So where do I even start with this recap? Well I guess I could start with the fact that this race wasn’t on my radar a few months or even a few weeks ago. I had planned on running Pittsburgh half marathon this year but unfortunately I was hit with a stomach bug the night before the race. It was the first time I hadn’t made it to the start line for a half marathon.
The day of the Pittsburgh Marathon, while I was recovering on my couch and drinking sips of water, I started researching half marathons somewhat close to home. I also only had one weekend in May that was open because we were flying out for the vacation and flying back in the following weekend. So it had to be Memorial Day weekend.
Thats when Wheeling, WV popped up on my radar. Wheeling is only a 50 minute drive from my house and I could pick up my race packet the day of the race. Perfect. I signed up the next day.
I read some reviews on the race and the mention of hills aka mountains kept coming up. This bothered me some but not a ton as I have been doing plenty of hills while training.
Honestly it took me close to week to feel completely better from the bug I caught. I ran four miles four days after the bug. Then three days later I was on a plane to Florida. While there I did a three mile run. I had planned to run twice but my knee was very unhappy with walking around Disney World so I decided to only run once. The day after we flew home I busted out a 9 miler before my body realized it was back in Pennsylvania. I was all set; or so I thought.
The day of the race I woke up at 6:15 when I had set my alarm for 5:30. Of course I initially panicked, but I realized with the race starting at 8:00 am I still had enough time if I could get out the door in 15 minutes. So I skipped my usual breakfast of egg whites and oatmeal and grabbed a Cliff bar and banana to eat on the drive to Wheeling.
Once there I picked up my bib, slapped on some sunscreen and put on my camelback. I lined up at the start line and it was time to go in ten minutes.
That in itself felt like a small victory. Right before we started, I sent a text to my husband, “ I made it to the start line!” He wished me good luck and we were off! The beginning of the race looped around the downtown streets and we passed the start/finish line on the way. This part of the course was pretty flat which I expected. It did feel a little warm and the miles didn’t seem to be coming easy, but I didn’t want to judge my performance just yet. I like to call the first two miles of a half marathon, ‘the junk miles’ as I usually don’t feel so great during those miles.
When I got to Mile 3 I knew that this was where things were going to get serious. Just from what I read, I knew this was where the big hill was.
At the mile 3 mark I also ended up near this amazing woman. She was wearing full military gear and carrying an American flag. She also had pictures of veterans who had died in combat attached to her backpack. It was so amazing to see and inspiring. I definitely had to keep going after seeing her.
Now back to this hill. Well it was more like a mountain. It was over two miles long. Now I had no intention of running this hill to begin with. When I had been training for Pittsburgh I had been walking most of the uphill so it seemed to be the best move.
Everyone around me seemed to have the same game plan as well and were walking. I knew that this hill was going to be bad but it was still taking me by surprise. It was shockingly bad.
I would say to myself as I turned a bend only to see more of the hill. It was seriously never ending. I also started to realize that my walking is pretty slow as I was being passed by other people walking. Or maybe it was that I just wasn’t used to walking hills that are over two miles long.
Eventually my back started to hurt. Now this happens to me when I run uphill or if I’m pushing a stroller uphill but never just walking uphill. I tried to pick up my feet higher to alleviate some of my back pain. Finally I started hearing some loud music and was hopeful that I had finally reached the top of this awful hill. As I turned the bend sure enough I could see a DJ and a water station along with a banner saying that you had made it to the top. What a relief that was!
It felt great to be running downhill again. It was also in the shade which felt great too. Eventually the almost two mile downhill ended and it started to level out. It looked like I was entering a small town, but unfortunately I was also losing the shade from the trees. As I neared the water station at Mile 7, I realized how hot it was. I was also coming up to an intersection and at this point couldn’t see anyone ahead of me. I was confused about which way to go so I asked the police officer directing traffics if I was supposed to go left. He said yes so I made the left turn and continued into this small town.
It was started to get really hot. As I ran past a bank I saw the temperature read 86 degrees. I instantly wished I hadn’t seen that sign. I also had lost satellite reception on my Garmin so I no longer how far I had gone. All I knew if that I had passed seven miles.
Everytime I ran I felt like I couldn’t breath. But when I walked I felt fine. I don’t do well in the heat so this was not the best conditions for me. I decided I would be fine if I walked, but might pass out if I ran, so I decided to go with walking.
Walking the last last six miles was not ideal, but what choice did I have? There was a guy driving a golf cart with a stretcher along the course. I secretly hoped that he would pick me up but when he gave me the thumbs up so I figured I was on my own,
The spectators along the course were awesome and I really needed it. There were severel official water stops but there were also homeowners handing out water, fruit and even beer. I was now stopping at every water stop for water, Gatorade (which I never drink during races but could tell I needed it) and ice which I stuffed down the front and back of my shirt.
Around mile 11 I pulled out my phone and snapped a picture of the mile marker. I saw a text message from my husband “Hope it’s going well.”
”This is complete hell but almost done.” I texted back.
At this point a police officer on a motorcycle drove by and asked me to move to the sidewalk. I have never been in that position during a race and it was quite humbling! Unfortunately there was another large hill at Mile 11 and I was dragging myself up it. When I got to the top I thought I would run the downhill but my feet hurt so badly that it was more of a limp so I decided to keep walking. (After the race I would find a huge blister to explain this foot pain.)
Finally we were back in the city of Wheeling. We went down the street a few blocks and then made a left onto a side street towards the finish line. It seemed silly but I decided to run this part. I guess the pride took over and I didn’t want to walk across. I also happened to have the entire finish line to myself! There were a few behind me and in front of me but I got to have the finish all to myself. There were a few people standing around still waiting and clapping. I started to get a little emotional. It felt awesome that people were still there cheering!
After crossing the finish line I got my medal and felt a bit of disbelief . My finish time was 3:27, which was approximately 45 minutes slower than my slowest half marathon. This course had totally kicked my butt!
I have to say this race was very humbling and made me question my running abilities to the point where I told a friend that maybe I should hang it. She pointed out that I had just had a bad race.
She is right of course. So with a few weeks hindsight I have this medal hanging on my bedroom mirror. It’s a good reminder to keep going even when things aren’t going your way.
Author: Sarah Warman
I like to run, take pictures and write. I've combined all three in this blog.