It's Not the Same Race at All: How the Front of the Pack Differs from the Back of the Pack

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This is not the recap I had planned on writing. I adore Runner’s World, that is clearly no secret around here. I’ve had nothing but fantastic experiences with them and their races. But the post I’m about to write isn’t just about the Runner’s World Heartbreak Hill Half Marathon. It’s about what I’m unfortunately going to assume is the reality of the majority of races out there.

runner 1

Now, let me preface this recap and rant with the following stats:

I’m not a slow runner. I’m certainly no elite, but my half marathon PR is a 1:40:xx. I’ve run a 21:00 5K, and hell, the morning before this race, I ran a 24:xx minute 5K. I’m not headed to the Olympics, but I’m certainly a regular in the front half, if not sometimes the top 10% of races. I can hold my own, and I’m fortunate that it comes pretty easy to me (i.e. I don’t train like I should).

My finishing time for the Heartbreak Hill Half Marathon was a 3:31 (more on why below). I finished 3065 out of 3074 runners. I was 9 people away from being the very last finisher (chip time, not physically, but I suppose that doesn’t really matter).

runner 2

I know what it’s like to be at the very front of the pack, and now I know what it’s like to be at the very back. And it’s not the same race at all. And for people who pay the exact same entry fee, who run the exact same distance, and who stay within the allotted finishing time and pace, to not have the same experience as the front of the pack makes me really sad, and honestly, kind of angry.

But let’s start from the beginning.

The second I woke up Sunday morning I knew I was in trouble. I was covered in sweat, my throat was sore, I couldn’t stop coughing, and my stomach was turning. It was only 5:45 am, but the sun was already glaring. I immediately started panicking: feeling like hell before a half marathon is never a good sign. But not being one to quit (in other words, I’m far too stubborn) I got out of bed and started getting ready. I yelled over to Katy & Theodora’s room, asking, “MOM, can I take cold medicine before a half marathon? Because I already did.” I worried about my liver and my kidneys, but knew I was hydrated and there was no other way I was going to get out of bed without some sort of medicine in me, so I took the risk. All of the girls assured me I’d be okay, so I bucked up and finished getting ready.

The entire way to the start line, I put on a happy face, but I had a horrible feeling. 13.1 miles isn’t a daunting task for me, but this morning, I was fearful.

(Though you probably couldn’t tell by this pre-race photo.)

runner 3

Everyone had their own plan for the half marathon, but a handful of bloggers decided they were going to take it easy, and hover in the 2:00 – 2:15 corral. That worked for me, so I lined up with them. I don’t remember much about the starting corral, other than it was crowded (in a good way, what a great turnout for the inaugural race!), and before long we were running.

I immediately fell behind. I was surprisingly okay with that. There are times when I can turn off my inner-competitive self and just get work done.

Or so I thought.

The first mile was so hard, but I attributed it to the fact that it was the first mile, and sometimes you just have to suffer through it before your legs warm up and you fall into a comfortable stride. This unfortunately never happened. At about a mile and a half, I started getting dizzy. The sun was already pounding on me, and everything just hurt. For once in my life, the smart motherly part of my brain took over. Instead of harping on myself to suck it up and “STFU,” I started reminding myself that this was only a race. I was sick, there was no denying it, and running 13.1 miles was just a stupid idea. Why risk getting sicker? Why risk something even worse? I resolved to myself that I would make it the next half mile to the medic tent at mile 2 and pull myself from the race. And it would be okay.

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