I’m aroused from slumber by the soft sound of weeping from the hallway. I look at my phone, 3:30 A.M. Still time to sleep before my 5 A.M. alarm. I hear my friend comforting her son, and feel for her. She is running as well and clearly her sleep isn’t going smoothly. I snuggle down to fall back asleep when it hits me, “My Garmin!”. I forgot to plug in my GPS watch last night. I jump out of bed and get it charging. Although I’d never wish a nightmare on a 4 year old, this one was a blessing.
Meet Virginia, I Can’t Wait To
I groggily roll out of bed and start to get race ready. I am not a girl who spends time getting pretty even on the best days, so races take me no time to prep for. I throw on my clothing, rub some chapstick in prime chaff spots as I’m too cheap to buy Body Glide, and head downstairs for a soda. I had missed the expo, but Katie had grabbed my packet for me. She was already in the kitchen, ready to go. Katie, my old college friend, had also picked up distance running after graduation. She had moved to Virginia after grad school, and she invited me to run the Fredericksburg Historic Half Marathon. I eagerly accepted, both excited to see her again and run my first half marathon. My first half attempt, which took place in Disney World, failed when a thunderstorm cut the course in half. Katie and I finished our morning caffeine and headed to the race.
We arrived before the bulk of the crowd and secured a good parking spot with ease. With time to kill, Katie introduced me to Wagman’s, her favorite grocery store. Her pre-race ritual is a hot chocolate and a muffin, and I agreed to give it a shot. I ordered a small hot chocolate and we split the oversized muffin. I am not normally a dairy drinker, and although it is never wise to try something new on race day, I like to live on the edge a little. After breakfast, we used Wagman’s lovely bathrooms to avoid the port-a-potties, then proceeded to the start line.
My nerves start to kick in as we near the starting corrals. Unlike my first half marathon attempt, the weather was perfect this morning, so barring injury I was going to succeed. The start was well organized with large markers to indicate anticipated finish times. I was aiming for a 2:15 finish, which was different from Katie’s goal, so we hugged, wished each other luck, and enter our respective start zones.
Left on my own my nerves really went into overdrive. Starting corrals are always the point you start to overthink the race. What if I get lost? What if I get injured? Did I pee close enough to the start time? What if I have to pee again and I can’t find a port-a-potty? How exciting would it be to finish faster than I anticipate? How sad will I be if I’m slower? How will I react if I end up running next to a celebrity? What if aliens abduct me and I don’t get to finish? What if, what if, what if. Although these thoughts typically quiet the more you race, I believe everyone experiences them during their first race. Except that fear about needing to pee, that one remains.
I’m literally shaken out of my internal reveries by a loud BOOM. The beginning of the race is marked by a cannon fire, which although fitting for a military race, is horrifying when you aren’t expecting it. Immediately my thoughts switch to run mode, and I take off across the start line.
The course is lovely, highlighting the best of Fredericksburg. There is lots of support from the crowd along the entire route, along with official aid stations. Strangers handed out orange slices, water, beer, and even shots of Fireball. Although I know how to handle my beer off the race course, I cannot imagine drinking alcohol while running, but more power to those who can! My cop father instilled a strong sense of “stranger danger” in me, so I do not take the goodies offered by the crowd. Official race support staff handed out Sport Beans, which I do accept. While running up a hill I pass a homeowner blaring “Eye of the Tiger” to power runners up the incline. In the historic downtown section there are people in period costumes doing Regency dances. Odd, but entertaining. I was having fun, and more importantly, feeling good.
However, Murphy’s Law is always waiting in the wings. At mile 9.5, a dull ache in my hip starts to appear. This wouldn’t be fun in any race, but the Fredericksburg Historic Half has a famous element that still loomed ahead of me: Hospital Hill. At mile 10, you start a 1.5 mile long incline in which you gain approximately 200 ft. Despite my hip pain, I was determined to conquer the hill. I am able to run the majority of it, although my pace does dip.
By the time I reach the top, my hip is screaming. I start massaging it hoping to work out the pain. The water stop at the top has Marines lined up to “encourage” you, which in military terms means yelling. I guess I looked as bad as I felt, because instead of tearing me down, a Marine gently said, “You are doing great, keep at it.” I could see in his face he knew I was in genuine pain. I’ve never responded well to negative reinforcement, so his kindness was the inspiration I needed. Had he yelled at me I probably would have gotten mad and walked longer. Instead, I start running again, trying to ignore the pain, and I cross my first half marathon finish line 2:06:50 after starting.
I take my medal and graciously accept all the goodies the Marines hand me. Water, Powerade, fruit cups, bananas, trail mix, potato chips…so many tasty treats! I had not planned on having a beer after the race since it was so early, but that immediately changes once I exit the finisher shoot. My hip is in so much pain, I crave some free Mich Ultra pain relief. While limping towards the beer tent, a heavenly angel from a sponsor’s table says “ice pack?” I eagerly accept the pink gel ice pack with some company logo stamped on it, and thrust it in my spandex shorts against my hip. I didn’t care that I look crazy. I’m in pain, and the cold feels great. I continue my journey to the beer tent, get my drink, and finally sit down to rest.
I have some good conversation with fellow finishers in the beer garden before heading to the meeting spot Katie and I had picked out. I stretch while waiting for her, and greedily shove potato chips in my mouth. I do not crave sweets at the end of a race, but I do love to replenish my sodium. When Katie arrives, we continued to sit and snack, before heading back to her house.
After a shower and a nap, Katie and her family treat me to a fantastic Indian dinner. While exiting the restaurant, we both instinctively stop at the sidewalk’s edge, trying to figure out how we are going to tackle the minor step off the curb. The pain in our quads and hamstrings has appeared. We make eye contact, and both burst out laughing. Runner’s life, you either love it, or loathe it.
*Author’s note: This race truly was amazing. I both highly recommend it and would run it again. Plus, they gave free race photos, which means I got gems such as this…
Race: Fredericksburg Historic Half
Location: Fredericksburg, VA
State #: 1
Chip Time: 2:06:50
Age group: 117/462