Week of firsts

This weekend, I ran my first half-marathon!

As running became part of my normal routine in Spain, I decided that I’d probably want to train for a half-marathon when I returned to the U.S. My original plan was to do the Rock ‘n Roll Denver half marathon on October 17, but thanks to running group and my friend Maria (the real star of this post), I opted to try a trail half-marathon for the challenge and the scenery.

I am so glad that I chose this race to run! I really enjoyed it.

Race day beginning

Did I mention that my dad also decided to run this race with me? Well, for whatever reason, he did. So, on race day, Dad and I got up at 5:00, ate our respective breakfasts, dressed in our chosen attire, and drove to the parking lot to wait for the shuttle bus that would take us to the start/finish.

It was dark. And cold. So cold. So very, very cold. I had doubts that I would ever warm up, even after the race started. I’d chosen to wear some new racing tight capris and a short-sleeved tech tee. I also had a sweatshirt to leave at the start/finish line.

We met my running friend Maria at the start and I grabbed a cup of coffee just to hold to my body for warmth. I tried to move, but I was numb all over. So cold. The 50k and 50-milers started at 6:30, and the sun had just started to peek up over the horizon. There was a mist coming off of the lake that was both eerie and beautiful. After we watched them head-off, I became very anxious to start running so that my body would (I kept telling myself) warm up.

It seemed like eternity, but eventually there were only 5 minutes until our race. I very reluctantly parted with my sweatshirt and strongly felt that I should have worn a long-sleeved shirt.


Maria and I started together, we had planned to run together. You might remember that Maria is normally faster than I am, and leads the way (sometimes with considerable distance) on our trail runs. That dynamic began to shift ever-so-slightly because she ran a half-marathon not too long ago and never really let herself rest afterwards. Ever since then, she’s been really tired and got kind of sick. So I wasn’t sure how she would do at this race. However, I was sure that I had trained well, that I was as ready as I could be, and that I was excited to run.

My goals for this race were far from lofty. My only goals were to enjoy myself, finish, and feel like I did my best. Oh, and not fall (I was shocked that I’d made it through all my training runs without falling, I hoped to also make it through the race.)

The Race

I thought running with Maria would help me start strong, since I feel like I tend to conserve too much energy sometimes. At the beginning, we didn’t push ourselves too hard, but I felt like our pace was strong. We ran side-by-side and chatted about boys and life, just like our normal training runs.

I used my watch to know (approximately…it’s been acting up lately) how far we’d gone, but I didn’t check the pace too much. Doing that would have involved thinking a lot about how fast I was going, doing some math calculations to figure out how fast I needed to go, and these were all added pressures I didn’t want. It was a beautiful morning, and I wanted to enjoy the scenery and the run.

The first five miles flew by. Eventually my arms, legs and feet regained feeling. We kept chatting and slowly passing people ahead of us. We wound around the trails and headed up to Mt. Carbon, the steepest climb of the race. The mist off the lake was all around the mountain and it looked very ominous. I might have been intimidated if Maria and I hadn’t run it a couple of weeks before. In her eternal positive attitude, she kept reminding me that we’d already done it and it was no big deal.

As you know, I’ve been running trails. Hard trails. Trails that have mountain climbs of over 1.5 miles at a time. These are not easy runs. This tiny little Mt. Carbon—pretty much a hill in the middle of a flat trail—was not going to conquer me. And I expected the rest of the runners to feel the same way. I trained so hard on hills for this race because I was convinced that other trail runners would be hill masters, gliding up the hill with grace and ease, and knocking over any sucker that stood in their way.

Imagine my surprise when these runners—pretty much every last one of them—stopped and walked up this hill. Walked. Walked?

Many things went through my mind at this point. I wondered if walking uphill was some sort of trail race strategy that I had not heard about. I wondered if my hill training would sustain me on such a long run (the vast majority of my longest runs had been mainly flat). I wondered if these people just didn’t train as well as I did.

In the end, I ran up that hill and passed a few people (easier said than done on a one-track trail) while doing it. I could have walked with the rest of them, but I knew mentally that I needed to just keep running. Giving myself permission to walk when the going gets tough makes it hard for me to push through other times when I feel tired. (It’s like in Eat Pray Love when she talks about giving yourself permission to fall apart, and how you shouldn’t do it because it will become a habit. Walking on a hill is my equivalent to a mental breakdown. Or, at least it makes sense in my mind that way.)

At this point, I lost Maria. She was still battling a horrible chest cold, so she had to hang back a bit.

After Mt. Carbon, the trail weaved back through some of the shady, tree-covered parts of the course. And we did some creek crossings. Maria and I thought that we’d done the creek crossing during our training. A cute little creek you have to hop over with the aid of some rocks! Nope. The crossings we did involved having to wade through with water up to your knees. Not once, not twice, thrice.

Thank goodness for my moisture-resistant socks! (Yeah, right.)

After the creek crossings, the trail wound out into the open grasslands. We ran up two more hills (by we, I mean I ran up the hills while those other wussies walked) and then the trail went pretty straight and flat for a long time.

This was about the time it got mentally tough to stay in the game. I was tired. It had warmed up. My pants were pulling at the bottoms where they were soaked. My left hip began tightening up and aching quite a bit. I wasn’t exactly sure (due to faulty watch) how far we had left. I knew it was somewhere between 1 and 3 miles.

And then I fell.

Was it rocky? No.

Was it hilly? No.

Was it overly crowded? No.

Was there ANY good reason for me to take a tumble at that particular point? No.

Were there people to see me? Yes.

Luckily, I went down at a sandy part of the trail that was actually quite soft. The guy behind me helped me up and I just kept going. My entire right side was covered with the dusty evidence of my trip, but other than that, I was no worse for the wear. So I kept going.

And, I realized that I felt good. Besides my hip (which I chose to ignore), I felt like I could continue for at least three miles. In fact, I wasn’t completely sure I wanted the race to be over quite yet.

I picked it up a little. I began to pass a few people. Again, I mistakenly thought that when we got closer to the finish, other people would give a final push and start going past me. That would have been my cue to push it myself.

But then we ran past a volunteer who said we only had an eighth of a mile left, all downhill…and no one even sped up!

Except me.

And this other lady who ran past me (that I caught at the finish.)

I saw the finish line and went into a dead sprint. My mom was there cheering and I ran in to the end!

After the race

(Maria, Me, My Dad…in my hand my ice pack.)

My time was not amazing. However, I felt great, even though my hip finally tightened all the way up and I could no longer walk without a limp. (When I went to first aid for some ice, the guy told me my “muscles were weak”…something I didn’t appreciate hearing after I’d just powered up those hills!)

Maria came in about 5 minutes later, and my dad finished…after a bit.

Then came the highlight of my entire day: I was wandering around eating half a bagel and a burrito and some cookies and drinking some chocolate milk and Gatorade and icing my hip, when a guy came up to me and said, “Wasn’t that you we were pretty much running with the entire time?”

I did not notice this guy, as he looked like any other guy (brown hair, white shirt) so I gave him a blank look.

“You came in at about _____, right?”

“Yes,” I said.

“I was really impressed with your hill running! You ran every one of those hills!”

If you know me, you know I love compliments. And that one absolutely made my day.

Later, Maria and I started talking about future races. There’s a 10-miler in the same park on October 30 that’s supposed to be really hilly. I want to do that one, and I already signed up.

Maria says we should get out the calendar and decide how many races we want to do next year. She said this year she did 5.


I knew she did one other one, but I had no idea she’d done FIVE. She wants us to do the same amount next year, plus some new races she wants to try. Then she tried to convince me to do a marathon in July and some two-day bike race in August and at least one triathlon in September!

I’m not sold on the marathon thing yet, but I am definitely interested in doing a triathlon someday. It’s amazing how you meet people and they open you up to new things. I absolutely love trail running, and had I not met Maria and the other girls at running group, I never would have realized what I was missing.

I will post my time and results once the official results are up on the website. Patience has not been one of my virtues today.

Other firsts

Today is my first day going to hot yoga. I’m actually horrible at yoga and often get asked if I have some sort of disability while trying it, but I really want to get into it.

Today is also my first official vegan day. I’m hoping to hold true to it at least until Thanksgiving.

Breakfast: Puffins cinnamon cereal with almond milk and half a grapefruit.
Lunch: Grapes, peanut butter and banana sandwich (on vegan bread), carrots and hummus.
Dinner: “Beefy mac”—whole wheat macaroni pasta with corn, kidney beans, onion, red pepper, and meat-like soy crumbles.

I also got a small amount of coconut ice cream to try. Best. Thing. Ever!


About juliemcg

Marketing, writing, editing, traveling, social media-ing woman from Colorado.
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One Response to Week of firsts

  1. Lauren says:

    YOU DID AMAZING!!! The hardest part about the first half (and every half) is just NOT walking. As soon as you train your body to get used to NOT WALKING, you can continue to run….and run…and run…and I know you can do a marathon if you put your mind to it. Good job, especially with soaked running shoes. 🙂

    PS – I love hot yoga and coconut ice cream.

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