There's always a first for everything in life, right?
I began toying with the idea of running a distance race for quite a bit of time, but brooding about things in your head is far different than getting up and doing something about it. For someone who lives in her head much of the time, this was really big for me. I'd consider it a pretty big accomplishment given that I impulsively signed up for the race in February and only then began training aggressively for it after my work days were over.
This experience has definitely impacted me in some meta way that hasn't yet surfaced, but it's one of those things you feel deep within, and I'll have to extract out what I'm feeling at some point. It's like this: In the eye of the storm, you never quite understand all you're going through. It's only after everything is over that you gain a certain sense of perspective. An understanding of things.
A part of why I love writing retrospectively is to find new meanings to what I've gone through by means of thoughtful reflection, analysis, deconstruction.
So, in a nutshell, here is how this shindig all went down:
About the race
+ I ran the 29th Telekom Vivicitta Spring Half Marathon, which took me from Margaret Island (the Budapest equivalent of New York's Central Park) to Buda's river embankment, across Szabadsag Bridge, over to Pest side, through Parliament, across Pest's river embankment, across Margaret Bridge, and back onto the island to sweet victory.
+ It was quite an international affair. There were 1,100 international registered runners from 57 countries, including Azerbaijan, Bolivia, and Venezuela.
+ I was one of 74 Americans at the race. There were 6,000 runners. It was nice to feel insignificant and totally put in place by Europeans a la the Hungarians, Croatians, Brits, Germans, Italians, Lithuanians, etc.
+ 10 weeks of training
+ Goal? Finish the race.
+ Most of the training took place in a very dingy, rundown gym across from my office on a treadmill
+ Consisted of 3-4 days of running, alternating between tempo runs to build up speed, and long runs for endurance
+ Two days of cross-training, whether that was aerobics or cycling. 20-30 minutes of moderate strength training was also involved, where I made up my own routine with some weights ;)
At first, I was fueling myself properly. Around the third week in, I started experimenting with depleting my glycogen stores by fasting. Had mixed results. Went back to normal eating habits. Went on a vacation to Spain, which threw me off a good week (I blame it on the paella, sangria and jamon). Tried to get back on track with normal eating habits. Last week = gradual carbo loading, but not overdoing it. This was awesome and one of the greatest rewards of running.
+ Breakfast: Plain oatmeal (made with hot water), dash of cinnamon, tablespoon of honey, tablespoon of chia seeds, banana, sometimes peanut butter or nutella mixed in as well
+ Lunch: Rotation of my favorite lunch haunts near the Basilica in Budapest. Usually protein-based.
+ Dinner: Steamed veggies, some variation of pasta.
+ Hydration: H2O. Aimed to drink 1 nalgene bottle a day.
First half of training, I skipped caffeine because I was abstaining from coffee. Then I read several articles about benefits of caffeine in enhancing performance, so from that point forward, I'd treat myself to an occasional afternoon cappuccino when I hit a wall at work, usually in the afternoons.
Lessons learned along the way
+ Be realistic about your level of fitness and cater your goals accordingly. There was a period of two weeks or so, where I did too much, too soon. I wanted to run the race in sub-two hours, and my body wasn't ready and retaliated. I then readjusted my goals to finishing the race in just over 2 hours at a comfortable 9:30 minute per mile pace. It was a humbling experience and also made the ultimate race day far more enjoyable because the only pressure I faced was in finishing! It makes me look forward to training for the next race and winning it for myself in an honest way.
+ Don't run through an injury. For one week, I was limping because I was overtraining. I learned to be patient and let my body rest when it needed to. This is the whole "learn to listen to your body" takeaway point. I began cycling during those days, to give my feet and ankles a much needed rest.
+ Don't deprive yourself of energy/fuel. One of the reasons I registered for the race was to get myself back into physical condition and to lose some weight I had gained in the past year from my semi-sedentary lifestyle. So naturally, I ate less and worked out more to burn more calories than I was consuming. Makes logical sense, right? Only if you're ultimate goal is weight loss. haha. Poor training sessions ensued after I didn't fuel myself properly. I attribute my successful half-marathon run due to gradual loading up of carbs the final four days leading up to race day. My body was sufficiently fueled and ready to burn the energy.
+ Learn the lingo. (Seriously though, just Google it.) There's nothing here you can't learn yourself by doing some research on the Internet. I learned all the terminology (negative splits, lactate threshold, tempo runs, pacing, etc.) by copious amounts of reading online. It was all entertaining stuff.
+ Talk to seasoned runners and tell your colleagues and friends that you're racing. The former because you get good tips (my colleague told me to seriously pace myself for the first 10 km and then listen to my body), and the latter because it keeps you accountable to run!
Night before the race AKA pre-race jitters and fear of failure (basically psyching myself out)
I was really nervous the last couple days leading up to the race. At that point, my longest run I'd logged was only around 15 km, or 9.3 miles. I was terribly slow as well, and in pain on these longer runs. Yikes! It didn't help that my runs that took place outside were way worse than my treadmill runs, which were evenly paced. I always ran slower outside! It was a psychological trip, all right. I started questioning whether I could finish the race, and whether I'd be racing against the sweeper bus that comes around to collect runners who won't finish in 2.5 hours.
Watching Chariots of Fire the night before was a serious win. I get really corny when push comes to shove. ;) It was incredibly inspiring (and also made me nostalgic for England) while offering me some mental clarity about why people run races to begin with. Everyone has their own ambitions and internal struggles. Are you someone who's trying to prove yourself to the world? Do you run for a higher calling? Are you someone with principle?
Running the race – what it was like
+ Happy to report that I kept a steady pace for much of the race and finished in 2:05.
+ Partly because of my fear of not finishing the race, I ran on adrenaline without any trace of physical pain....for 15 km. Hahaha. This cracks me up now that I think about it. During training, I would begin feeling exhausted after 12 km or so. Fear is a great catalyst.
+ My mantra for the day was a combination of "What the mind believes, the body achieves" and the Lord's Prayer. I didn't end up listening to music because I decided I wanted to be in tune with my environment, and I found that the supporters of onlookers and musicians were really helpful.
+ Distribution of 21 km: First 14 km easy, banana/water refuel at 14km, next 4 km starting to feel it but keeping it steady, 18 km - holy moly - but only 3 km left. 20 km: Legs feel like jello. But I won't stop, can't stop. I can taste the finish line. Last 500 meters, push push push. Done!
+ Staggered out onto the field, sat down and stretched, immediately drank two bottles of iced tea, an apple, some chocolate. Later met my friend who gave me salty potato chips to replenish electrolytes. Then we went to Good Bar Good Burger, where I had myself a juicy jalapeno burger with fries, downed by some elderberry lemonade (Hungarian classic). This followed by a trip to Central Kavehaz for cappuccino and a blueberry macaroon.
+ Some 10-odd hours later, I still cannot believe what my body has done. I am in awe of myself.
+ 24 hours later: Muscles stiff and sore, but not horribly so.
+ 48 hours later: No pain. Contemplating cross training tomorrow...
+ When can I run my next race?!
What to work on for next time
+ Negative splits for the last 5 km. Really need to work on pushing myself to run faster that last half hour! Nearly all world records were broken by running negative splits.
+ Use arms more after 15km mark
+ Train more outside
+ Run in a 10k before the half marathon