Monday, October 5, 2015

Her Tern Half Marathon -Recap-

I did it!! 

I ran a half marathon.

In ALASKA!

The Her Tern Half Marathon.

And as mad as I was at myself for once again not training hard enough, I'm pretty darn proud of myself for traveling there and running a half while vacationing at the same darn time.

I'll go ahead and give you a real break-down of the event but I had to start out saying how extremely tough it is training and prepping to run in a different state that requires you to fly there not knowing how you'll handle the climate. Running at home in 110 degree heat and then running there in 60 degree weather was hard to filter through!



--RUNNER'S EXPO--

I knew I was going to love their expo. Basically, because Brooks was one of their main sponsors, and basically, because every vacation I go on, I buy a new pair of running shoes. So, without a doubt I knew I was coming home from Alaska with a new pair of kicks. 

We got there and stood in line for a short while before it was time to grab my packet and bib. The race director was walking around offering people in line coffee and I knew that coffee wasn't the most genius idea for me a day before a race but those around me must have tougher stomachs because that morning, there was a lot of coffee being consumed (it smelled delish!). Once it was "my turn" to get my bib I was kind of giddy. It's always fun to check in and feel like they've been waiting for you. I was grateful they allowed me to grab a bib with a "five" in the number. It's kind of become my thing to always have a five within my bib number (except for the Czech Days run). 

I thought it was cool that they had a map of the race course for all of us to check out. Although I wasn't too keen on their race course I thought it was a great visual to see where I'd be running the next day. It's hard to get a feel for the course when you don't know what direction you're facing but at least I knew it'd be an up and back style course.

After I got my packet it was time to go shopping! With your entry fee you get a TON of giftcards to spend on different goodies at the race vendors. I knew without a doubt those Brook shoes were on my radar so I started off by heading to the shoe section. I was there for a solid half hour, debating between a few different styles of the new Pure collection. I think I tried on one of everything and as much as I love my Transcends I knew I wanted to give a more minimalistic style shoe a shot. So I settled on the Pure Connect 4's and to date, I still love them so much!! 

I also found a fun Nathan water bottle as well, because well, you can never have enough water bottles. Like ever. Never. #dontjudgeme

After picking out all of my goodies and making my purchases for the day I went over to the huge poster and looked for my name. They had ALL of the runners on the cute little banner and after searching for awhile we figured out that they were in alphabetical order and then narrowed it down quicker to find my name! Fun way to incorporate all of the runners and an inspiration to know that I ran with so many strong females!!



--RACE DAY MORNING--

This is the first race I've ever woken up around 7ish for and not felt completely rushed getting ready and out the door for. With our hotel being right downtown we debated if we should drive, it really was only a few blocks away and with me being the only one on the rental car I wasn't sure I'd want to drive after the race.

After getting ready, we walked out the door with a little time to spare. I felt unprepared because I didn't really have an option for breakfast. I typically don't eat before a race anyways but not having that option there felt like I was missing something. I wanted to at least have a piece of fruit of something as an option. But, I went without. We cruised around for awhile trying to find a parking spot and then started to walk towards the starting corral. I was a good two blocks away before I realized that I forgot my race bib on the dash of the car so took off jogging back to the car to grab it. (I told you I felt rushed!)

That's when I realized that my pre-race jitters were sinking in and I was super nervous for a race I wasn't ready for. I originally laid out (and wore) a pair of insulated leggings and a tank but once we got there I knew there was no way after jogging just a few blocks and feeling warm that I was going to want insulated leggings during this race. I walked up a block and hid between two houses to change into my Nike Pro shorts. There's a reason I over-pack and drag so much with me to each race and luckily, it "paid" off here!

Once I was changed I did my quick "pre-race pics" ritual and then started to stretch. It was then, that some pretty amazing supporters showed up and surprised me!

My favorite family members, Pat and Barb showed up to wish me luck at the starting line and I was beyond excited to see some familiar faces there. Being so far away from home I realized that the chances of finding anyone I knew were slim to none but I did tell my family that was up there they were welcome to show up if it fit into their schedule. I ran over and gave them hugs, thanking them over and over for coming to see me. It meant the world to know I had SOMEONE there supporting me. I feel like my running journey is often my own so when I have others there cheering and encouraging me, it makes me proud of what I'm doing. 


I was so caught up in talking with them and finding out their plans for the day that I totally missed the warnings that the race was starting soon and almost missed it. I quickly jumped into the chute and got my Garmin set-up to go run. I waved my goodbyes and took off running, not really being completely prepared mentally due to jumping in late but knowing it was going to be a great run that day!



--RUNNING THE RACE (the course)--

Once we started running I remember thinking alright this is it. This is your official run for Alaska. Soak it in, check out whats around you, and just remember, it's only a race. It's only thirteen point one miles and it'll only last a few hours. When you're done you get cupcakes, mimosas (official post-race food handed out) and then you'll go relax and take a nap in your hotel room. And on that "feel good" memorial moment I found my pace.

Since I did start towards the back from jumping in quickly at the start line I was kind of frustrated to be dodging around people for the first few blocks. It felt like no matter which way I jumped I was spending extra effort to get around people that I knew I'd need later in the race. When we got around the first few blocks we immediately went down a larger hill, took a quick left turn and then hit up a paved trail. 

The trail was pretty neat and I really was kind of jealous that all the "city" runners had such a great place to go run with so many beautiful things to look out. While I'm out training I run either gravel roads and look at corn/beans or I run in Wilber where the town is a whole mile wide so I have to get creative with my routes sometimes. The paved trail wove by a cute little lake, through some pretty cute little "tunnels" that I found silly for some reason and then it hit a gravel trail area. I loved how full of life and green it all was. I imagined just how much fun it'd be running this trail by myself not during a race. Getting to take my time, look at all the nature and see how the seasons change. The gravel trail was just perfect for me. I was hoping the whole race would be like this!

The gravel is when I knew I was finally hitting my pace and strides. I thought I was doing just fine at that point. I found a girl that was a couple feet in front on me and I just kept her stride, I checked it out, we were running an 11ish minute mile so I assumed that'd be great, I'd keep that pace and be alright. WRONG!!

After about fourish miles in with that pace I started to notice pain. Knees, breathing, back. You name it. It started hurting. I hadn't really trained for hills. Typically, I'm a wiener when it comes to hill so I avoid them and take the easier route. This was the point where I started doubting myself and cussing that I was a horrible person for not training, yet again, hard enough! If you look at my stats it'll show that my five was my drop off point.

Anyone who races knows the WORST thing you can do for your mentality of the race is to stop running. 

No matter what. 

Run with that shoe untied.

Let that KT tape hang down your leg.

Hair falling out? Keep running and attempt to fix it.

Well, I forgot this "rule" and my brain was kinda mushy so I stopped. "Just to catch my breath and then I'll be ready to go again" I told myself.

Second thing I did wrong with that race.

I stopped. Never. Ever. Stop. I allowed myself to stop not realizing that I would then put my guard down ad think it's ok to stop again if needed instead of pushing through the pain. This is something new to me and I typically refuse to stop no matter what. But, I tried to get it together and took off. It was hard. Seriously.

I tried so hard to find a rhythm and just couldn't. I steadied my pace but my breathing just wasn't having it and the redic amount of uphill running was killing my knees. I couldn't handle it and remember having to promise myself at XX miles you can walk for .10 miles until I finally reached the halfway point.

I reached the halfway turnaround and grabbed my obligatory water then turned around the re-run that entire same course I just finished. I was starting to get angry at this course and resenting it for being so covered with nature.

The nature was beautiful but my entire trip I was hoping to see a moose. All I wanted was to come home from Alaska bragging about a moose sighting but nothing. Not a single moose that entire course! I looked from side to side trying to scan in hopes of seeing something. I knew that if I spotted one, I'd give myself credit to stop and snaps some shots if possible.

About 3/4 of the way through the course I met up with the lovely Kristen from over at Run Away with Kristen. We were both dying. We just hit the end of the bridge and bam. I am attempting a jog like pace and she turns around and says "Are you Kelsey?" to which I kinda stop suddenly and say "Yes?" and we introduce ourselves and instantly become besties and live happily ever after.

Just kidding.

Kinda.

The story behind Kristen is I put out a call with a few running groups asking for advice on running in Alaska. While setting the trip up I searched high and low for a race that weekend and this one turned out and seemed to fit perfectly. Kristen actually wants to be crazy like me and run a race in each state so we hit it off instantly. I watched her training stories and we encouraged each other from hundreds of miles away. She because a running sister from far away and I loved it. We had planned to meet up before the race but the schedules didn't work. Luckily she still was so kind and full of advice for me with tips from how to dress to where are the best places to eat while in Anchorage. 

So, there me and Kristen were, both suffering and quickly realizing that we were extremely disappointed in ourselves and how this race was going down. We made a pack to help each other and try to really stay positive that we could do it.

Anyone whose a distance runner knows how to bargain with their brain. You know you can trick it by promising "if you run this far I'll letcha walk for XX amount" and you do it. You realize it's not helping much but if you make promises to yourself it helps. So there we were, lets run to this point then rest/walk again. We did great, we pushed ourselves and found so many things in common in ways we coped with our brain to push ourselves.

The thing that stuck out the most to me, was that Kristen and me both used Bible versus to push ourselves. I loved finding someone else who found inspiration in words!!!

Mile ten was hell, we both agreed on it. So we walk/run it and just pushed through the pain. I remember thinking this race was never going to end but she promised it'd be easier after that mile. Looking back, I'm so grateful she was with me. She knew the in's and out's of this course and trained on it. She knew what she was talking about so I trusted this complete stranger ;)

As we were turning a corner we found the famous race photographers out on the course. Everyone knows they're there, everyone hates looking miserable at the end of a long race but we do our best to smile and give them their shot. Nope, not me and Kristen. We decide to JUMP and prove that although we're hurting we're still having fun!!


The course got a little easier but then she reminded me of that huge hill we had to climb to find the finish line. I looked up it and felt a sinking feeling. I could tell she felt worse than me so my cheerleader instincts sunk in and I started encouraging her (and myself) to kick that hills ass. We both apologized for the massive amounts of cussing we were screaming at ourselves but it worked. Her teammates that she trained with were there giving her encouragement as well and we climbed that hill. 

We got to the top and crashed that finish line. I have never been so proud or grateful to finish with a runner next to me as I was with Kristen there. I may have pushed her over that last hill but she pushed me that entire last 1/4 of the course. I wouldn't have crossed without her help!




--POST RACE--

I crossed that finish line, received my medal and bracelet and immediately wanted to just sit but instead found my way to the mimosas and cupcakes tents. I couldn't wait to put fuel back into my body! I rarely eat before a race so at this point I was dead. I needed those extra calories that the frosting on the scrumptious cupcakes had. I earned those calories!!


For me, after most of my races I'm not exactly the nicest person to those who have come to watch and cheer me on. Most family and friends stand there and want to hug me and tell me how proud they are but I unintentionally push them away and say thanks but I need/want my space. I did this and let them follow me around to get my snacks then found a place not filled with people to sit and stretch. 

I'm a huge "nothing gets done and we don't leave until I get stretched out" kinda person. I've learned through my other races that I'm just one of those people that needs to stretch in order to function the next day. I sat in my corner under a shaded tree by the rose garden and ate my little cupcake, sipped on my mimosa and stretched my legs. Giving deets of the course and how I felt to my mom. I commend her for always listening and acting interested in my races. I know it's something that non-runners really don't care to hear about but she's always there with a lot of encouragement and willing to cheer me on through everything. 

After I finished off a bagel, two cupcakes and my mimosa I decided I just hadn't had enough and insisted we walk back over to the cupcake stand for more. I grabbed two more and an extra bagel for mom then agreed we could take off if they wanted too.

We then headed towards the car. We had to of course make a pit stop so I could take a picture next to the sign that said "Delaney Park" and everyone rolled their eyes but it was important to me so they did it reluctantly. Since I was the only one who could drive the rental I had to drive us back to the hotel. 

I got us back to the hotel and then quickly proceeded to our room. I grabbed some ice bags and filled those babies up then plopped down into my bed with every intention of not doing anything until it was time to get ready for my cousin's wedding that evening (the main reason we were in Alaska to begin with).

In and out of sleep I laid there with my ice packs. Sending thank you texts to those who took the time to ask how my race went and posting my pics to social media. I hate sleeping on my back so it was tough but the minute I tried rolling over onto my side my hip started sending stabbing pains up and down my entire body. Back onto my back for a few more hours until it was time to wake up and go shower to get ready for the wedding. 

Overall, post race was a fairly pleasant experience versus races when I'm at home. I got to relax guilt free!!



--RACE RESULTS--

I've learned that getting disappointed in yourself over your race results time is something that can haunt you and make you feel so angry and upset that it's just not worth it. I've always been the type of person that expects improvements and should always be doing better with my times but I forget that each race has it's own experience and training varies drastically. 

At first when I saw my time I was mad. I KNEW I could do better. But after awhile I reminded myself that I came up there looking for the experience of running a half marathon in Alaska. I wasn't there to set records or become an overnight famous runner. I was there to complete a race that most people in the lower 48 don't have the opportunity to do. I was there for fun not competition.

It's kind of funny looking at my pace times. I knew while running I was going way to fast and I was going to burn myself out but I continued to push myself. I knew that somewhere along the course there was a huge climb but I tried my best to keep focused on pushing forward. In the end, always listen to your training and don't try to be superwoman. You'll always fail.



Looking back I'm kinda proud of my 12:21 minute per mile pace. 

That pace included climbing almost 171 feet in elevation throughout the course. That pace included minimal training and last minute sign-up a few weeks before the race. That pace allowed me to get introduced to Kristen out on the course and let me finish with a friend.

As a matter of fact, that pace is an ok pace for me. I'm proud of it and I'm proud I finished my race. Most runners know that not all races are going to be PR races but ironically, most runners don't quit feeling defeated. They push forward knowing that the more they push their body, the more proud they'll be when everything aligns and their next race IS a personal record race.



--OVERALL RACE REVIEW--

To sum up this experience, I loved it. Yes I didn't run as great as I would have loved to but I can now check off Alaska on my bucket list of places to go run. This was my first all female race so I expected a lot more encouragement along the way but surprisingly I didn't get high fives or words of encouragement. I think we were all just trying to survive and make it back for those mimosas. I'm very proud of myself and my running journey. I went on a vacation and ran a race, I learned a lot about myself out on that course and I finally met a blogger turned friend in real life out on that course. Trudging across that finish line together meant so much for me and I am forever grateful for the experience of a lifetime while in Alaska.


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Comments are the most flattering form of letting me know you're reading along! In the blogging world these comments are bigger than "likes" and "retweets" and while you guys are all super awesome forgive me if it takes a couple days to get back to ya'll. I want to make sure I get back to each and every one of you! If you have a specific question by all means PLEASE email me (kelseyhomolka@hotmail.com). Plus, you'll get a faster response from me! Thankie again for reading along and don't forget to Keep On, Keepin Up!