ve gotten to a race expo before this was reading awesome accounts of them from other runners’ blogs. Every time I came across a race recap and the blogger/runner talks about the expo, speckling the post with pictures of what looks, to me, like heaven, I’d sigh in envy. Free samples, running gear, running professionals, a sea of fellow runners all gearing up to run the same race… sounds like the best place ever! Finally getting to go to one myself was beyond exciting!
My parents and I hopped in the van and headed over around 3:30pm. Crossing the border is probably my least favorite part about the entire weekend - holy back ups! And having to pee while waiting in a huge line at customs? Not fun. But, we made it through eventually. The customs officer was looking at our passports, and when he came to mine I knew what was coming. He looked down, then at me, then down, then at me. “I know, it’s different.” I chortled. “You lost some weight there!” he said. “Just a little” I joked. He asked how much, and I told him I’d lost 150lbs. Right away he asked if it was surgery, another question I’ve come to expect and happily answer with ‘NOPE! Just eat clean, run, exercise’. He was quite impressed, said he runs 2 miles every day, but then goes and eats a Snickers so it doesn’t work out so well for him. He was great, sometimes you can get some real tools at the border. He wished me luck and sent us off on our way. I love smooth border crossing experiences!
While Dad went to find parking (which we later got a ticket for…), Mom and I went looking for the washroom in Cobo, where the expo was held. Unable to find them, I stopped to ask someone working there where the washrooms were. “Where the what is?” he asked. I repeated the question. “Oh, you mean the restrooms, they’re just past registration on your right.” Like, really, buddy? Does it make a difference? I just need a stall to pee in.
Walking into the expo was like stepping into another world. It was so amazing, I didn’t know where to go first! We stopped at the Talmer Bank booth to get a free reusable bag and lanyard, then followed the signs to where I’d have to pick up my packet. The only thing is, to get to packet pick up you have to walk through the entire set up of vendors. You know how difficult it is to just walk by running gear and free stuff? That, and we got stopped by one vendor in particular while looking at the huge display of the course map for this weight loss supplement wrap thing. It’s one of those “you wrap this around your body and in 2 hours lose inches!” things. This girl was trying so hard to sell us on it, and to get us to go look at before and afters, tried to say it’s permanent as long as you keep using it and taking the supplements. Her selling point: “If you eat really bad, like lots of fat and carbs, you just put this on and it stops your body from absorbing it! And you go down inches!” At one point, I just had to speak up and said “it’s only temporary though, right” with a bit of a chuckle. Her response? “Oh no! It’s like if you stop working out, you don’t just gain the weight back. It stays off” …. I just stared at her, like did she really just make that claim? You bet your ass (literally) you gain weight back if you stop exercising but continue to eat what you want/how much you want. I wanted so badly to put her in her place, but I had somewhere to be and wanted to avoid that whole debacle. We finally tore ourselves away from her and continued through to packet pick up.
At packet pick up, the woman looked at my passport to confirm that I am, in fact, me, and also noted that I’d lost weight. She commended me, handed me my bib and shirt, and wished me luck. Then it was off to the pace team sign up. I had told the guy I wanted to finish in 2:20-2:30ish. He must have misheard, and suggested the 2:42 group. In the end, I chose 2:30 just to be safe. I explained that it was my first half and he was really excited that I’d chosen to go with a pace group, explained that I should arrive 30 minutes before the start so that the pacer could tell us how he wanted to run the race, that we could talk to the pacer at any time, and that if we felt good or that we needed to slow down we were free to disengage from the group. Really, I just wanted to sign up with a pace group to ensure I didn’t start out too fast and to help me get through the run up the bridge, the one part of the course that had me the most anxious. I don’t know about you, but it’s not every day I run over major bridges and I hadn’t done too much in the way of hills either (I hate hills…) during my training, so having an experienced pacer and a group to carry me through sounded like a pretty smart thing to do. You’ll come to learn in part 2, however, that all of this completely ceased to matter in the long run (haha long run…still gets me every time!).
My favorite part of the expo experience, besides all the cool running gear and free samples? My mom and the free samples. Everywhere we stopped, she was ready with the bag, asking if things were free. I’d go off to check things out, and she’d be bouncing from table to table asking “is this free? Can I take these? Are these free?!” I was dying, it was so funny. I guess I know where my love of free stuff comes from…I didn’t end up buying as much as I thought I would. In my head I was going to go nuts, no limits! But then you get there, and there’s so much stuff and it’s like, where do you spend your money first? There was a PB2 booth set up for $5 a jar, which is a HUGE steal considering the only store that sells it in town has it for $10 a jar. So I got chocolate and regular PB2. The chocolate is like crack, I’ve been using it non-stop since. My mom insisted she pay for the iPod/phone holder that I used during the race, a hand-held sleeve that was a total God-send throughout the race! Normally I hold my phone/iPod, and my fingers go numb from clutching it. With this thing, I didn’t have to worry about it at all, kept my grip relaxed and reduced tension in my arms/shoulders/back the whole race, it was beautiful. I also bought Glide, which I used on my feet and figured would come in handy when I start upping my long runs for full marathon training. I’ve never used the stuff before this. And of course, I got my official Detroit Free Press 2012 13.1 mug, an absolute MUST for this coffee and tea addict!
The only thing I REALLY wanted though, on top of everything, the one thing I just had to get was an official half marathon tech sweater. If nothing else, I had to have this. Unfortunately, I left without one. I’d grabbed a small and was so ready to buy it, but when trying it on realized it was kind of loose around my midsection, and I prefer my running gear to be a bit more fitted and they were all out of extra-smalls. Unbelievable, I thought to myself. Never in my life did I ever see myself needing a small, let alone an extra-small! Before, things were never big enough, and now nothing is small enough. You just can’t win! Especially in that moment, I was so bummed. I could have settled for the small, or wait to order the extra-small online. Another bummer? I went to go order one today, and they’re completely sold out of all women’s everything. I’m praying they stock up again!!!
I also spoke to a gentleman representing RunDisney about the Princess Half in February. He explained how the process works when registering, and I was so grateful to speak to an actual person and find out that there will be someone to help us get everything in order once I register. We also got tiaras :)
There was still so much to see, so many racks to browse through and professionals to speak to, but my fun was unfortunately cut short. On top of all the marathon excitement, it was also my sister’s Birthday Weekend and since she’d be away on her actual birthday (and during the marathon - totally sucked not having her there), we were going to go out for dinner that night to celebrate. After 2 hours navigating the expo, getting my packet and snapping a couple of pictures under the countdown clock, it was time to go. I won’t lie and say I wasn’t disappointed, because I was. But it was the only time we could really celebrate my sister’s birthday with her before she left for a manager’s meeting in Toronto for the weekend, so in a way I didn’t mind. There will be other expos!
For her birthday dinner, my sister chose a Chinese buffet restaurant. Back in the day, Chinese was my favorite. I lost all self-control at buffets, went back up for seconds, thirds, and fourths without shame, gorging myself until I could barely even walk out of there. It was pure gluttony. Stepping into a buffet now was like stepping into forbidden territory. Everything was drenched in a sauce or oil. The only saving grace was sushi and the salad bar. I enjoyed some sushi, a bit of garlic broccoli and mushrooms (even though I hated that it was all in sauce…) and filled my plate with fresh, undressed veggies from the salad bar. I will say, for a Chinese place, they had a decent salad bar. There was this chickpea salad type thing, and fresh, un-seasoned/messed with baby shrimp and regular shrimp, a good selection of chopped veggies. It sucked, though, that my meal still carried the $20 price tag when all I really ate was 5 pieces of sushi and salad/veggies. The sushi kind of had me worried, since I don’t eat sushi ever and the old adage of “don’t try anything new before race day” plagued my mind. Oh well…
Saturday, I was a bundle of nerves and anxiety sprinkled with a touch of excitement. I wanted it to be race day already, but feared it at the same time. I’m a worry-wart, and the scenarios of what could go wrong, from being late to the stress injury in my toe getting worse and preventing me from running, to nutrition mistakes and GI issues threatened to surface. Each time I found myself mentally constructing a play-by-by of negative outcomes of the race, I shut it down. At one point, I just had to get out and keep myself busy, or else I’d sit around all day letting the anxiety build. I ended up at the mall, walked around, read some tid bits from running books in Chapters (including Kara Goucher’s book for Women’s Running that I so desperately want to buy!) which actually helped me prepare and calm down a bit. I picked up my sister’s birthday gift: a pair of Nike Fusions. Then I headed home, made myself some dinner and continued to hydrate with water and tea. I started to get my stuff together, had my race day outfit folded and laid out for me, packed a bag with a change of clothes, perfume, a brush, baby wipes, chapstick, Glide, and a Clif bar for after the race. I kept going over everything, making sure I wasn’t forgetting something. I laid out my bib, gloves and iPod, even left myself a note designating what I had to do upon waking like ‘turn on coffee. Eat banana. Drink coconut water. Shower. Drink water. No water after 5:30AM’. I couldn’t leave anything to chance. Around 8:30pm, I packed it up, set my alarm for 3:00AM and curled into bed.
My mind was racing. This was really happening. In less than 24 hours I’d be on that start line, emerged in a crowd of runners anxiously waiting for the horn, itching to take off. I prayed that everything would work out smoothly, that I’d find my pace group alright, that I wouldn’t run into any GI issues and hopefully not have to pee at any point throughout the race, oh God please don’t make me have to pee!! I hoped it wouldn’t be too cold, that crossing the border wouldn’t be too bad, that my parents were awake on time and ready to go, that I would wake up on time. I didn’t get even a little bit of quality sleep. I was drenched in sweat, but when I’d kick the covers back I was freezing. I just waited out the time, basically. My alarm went off, but I was already awake. This was it. Now or never. It’s go time.