half marathon race day

Race day: Sunday September 24, 2017
It certainly didn't feel like fourteen weeks went by and to my mild terror, race day was right around the corner. It didn't hit me until it was the night before and I was faced with running 21.5 km in the heat. Friends would ask if I was ready. My answer? As ready as I'll ever be. I mean, I didn't really have a choice now. It seemed like the odds were stacked against me as a few issues came up...namely, the heat (ok, that one affects everyone); knee pain (runner's knee ugh); and my period decided to arrive the day before. It didn't help that we had to get up prior to the crack of dawn to get to Oakville. Now I'm glad to report that the struggle* was rewarded, in more ways than one. I'm super thankful that my friends Irene and Candice were also there to run. We hyped each other up.
pre race, we ready 2 go
Let me set the scene. Coronation Park is a lakefront park in Oakville with a rocky beach and a large, flat green space. We were shuttled to and from the park in yellow school buses. Nostalgia, ultra. They set up the "expo" on this green space, along with the finish line. There was a sea of neon yellow and navy blue shirts (the official finisher tees), along with various other bright colours. Pacers wearing hats with cute little bunny ears glued to the sides with their target finish time. It was 7am and it was already feeling a little bit muggy. It was really cool seeing all these individuals come together to do something that is usually done in solitude. Many good vibes were in the air. Good vibes and humidity, to be precise. My first reward was seeing the sun rise over the lake. It's been a while since I last saw the sun rise and it's always such a contemplative, serene experience. The sun was bright orange, casting a glow over the water, slowly inching its way up into the sky, away from the horizon. I just stood in awe and appreciation of how lucky I was to experience such a sight.
Fifteen minutes later, it was race time. Debating whether or not I would listen to music, I decided against it and shoved my earbuds into my pocket, pressed record on Strava and set off. I was just one in a sea of runners. I love that initial push forward at the starting line, it really gets you to hit the ground running. Let me just tell you that the run itself was an emotional journey.

For the first 10k, I was able to keep up with the 1:50 pace bunny, a lean, tan, almost middle-aged Chinese man who I aspire to be like when I'm almost middle-aged. I was Gucci, I was golden - I set a PR for my 10k time (55:43). Go me. But then it started going off the rails. There was a hydration station every 3k. After 10k, I started stopping at these stations to drink a cup of electrolyte and a cup of water before starting off again. It was too darn hot. Initially I was able to catch up again to the pace bunny/that group of runners, yet slowly but surely my pace started to decline and I couldn't run fast enough to catch up to the pacers after stopping for water. As runners passed me, my mind got to thinking, "How am I going to finish this?" But I had to keep my head up and keep on going.

They handed out gels at 13k. I put it in my pocket for when I got desperate for energy. Never before have I consumed a gel. At 16k, I felt the urge to tear the package open and suck out the contents. It was not great. I'm not even sure what flavour it was (they claimed it was strawberry kiwi) but I felt like I was eating toothpaste-textured pudding. I'd rather not repeat that. But I guess it was better than nothing.

The time I lost stopping every hydration station had me fall further and further behind. And with the increased distance, I felt increased fatigue. However, I decided I would rather continue at a slower pace than stop and walk, because I didn't know if I could continue running after stopping, and that is exactly what I did. Move along. Just keep swimming. I kept on looking for the signs telling me I'd run another kilometre further, I kept on hoping 3k would pass by so I'd have another water break. Many mini-rewards along the way. It was great seeing people on the sidewalks cheering us on, ringing cow bells...yeah, that's a thing. Almost two hours went by and I was finally getting into the last 3k, I hyped myself up and picked up the pace. Almost there!! A lot of people had started walking and I just wanted to yell at every one of them to just GO! WE ARE ALMOST THERE!!! DON'T STOP NOW!!!

The last kilometre, a lady behind me breathed a loud sigh of relief. Same. We pushed each other to pick up the pace a bit more and push it to the finish line, last k average pace was 5:14 (my average pace throughout the entire thing was 5:45/km). The last kilometre was so long in my mind, but in reality it wasn't longer than any of the other 20 that I had just run. Finally, I saw the finish line and mustered up what little strength I had left in me to sprint to the end. Final time, 2:03. Not too shabby.
post race, we are still ready 2 go (to sleep)
Irene and Candice met me at the finish line and we had a sweaty group hug. Tears ensued. So proud of us! To them for running 10k without previously covering the distance (and doing it in great times) and for me because I finished that half that I'd been working toward since fourteen weeks ago. It made me realize that with anything in life, you can achieve if you just have a plan and stick to it. How would you do this if it were easy? It's all mental game. The rest will follow. At least for me, the main thing that prevented me from doing things was fear. Fear of failure, fear of rejection, fear of whatever else. But fear is not real, pain is not real, * the struggle is most definitely not real. It's all in the mind. Anything is possible, just needs a combination of believing in yourself and grinding until it happens. It's a cliche because it's true. As I crossed the finish line, I felt relief, fatigue and the need to take my shoes off.

Immediately after crossing the finish line, I took my shoes off, chugged two bottles of water then proceeded to devour two bananas and a piece of bread (it was a breakfast round with raisins and it was delicious). Followed this snack with a free massage. It was great. Shout out to those RMT students at Mohawk College, y'all are the real MVP's massaging our sweaty bodies.

I'm glad I prepared my things the night before - made overnight oats for easy digestion (smashed a ripe banana in there for a sweetness boost) and pin my bib onto my shirt. I'm glad that I stuck to my training schedule (for the most part), and most importantly stayed hydrated during the race. It's very easy to get excited and push yourself too hard, but when it's this hot, better to err on the side of safety. Heat stroke doesn't sound like a good time.

What I should have done? Well, there's a list there, too. Definitely should have slept before 11pm the night before, but I was too busy trying to make a flat lay. I also should have run at least 20k before the race. I only ran 16k, once, at a leisurely pace. Not building up enough glut strength led to a series of aches and pains. Finally, I should have packed energy gummies instead of eating that gel. It wasn't the most disgusting thing I've ever eaten, but it doesn't make the top 20 either...
But I made it! And that's a wrap for my first half marathon. What's next? I'm going to take it easy for a while and get back into my beloved cross training activities, but of course keep on running (and blogging! I forgot how much I enjoy writing). Before I let you go, I wanted to reiterate my most important lesson learned, my major key throughout this entire process - the struggle really isn't real. It's all in the mind. Sometimes the mind can go to dark places, but it's important to keep things in perspective. We are here, we are now, what can we do but make the most of it? Come on, I got to wake up and watch the sun rise over the lake? As a wise man once said, what a time to be alive.