My first race of 2017 was the Sedona Half Marathon and I could not have asked for a more perfect start to this year’s racing season. I honestly loved every second, even though it was far from easy.
I’ve decided to make birthday “runcations” my thing. I live in Chicago so a February birthday isn’t always the most fun, but in 2016 I decided to look up a race in a different state for my birthday weekend. I found the Tybee Run Fest in Georgia, convinced my boyfriend to go with me, and booked the weekend. I got to add a new state to my 50 state quest, enjoy warmer weather, and do what I love most on a day celebrating myself. So, of course I decided to do it again this year.
For my 24th birthday weekend I chose Sedona as my “runcation” destination. I signed up for the half marathon and Kyle signed up for the 5K. We took a few days off work, got on a plane, and prepared to spend our days actively exploring a new state. We arrived to the expo just in time on Friday. It was a relatively small and stress free expo. We were in and out in 10 minutes and ready to race the next day.
I’ll be honest, I didn’t really look at the course map ahead of time or worry about altitude. My Dad texted me the night before the race to say good luck and not to take it too fast because I wouldn’t be used to the altitude and I thought….oh no. It’s probably better I didn’t worry about it too much ahead of time, but this little reminder made me nervous. What could I do except give it my best?
We were able to walk to the start line from our hotel. It was 39 degrees at the start. I was torn on wearing a long sleeve or short sleeve, but ultimately I went with long since I was worried about getting sunburned (and it was a good call).
I felt inspired at this start line. I took a look around before the gun went off and thought “wow I am so lucky to be here running this race today.” I was feeling grateful and excited – even after the woman next to me told me to get ready for the hilliest race of my life. The hilliest race?! I thought I misheard her. I was prepared for hills. But I hadn’t mentally prepared myself for THE HILLIEST race I’d ever run. Again, what could I do at that point except give it my best?
I started out easy. I didn’t set any expectations for myself in regards to my overall time or my average pace. I wanted to enjoy the race and end with a smile – that’s it. I was distracted by the views from the first minute. Sedona is absolutely beautiful. The hills brought my focus back to the race at hand, but the views were an amazing distraction throughout.
I saw barefoot runners, cowboy hat runners, moccasin runners, and runners from every age group. The number one reason I like races with a turn around is for the people watching. I love the running community for how diverse it is. I’m constantly inspired by the people around me. And turning around at the half way point allowed me to high five some amazing runners. Thankfully, there was a different route back so it wasn’t a true out and back course which I was happy about (since it meant seeing more of this beautiful place).
The first 8 miles were hilly, but I felt relaxed. Nothing I hadn’t conquered before. And I was running at around an 8 minute average pace comfortably. I wish someone had warned me that mile 10-11 was basically entirely uphill. I guess a warning wouldn’t have made it any easier, but dang I was shocked. I used my arms, lifted my knees (sang Arielle’s hill song in my head), and took it one minute at a time. FINALLY the hill ended and I tried to get my breathe under control. I knew I didn’t have much distance left to cover.
Mile 12 flew by. My breathing eased back to normal, I picked up my speed, and focused on the end in sight. I pride myself on fast finishes. No matter how my race goes I want to have enough left in the tank to push my pace for the last mile or so and finish strong. And I did that in Sedona. I passed quite a few people up the last hill and last half mile. Yes, the last half mile to the finish line was straight uphill. Kyle was right before the finish cheering me on and I crossed that line with the biggest smile on my face. Strong.
Almost immediately after getting my medal a man I had passed at the end came up to me and said, “What a finish. I tried to catch you that whole last part and just couldn’t. You’re impressive.” His comment made my day. I know validation from other people doesn’t make me think more of a race or my effort, but the fact that he noticed my effort and sought me out to compliment me really made me feel the warm and fuzzies.
Results were in:
Finishing time: 1:43:20. 7:53 average pace.
1st place age group of 66. 16th woman of 966. 43rd finisher out of 1472.
I worked hard this race, but I didn’t let the hills or altitude make me enjoy it any less. If anything, the challenge made it even more fun. I love a challenge, after all. I did conserve my energy just in case, but I really didn’t need to. I felt great during this entire 13.1 miles (okay except maybe mile 10-11). I had fun.
What did I learn this race? Hills are my jam. I know how to finish a race. I am happiest when exploring new places on foot. I am forever grateful I found a sport I love that brings me such joy year after year, race after race.