As I turned a corner and started to ascend up a moderate hill, I found myself running directly behind a man in a grey shirt. Radiating from his back were the words “Pain is weakness leaving your body.” Having already passed the midway point of the half marathon, I welcomed any mental distraction to keep my thoughts away from the hard effort and focused on continuing to charge forward. I repeated the words in my mind a few times — pain is weakness leaving your body — before deciding I don’t agree with them. You see, the pain that comes from doing anything physically challenging that we choose to do when quitting seems more logical is all about strength, not weakness. As each mile ticked by, I thought about the past year. I was transported back to the very beginning — giving birth to my daughter in January. Her leaving my body had everything to do with strength and nothing to do with weakness. Me being out on that half marathon course 10 months after that moment was the same: everything to do with choosing to be strong and nothing to do with weakness. If I could rewrite that shirt, I’d say strength is pain leaving the body. I continued to tap into that strength, mentally and physically, as I made my way to the finish line.
I’ve always said that running is so much more than just running, and that we are stronger than we think. The Seacoast Half Marathon in New Hampshire proved to me, once again, how true this is.
It has been a slow road building back my postpartum running endurance. Running is something that has always brought me feelings of empowerment and strength. After many months of base-building in the Florida heat and humidity and with less energy due to breastfeeding (yes, I’m still breastfeeding), my favorite pastime has honestly left me feeling rather weak. With all easy running plus cross-training and strength work and little to no formal training in the sense of speed intervals and tempo runs, I didn’t really know what to expect for my first postpartum half marathon. My goals for the race were a bit conservative but also very realistic for where my training has been. My heart didn’t quite feel in it as I traveled to New Hampshire, and the biggest question on my mind was: Will I feel a spark after this race that will shed light on what I really want next with running?
Finding the Right Mindset
In the hours before the race, I was slightly nervous. I didn’t know why. The race didn’t mean anything. But perhaps that’s just something I was trying to talk myself into believing. With every race we have that tiny ray of hope that something great might happen, even if we are under-trained. I wasn’t trying to set a PR or achieve a big audacious goal. I was just there to have fun and spend the weekend with dear friends. Why, then, did I have a few butterflies flapping around in my belly?
About 15 minutes before the race started, I received two text messages that sent the butterflies on their way and replaced them with strength and fearlessness.
The first text was from my mom who was home watching Baby rUnladylike. The grainy picture of my sweet girl added some wings to my running shoes that weren’t there just moments before.
The second message was from one of my training partners. She also had a baby about four months ago. This was exactly what I needed to hear.
I was ready.
I thought I could realistically maintain an 8:30/mile pace for 13.1 miles, about a minute per mile slower than my personal best pace. I lined up at the start with that pace group. The temperature was about 26 degrees (F), and the sun was shining. Have I mentioned I live for cold weather running?!? We could not have had more perfect race conditions. When we were signaled to go, I started off with my friend Kara by my side.
I tried to avoid bobbing and weaving through the crowd and focused on feeling comfortable. When my watch signaled we’d made it to the first mile, the number 8:09 was staring back at me. That felt surprisingly easy, I thought. Then the second mile was behind us: 7:53. Hmmm. I felt fantastic. Strong. I didn’t feel like I was running too fast and my breathing certainly wasn’t labored. I’d quickly caught up with the 8:00/mile pace group and decided I would tuck in with them and stay there for a while. I wanted to make sure my adrenaline wasn’t playing tricks on me.
The miles ticked by and I continued to feel good. In fact, there were moments I felt like I was running too slow. I wanted to surge ahead of the pace group but decided I should stick with them. What feels good at mile 4 or 5 often doesn’t feel quite as good at mile 10. If I still felt that good with three miles left to go, I would allow myself to leave them. From the beginning, I knew it was going to be a good day. I quickly knew I was going to meet or exceed my goals. That is a really special thing considering how often the opposite happens. I stayed focused on the pace leader who was running strong and consistently in the 7:50s. Around mile 8 or 9, I could feel the effort setting in. Mile 9 is always the toughest mile for me. I ignored it and kept channeling strength. Pain is strength, not weakness.
The first half of the course was completely flat. As we continued along the back half, I was met with numerous rolling hills. I continued to charge up them without fear or fatigue. Stay consistent. Do not falter. Strength is pain leaving the body.
As the final miles ticked by, I was getting slightly faster. At the 11 mile-mark, I left the pace group and kept charging forward. I was met with a steep hill during the final mile. Who in the hell decided to throw this mountain in right at the end?, I secretly cursed. Keep charging. Kill the hill. Almost there.
At last, I could see the finish, which was at the bottom of the steep decline on the other side of the massive finishing hill. When I crossed the finish line, I couldn’t hold back the tears of joy. It was such an overwhelming feeling. I ran 1:44:33, far exceeding all the expectations I had for myself and my current fitness level.
My Garmin read a pace of 7:52, but with the tangents (13.27) my final average was 7:59/mile.
- Mile 1: 8:09
- Mile 2: 7:53
- Mile 3: 7:51
- Mile 4: 7:57
- Mile 5: 7:52
- Mile 6: 7:59
- Mile 7: 7:53
- Mile 8: 7:45
- Mile 9: 7:56
- Mile 10: 7:53
- Mile 11: 7:54
- Mile 12: 7:48
- Mile 13: 7:49
- Last 0.1 (which was really 0.27 for me): 6:49
After the race, I was met by hugs from my good friends Elizabeth, Sarah and Sandra who were all there with me as part of our Rise.Run.Retreat. race weekend meet-up. I’m not sure if I’ve ever been more proud of a race or more energized to be there with such a phenomenal and inspiring group of women. Perhaps simply being in their presence gave me the extra boost of strength and confidence I needed on that morning. It certainly wasn’t my fastest race, but it may be one of my all time favorites for so many profound reasons.
I don’t think I’ve ever felt so mentally calm and strong during a race. I know part of it was harnessed from my new role as a mom. Even though my daughter is not yet one year old, I want to be a strong mom and role model for her. I want her to know her mom can do hard, amazing things and so can she. Part of it was wanting to feel strong myself and proving I am still capable of more than I realize. Part of it was the joy in this journey. You go through so many changes, make sacrifices, work hard and you can come out on the other side triumphant.
I believe there are two reasons I felt so strong physically. The first was my nutrition. Throughout training, most of my runs were done without fuel. By following my personal silver bullet nutrition strategy on race day, I felt full of energy and never like I was close to hitting the wall. My breakfast was consumed 2.5 hours before the race and included an everything bagel, a hard-boiled egg and raspberries along with 12-16 ounces of water. 20 minutes before the race I consumed 100 calories of strawberry Clif Shot Bloks. During the race I had a Campfire S’mores GU at mile 4 and throughout mile 8.5-9 consumed with water that coincided with the aid stations. I drank Gatorade at all the other aid stations, which were near miles 2, 6 and 11 I believe. The other reason was I came with fresh legs. I only ran twice the week of the race, including one five mile run with some 30-second sprints and one easy three mile run.
The Seacoast Half Marathon: What to Know
I would highly recommend the Seacoast Half Marathon to any runners out there. Here are a few things you should know about the race.
- The temperatures are typically cold, perfect for runners like me who excel in cooler weather. The race organizers do a great job keeping you warm before and after the race by allowing all the runners inside the high school where the race starts and finishes. You can leave gear in the cafeteria using the honors system, and it is so wonderful not to have to worry about bundling up in throw-away clothes for an hour before the race.
- The race logistics are so amazingly simple. Parking was easy at the high school and runners could use the bathrooms inside the school or porta-potties outside. There were no race corrals. With a smaller field, you could simply line up with designated pace groups as desired. Easy peesy.
- The race is not flat although it is fast. I think it would be a great course for a personal best race, even with the rolling hills on the back half. It is mostly flat for the first 6 miles and then has some rollers all the way to the finish, with the steepest hill at the end of the race. The good thing about all the hills is that they are over quickly. There aren’t any long, drawn out gradual hills. There are also quite a few steep downhills as well.
- Although the race is on the smaller side, I had runners around and with me the entire time. The pacers appeared to be running very accurately and consistently.
- There are very few spectators on the course.
- The course is beautiful and scenic. You run along the water in several parts and through some neighborhood streets.
- I don’t think there were enough aid stations on the course. They were supposedly spread out every 2 miles but I believe they were slightly further apart than that. Every 1.5 miles would have been more ideal. It wasn’t a problem for me, but water stations didn’t always match up where I wanted to take my GUs. If hydration is a problem for you, you may want to consider carrying a hydration bottle if you think you’ll need more liquids. Also, the Gatorade on the course was the red fruit punch flavor as opposed to the typical lemon lime. I found that to be hard to take down at times and would encourage this race to shift to a more neutral flavor moving forward.
- You will likely run more than 13.1 miles due to how the tangents are measured, so if you are gunning for a personal best you’ll need to run at least 5-8 seconds per mile faster. The roads are open during the race, which means you have to stay in the right lane for most of the run. Since the tangents are measured all the way across the road, there’s no way to avoid running a bit long. Everyone’s watch had at least an extra 0.15-0.2 miles. I was a little concerned when I read the roads would not be closed, but this wasn’t a problem at all and there were tons of traffic volunteers on the course.
- There are no frills with this race. There isn’t an expo and the medal is nothing to get excited about, but the experience was superb. The race offered an awesome spread of food in the high school afterwards, including pizza, pasta, bagels, breads, hot soup and much more.
- Downtown Portsmouth is a really cute area with great shops and restaurants that is the perfect town to explore and hang out in before and after the race. There is no need to worry about staying within walking distance of the race due to the ease of getting there.
If you’ve ever run the Seacoast Half Marathon in New Hampshire, I’d love to hear about your experience. What race have you run where you felt your strongest mentally and physically?