The weather varied so greatly in the days before the race. I was terrified of rain and, as per usual, the weather channel just couldn't get it right. Saturday was dreary but the rain was only predicted at less than 30% for the 7am race start time. By the time we woke up at 5:30 on race morning, rain was predicted at an increased 90%! Luckily I had hoped for the best but planned for the worst. I started my morning with my favorite pre-run yoga from Yoga by Candace. I was afraid of being starving since I would be awake so long prior to the race, so I fueled up with a half a bagel and coffee before leaving the house. I ate again about a half hour before the race start with my trusty Blueberry Boomdizzle Picky Bar.
We parked in downtown Birmingham and walked through a light drizzle to drop off our checked bags. I decided to ditch my rain jacket, even though it's pretty ventilated and light, because I knew the high 40s temps would have me regretting anything to hold heat. We didn't have time to go to the bathroom, and I was worried I might need to stop along the course (I didn't!). Right around 6:45, the rain got heavier. I was starting to wonder if I should have ditched my jacket. We stood under an awning for about five minutes before filing to the start line in the rain. It wasn't pouring, but it was enough to get my hair pretty damp. I was most worried about my phone getting wet, but the radar was predicting that the rain would only last for about the first hour of the race.
My goal finish time was 2:30 or less. All of my long runs had been on pace for this (mostly with negative splits), and I felt confident. I looked for the 5:00 marathon pacer and planned to stick nearby to meet my goal. Once the gun sounded for the start, it did not take us long to get to the start line. I was expecting maybe 10-15 minutes like the Rock N' Roll Raleigh did, but I think we only waited about five minutes max.
KD and I started off running together. I've learned to go a lot slower than I want to at the beginning of a race, especially a half marathon. It's tough! Between the adrenaline and crowds, it's so easy to start at a quick, yet easy, pace, forgetting that you want to maintain for 13 miles! KD left me around mile one, and I was definitely ok with that since I wanted to pace myself appropriately. The rain was light yet constant. There were a few times within the first three miles that I lost track of the 5 hour pace group. That made me nervous, but I tried to stay focused and remember that I had a long way to go and plenty of time to catch up.
I'm having a difficult time remembering if it was at mile three or four that I finally caught up to the pacer group. I believe it was around mile three, which was when the rain got a bit heavier, I caught up and passed them (never to see them again)! I had some strange left arch problems that would come and go. I always tried to keep an eye on my pace and not jump ahead. Around mile 5, I had a really tight left IT band. There was one point where I almost thought it was going numb. It came and went, and I just tried to focus on my breath. Between miles 5.5 and 8.3, there was a pretty consistent elevation rise. I also did some brief walking between miles 6 and 7 only to drink water and consume my GU. During those miles, I wasn't too worried about how quick or slow I was. I just needed to focus on the end goal.
And focus I did. My official time splits were: 10k 11:10, 15k 11:10 and final 11:02. I met up with KD around mile 11 and stuck with her until she needed a water break. After that I ran my heart out to the end. After realizing I was going to come in drastically under my goal, I started crying. I tried to mess around with music and get in the zone, but it was useless. My mind was only focused on finishing. I finished strong and happy.
My official final time was 2:24:23. This was 12 minutes under my Rock N Roll best time. Aside from general soreness (mainly in my knees, later in my IT band) and being freezing, I felt amazing post-race. I didn't feel sick. I was consumed with happiness. I had worked so hard for this, and I achieved it. I am confident that this is probably one of the best races I will ever finish. Somehow the stars aligned for what ended up being the perfect weather (if the sun would have peaked out, I don't think I would have fared as well), the hills were not near as bad as I had anticipated, and I was strong and confident. It's been a long time since I've seen splits in the 10 minute range, and I am still in awe of how hard I was able to push myself. I'm so grateful I was able to share this experience with KD and visit Birmingham. It was a great weekend full of laughs, pains, and delicious food. I could not have asked for a better race weekend.
For now, I'm enjoying a snow day as an extra reward (and rest time) for my hard work. Then, it's on to the next race, the next challenge.