Running Far – Completing My First Half Marathon

Written by Joey Daoud

On December 4, 2017

Every step I take forward today I fear that my legs will snap off and I’ll start breaking apart, chunk by chunk, like the frozen T-1000 in Terminator 2.

At least, that’s how I feel. It’s a notch above how I felt yesterday afternoon, which was a bit more painful.

Yesterday morning I ran my first half marathon. 13.1 miles. I had two goals going into this:

1. Don’t stop running. I can jog. I can change pace. But don’t walk.
2. Finish in under 2 hours.

I was anxious the days leading up to the race. I’d worry my legs would feel heavy. I’d fear I’d hit a wall and have to walk.

But the morning of the race I felt great. I woke up at 3 AM. Walked Sherman. Meditated. Had some coffee. Then left the house and drove up to West Palm Beach, about an hour and change north.

I didn’t want to feel rushed, so I had plenty of time to find the location, get my bearings, go to the bathroom, relax. I decided to go with a running vest – the Orange Mud Gear Vest.

It was more for mental comfort. I get hot and sweat a lot and didn’t want to stress out about finding the next water station. I also kept my phone, sun glasses, and energy gel in it for later in the race.

6:00 AM. Time to assemble in the chute. I had never done a formal, chip timed race before. This race had pacers so I situated myself by the 9:10 minute pacer.

6:15 AM. The race starts. It’s a slow walk to get out of the starting gate but once you do the race is on.

This moment was the highlight of the race. It was a surreal feeling. The sun is just starting to creep up. The city is still asleep. But you’re surrounded by hundreds of people, all running, all with the same goal in mind. You can just feel the energy surrounding you.

Within the first mile the course took us over one of the bridges to Palm Beach, where you could see the orange glow shining over the ocean. The route then took us by the water’s edge, overlooking the bay and West Palm Beach.

Then it was back over a second bridge and onto the mainland. I felt great but would peak down at my watch and find I was running way faster than I wanted to. About 8:30. I’d slow myself down to 9:30 or 10:00. My original strategy going into this was to hover around 10:30 the first 6 miles but I felt good and didn’t feel like I needed to go that slow.

The route then zig zagged through downtown. I was listening to retired Navy SEAL Jocko Willick read his book Discipline Equals Freedom. If you need some running motivation, the deep voice of a former operator telling you to harden the fuck up is hard to beat.

After the downtown meandering it was a straight shot up Flagler Drive, the main road that borders the water. This section was down and back so I knew we’d be coming back down this street. This was the most mentally frustrating part of the race.

A mile or so up this road the race leaders were coming back down the other side. Now it turned into mental guesswork – how much further is the turnaround? Are they slightly ahead and it’s coming up soon? Are they crazy ahead and it’s a few miles away?

Turned out it was the latter. Three fake looking turnarounds later, we reached the actual turnaround. This was about the 9 mile mark.

I had been waiting for this moment. Up to this point I had been slowly losing steam. My easy feeling 8:30/9:00 minute miles had slowed to 10:00. The 9:10 pace group had passed me (their projected finish is 2 hours for a half so beating them was important to me).

I had some sprint left in me, but how much? I din’t want to start too earlier and burn out before the finish. With 4 miles left after the turnaround that felt like the best time to leave it all on the line and go for it.

I cranked up M.I.A. and started hitting a 7:30 pace. I started overtaking people who had passed me. I passed the 9:10 pacer.

2 miles left. I started feeling tired. I kept checking my watch. The miles were flying by before but now they were creeping along decimal by decimal.

I really, really wanted to walk. My mind tried to convince me to rest for 30 seconds and then run faster to make it up. But I knew that was BS. If I stopped I’d never be able to get the same momentum.

I’d give myself a mental boost by thinking about how far I’ve come with my fitness and how grateful I am that I’m able to run and push myself.

I thought about the times I was stuck in a hospital bed with tubes up my nose and zero motivation to even walk down the hallway to stretch my legs.

“Fuck Crohn’s” I’d tell myself, and then run harder.

The last mile was the hardest. There was one final down and back so we had to run past the finish line on the other side of the street to eventually loop around for the final stretch. But again I didn’t know how much further there was to go. It seemed like forever.

Finally I hit the turnaround. Home stretch. I checked my timer. What I thought was a healthy buffer on beating 2 hours was slowly chipping away. 1:57…1:58. I told myself I should just gun it but I couldn’t find the energy to move my legs faster.

I finally hit the chute where it all started and could see the finish line. At the edge of the barricades was Becca – that was the face I had been looking forward to seeing the entire race.

When i could finally make out the race clock I started freaking. 1:59:45.

I sprinted. Whatever my mind was saying before about being too tired running faster was bullshit. There was nothing physiologically holding me back. I hauled ass to beat that clock.

1:59:57

I grabbed on to the first barricade I could find and squatted. The cramps immediately started to set in. My calves, the arches of my feet (that was a new one). I knew I had a few blisters.

Later I’d find out that the clock I was looking at was the ‘gun clock,’ which started as soon as the race started. But I didn’t actually pass the start line until 30 seconds later. So my official race time is 1:59:24.

I hit both of my goals and I couldn’t be happier.

It was a great experience. Putting yourself in an environment surrounded by runners and people trying to push themselves makes you push that much harder. It was a beautiful route. Perfect weather. Each water station was staffed by a different group, so they were all themed and were a lot of fun to see (one was military, one was doctors in scrubs, one was pirates ☠️)

As for the gear, I have no regrets with wearing the vest. Being able to sip water whenever I wanted was really helpful. And when I did hit a water station I’d just dump it on my head to cool down.

So now the next logical question is…full marathon next? After finishing the half and thinking about how I felt the idea that THAT would be the half way point makes me want to cry.

HOWEVER

The Los Angeles marathon is known for being a very good first marathon – it’s one nice, long route from Dodger’s stadium to Santa Monica. And being that we are moving there in a few weeks, it seems like a great way to orient myself to the city.

What is definitely next is the Ragnar Trail Race. It’s in 5 days.

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