Saturday, Sept. 1 started for me at 5:30 a.m., with a bowl of cereal, a banana and a cup of coffee.
And nerves. Nerves - butterflies in the stomach, the urge to run to the bathroom "one last time" five times more than I needed, compulsively rechecking my race bag to make sure I hadn't forgotten anything, like my shoes - were a big part of the morning.
Having never run a half marathon race before, I wanted things to go as smoothly as possible. And they did.
My official time for the Ringside Fitness Marquette Half Marathon was 2 hours, 11 minutes, 19 seconds, meaning I came in 96th in the race and 29th in my age group of 20-29 year olds. Considering I originally hoped to finish the course in 2 hours, 30 minutes, I'm ridiculously pleased, and not because I'm a fast runner. I'm just faster than I thought I could be, which is an awesome feeling.
After breakfast and a final inventory of my race bag - packed with socks, shoes, a water bottle and a container of petroleum jelly to coat my blister-prone toes - my mom and I set out for an easy bike ride over to Presque Isle Park to watch the start of the full marathon and marathon relay starts and then get me in line for my race.
Since I normally run on my own or with one other person, running with a big group of people is part of the fun of doing a race. In the beginning when everyone is running in a big pack, it's interesting to observe other people's running styles - some with earphones in their ears, some talking on their cell phones telling family members where to watch the race from, some gliding effortlessly to the front of the group at 7-minute miles. I didn't get to observe those for too long.
That's one of the dangers, too, though.
When you're around other people who are running fast, you want to run fast, too, which makes it all too easy to burn out mid-race. Luckily, in my prerace researching frenzy I came across multiple articles that cautioned against such behavior, so I convinced myself to not sprint.
It's hard when it seems like everyone is passing you.
But for me, the race was ultimately about myself and how well I could do compared to what I had done previously.
Immediately after the starting gun went off, my nerves also disappeared and the morning became about watching for the next mile marker and watching for volunteers I recognized - the organizers and volunteers for this race are amazing. The first six miles seemed like they went by in no time at all. When I got up to mile 9, however, and realized I had four miles left, it became more about keeping my breathing at an even rate and ignoring my aching muscles.
Halfway crawling up the last hill at Presque Isle to the end seemed like the longest part of the race for me. At the bottom of the hill by Sunset Point, however, just when I was thinking I wasn't going to be able to do more than limp across the finish line, an unbelievably kind fellow half-marathoner began to pass me and encouraged me to keep my pace up.
"Look happy when you cross the finish line," she said. "They're going to take a picture of you."
She said she was training for a full marathon in October in Chicago and I don't remember her name, but I hope she does spectacularly. She helped me finish strong.
People keep telling me now that I've completed a half, I'll want to move on to a full marathon. I'm not sure how true that will be for me, but maybe. After all, I never thought I'd run a 5K, much less 13 miles. And if I can keep up this 10-minute mile pace, I might qualify for the Boston Marathon when I hit age 60.
I will, however, do other half marathons, and I'd do the Marquette Half again without hesitation. The work put in by the organizing committee and the hours spent by the volunteers, the spirit and encouragement of the other racers, makes it an experience I would love to have again.
Johanna Boyle can be reached at 906-486-4401. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.