The Celebration Half Marathon in Celebration, Florida was on my mind back in 2016. I determined to be ready for the January 2017 race but in July I sprained a ligament in my left knee after a kickboxing workout.
Ligament sprains are challenging injuries because they take so LONG to heal. And I ended up re-injuring my sprain again in October. Celebration Half 2017 was not gonna happen for me.
But the desire to run my first half marathon never faded away. It just continued to move with me as I moved into more of my life. Running January 2018 could have worked…if 2017 hadn’t been so crazy full. I had no time to train as my life pulled me in many directions, from resurfaced health challenges to a fuller professional life and personal life.
The mental and emotional space I needed to prepare just didn’t exist.
But fall 2018 yielded what I needed, starting with a six-week fitness challenge at my kickboxing gym. That process propelled me into losing nearly 15 pounds, 1.3 percent body fat and pushed me closer towards my first weight loss goal of 25 pounds.
A core belief of mine is that the less I weigh, the better running will be on my body, especially my knees and feet. Letting go of fat that I don’t need so that I could run faster became a motivator to get rid of it.
At the close of the fitness challenge October 29 I knew that if I wanted to be 2019 Celebration Half ready, I’d need to start training that week, using a 13-week plan from Track Shack.
I entered the journey and decided to start with walking and move to interval miles, where I’d run for 30 seconds and speed walk for 30 seconds.
I put in the miles each week, along with the cross training of kickboxing and rest days, and slowly my 5 feet 10-inch frame began to build greater endurance for what would become the biggest fitness adventure of my life.
Months after the six-week challenged ended, I continued the nutrition plan of focusing my diet around macronutrient meals to continue my weight loss. I eat lean protein, veggies, and healthy carbs for breakfast and lunch, protein shakes for snacks, and lean protein, veggies, and healthy fat for dinner.
I heard a fitness expert say, “You can’t out train a bad diet.”
Those words are so true. Exercise will get you some places. But nutrition will keep you there.
Two weeks before the 2019 Celebration Half, I did my longest set of interval training miles – 22 miles total for the week – with 12 miles done on a Saturday run. That run changed my life because it showed me how far I’d come in my journey.
I averaged a 13-minute mile almost half of those miles. I’d never done that before. From the end of mile three to the end of mile seven, I ran faster not even feeling it, moving from a 14:21 average pace per mile down to a 13:55 average pace per mile. I kept looking at my pace like, “what IS happening here!”
My body was telling me it was ready for Celebration. Race day finally arrived on Sunday, January 27, 2019, at 7 am. And with it, much hilarity ensued and some great lessons learned:
Half Marathon Hilarity
- I accidentally washed my wireless earbuds in the washing machine days before the race. The buds were in a zipper pocket in a running jacket from an earlier training run. I forgot I left them there. But I had a backup pair of wired earbuds that got me through the race.
- The weather for this race felt like it came straight from the pits of hell! Straight up. It was about 54 degrees but felt more like something in the almost high 40s. Rain fell the entire time. Winds blew consistently. Of all the days for this kind of weather, did it have to come during my first half marathon?
- I felt like I got initiated into legit running with this race. With what I had to endure because of the weather I’m grateful I persevered.
- My conversations with God as I ran: My attempt at begging: “Lord, could you just make the rain wait until this afternoon?” As the wind blew my poncho almost over my head: “Really God! C’mon!” As the rain hit my face horizontally: “This is NOT okay!”
- I taped my running shoes with duct tape. It 50% worked for a few miles. One of my Orlando Black Girls Run! sisters encouraged me to duct tape my shoes before the race, to help keep the rain out. I also looked at some pictures from another runner’s blog about rain racing. I felt so proud of my taping skills. Until the top flap of tape plopped off my right sneaker after mile three. I should have followed the full instructions from my BGR sister and taped the whole way around my shoes. My bougie self wanted to be cute. Wet feet for 10+miles made me learn my lesson.
- My conversations with myself. As I neared the starting line: “I’m actually one of those crazy running people now. Who runs in the rain.” As rain and wind pummeled me: “I am crazy for doing this. I must be crazy. THIS is crazy!” As my quads, hamstrings, knees, and calves started tightening because of the cold: “Mel, you got this. Keep pushing through.”
- The nine-minute bathroom break that felt like the rapture. After mile two, I saw a bathroom spot that wasn’t a porta potty and headed for it. Putting my RunKeeper app on pause, I waited in line and realized just how soaked by the rain I was. My poncho was not holding up well. After fighting with a tissue roll that wouldn’t start and trying to decide do I hold onto my rain-sogged gloves or put ’em in the trash, I finally exited only to discover the crowd of racers that had been running/walking outside before was all gone. Minus one lone walker. It felt like the rapture had happened. I knew I had to get moving fast! And by mile four, my intervals runs caught me up with more racers.
- My introvert loved the quiet moments of racing. If there’s one thing I loved about Celebration 2019, it’s that fewer racers were on the road because of the nasty weather. Which meant more space to have distance between oneself and other people! Man, that was so good. This race was quieter, even peaceful at times like the miles over the boardwalks, through palm covered forests and little marshes.
Half Marathon Lessons Learned
- Hand warmers in gloves are no match for rainy conditions. The warmers were great in the car. But soon sputtered out from their heat effectiveness as the rain soaked everything clinging to my body.
- Duct tape 100% of your sneakers all the way around twice. The tape is strong, but the consistent drip-drip of rain will eventually affect its fortitude if you don’t tape your shoes well.
- I should have clipped my toenails like I said I was gonna do the night before the race. I ended up not clipping because I was lazy. But the added length of nails that should have been clipped added to my soggy, slightly stressed feet during those miles. A tiny bit of something can agitate you the whole way.
- When racing while raining, wear the heavy $4.99 poncho instead of the 99 cents one. In my mind, I thought I would move faster with the 99 cents poncho. In reality, that cousin of the plastic trash bag slowed me down more. I got soaked and spent more time fighting with it.
- Or just wear a light-weight, hooded, waterproof rain jacket. A jacket like this would have kept more of me dry yesterday. Some runners can run in the rain, but running drier is a motivator for me.
- Stretch more in cooler weather. I moved my legs around a bit at the starting line and did some good stretching the night before the race. But I didn’t factor in how the cold, wet weather would make my muscles clench up. And man, did they clench up by mile four. I had trained in cold and even windy weather, but not cold, rainy, windy weather. It felt like my body was doing double-duty – to keep me warm and face those miles all at the same time.
- Make sure you have a waterproof runner’s belt. My belt for longer miles with two water bottles attached is amazing. But in the rain, it fell short. I assumed it was waterproof when I bought it. But during the race realized it was not. Luckily I packed a ziplock bag for my phone and that kept it dry.
- Have a backup to capture your running stats. Runkeeper hit a crazy glitch as I entered mile 11. And dropped all my stats, except for the miles I’d put in and the calories burned. More on that below in the “L” Award section. If you really wanna track your movement, could be good to have two apps recording your splits, pace, and time.
Mel’s MVP Awards…If I Could Give Some Out
- My legs and feet are the true champions. They endured over four months of training, physical endurance, and pain and showed up for me well during my race. I wish it wasn’t so cold and my body didn’t have to fight off the elements AND focus on energy and performance for those miles at the same time. But my body got me through because it was ready. Honorable mention goes to my core, arms and my lungs! I crossed the finish line at 3 hours 55 minutes but I’m deducting nine minutes for my bathroom break, so my finish time is more like 3 hours 46 minutes. I wanted to finish at 3 hours and 15 minutes, but I did well, in light of the weather.
- My close friend and sistergirl Jessica. Jess decided to train with me back in fall 2018, to encourage me towards my goal of doing my first half marathon. She did many early morning runs/walks on cold days and some longer runs too. She also drove me to my race and drove me home. I couldn’t have done Celebration without her.
- My night before race dinner and pre-race meal. My chicken burrito from Chipotle with the needed carbs of rice, two beans, that tortilla, and the protein, veggies, and fat set me up well for Sunday. I don’t get to eat burritos like I used to but when I can, I use the carbs well for exercise prep. My pre-race meal was half a ruby red grapefruit and a serving of raw almonds. The small meal kept my energy high just before my first GU gel.
- GU gels are amazing. Energy gels don’t work for everyone. But I tested GU gels out in my training and they work amazing for me. Chocolate Outrage is my fav. It tastes just like chocolate fudge. I need four gels to power through 13.1 miles, taking a gel every 40 minutes after my workout begins. These gels kept my energy up and boosted me at the right times.
- The cheering squad along the race route. The half and full marathons take place throughout neighborhoods in Celebration. Many residents cheer on racers from their front porches and yards. Some even set up little stands with water and energy snacks for extra encouragement. These people are just awesome. I found that in the moments I needed that extra push of encouragement, I’d turn a corner and see a smiling face, hear a “You got this, you’re doing so well” and it would keep me going.
- The half and full marathon racers. There were several racers who saw me towards the end of the race, and as they ran past they encouraged me with “Good job…Fight for it…You’re doing great.” That blessed me. A lot.
- The race volunteers. They were out there in that cold, wet, nasty weather right along with us. Cheering for us at water stops and encouraging us too. I am thankful for them.
And The “L” Award Goes To…
- Runkeeper for failing me miserably at mile 11. I entered mile 11 with a good average pace of 15:57 and over three hours into the race, considering my feet were soaking wet, I was drenched and my legs were tight. Then my Runkeeper app lost its mind. It started saying I was averaging a three-minute mile, which was impossible AND that I was minutes into my activity, which also was wrong. Maybe the GPS reading hit a glitch? My splits and average pace were gone from the record. Disappeared completely. Two things the app did continue tracking were my miles and my calories burned. Hours later, the splits came back in the app but not the average pace for the entire run.
I ran and finished my first half marathon. I did it! I’m beyond proud of me. It’s not just that my body had to commit to this process. My MIND had to. I believe if your mind commits to it, you can do ANYTHING.
One of the sweet gems from the race yesterday that hit my heart with truth is seeing different pieces of clothing discarded by runners throughout the course. Runners often will lay gloves, shirts, and even jackets on the ground they no longer want, as their bodies heat up in the race. Holding onto things you don’t need can slow you down.
The practice of laying things down speaks powerfully to many things in life.
If you don’t need it, lay it down.
If it slows your progress, lay it down.
If it’s not functional for you to have it anymore, lay it down.
I’ve laid down a lot on my road to Celebration: A loss of 23 pounds. Four percent of my body fat. Unhealthy rhythms with food due to stress, life, and adulting.
As I ran to get to this goal, I picked up some of my own gems too: A stronger, leaner self. Fueling my body with wisdom. Saying ‘yes’ to healthy intentions.
Cheers to a memorable first half marathon experience. I survived!
And the momentum continues for my next one. I have my eyes on the Orlando OUC Half Marathon this December 2019, Lord willing and the creek don’t rise.