Race Recap: Woodrow Wilson Bridge Half Marathon

Tears came to my eyes as I crossed the finish line yesterday. It was cold and rainy, my legs were so tired, and it was my slowest marathon yet.

But they were not tears of sadness or frustration.

They were tears of happiness, of pure pride in what I’d just done.

* * * * *

I recently wrote that I do not love to run; that most of the time, I don’t even like it. But, whenever I decide to take a break, it keeps drawing me back. I started running my sophomore year of high school, which means that I’ve been running off and on for more than half of my life now. That’s a long time to do something you don’t even enjoy all that much.

* * * * *

We woke up at 4 a.m. on Sunday. We had to drive just over a half hour to get to the buses that would take us to the start. The night before, we laid out all of our clothes and planned what we were going to eat and drink and take with us. Sunday morning, I got out of bed, got dressed, went downstairs to eat a couple of waffles with peanut butter and drink a couple of glasses of water.

We got to the buses early and ended up on the second bus. We got to the start almost an hour and a half before the race was set to begin. It was still completely dark and in the mid-40s. About 45 minutes before the race, it started to drizzle a little.

At 7 a.m., we got on line to drop off our gear bags. I was deciding between my usual running jacket or the rain jacket I brought with me. The rain jacket doesn’t breathe as much, so I decided to just wear the running jacket. At that point, it had stopped raining.

We walked over to the starting area about 10 minutes before the start and I lined up in the 11:30/mile section. Although I’d done a lot of my training runs this time around (certainly more than before the half marathon this past March), my pace on all my really long runs had been in the 12-12:30 range. I usually went faster on race day.

At that point, my feet were completely numb and the numbness was starting to work its way up my legs. By the time the gun went off, I could barely feel anything below my knees. I was so nervous that I’d trip over my own feet or twist an ankle that I started off pretty slowly. I figured eventually I’d warm up and pick up the pace a bit.

* * * * *

When I first started running road races, my goal was always to set a PR. Eventually, I was running 5Ks so frequently that I knew some days would be better than others and I could tell when conditions would be ideal for trying to set a PR and when they weren’t. But for longer distances, I would have to specifically train for that race and expected to improve on my previous time if I’d run that distance before. Otherwise, all that training was just a waste of time, wasn’t it?

Last March, I didn’t have a great race. I had skipped quite a few of my midweek runs and just wasn’t prepared for the race mentally. I ended up walking a lot of it once I got to mile 7 or so and was pretty miserable. I felt like I’d failed, although I knew it was because I hadn’t focused on the training. I ran the GW Parkway Classic 10 Miler about a month later and did better, but still not great. After that, I took a couple of months off from running.

* * * * *

I didn’t see the first mile marker, but when we came upon the second mile marker I did something I’ve never done before. I didn’t look at my watch. I was just starting to be able to feel my feet again. I was running slowly, getting passed by several runners. I was passed by runners were were easily 30 years older than I was. I was passed by runners who probably weighed 100 pounds more than I do. I was passed by a runner who had a 7 month infant at home (I eavesdropped). I was passed by a runner who was skipping rope the entire race.

And I made the decision at that point that I might not set a PR, but damn it, I was going to run this whole thing without walking a single step.

* * * * *

My training for this half marathon started in mid-July. Other than a few laps around the block during boot camp, I didn’t run at all during May or June. This was the first time that most of my runs were done outside, rather than in a gym on the treadmill. Instead of distracting myself by watching episodes of West Wing and having a fan cooling me off during the run, I had to run in the heat and on hills, with nothing but Adam and my thoughts to distract me. And most of the time, my thought was, “how much longer?”

* * * * *

I first looked at my watch at mile 5, because there was a clock and it was just unavoidable. I was just over 12 minute pace. I would need to pick up the pace a bit if I didn’t want this to be my slowest half marathon ever. I knew the last few miles were hilly, so I didn’t want to push the pace too much, but figured I could drop off about 30 seconds per mile. I ran the next mile in about 11:30.

Just after mile 6, the rain started to pick up again. I was cold and wet, but I didn’t mind too much. My pace slowed back down, but I didn’t mind that either. My goal was to run the whole thing. I was almost halfway there.

* * * * *

Training this time around was a little bit different. I whined and complained less than usual about running. We had family coming to visit us one weekend and, knowing we didn’t want to disrupt our plans with a Saturday long run, we got up early and ran 8 miles before work on a Friday. Although I didn’t do any strength training or cross-training — which I’ve determined from past experience is key for me being in my best running shape, the mileage alone is not enough — I regularly got in at least two midweek runs, something I did not do for my race earlier in the year. But still, I fought some real mental battles. I dragged myself to the gym to slog out 4-5 mile runs on the crappy treadmills (we were so spoiled with the ones at our old apartment building). Our 12 mile training run last week was especially tough. My head just wasn’t in the game and we walked more of it than we ran.

* * * * *

The bridge that is the race’s namesake starts just before the 9 mile marker. The bridge is 1.1 miles long; just over a half mile of it is a steady uphill. I just kept chugging along. It actually wasn’t nearly as bad as I expected.

Once we got to the other side, we had to run up a ramp that went over the roadway to the other side of the bridge. The hardest part of the race for me was the hill at mile 11. My legs were starting to get stiff. But I kept running. I shuffled up that hill, one foot in front of another, passing people as I went. There were spectators there and one of the runners said, “This is the worst part.” And a spectator responded, “This is the best part! This is what you trained so hard for.”

This IS the best part. My god, it hurt, but I had trained for this. This is why I signed up for half marathons and ten milers; this is why I head to bed early on Friday nights so I can get up early for a long run on Saturday morning; this is why I packed running clothes on vacation.

I can’t just go out and run 13 miles without preparation. It’s a physical and a mental challenge. One I had accepted and was tackling head-on.

This is why I run.

Those last two miles were unlike anything I’d ever experienced in a race. The rain was coming down harder. Most of the final mile was on dirt and gravel and rocks. Yet, I waved and smiled at every camera I saw. When I crossed the line, I didn’t look down at my wrist to stop my watch and check my time. I looked right at the camera and grinned, with tears in my eyes.

* * * * *

Not everything in life has to be fun to be worth doing. There’s something to be said for setting a goal, and working to achieve it. For pushing through when conditions are terrible and it would be so easy to give in and give up, but finding the mental toughness to fight through and come out the other side even stronger. For finding something that forces you to dig deep and learn things about yourself you never knew. For being proud of yourself.

This is the best part. This is why I run.

* * * * *

Distance: 13.1 miles
Time: 2:43:22
Pace: 12:29/mile

2 Comments

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2 responses to “Race Recap: Woodrow Wilson Bridge Half Marathon

  1. Pingback: Race Recap: Woodrow Wilson Bridge Half Marathon | Part 1: Choosing the Race | rebeccarunsandwrites

  2. Sarah

    AWESOMENESS!!!!