The Pennsylvania Grand Canyon 2014 Half Marathon
On Saturday, Alicia and I ran our half marathon! It was so exhilarating, fun, and addicting!! I can’t wait to do more races in the future. For now, here’s a recap of the PA Grand Canyon Half Marathon.
Waking up at 3:45am on Saturday morning in our hotel in Wellsboro, Alicia and I sleepily got dressed before eating some oatmeal. The night before, we had stopped at the store to pick up some breakfast. We tried to determine the best breakfast that wouldn’t weigh us down but that would still provide us with enough energy. We ended up getting oatmeal, some bagels, and I grabbed a few apples. We weren’t sure what exactly we’d be in the mood for, but we figured we had a good mix. After finishing our oatmeal, Alicia remarked that we’d probably be hungry in a few hours right before the race started, but I responded with a wave of my hand and said we’d be fine. That meant we each didn’t grab a bagel to bring on the road with us (although we still can’t decide if that would have been too heavy – we know there’s tons of advice out there about what to eat and about every aspect of running, and well basically everything in life, but we also know that finding what works best for you is most important). Spoiler alert: We were really hungry right before the race!! Luckily, my mom had bought each of us some Gu packets on Friday at the Expo where we picked up our packets, so we were able to get some more energy in us. But I’m getting ahead of myself! So Alicia and I loaded into my car after cleaning up our hotel room and grabbing our “throw away” jackets from Mom. We hadn’t been planning for it, but it was pretty cold at 4 in the morning! Luckily, Mom had brought some extra sweatshirts that she said she didn’t mind if we lost – although with the starting and ending line being at the same spot, we figured we’d be okay leaving them somewhere in that area. Leaving Mom and Diana at the hotel, Alicia and I drove to the high school where runners were boarding busses to be brought to the starting line up on the mountain. The busses ran from 4:15-5:45, and we were able to get right on a bus that left a few minutes after we boarded when we got there around 4:45.
One winding and sickening bus ride later (that’s what we get for sitting in the back seat), we were dropped off near a line of about 20 porta potties. We decided to use them before heading up the trail to the start line, and I’ve never loved a porta potty so much in my life! They were fresh and clean, with hand sanitizer, and even had lights in them! Walking up the dark trail lit with flashlights hanging from trees, the chill in the air encouraged us to send a silent thank you to our brilliant mom – we would have been so cold without her sweatshirts! As we neared the starting line, we took in everything around us. A tent set up over a DJ station, a huge START/FINISH banner between two trees, music playing, a beautiful view with the sun starting to peak over the mountains, and tons of people milling about. We stood a bit off to the side and people-watched, deciding which pieces of running gear we thought we might want to invest in in the future. As time ticked by, the DJ announced things at random intervals. He talked about an unsecured storage area (I hadn’t been sure how exactly this would work, so I had just taken my car key off my keychain and put it in my iPod arm band), counted down the time until the sunrise was to happen, described what would be available after the race, and told us how much time was left until the race. There was also a clock counting down the time that we referred to often. During this time, we pretty much stood near the side of the mountain and talked, took pictures, and enjoyed our surroundings.
Suddenly, about 45 minutes before start time, I got super hungry! As per the Gu packets, you’re supposed to eat one 15 minutes before starting a race, and then keep eating them every 45 minutes thereafter. Well, I decided that it was an urgent situation and I had to at least have a little of my Gu. Alicia soon followed suit and we pretty much thought they were the worst things in the world. The guy selling us the packets at the Expo had shared that his favorite flavor was vanilla, but we couldn’t stomach the idea of something gooey and liquidy and vanilla flavored while running, so we had opted for fruity flavors. Let me tell you, they weren’t any better. I’ll definitely try vanilla next time because it can’t be worse. The texture was just gross! Although I have to say, I didn’t feel hungry afterward – so whether it was mental or physical, it worked. While slowly eating our torture packets, we decided to take one last trip to the porta potties with half an hour before the race started. Although we still didn’t have to wait in line for more than a minute, my love story with the potties had ended as they were now super smelly! I had imagined worse though, so it still wasn’t too bad.
We headed back up the trail to the starting line and moved toward the trash cans to finish our Gu. It really was hard to get through it, and we were taking super small mouthfuls to try to at least finish most of it in a non-terrible way. Finally, we threw the last little bits away and moved toward the starting line! Everyone was filling in on the trail, and there must have been over 400 people there! We joked and laughed with the people around us, full of excited energy as the countdown to start time began. As Alicia said, when it finally was 7am on the dot, it worked like a treadmill slowly starting – even though the DJ had yelled “Go!”, only the first few rows of people could move, until finally the movement trickled back toward the middle of the crowd where we were, and then finally to the end. As we all ran in a pretty tight pack, I wondered when we would spread out a little, or if we would be with a group of people for most of the time.
It was so much fun to run through all the trees! Soon, we came upon a boy waving flags, showing the group to turn onto a paved road and run around a loop before continuing on. I hadn’t paid too much attention to the course map because I knew there’d be markers and signs to show us where to go, so the whole time I wasn’t really sure when we’d turn or what the next section of the course would look like. I really loved that about it! This course did have lots of backtracking, but even that wasn’t as bad as I had thought. Alicia and I were running at a super comfortable pace for me. While ‘training’ (and I put that in quotes because I didn’t follow any real plan and I just ran a few miles a few times a week – the furthest I had ever run before was 8 miles a few months ago, and that included a few breathing stops), Alicia had been worried about us running together since our paces were quite different. Mine was close to 9:30/10:00 minute miles, even on my longer runs, while hers was closer to 11/11:30 minute miles. I had always told her to not worry about it and that we’d just run at her pace. I’ve been a runner for a much longer time than she has, even so far back as playing field hockey and lacrosse in high school, and only quitting track after middle school to play lacrosse. In Australia I started running almost every day, and I continued that into this past summer when I got back. During the school year, I had picked up weight lifting (as did Alicia), but I still have a much heavier running background than she does. The two times we ran together, I kind of scared her because I didn’t really slow down and I pushed her to keep up with me. I only did this to see how we did together and to see what her limits were. Once we started the race though, I kept pace with her and we were running super comfortably. A little before mile 4, after a big hill, Alicia warned me that she’d need to take a break soon. I told her okay, but that I was going to keep slowly running. I felt like I had enough energy to keep running forever, so I got the idea in my head that I could run the whole thing without taking a break! I had talked a lot about staying with her no matter what, and I never let her out of my sight. Most of the race, we were running side-by-side in perfect sync. Whenever she did need a quick breather, she would walk quickly as I slowed my pace and then she would either catch up to me or I would double back and she would start running beside me again. At one point she pointed out a pair of girls that were running together AND walking together, which made me feel a little guilty haha, but I really felt that I was encouraging her and pushing her to be her best by not walking. We joked and laughed and congratulated ourselves so much every time we passed another marker. We were so amazed as the miles ticked by. Even though some of the miles felt like 10 on their own, we still felt such a sense of pride whenever we passed each new marker. Alicia would run and jump over each line while other runners laughed and complimented her energy and positivity. We loved cheering on the people coming back past us (so the fast runners who were already on their way back!) and sharing quick encouragement with those around us. It was seriously so much fun and the miles just kept flying by. At each water station, we slowed for a minute to drink a cup of water/gatorade, and then continued on our way. Luckily, neither of us needed a porta potty break during the run! The turn around with the timer was between mile 8 and 9, and when we passed the clock it had been one hour and 40 minutes. We were excited and continued on our way. We realized that it might be a good time to have our second Gu packets, and although Alicia really, really didn’t want to have hers, she did end up opening it and having a little after some convincing on my part. It left our mouths feeling funny and gross, but I almost finished my whole packet, and again, I thought it helped me mentally. I was feeling a little worn down around mile 10, but I also was so excited!! We only had 3.1 miles left! anybody can do that! Such a crazy feeling!! Alicia was really needing some water at this point and there was a pretty big gap between stations. When we finally passed the last water station, we were both exhausted and excited. As I told Alicia that she was not going to slow down and I wouldn’t let her leave my side, a couple ran by commenting that I was cracking the whip!! Haha. I told them it was big sister encouragement, and I grabbed Alicia’s hand to give her a little boost. We were soooo close and it was so exciting!!!
As we got near the finish line, I was excited to see Mom and Diana, and also Matt, Elyse, Ryan, and Matt’s dad who had all come up to see us! Alicia and I held hands through the last little stretch and triumphantly crossed the finish line with our hands high and huge smiles! Our official time was 2:47, and we were excited to have finished. I’m so proud of Alicia!!!!!! And of myself!! As we were handed our medals and goody box of treats, we looked around, but couldn’t see our family. We headed to the pavilion to grab some water and fruit before deciding to walk down the trail and look for them. As we were heading down, we ran into them heading up! They had so thoughtfully brought flowers and you could see that they were all surprised that we had already finished. It was a little sad that they hadn’t seen us cross the line, but pretty funny how amazed my mom was that we had already finished. We excitedly told them about the race and then headed down the mountain to eat some much needed lunch. We ended up waiting for a bus to come get us for close to an hour! I really didn’t mind because I didn’t have any schedule for the day, but some people around us were really annoyed. Hopefully they get that kink worked out for the future.
Overall, it was an AMAZING day and I’d love to run the race again! It was actually the first ever PA Grand Canyon Half Marathon, so that’s a cool mark to put in our books. =)
Okay, Alicia, time to sign up for our next race!