I had every intention in the world to run the Hartford half marathon in October of 2010. However, in February of 2010, I slipped on some ice in Philadelphia and hurt my knee. I first noticed it days after the fall, while on a treadmill, and figured it must have been the treadmill. I starting putting some mileage in my training, but by June I wasn't able to even run 4 miles before the pain set in and I was forced to stop. I had to make a tough decision, to stop my training. This ended up being a wise decision - I got married in July, and wasn't far enough in my training anyway to worry about 13.1 in October. I had only run 5k's in my life, I wasn't ready. Even before the knee got really bad, I would run 7.5 flat miles and come home winded and beat.
I prescribed myself on 6 months running rest. During this time, I did a series of P90X and Insanity hybrids, which ironically had no negative effects on my knee. The winter was long, cold, and broke records with snow, so 6 months rest turned into 9 months rest.
In February of 2011, my friend Kate pushed me to do a 5k with her. Depending on how we both did, we would consider training for the half for REAL this October. The week before this March 5k, I went on one training run, with new shoes and felt pretty good. I ended up finishing in the top 10 at this 5k, with a fairly modest time of 21:43. When I was in High School, I ran cross country and actually my times were usually in the high 20's, and early 21's. I once ran an 18:45 when I was 16, that was my lifetime PR. But all things considered, I was fairly proud of my race. The last two 5k's I had run were 23 and 25 minutes (just google my name and find my athlinks page, you can see it all). I had not run at all for 9 months, and shaved off a few minutes from previous races - not bad!
Just before this race, I met a new friend on Facebook, a friend of a mutual friend. This person runs a nationwide, truly an international, running team. Joining this online team was a great idea for me - suddenly I had some purpose to my miles, and it wasn't as though I was running for only myself.
My second race of the season was on April 27th. The day before this 5k, a friend gave me a tip that I should run it. It was literally half a mile from my house, so how could I not run it? Even though this was a last minute decision, I hit my post-high school 5k PR at this race, running a 20:38 and placing 10th overall. I hadn't broken 21 since I was 17. This race felt SO good, it was as if the stars had aligned. I remember going out way too fast on the first mile, I think I ran a 6:10 mile in mile 1, but finished the race at 6:39 pace. Oh well, bad habits are hard to get rid of - I always go out too fast!
My third 5k was a repeat of the last race I ran in 2010 - the Xtreme Scramble at the Riverfront in downtown Hartford in July. This is a kind of crazy course with hills, tough terrain, sometimes stairs, rocks, etc. I remember the day of this race was extremely hectic. In fact, I didn't have time to register for the race beforehand. I was SO late leaving work, had to come home, change, and find parking downtown during rush hour. I drove to the riverfront and got in the wrong lane and ended up on the highway - had to loop BACK around, sit through the same traffic for a second time before finally getting in the right garage. I literally ran up the flight of stairs to the registration tent, got my registration, pinned my bib to my shirt, and when I got to the starting line, the gun went off. I was dehydrated, didn't warm-up, had a horrible eating day, and mentally was a reck. Yet, I ran in 21:38, which for a wild course wasn't so bad! I remembered hating the fact that I was so unprepared, but it was a pretty cool experience nonetheless. The best part is that I had run the same course in 25 minutes the year before. I am not sure if it was the Insanity, or my diet, or what - but I felt like a different person this year.
So now it was the end of summer and time to focus on the half marathon. I was committed. I had gotten up to 10 miles already, so I knew I could at least finish the race, it was just a question of how hard I could run it. The curveball came when my friend Carrie, from the running team I had talked about before, convinced me to sign up for a Spartan obstacle race on Staten Island. I've already blogged about this experience that occured on September 24th, but seriously if I thought the Xtreme Scramble was a hectic day where I felt unprepared, that was just the appetizer for the main course on 9/24. So much went into organizing my life just to get to Staten Island by 4:30 in the morning for our early team heat, the "Hurricane Heat." You can read about it here if you really want to: Dan's Spartan Race 2011. Perhaps the craziest part was just preparing food in and around two 8 mile heats, one at 5:30 a.m. and one at 10:30 a.m. Wild!
I learned so much about myself, my limits, and my mental toughness on 9/24. Wow. But the main goal of my running year was yet to come. I know many people run full marathons, but this half marathon meant so much to me for so many reasons. First of all, the course was literally in my neighborhood. Most of the roads in the course were on my normal training routes. The race even went straight past my house! Second, I knew that a lot of people would be out there cheering me on. The church youth group was manning one of the water stations, and several church members were spread across the course. Perhaps most of all, this achievement for me was over a year in the making - I had my heart set on 2010, but injury and life prevented this from becoming a reality.
My alarm went off for 4:45 a.m. I felt like I was in the proverbial first scene of every movie where the alarm goes off and I'm already up, turning it off after 1 beep. Everything was going to go perfectly - my running outfit for the day even matched my shoes. I was going to do this race with no gels or fuel. The human body can totally hit 13.1 miles without refueling, plus there were plenty of water stations on the route. I ate my breakfast and just chilled for an hour in the morning.
Around 6:45, I drove about 7 miles east to the start line. I even found a magic parking spot on Ann St. Literally, only my tiny Honda Fit could "fit" in this spot, which I swear was the last bit of street parking in the entire city of Hartford at 7 a.m. I maneuvered through a muddy Bushnell Park, hoping to not get my shoes too dirty. I realized I was all alone, this goal of killing this race today was for me. I thought of the Mud Mafia, my running team of course, but none of my friends or family were running with me. Still, I walked proudly. The only thing that stood in my way was the ridiculous line for the porto's right near the start line.
Because of the long line, I had to line up farther back in the pack than I had hoped for. I was in about the 9 minute mile crowd. My goal time was 1:45, so I'd have some weaving to do. What a pleasant surprise it was when my friend and colleague Rev. Erica Thompson gave the invocation for the race. The gun went off at 8:05 a.m. and I stood still for about 40 seconds. Finally the pack started moving. I'd know later from my chip time/gun time differential that it took about a minute to cross the start line.
At the one mile mark the clock read 8:30. I knew this was way under my pace, but also knew that was the gun time and I had spent a good amount of time just getting to the start line! As we approached the Wadsworth Atheneum, the full marathoners split off left, and we split to the right. Suddenly I saw a ton of holes and I started making my moves. The weather was perfect, and I felt like a million bucks. I had eaten so clean for an entire week, particularly the day before, so I knew I had this. I was hydrated and mentally in the game.
The longest stretch of the race was Park Rd. It was also an exciting place to be with all the Hispanic restaurants and a good amount of people cheering us on. Miles 2-5 flew by. Soon I was in West Hartford, very familiar territory.
When I hit the halfway split, my pace was about 7:30, which was clearly faster than my goal time. I still had tons of energy. I had already seen a handful of church members, but the biggest lift for me was when Erica and Christina and the AHCC youth group were at the water station near mile 7 at the UConn Greater Hartford campus. What a moment! I saw two other musician friends on Albany Ave. about a mile later.
I swear, it was 9 miles in, my pace was steady and I felt like a million bucks. When I hit mile 10, I started to fatigue. I knew this was going to be the time that I had to really focus and not let up too much. Running through Elizabeth Park was beautiful, a nice touch to the newly designed half marathon course.
^This is me right around mile 9 or 10, I believe coming out of Elizabeth Park.
Around mile 11, we passed my favorite Breakfast Joint, Mo's Midtown. I really could have used some blueberry pancakes, but kept running!! The last main stretch was a long leg on Farmington Ave., starting from Whitney Street, all the way under the I-84 overpass and through the Bushnell Park arch at the finish line. I really felt my legs giving out at this point. Many people passed me, but I tried to keep my pace up. I alter realized I was actually keeping a steady pace, but others were starting their kicks early. By the time I rounded the corner and approached the arch, I got my second wind. Steve and my buddy LJ were waiting at the finish to cheer me on, perhaps the best feeling in the world knowing somebody was there to see me cross. When I looked up I saw 1:39:30 on the timer, I had beat my goal time! I didn't let anyone pass me for the last half mile, and crossed the finish line with total control.
I'd later see my chip time was 1:38:45, which equates to a 7:32 pace. I was very happy with my race.
Why do we run? I love the focus it takes. I love the culture of a race day. I love the personal achievement of finishing a race and feeling completely wasted, and I love competing against myself. From an injury in 2010, to the feeling of accomplishment in October of 2011, it was quite a journey. In other words "I'm Back." Really, since 2009, I have been on this fitness journey to take control of my health. It started with my first round of p90x and my latest achievement is the Hartford Half Marathon. I don't want it to be an ending, but rather a benchmark and a local mountaintop moment for me. More to come! Who knows what 2012 will have in store!