In honor of today being St. Jude Children’s Hospital Founders Day, I thought I’d finally share my half-marathon experience. The emotion I feel about my first half marathon experience is still very fresh. I’m sharing my experience with the hope of encouraging others to pursue goals and dreams that they perhaps didn’t realize they have and enjoying the journey to see them through. I will also be sharing my training experience and whether I’ve decided to go through this process again. If you have any questions, I’ll answer them to the best of my ability and I’d love to hear your goal achieving stories – athletic or not.
Why run a half marathon? Why St. Jude?
For as long as I can remember I was told, I believed, that I wasn’t built or supposed to run. I don’t know if I once enjoyed running, but prior to deciding to run on behalf of a good cause, I would gladly sprint the other way if it meant avoiding any long distance running. I enjoyed playing sports that had very little running and avoided pursuing those that required it, even in a training capacity like softball and swimming. I envied those who could casually say, “I’m going for a quick run,” feeling like I’d never know what it would be like to say that and be happy about it. In a group text with Tuck’s family, the idea of running a half marathon, specifically the St. Jude half marathon, was tossed around and I jumped at the chance thinking that I could achieve it alongside loved ones. At the time, the half marathon was well about a year away and I figured that I would have plenty of time to train and mentally prepare for such a feat. Knowing a little bit about the work St. Jude does, I figured that if I was going to attempt my hand at achieving a personal goal, I could simultaneously help a larger cause. So when registration opened April 2018 at 9 am, I eagerly signed up and let the rest of the group text know. On December 1, 2018, I stood amid a bunch of strangers, more emotional than I anticipated as we waited our turn to start the race.
The Training Process
If you’ve been a reader of my blog for a little while, then you may know that I tend to over prepare in order to combat any nerves. How did this translate to my training? Registration for the December 1st race opened on April 1st and I began training April 2nd. Don’t do this.
Around the same time I registered, Tuck and I got Apple watches equipped with Nike plus. The watch comes with access to Nike Training Club/Nike Running Club memberships (still not sure how that all works) which are the two programs I used during my nearly 8 months of training. I really like the Nike Running Club app because it creates your training program for you and all you have to do is do them. I also like that one cross-training days, it has these step-by-step video workouts in the Nike Training Club app.
Onto the length of your training program, I highly recommend allowing 3-4 months of specific half marathon training. For me, nearly 8 months of specific half-marathon training made me feel incredibly burned out. This feeling of burn out plus two weeks of vacation, one blood donation and the stomach flu made for one very sassy half marathon hopeful come the end of November. In hindsight, I think it would’ve been a more enjoyable training process had I spent the first few months after registering working on overall endurance and ab strength rather than exclusively running.
About halfway through my training program, I went to the Nashville Running Co to get new running shoes and talk to someone about their race experience. During this visit, I learned about during-the-race fuel in the form of gels or chewable gels (sort of like a Starburst, but less firm). Both sales associates I spoke with recommended training while using these different forms of fuel because they can be hard on your stomach and/or, in my case, not work for you at all.
Since this race was associated with St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, it was obviously a fundraiser. This was the first fundraising endeavor I’d ever participated in outside of chocolate bar fundraisers in high school. My goal was to raise $600 and I am super proud to announce that I raised over $1,200. I have no secrets other than sharing my fundraiser and journey on my personal Facebook page and asking my parents to share it on their pages. I am so, so thankful to everyone who wrote me and/or donated in support of this endeavor.
That being said, if you have had any success running online fundraising campaigns and offered an incentive of sorts, I’m all ears.
If you’re unfamiliar with the St. Jude Race Weekend, the race takes place in Downtown Memphis near the Hospital’s campus. It starts out the day before the race, Friday, with The Expo. The Expo is where runners can pick up their race packets, purchase merchandise, visit with the participating sponsors (read: get some freebies) and purchase other race-related items from vendors. Tuck was driving down to Memphis separately from me so I braved the Expo solo. Before I got off the highway, my nerves were in my throat and I sang as loudly as I could in order to keep them at bay. Once parked and inside the convention center, I sort of blacked out. I followed the signs to find the right packet pick up line and asked a group of strangers to take my picture in front of the St. Jude sign before heading into the larger Expo.
I’ll spare you the details of venturing past all of the people and instead, write about the first moment it hit me the impact the runners, donors and sponsors were making. There was a booth (for lack of a better word) where runners could put on a VR headset and become part of a patient’s party that celebrates their last chemo treatment. The party I was sitting in on was of a 4 year old boy who was sharing his seat with his young sibling. I got to hear the song all of his nurses, doctors and loved ones sang to him in celebration of this milestone in his treatment. I was crying. I was speechless. I felt so proud to have raised $1,200 to help kids just like him.
The next morning, I pretty much thought I was going to throw up since before I was fully conscious. I didn’t really want to eat a big breakfast so I ate one of the protein bars I packed – well, I ate about half of it. Because the traditional ‘fuel’ options didn’t work for me during training, I decided to try something a little bit different to keep me motivated. A friend of mine told me that one of her friends kept motivated during races by eating one peanut M&M at the end of every mile. I found it brilliant and decided to give it a go with Sour Patch Kids. After one mile and one Sour Patch Kid, I found it impossible to chew the Sour Patch Kids while running and once I got it down, it didn’t sit right with me.
The beginning of a race is nothing like I’ve ever previously experienced. Everyone is assigned a corral, like a horse, based on anticipated finish time and you’re meant to go stand with your fellow runners in your corral to help stagger start times. Depending on which corral you’re in, you could be standing in anticipation for quite a while. The MC of the event was a very perky woman who did a great job of driving home the significance and fun of the day. Every 3 corrals or so, she would hit us with something like, “Because of you, one child, five children, hundreds of children, will be cancer free.” Standing with thousands of strangers, I teared up. This’ll sound cheesy, but I’ve genuinely never felt so united with a bunch of strangers in these moments.
I ran the first 3 miles and then, given my vacation-illness-poorly-timed-blood-donation, I power-walked/jogged the rest of the race. Around mile 9 another runner comes jogging up next to me and asks, “How are you feeling?” I thought this was the sweetest thing so I started jogging along trying to match her pace and responded with, “I’m feeling good. My knee is a little sore but gotta keep going.” She nodded and then asked, “Are you feeling your heel at all?” I thought this was a peculiar question, but since she came from behind me, perhaps she was noticing something about my form that I wasn’t aware of. As expected I responded with a firm, “Nope.” And she laughed while raising her eyebrows and said, “Oh well, you’re bleeding all over the place. I’m surprised no one has said anything to you.” Sure enough, I looked down at my left heel and there it was all bloody and raw, my sock and shoe covered in dried blood. Whoops! I “pulled over” as one does when running, pulled up my sock and kept going. In that moment, and anytime I retell this story, I feel like one badass lady.
Crossing the finish line was every bit of a tsunami of emotion that I anticipated it to be. Every inch of my body hurt. I desperately wanted to sit down. But I did it. I actually completed the toughest physical challenge I ever thought I would face – I completed a long-distance race. The tears fell from my eyes, the “holy fucks” fell out of my mouth and I really wanted to sit down. Once I found Tuck at the finish line, I was so thankful that I booked 2 nights in the hotel and wouldn’t have to sit in a car for nearly 3 hours immediately afterwards.
Despite my hiccups, I could not have done this without the support I received from my loved ones and frankly strangers on the Internet and I feel deeply called to thank them.
Dad – thank you for caring about how my runs went, for pushing me, for providing me with helpful resources and for being an effective-yet-never-ingenuine cheerleader.
Tuck – thank you for reminding me to run, especially when I didn’t want to. Thank you for encouraging me and documenting this experience for me. Thank you for driving down to spend my Big Day with me before heading back to work.
Donors – thank you so much for believing in St. Jude and for believing in me. Every donation I received reaffirmed a motivation for me running this race – we’re in it for the kids and the families of these kids. Each donation felt like a high five and pat on the back.
Everyone who engaged with my running content on any and all social media and/or who spoke to me about this in real life, thank you. Thank you for your attention, your support, your curiosity and your well wishes. They were like a blanket of comfort on this very uncomfortable journey.
My 2019 Plans
In case you haven’t guessed yet, I will be running the race again in 2019. Knowing what I know now, I’m excited to switch up my workouts in the beginning half of the year – I joined a rec volleyball league and am really enjoying it.