It’s so simple. Running is the perfect metaphor for life. You get out of it pretty much exactly what you put into it. So when I train hard and strong I get a really great race in return, and maybe even a PR. When I train half-heartedly and make excuses for myself, I struggle and I suffer. No matter how long I run I suppose I need refresher courses in this lesson every once in a while. The Laguna Hills Memorial Day Half Marathon provided such a lesson.
Let me start by saying that this is a fantastic race. I’m so glad we signed up and actually ran it. The only reason we did was because Brad wanted to find a half marathon for us to run other than the Disneyland Half. We get in this pattern where we train really well for the Dland Half, run it, and then we don’t run as diligently until June or July of the next year when training starts up again. So Brad’s philosophy was that we should sign up for a race in the spring that would keep us on track. Good idea Brad. It sort of worked 😛
The morning started off… early. Here I thought getting up for a runDisney race was brutal, but that’s like sleeping in compared to this. In an effort to save money, we decided to forego getting a hotel in Laguna Hills the night before the race and instead would drive down the morning of. The difficult part of that scenario is that the race started at 7:30, Laguna Hills was over an hour away, and we had to be there an hour early to pick up our bibs. The night before the race we set the alarm for 4:00 and snuggled in for essentially a nap.
Luckily there was no traffic on the way down, and the race starting area was easy to find right off the highway. It was a beautiful morning for a race!
Lots of activity at the starting line. I was impressed by the turnout!
Sleepy, but ready and rarin’
Morning bathroom time. We all need it. We don’t like to talk about it. But for runners, it’s a very crucial part of your pre-race prep. Unfortunately neither Brad nor I had to use the facilities until we’d already arrived at the registration area. Even more unfortunate, the bathroom lines looked like this:
This picture doesn’t accurately depict how long the lines were, but when ya gotta go… Every time I run a non-Disney race, no matter how good it is, I’m somehow reminded of why runDisney reigns supreme. At the start line for all of the runDisney races I’ve participated in, I’ve never waited more than a few minutes to use the loo. These lines were a good 20 minutes long. *Sigh*. They can’t all be Disney.
The real bummer about waiting in this line was that it forced us to start the race late. They counted down and runners started running, but we still had to go! So by the time we got started running, the race course looked like this:
Just a handful of stragglers bringing up the rear. The race was chip-timed, so it didn’t really matter, except the whole point of running a big race is to feel the energy of that big crowd. I wore my shirt that reads on the back: “Dear God, Please let there be someone behind me to read this” and I was actually worried there might not be! I really didn’t want to run in last place so I put on some speed to catch up with the crowd. In hindsight that was a mistake. Never burn too much fuel in the beginning of a race.
The first few miles of the race were lovely. We ran through a quiet residential neighborhood in Laguna Hills. I believe it was actually a retirement community as there were several lovely retired people sitting out on their front lawns to cheer on the runners. Honestly, there is nothing better than cheering, enthusiastic, spectators. Ok, maybe there are some things better, but it’s really high on the list. One of my favorite parts about a race is getting cheered on by a stranger. There’s something so pure and hopeful about it. A total stranger willing the success of another total stranger. It’s as life should be.
This was a combo race. In other words there was a 5k, a 10k, and a Half Marathon, but they all started at the same time. So as we approached the three mile marker a lot of people cheered to the runners, “You’re almost done! You can do it!” I giggled as I heard a lady next to me reply, “No we’re not!” because I was thinking the exact same thing. Combo races are deceptive. I started the morning thinking this was a large race. By the numbers, it was. About 8,000 runners participated I believe. But as we ran on it became clear that most of those thousands of runners were doing the 5k or the 10k, and a somewhat small number of crazies were running on to the Half Marathon. I was worried that it would actually be a really small percentage, but as we passed the 10k turnaround, I felt relieved to be in the presence of a still solid group of runners. Probably about 1,000 half marathoners would be my guess.
You can’t quite get the right perspective from the pictures, but this race had hills. Not crazy hills. Mild rolling hills. I know that I shouldn’t have been surprised, given that the race was called the Laguna Hills Half Marathon, and I wasn’t really; I just quickly realized that we should have done a lot more hill training. Long story short, I pretty much completely ran out of steam around mile 10, and that had a lot to do with poor training, but was definitely compounded by the challenge of these hills.
The beauty of the course made up for it though. We winded down through a nature preserve and ran along a lovely hiking trail alongside a creek. Course aesthetics are super important to me, and this course gets points for beauty. Sure, it’s not Hawaii or anything, but it really made me appreciate the beauty of Southern California.
Running up along a ridge, we could see the whole valley below and the city of Laguna Hills.
Running along the creek, Brad spots some local wildlife.
I think we look kind of bad-ass in this one. I like it 🙂
Mile 8, things start to change.
Through mile 8 I was having a pretty great run considering the hills. Did I mention there were hills? Oh yeah, there were hills. I could tell at this mile marker though that the winds were changing, and not in my favor. By the time I got to mile 10, I was toast.
It’s hard to describe the difference between good tired and bad tired, except to say that I can honestly imagine what my car feels like when it’s running on fumes. By the end of a half marathon, I’m always tired. That’s a given. When I’m good tired, I still have magic runner energy. I’m winded and my muscles hurt and I’m fantasizing about crossing that finish line, but my legs still move in a steady rhythm with gusto. When I’m bad tired, every move is torture. My legs feel like they’re made of leaden spaghetti (did you know there was such a thing as leaden spaghetti), I can’t seem to get my breathing in a set rhythm, and the worst adversary of all, my brain. I heard a runner once say about ultra-marathoning that the hardest distance you have to defeat is the 6 inches between your ears. I love that. It’s absolutely so true about distance running. A lot of it is in your head and you have to learn to balance and control your thoughts to achieve things you didn’t know you could. But when you hit the wall and run out of energy, those 6 inches between your ears become the longest distance ever. The willpower I summoned through the mantra in my head is the only thing that got me across the finish line. My body was toast.
I finished. We finished. But I had to walk a bit. At mile 9 we walked for about 3 or 4 minutes, and then again at mile 11. I ran the last mile, proudly. I knew that I wouldn’t feel great afterwards though and that it was my own fault. This is what happens to me when I don’t train. Lesson learned. Again.
We managed to cross the finish line with big silly grins on our faces. I’m telling you, no matter how tired you are, you can’t help but smile when you cross that finish line.
And then of course there’s the bling. Gotta love the bling.
The medals were actually quite impressive. We shall proudly add them to our collection.
There was a really great expo and celebration at the finish line complete with food trucks, DJs, vendors, and a beer garden. Unfortunately because I was totally wiped out, I didn’t really get to enjoy any of it. All I wanted to do was find somewhere shady and cool to sit down and rest.
The most important thing about this day was that it was Memorial Day, and that we were there to first: honor our fallen veterans, and second: run a race. I have mixed feelings about the military; and yes I harbor plenty of lefty-hippie opinions about war and peace and our bloated defense budget, but NONE of that mattered on this day. Because no matter how I feel about the military, the men and women who put on a uniform and fight to defend my right to have lefty-hippie opinions deserve my respect and my undying gratitude. And they have it. And I get choked up just thinking about it. So thank you from the bottom of my heart to all those who serve.
The race specifically honored the Marine Corps Dark Horse Battalion. The Marines had quite a set up at the finish line complete with a tank, weaponry, and lots of soldiers available to talk to the runners and educate all those present about what they do. It was a very interesting display. Brad reverted to his 10 year old self when he saw the tank. He wanted a picture.
On one hand I was glad that the community had the opportunity to actually witness all of this first-hand, so that it became real and not just a news reel. I think it’s important for us to resist detachment from the reality of war as much as possible. The more removed we are, the more dangerous. On the other hand I was a bit sad to see little kids like the one above look at this giant automatic weapon like a toy. Again, mixed feelings. Again, doesn’t really matter. I’m going to choose to be optimistic and say that the opportunity for these soldiers to educate these little kids about weapons was ultimately a good thing and will make them take guns very seriously as they get older.
All in all, we had a great time. We started training for this race in February after I finished the Tinker Bell Half Marathon. We started strong and stuck to our schedule, but then I got in a play and Brad got in a play, and suddenly we’re missing almost all of our weekly runs and getting about half the weekend mileage we should. Like I said, I got out of this race exactly what I put into it in terms of performance, and I learned a huge lesson. Training pays off. I guess part of me started to wonder if, since I’ve run several half marathons, maybe I’d gotten to a point where I could just go out there and run 13 miles without trying. Nope. Training never stops. You can only run half marathons as long as you are training for half marathons, and when you stop training, you’re preparedness stops with it. No matter how much your heart and mind feel like you can distance-race, your body has to participate.
Brad and I give this race two enthusiastic thumbs up and we will run it again next year. Join us!
How about you? Can you run a half marathon without a lot of training? Or are you like me and have to put in the prep?