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My first Half Marathon – Vestingloop Gorinchem

Today is the day I’ve been waiting for, training for, planning for, for such a long time. Today is race day! I have taken you all on my journey towards my first half marathon for a little over a year now, but my journey started long before that. I have been wanting to run a half marathon for many years and I registered about five times already. Something always seemed to stop me, but not today. Today is the day I will run my very first half marathon. Maybe it’ll be the first of many, maybe it will be my first and last, I don’t know. The only thing I do know is, it’s happening today!

My preparations the last week’s have been far from ideal. I was supposed to run my first half marathon on February 9 in Schoorl, but it got cancelled due to Storm Ciara. I was trained and ready to go, but no race for me. I saw the plus side, registered for another race that was scheduled four weeks later, added a little more training and after finishing my last long run (18,5k!), I sprained my ankle and got myself sidelined again. In the past two weeks I got two 30 minute runs in and that was it. My physical therapist gave me the green light, but I knew this race was going to hurt more than it should.

Race day preparation

My alarm is set for 7:30, but I am wide awake before 7:00. I scroll around on my phone a bit, check my trusted weather app (it will be 11°C!) and prepare myself to get out of bed. I prepare my breakfast, 2 cooked eggs with toast and gather everything I need. Long tights, a longsleeve shirt, my ankle brace and just to be sure I put my gloves and buff in my bag as well. After getting dressed I think about the 11°C again and decide to throw in a short sleeved shirt and a tanktop as well, you never know. As I pass my rain jacket I figured, that might be handy for the wait as well and throw that in too. 

It’s a one hour drive to the race which starts at 11:20. I have never been to this town before, but Google Maps tells me it’s a 10 minute walk from the nearest parking and just in case traffic or parking is a problem I like to give myself a little extra margin. I leave the house at 9:00, there is zero traffic on the road (it’s Sunday morning, I’m not sure what I was expecting) so I arrive at an almost empty race area at 10:15. It is cold, it is windy and it’s raining so I hide in the changing area while I slowly get ready. The 1K kids run starts at 11:00 and more people slowly start to arrive.

I postpone dropping off my bag until the last moment, because that also means giving away my warm vest. Right as I want to get up to drop my bag off I decide to put my tanktop on underneath my longsleeved shirt. Camelbak off, longsleeve off, tanktop on, longsleeve on, Camelbak on. Alright, that’s it. I’m dropping off my bag and getting in line for the dixies! While I’m freezing in line and doubting my choice of clothing I realize the start of the race is in less then 10 minutes. Finally it’s my turn. Don’t look, don’t breathe. The starting area is on my left, but I turn right first while I go for a very short warming up. As I line up at the very end of the starting line I do some final stretches. Suddenly I hear the countdown and feel very unprepared. My music, my Garmin, nothing is set yet! 10, 9, 8, Garmin is ready, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1… Oh boy, here we go!

Who needs a neat flat lay when you can have a messy 'thrown together'?

The race

As the race starts I quickly realize everyone around me wants to go a little faster as I do. I have sworn to myself I was not going to go out too fast so I let everyone pass me and pick my own pace. I slow down a bit, smile at the photographers and run along. The first part of the race goes through the city center and some spectators are already telling me to keep going. I’m a little confused since I’ve just started, but I soon realize that I’m running all alone. The rest of the runners are way ahead of me and there is a thin tail of runners a couple of meters in front of me. I try hard to not try and keep up with them. My race, my pace. There is a 3,5 hour time limit, use it if you need to. No rush.

I planned a 5 minute run, 30 second walk ratio to spare my ankle a little bit, as far as that’s even possible while doing a half marathon. But, since I never really practiced run/walking I was a little uncomfortable taking that first walk break. This is a race, what would people think? There was also a guy on a motor cycle right behind me that appeared to be my partner for the next few hours and I did not want to startle him. I’ve skipped the first walkbreak and started the second walkbreak a little to late, but I finally take my break. The motor guy didn’t drive over me and no one looked at me weird. I think. I’m focused on the road ahead.

Garmin Livetrack is allowing my mother and a few friends to follow me every step of the way. Since no one can actually be here, this really is the next best thing. I get a message from one of my friends telling me not to go out to fast. Yes, I know I’m going too fast! But I’m losing them! Them being the two bright and yellow ladies that are getting smaller and smaller in front of me. I tell myself that if I just pace myself correctly, I’ll pass them later on. I know it shouldn’t matter, but it kind of does. I slow down a little anyway, I need to pace myself.

At 1,5K I’m passed by someone who seems to have missed the start or something as he’s clearly going a lot faster as me. He kindly tells me we’re almost there and I sarcastically laugh at him. Not sure what he was expecting here so I let him be. At 3K I’m wondering why I entered this race, am I really going to do this all on my own? Why? Medal, there will be a medal waiting for you. Also, you’ve been saying you’re going to run a half marathon for years now, do you really want to have to say you started the race, but stopped because you felt lonely? Did you drive up here just to fail? What about all that training?? Good talk, I’ll just keep going.

We’ve left the city of Gorinchem and are now running alongside the river. It’s cold and windy, it’s started raining again and there is nowhere to hide. I am not dressed appropriately. Small turns in the road make the direction of the wind change from blowing into my left side to a little more into my back. It’s something. There is now a van driving behind me and a truck somewhere a few hundred meters in front of me that’s actually tailing the rest of the runners. I have my own personal guidance. There are zero spectators on this part of the route and I don’t blame them. Some cyclists that pass me cheer me on, some seem to wonder what the hell I am doing and why is there a van driving right behind me. The van bothers me. It’s not that it’s not keeping enough distance or getting in my way at all, but I hear it. I hear it accelerating and slowing down, again and again. It takes me a really long time to realize I shouldn’t be hearing the van as I should have music in my ear. The music is vaguely there, but it’s definitely dying on me. Great timing.

I pass the first water post at 5K and I feel bad for them. They are waiting there just for me, but I have my Camelbak and no intention of taking water from the stops, I prefer many short sips over a few big sips. I consider telling them, but what if I run out of water? As I run towards them I point at my bag and the message is understood. Thumbs up, all is good.

More words of encouragement arrive at the 7K mark: you’re doing great, 1/3 done! Oe, that sounds a lot better as 14K to go. I know it comes down to the same thing, but running a half marathon is a mental game and that is definitely true today. I need all the mental boosts I can get. I pass a lot of lonely volunteers who are there to direct traffic and runners, or in this case, to reopen the road as soon as I’ve passed by. Most of them start clapping or say something encouraging as I pass by. I try to smile, wave or simply raise my hand at them to show my appreciation.

I see a car of the organization driving towards me a few hundred meters away. He parks the car across the road blocking it almost completely. Is this it? Are they taking me out of the race? Are they fed up with me? They can’t, they advertised with a cut-off time of 3,5 hours and I’m still on schedule to finish well below 3 hours. I have my speech prepared, I will not quit this race! But, the car has moved and started to drive away again well before I arrive there. False alarm.

I’m finally getting the hang of this run-walk-run thing. I somehow kept missing the walk alerts and just kept running. While I was wondering when my next walk break would be, the watch beeps and tells me to start running again. Crap, missed it again. I use the run alert to start walking and try to keep it at 30 seconds without an alert. I’ll do better next break. This leads to me constantly checking my watch, but I am not remembering the times where I start walking or running, so I don’t even know what to look for. But, I check it again. Slowly I find my rhythm.

At 10K there is another water post, I point at my bag again to show them I don’t need the water, but this time I’m also offered a piece of banana. Why not? The banana is a bit soggy from being out in the rain, but it’s still good. After two bites I feel full and want to get rid of it, but I don’t. I finish it and will be regretting that for the next 5K as I still taste it and am now a little nauseous. Nothing new on race day! When will I learn?

The final 5K

The very boring and hard part is behind me and I’m heading back into the city. Civilization is back and the volunteers are less spread out, which is very helpful. I come up towards a point I recognize, I passed by here already in the early part of the race. Soon I can see the start/finish area on my left, but I know I’m not going left. I’m doing a tour around the city first and that means I’m turning right. This is the pretty part of the race. But, as my left ankle started protesting at 16K and my right knee is somehow also mad at me, I’m mainly focused on putting one foot in front of the other. This part of the race also has mini hills that feel simply brutal right now. 

The roads are just small walkways now and my companion van has been replaced by the motor cycle I saw earlier in the race. He’s taking some different routes though as he’s not able to pass everywhere. I turn a few corners on my own and get a little confused. Are those stairs? Yup, I’m going down stairs now. Everything hurts! Who does this? Why am I doing this? Keep going, you’ve made it this far, you can do this last bit as well. I’m completely ignoring the run/walk alerts on my watch now and simply walk when I feel I need to. Which is more often as I’ll admit. Sorry, Coach Jeff!

The guy on the motorcycle is waiting on me at the next turn and kindly tells me it’s just 2K from here. Just 2K. Just 2k?! In my head I have many responses ready, but none of them are very nice. He’s been very friendly though and it’s not his fault that my legs don’t want to move anymore. I desperately yell something along the lines of “I don’t wanna..!!”, he laughs, I laugh and that actually helps a bit. Moving on. Just 2K left!

I see the van that was with me for part of the race part along the course and as I pass it I look inside. I see a smiling face and a thumbs up and I smile and put my fist up to show I still have some strength left. Am I trying to convince them or me? 

As I keep going I start to recognize the area from my walk from the parking lot, finally I see the start/finish area. I hear the race speaker and am able to make out a few words “last runner”. Oh, there waiting for me! I’d like to think I speed up a little bit here, but my Garmin clearly says otherwise. A few more turns and I finally arrive at the race area. All the volunteers I’ve seen along the way have gathered around, the music has been turned up and people are smiling and waving at me. One more small and slightly painful downhill and then just a few more turns. Go, go, I’ve got this! Finally I turn towards the finish line and I feel relieved. This is it, this is what I’ve trained for, I’m doing it! I will finish this half marathon! Many people have told me along the course “You’re going to finish this” and now I am. I’m fighting back tears, unsuccessfully judging by some of the finish photo’s I’ve seen so far. The race speaker is counting down the meters and I’m finally able to smile. Hands up in the air. I MADE IT!! 

After the finish

I’ve been taught not to stop directly at the finish line to allow others to pass and have their finish line moment, so I keep running. Not only is this a very small finish area, there is no one coming behind me. Well, apparently there are two motorcyclists that joined me. Who knew? There is a lady with a lot of medals trying to get my attention, yes that’s where I should go. She puts the medal around my neck and I think she’s expecting words from me. I have no clue if I even said anything, but I definitely smiled. Can I get out of here now? I’m cold! I try to walk away, but the medal lady grabs my arm and points at a photographer. I give him the biggest smile I can manage and looking back at the pictures I’m happy she gave me that moment.

I walk towards the bag pick up, get my bag and head towards the changing area. There are a few people left and as I walk in I look defeated at them. But, I smile because I finally caught up to the ladies in yellow!

I’m getting messages from the people that were following me, but I am focusing on me right now. I need my recovery drink before I cough my lungs out and I need to put on more clothes. As I sit there it’s not really sinking in yet and I’m just going through the motions of preparing to go home. But I just ran a half marathon!

As I’m finishing this race report three days after the race, the muscle ache has not left yet. My ankle is a little unhappy with me, but definitely doing better as expected. I’m taking some time off to let it fully recover and in the meantime I can figure out my next steps. I ran today’s race in 2:51:35, below the 3 hour goal I had set for myself and I am very happy with that. But, I’m pretty sure I can do better. And I will.

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