Some runners shave seconds off their times. I add an hour!
For the second time around, my half marathon  took much longer to complete than my first one. Just the same, I went from barely running a mile to completing a half marathon in about five months. Plus, it was a lot of fun. Here’s what happened.
On the day before the race, my fiancée and two close friends toured Raleigh, NC. It was one of the friendliest towns I’ve encountered in a long time and I highly recommend checking it out. Everywhere we went the locals were warm and helpful.
We familiarized ourselves with the race route, starting at Carter-Finley Stadium on Trinity Road, and continuing on to Blue Ridge Road, passing by beautiful rolling hills and pasture. Next stop was downtown Raleigh, marked by large boulevards, stately oaks, and historic buildings, including the State Capital Building. We then headed through Glenwood South and Cameron Village neighborhoods, where we glimpsed historic homes and gorgeous fall foliage, later ending at the stadium. That night we indulged in a wonderful pasta dinner at Enoteca Vin.  The food was impeccable and just the right note right before a race.
At six-thirty the next morning, I was relaxed and excited, despite the fact that 3,500 people were descending on the fairgrounds and miles of cars ahead of us were barely moving. It was chilly but clear. I’d had a banana with peanut butter an hour before. We parked the car, stretched, and tried to keep warm.
As we crossed the start line at 7:10, my heart skipped a beat. Ok, here we go! We started slow. I felt good, but at my first bathroom break, I inadvertently entangled my shorts with my bib and the pins holding the bib stabbed my fingers. Owie! My fiancée tried cheering me up by singing the Rocky song, but I wasn’t quite ready for that. A few steps later, I recovered from my wound and my heart became open to his singing. I promised not to kvetch too much during the race. He rolled his eyes and smiled.
At mile five, my ankle started to throb, but I ignored it. The volunteers along the route had incredible energy and although Raleigh does not have the crowds of larger cities, all the necessary enthusiasm was there. It’s always during a race that I’m reminded of how powerful the sound of cheering strangers can be. And runners are warm and supportive of each other, too, I admit, partly because they’re so tired. But perhaps that’s the only right way to be a runner.
I powered through the hills—and felt triumphant. But by mile seven, I became distracted: why so many hills?! It felt harder than the half marathon I’d done in Central Park. About this time, one hill was particularly hard. As I ascended the hill, a small band of college students was cheering on the runners, while drumming and ringing a cowbell. The funky beat got me back into a groove and let me forget, for a little while, my throbbing ankle.
I stopped for “goo” (Gu energy gel) at mile eight. They’d run out! Fortunately I had one of my own packets left, which I’d carried with me. I sucked it down and chased it with some water. Ah, I’m back!
One restaurant owner cheered the runners as they passed and said, “Come on in for a Bloody Mary. You’re not going to finish anyway!” I laughed, but then thought to myself, “Hey, wait a minute! Do I look like I’m not going to finish?” Well …
By mile eleven, we were both ready to take a u-turn back to the Krispy Kreme,  about one quarter mile from our bed and breakfast , and call it a day. I envisioned the glazed donut neatly popping off the conveyor belt.
With two miles to go, my muscles seized up. My hamstrings and hip were writhing in pain. My ankles felt weak and my fiancee’s knee had started to throb. In my excitement, I had not stretched sufficiently before the race. We did a run-walk for the next mile. We ran through a monstrous parking lot near the stadium. I wondered if childbirth was this painful.
From behind us, we heard a labored breath of a different kind. “Puff! Puff! Puff!” A small, compact man with a pounding gait whizzed by us. Wow! We were on mile twelve, and he was on mile 25! Ok, if he can keep going, we better, too!
We crossed the finish line at 2:51 and relief washed over me. We did it!! After lots of hugs, we sat in the warm sunshine and drank water—and free beer from a local brewery! (I love North Carolina.) As we relaxed on the lawn, I couldn’t stop smiling. I may have added an hour to my time, but I felt great!
Read the October Second Time Around Column
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Photo courtesy of City of Oaks Marathon and Rex Healthcare Half Marathon