Baystate Half Marathon

On Sunday, 10/19/14 I ran my first race since my injury last April. It was an amazing experience, unlike any other race I’ve run. Over the last year my good friend Kate got bit by the running bug. She declared herself a winter runner and endured the nasty frigid weather this past winter to keep up with her training. She was training for a spring 5K. The plan was to run it together, but I was injured two days before the race.

The morning of the 5K it was pouring out and unseasonably cool. Kate didn’t seem to mind the weather. It reminded me a little of my first 5K which was also on a cold rainy day. I cheered for her as the race got under way and I was there at the finish line. I am not sure who was more excited! I was grateful for the raindrops because they masked my tears as she crossed the finish line. Those darn finish lines!

Finish lines are emotional and also infectious. Kate decided her next goal was to run the Hartford Half Marathon in early October. We put a training plan together to start in July. I was very hopeful that I would be healed and able to run the race with her by that time.

Half marathon training began as the summer really heated up. I was still not really able to run for more than a mile and Kate absolutely hated running in the summer heat. It was difficult on her breathing and she simply didn’t like how it felt. Also it was challenging to fit in the training runs with the kids home for the summer.

As Kate’s self-appointed “running coach” I suggested backing off on long runs over the summer and just doing what felt comfortable. This applied to both of us. We began incorporating strength training “boot camp” sessions into our routine once a week since we could do it while the kids played or were at camp.

The week before the kids went back to school Kate and I talked about the race. Neither of us were feeling great about how our summer training went and we were a bit nervous to run Hartford on October 11th. I looked up other fall half marathons and we decided on the Baystate Half Marathon a week later in Lowell, MA. Somehow having that extra week to train made us both feel better. We set up a new training plan and as soon as the kids went back to school we began with a new focus.

Kate struggles with asthma. This causes her some anxiety during her runs. For the last couple of weeks of summer I encouraged Kate to work on her breathing rather than pace or time. The goal was to run comfortably focusing on breath exclusively with emphasis on taking in air slowly and evenly and breathing out fully through the mouth. By the time we began incorporating long runs into our training again Kate was feeling more confident with her breathing.

The rest of our training went very smoothly. Our long runs were amazing. We ran by time rather than distance with the ultimate goal of completing a 3 hour run before the race. This was Kate’s goal time. Most of our training runs were on hilly terrain. The 3 hour training run involved a detour off of our intended course, traffic along the roads we ended up running, wind and rain. Kate did an incredible job on that run. It was a very consistent pace with few stops. I was confident at that point that she was ready for the half marathon even though we still had two weeks of training left at that point.

The half marathon training was as much for me as at was for Kate. My Achilles felt better by August, but there was a phantom like discomfort and a twinge of fear every time I set out for a run.  I’m not sure if Kate understands how grateful I was for the opportunity to run with her. For all of the years I have been running, I have never run with a friend. Running with fear of re-injuring myself was extremely stressful, but having Kate running next to me was a comfort. If something happened I wouldn’t be alone. Along the way something else happened, I learned to really enjoy running with someone. I looked forward to our training runs and I miss them now that the race is over.

Kate and I made a weekend out of the race. After our boys’ soccer game on Saturday, 11/18 we drove out to Lowell together. We picked up our packets at the race expo. I am a total running geek. I love the expos, but usually I’m rushed along by my husband and son who aren’t into the experience of wandering around running gear, demos and products. Kate and I were looking forward to taking in the whole expo, but it was small and rather uneventful. So we checked into our hotel room and found a local place for dinner.

I think we were both feeling a bit nervous about the race. Being the rock stars we are we were in bed by 9 o’clock! I got up bright and early around 5 to begin my pre-race rituals. I really am a running nut! I forgot how much I missed my Vega Pre-Workout Energizer drink that tastes like ass, but makes me feel like I just had three cups of coffee. I also welcome any opportunity to eat an entire packet of Justin’s honey roasted peanut butter with my pre-race banana. We headed out around 6 a.m. because we weren’t exactly sure about parking and road closures.

Of course we found the parking garage fairly easily. We followed the flow of runners to the Tsongas Center where they were having race day packet pick up. Kate wanted to exchange her shirt for a different size so we went in and were thrilled to find that they were allowing the runners to hang out and use the facilities. It was chilly outside, but all signs were pointing to great running weather.


Ready to go

Ready to go

We hung out until it was time to line up. The race started promptly at 8 a.m. It’s a big race with a large number of full marathoners. The Baystate Marathon is known to be flat and fast so it is a great qualifier for many Boston Marathon hopefuls. We were lined up on the right for the half marathon and full marathons were on the other side of the barriers to our left. I was hoping Kate didn’t notice my eyes tearing up during the national anthem #runningdorkalert. I felt so grateful to be running again and especially to be racing.

Starting line at the Baystate Half Marathon

Starting line at the Baystate Half Marathon

However, this race was about Kate. I was there to offer support and to pace her to finish at her goal time. I had a plan, but I didn’t tell her because I didn’t want her to argue! I knew she was more than capable of finishing the half marathon in under 3 hours. I wanted to push her a bit in the last half up to mile 12 to make sure she had a cushion of time during her last mile. We set off at a steady pace, but a little faster than normal. I kept checking in with Kate. I encouraged her to slow down if necessary. I didn’t want her to lose steam before the halfway point.


Along the course

Along the course

We ran with another woman for quite a while. The three of us chatted easily. She was running alone and we all cheered each other on. It was a double loop course so when we got to the halfway point we had to run the same course all over again. Kate was doing great and by my mental calculations we were right on track with a sub-3 hour time. By mile 10 I think she was getting a bit annoyed by my Katie Couric-like chipper positivity and my torture encouragement. The course had a few hills, but nothing close to what we encountered in our training. Kate was doing better than she knew. I really pushed her throughout mile 11 and 12 because I wanted to afford her that cushion for her last mile. I don’t think she liked me much, but when we reached mile 13 and I announced that we now had 20 minutes to run that last mile I think I was back in her good graces. I encouraged her at the end to finish strong and surge over the finish line. I was beaming as we ran down the chute and the time clock came into my sight.

Kate’s official time was 2:53:40!!! She ran a solid, consistent race. It was an amazing effort for her first half marathon. I am so proud of her dedication and commitment to training for the race. I was truly honored to be a part of her experience. I’m hoping this is just the first of many races to come.