I'll be honest - I was not looking forward to this race at all. In the three weeks between Princess and WB, I ran twice. I kept hoping something would come up that would get me out of doing the race. Tired and unmotivated, I just wanted to stay home and get some extra sleep.
Since no crisis occurred, we packed up the car and left for Wilmington on Saturday. The trip went well and I picked up my race packet that night and even made it to bed at 9pm. When my alarm went off at 4:45, Pete told me that I could just sleep in if I wanted and I was so very tempted. But I didn't want to have dragged Meredith across the state and stayed in a hotel for no reason, so I got out of bed and got ready.
We stayed in a really great hotel that was right next to Mayfaire Town Center, an outdoor shopping center where the finish line would be. Since there was no convenient parking at Wrightsville Beach where the race started, the race organizers had buses to shuttle runners from Mayfaire to the start line. It took me maybe 5 minutes to walk there from our hotel and I got right on a bus without having to wait in line at all.
After a short ride I arrived at the start line and had an hour to kill. It was about 48 degrees at that point and I was freezing. I was wearing crops and a tshirt and had stupidly forgotten to wear something warm that I could throw away. I just stood huddled up the entire hour before the race, texting Pete about how this wasn't as cool as Disney races and thinking of all the things I could have worn instead. That was the lowest point of my motivation for this race - all I wanted was to be back in my warm hotel room drinking a big mug of coffee.
The race was fairly small compared to Disney races, about 3000 people. My bib said I was in corral 2, but there wasn't really any organization to the corrals and everyone just sort of lined up in front of the start line. I lined up near the 2:30 pacer and was planning to stick close to her, despite my failed attempt to run with a pacer at Princess. The corral actually made a slight turn directly before crossing the start line and because of the way traffic was flowing I lost the pacer. I decided not to worry about it and just do what I could.
I was very stiff from standing still in the cold for so long, so I started out really slow. Who am I kidding? I always start out really slow! I tried to keep it comfortable and avoid any leg cramps. All I could think about was how far I was from the finish line and how long the race was going to take. I thought briefly about trying a run/walk approach but decided to at least run until I felt like I really needed to take a walk break.
I trudged steadily along, watching the other racers around me and listening to their conversations. It was early (the race started at 6:45) and it was very quiet and dark on the island. We ran over a couple bridges and had stunning views of the Intracoastal Waterway and the sunrise. The sky was a beautiful array of purples and pinks and the water was like glass. I really wanted to take a picture but I'm not really a take-pictures-while-running kind of girl so I enjoyed the view and kept going.
We left the island around mile 3 by running over a drawbridge. There were several people at the bridge warning runners to watch their step because we had to run over some metal grating. I did stumble at one point but didn't come close to falling. We crossed the bridge into Wilmington and I knew we would run by Mayfaire around mile 4-5. I kept thinking that I could just quit the race and run right to our hotel and go back to bed. I was going slow, 12:00-13:00 pace, but I felt good other than my mental sluggishness. There was a timing mat at mile 3.5 and I crossed it around 44:36, with an average pace of 12:50 at that point - SO SLOW.
When I was around mile 5, I remember a really fast guy running past me and realizing that he was running the full marathon (a double loop of the half marathon course). He was so incredibly fast and ended up finishing the marathon about 30 seconds before I finished the half!
After mile 5, something clicked with me mentally and physically. I have no idea what it was, but I quickly went from running a 12:30 pace to 11:30. After a mile or 2 at that pace I was running at 10:30. I know 10:30 is slow for the majority of runners, but for me that is FAST. I do not run at a 10:30 pace, even when I'm running 3 miles through my neighborhood! And the craziest thing was I felt GOOD. I wasn't breathing heavily, I didn't feel like I was straining. It felt like a comfortable pace with just the right amount of effort.
I hit the halfway point at about 1:15:00. I carry my cell phone when I'm racing without Pete and try to text him updates when I can. At that point the only time I was walking was through aid stations just long enough to drink a cup of water or take a Gu, probably less than 30 seconds. I texted him "half" at one of the aid stations around mile 6.5, knowing that he would realize I was doing pretty well.
At that point I really started to feel good about myself and the race. The fact that I was sustaining the 10:30 pace and feeling so great was really starting to encourage me. I started envisioning myself crossing the finish line and getting a PR! I really think that the power of positive thinking helped me push more than I usually do. I planned to text Pete again when I hit 10 miles, knowing that if I kept up my pace till then I would have a really good chance of PRing.
After a few more miles I started envisioning not just a PR, but beating my goal time of 2:30:00! That was my goal time for my very first half marathon and I came close at 2:34:43. Recently, I had been feeling like that goal was unattainable because I was just so slow and hadn't seen much improvement. In fact, I'd seen the opposite of improvement with my recent horrible time at Princess. I kept feeling good, however, and moving fast (even 10:00 or 10:15 pace sometimes) and I started to feel like 2:30:00 was within reach.
10 miles came around 1:53:00, the fastest I have ever run that distance. I thought about texting Pete, "10. Going to PR." But I didn't want to jinx myself, so I just texted "10" and knew he would realize I was doing extremely well. He told me after the race that he was surprised when he got my halfway update and shocked when he got my 10 mile update! He and Meredith were at breakfast and he said they actually had to finish up earlier than planned to make it to the finish line in time to see me. When I hit 10 miles and had taken no walk breaks (other than the aid stations), I felt on top of the world. I kept doing math in my head and knew that I had 37 minutes to run 3.1 miles if I wanted to beat my goal time. I could do that. I could absolutely do that, even with a few walk breaks.
I started feeling tired during that last 5K, but I knew I was going to make it and that kept me motivated. I took a few 1 minute walk breaks during those last 3 miles, but when I was running I was still moving fast. My right knee was starting to ache a little bit, but the thought of crossing that finish line and meeting so many of my goals kept me going!
We headed into Mayfaire towards the finish line and I started looking for Pete in the crowds. He spotted me before I saw him and I heard him shouting my name. He was holding Meredith and seeing them there right in front of the finish line made me so happy! This is cheesy, but I think about Meredith a lot during races and how I hope to set a good example for her by being healthy and meeting goals. I ran past them and got a quick high five from Pete and then plowed on towards the finish line.
The clock said 2:31:something when I crossed, but when I stopped my Garmin it said 2:28:09. I did it - I crushed all my goals...and I wanted to sit down and drink about a gallon of coffee! My official time was 2:28:05.
I'm not sure what exactly made me perform so well at this race. Conditions were perfect - mid-50s and low humidity (my favorite running weather), and the course was extremely flat. I do think a lot of it came from feeling good and positive thinking. I honestly didn't think I was capable of running a half marathon so fast! Now I have to set a new goal...2:15:00?
One thing I have to say about this race is how wonderful the spectators were. They were even better than Disney spectators, which is saying A LOT! There were people out cheering on Wrightsville Beach at 7am and there were even more spectators throughout the rest of the course. Everyone had their name on their race bib and I lost count of how many times somebody yelled out, "Go Tina! You're doing great!" It means a lot when a random person makes the effort to look for your name and encourage you. The race has a March Madness theme and all the aid stations were decked out in different college sports gear. It was fun seeing all the different fans and their set ups!
A large part of the course went through a residential neighborhood called Landfall and there were so many people "tailgating" in their driveways to watch the race! They had tables, music, food...one group of people were drinking Bloody Marys! Landfall is a beautiful community to run through and the residents were very friendly and encouraging. It was so nice of them to sacrifice their streets for the race.
Another awesome thing about this race was the FREE BEER they had at the finish line! I'm not a beer drinker and all I wanted after running was coffee, but I still realize that free beer is a really cool thing! Now if only they had free wine... Actually, at mile 13 there was a little tent set up with people handing out beer to runners! I seriously considered grabbing one to bring to Pete, but then I realized I would probably spill most of it while running the last tenth of a mile so I passed them by.
Even aside from my PR, this was a fantastic race in which I definitely plan on participating again. I hope that Pete will run it with me next time! The race organizers did an excellent job, the course was beautiful and flat, and the spectators were incredible. I was so full of negativity that morning at the start line, but the race was so much fun and well-planned that it completely killed my negative attitude!