My First Half Marathon

The air is cool, and the sky is gray. The sun is yet  to be seen, but the energy level around me feels like 10,000 suns. 

7:15am and Seaport Village in Long Beach is packed with thousands of racers around me – I wonder how many of them are like me, running their first half marathon in a few minutes…? I knew a smile was forming on my face, and tried to wipe it off while slow down my breathing and heart beat,  but the excitement is just overwhelming…

I’ve always loved running. From running to the bus stop every morning in primary school, to running both track and cross-country in high school – the sense of serenity with wind on my face, scenery passing me by, and the satisfaction of finishing a distance (any distance) always gave me an amazing ‘high’. But improper care over the years (stretching, warm-ups, getting good running shoes – all those things  that I DIDN’T do) led to my orthopedist telling me in 2008 that I should stop running for good – some sort of patella degeneration. I tried to enjoy swimming and biking, but back in my mind I have always wanted to run again, someday.

For Christmas last year, my wife Julia bought me a book on *proper* training for a running competition. I started to do more squats, stretched, and warmed up properly before every run. My knees weren’t hurting as bad as before 🙂 Back in April, a few friends asked me if I was interested in signing up for the Long Beach Half Marathon… So the official training began in May, and here we are – five months later at the starting line.

After the National Anthem, we had our sixty-second countdown. From all my training the past few months, I knew I can do a 9 min 20 sec /mile pace for a 13.1 mile run (2 hour 3 min time) , but also wanted to see if I can push myself a bit further – a friend told me to aim for 8m50s/mile pace, but being crazy that I am, I secretly wanted to see if a completion time of 1 hour 50 minutes was possible. So I knew I should be around ‘wave #1’ at the start – for those trying to finish between 1 hour 16 minutes – 2 hours 09 minutes.

My plan before the race was simple: run miles 1-8 at  ~9min00s/mi pace,  miles 8-11 at 8m30s/mi pace, and finish the last 2.1 miles with whatever turbo-energy that I could summon…

The horn goes off.

I noticed that I have chills down my spine, and goosebumps on my arms for almost a minute. That’s how exciting the start line felt. Immediately following this initial rush, right away I noticed a crucial mistake – though I was at the right general vicinity of ‘wave #1’, I planted myself around the sub-group that of racers trying to finish at 1 hour 35 minutes – on my right was the pace racer with a balloon that reads 1:35 tied to his pants. Too late to just stand still, so I moved along the group. Even though I tried my best to pace myself purposely SLOWER than the rest of this sub-group, it proves to be impossible with the energy around me – even at my forced slow-down rate, I ended running miles 1 and 2 at around 8m30s/mi pace.

Miles 3-9 ended up around a 8m40s/mi pace.

At mile 10 I noticed my breathing was no longer controlled – I wasn’t able to summon the energy that I needed to speed up to a pace under 8m30s. Miles 10-12.5 was around an average speed of 9m20s/mi pace. 🙁

With about .5 miles to go, I finally summoned enough adrenalin and excitement to push myself to a 7m28s/mi pace, finishing the race.

My final time of 1 hour 56 minutes, 39 seconds turns out to be about an average of 8m54s/mi pace.

Five personal records were broken:

10k                             53:06
15k                          1:20:50
10mi                        1:26:58
20k                          1:49:49
Half Marathon         1:56:39

If I get to do the same race again, I think I should stick around the back of wave #1, perhaps around the pace racer for 2-hour finish. Nonetheless I am very proud of being able to finish my first-ever half marathon at my time. Next is a few days of rest, before I decide what my next race will be (and start training again)!