pee break + road kill + puking a little = half marathon success

CHICAGO — I planned this race out more than any I’ve ever done.

This race, however, did not go according to plan.

Backing up a bit: I took the Megabus to Indianapolis on Thursday night and crashed with my oh-so-generous friend Tom, before heading to my old co-working space, The Speak Easy. I got to have some of my old favorites — Hubbard & Cravens coffee, lunch from The Fresh Market (yes, I liked grabbing lunch at a grocery store), popcorn on Fridays with my friends at the space — and I enjoyed working the Halloween day in costume. It was good stuff.

Race morning started off well, except for the part where Tom’s dog Bailey stole my bagel. Actually, that was amazingly entertaining, and I was more than happy to make another. Other than that, the morning was uneventful: It was windy, but I waited out the cold in a hotel lobby, sipped on coffee and water and went over my race plan.

Apparently, I overdid the hydration. I thought it was nerves at first, but in the first mile, it became clear: I had to pee. Well, damn.

I decided I’d go at the first port-a-potty, because I’d get rid of the distraction and it would be early enough in the race I could somewhat easily make up whatever time I lost. The first stop was late in mile 2, I believe, but I wasn’t alone in needing an early pee break. There was a line, but I had committed to the stop, so I bounced in place waiting for an opening, eager to get going again. In the end, it cost me a minute and 20 seconds, which was really frustrating. As I picked up my pace, I ran past at least half a dozen guys peeing in bushes and quickly getting back on the road. I had to wait 1:20, and you guys just whip it out on the side of the road for a few seconds. Not cool, bro.

After the race, I looked at my splits (I tracked the run on Map My Fitness), and I ran a 7:27 minute/mile 3 — that’s pretty absurd, given my race average was 8:31. I had made up the lost time by mile 4, but I had gone a bit harder than I planned. Still, to stay on track, I had to keep pushing.

I settled in, and around mile 6, I pulled out my gel for my mid-race boost. As I was taking the delicious chocolate-peanut butter gel (by far my favorite Hammer gel flavor), I stepped on something. It felt weird. I was swallowing a bit of gel when I heard people behind me go, “ughh,” and I turned around.

My foot had squarely struck and sunk into a dead squirrel. Keep in mind that I’m eating here. I had just started taking in the gel, and I immediately lost any desire to finish it.

With 7 miles ahead, I needed it. I choked it down, disgusted, and tried to forget about it. (Obviously, I haven’t.)

After the roadkill incident faded (as much as it could), I started to feel good. Really good. I was ahead of pace, and I set a PR pace at the 15K timing mat. Every mile was its own little race, the sun was getting brighter, the streets of Indianapolis were getting prettier, and I maintained a strong, smooth stride.

Of course, that feeling never lasts. It shouldn’t. It’s a race. Still, I didn’t expect to spontaneously vomit in the 12th mile, which I did. I swallowed a bit of it, spit some of it out, but mostly coughed my way back to my breathing pattern and focused on getting to the finish line, where I looked forward to washing out my mouth. Yuck.

I crossed at 1:51:25, a 10-minute, 10-second PR over my previous best, set at the 500 Festival Mini Marathon in May. (That was a 36+ minute PR over my first half marathon the year before.) Tom met me at the finish line, at which point I showed him my watch and said, “I did it,” followed shortly by, “I puked.” He laughed at me and said, “Yeah, that’ll happen.”

When I started training for this half marathon, my goal was to break 2 hours. As I worked through my training plan, 1:58:00 became an attainable goal. Several weeks ago, I went to lunch with a triathlete friend of mine, who responded to my goal with, “That’s great, but do you think that will be too easy?” Her comment stuck with me — she was encouraging, didn’t want me to overdo it, but making sure I didn’t sell myself short — and after another two weeks of training, I figured I could reasonably shoot for a 1:52:00 half marathon. It would be tough, but I could do it.

So crossing the line at 1:51:25 — after a pee break, a near vomit-inducing encounter with roadkill and some very real vomiting later on — was gloriously rewarding.

The rest of the weekend was similarly fabulous: Very little beats a hot shower and nap after running, and the post-race beer was even more enjoyable. Then there was the night with friends, more delicious beer, some end-of-night Netflix bingeing and a whole lot of smiling. I came home happy, still in love with running and excited to keep pushing myself toward new goals next season. It’s nice when hard work pays off.

Last thing I want to say about this experience: Many thanks to Matt for supporting me through training, as always. It’s hard to fit in long runs and recovery to any schedule, and I know my training sometimes took the place of more fun plans, but there’s nothing better than having someone to cheer you on, hold you accountable for your goals and share quality couch time when it’s time for a rest.

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