The 2015 Rock ‘n Roll Savannah Half Marathon was my first half marathon. I’m writing this recap in June 2021 as motivation for my upcoming 2020 Chicago Marathon training efforts. While I didn’t have a blog at that time, I have always journaled about my big experiences, so I thought I would add those in as part of this recap.
I signed up for this race in February 2015. I had planned out the remaining of my 50 states by 30 goal, which would finish in May 2015. That had been instrumental to me and helping me through a down period in my life. I knew I needed another big goal to work towards when I finished that trip. By the time I visited Alaska, I knew a half marathon was my next focus. This was a SERIOUS race – I was so nervous I wouldn’t be able to finish, so I planned to take my training very seriously. My youngest brother also said he would join me on this adventure, so I was pumped!
Several friends suggested that I follow Hal Higdon’s Novice 1 Marathon Training program. I ran a little in college (about 2 miles most days), but I never thought of myself as a runner – far from it – then fell out of working out for several years until I decided to pick up running again. At New Years’ in 2013, I did a Couch to 5K app then made a habit of running a few days a week through Central Park. This was an amazing experience. Between this and several friends getting into running, I started to gain an appreciation for the sport. I watched the Las Vegas Rock ‘n Roll Half/Full Marathon in December 2012 and the NYC Marathon in 2013, which provided a new perspective. These people had a goal and did the required training to achieve it. Maybe I could do it, too.
When I started the training, I was not accustomed to running 4 days/week. I think I was running 2 or 3 at the time. My main worry was about the distance, so I made sure I always did my long run on the weekend. I traveled to Austin to do a 7-mile training run on the Colorado River with my brother. Then, in October, I visited my friends in NYC to do my 11-mile training run in Central Park.
How to Make a Stress Fracture
Even though I was diligent about my weekend long runs, I was not good about my week day runs. I’m sure there were weeks that I didn’t do any of them. I just thought I needed to make sure to cover the distance, no matter how hard it got. When I visited NYC, I stayed with a friend who had run the NYC Marathon several times and another friend who was training for it. I had a lot of good motivation around, and I wanted to keep up with them.
I stuck with my friend on our 11 miler, running the first 7 miles without walking – a first for me. Then I ran/walked at the end. I’m not sure what part of it I told her to go ahead of me, but I was walking at the end. I was hurting, and I assumed I had a sore muscle. I’m the worse when it comes to pain. I don’t get specific, except just that it hurts.
After the run, I met up with my other friend who was running 7 miles after doing a half marathon race in the park. We made our way back to Hoboken as I hobbled down subway stairs. We rushed around the city later to catch rush tickets to An American in Paris on Broadway. My foot/leg/lower half hurt, but I just assumed I over did it. Eventually, I went home and was feeling okay. No runs during the week.
The pain returns…
I didn’t run over the week, but the next weekend I tried to run 5 miles. I made it about 2 or 3 miles before I broke down crying and called my mom to come to pick me up. It was awful. Not only was I in pain, but a half marathon is a lot more than 3 miles. I went to the urgent care (I will never go to one with a running injury again) who took an x-ray and said everything was fine. I went home to ice my foot and my ego. The next week, I visited a sports doctor a friend recommended. He did a horribly painful exercise to test for tendonitis in my foot. He basically used a ribbed (not sharp) pizza cutter-like tool to separate the tendons in my foot. It horribly bruised my foot since I bruise like a peach. He said to run some the next week – if it started out painful, then keep running, as it would work itself out. If it got worse while I was running, he would send me to a different specialist.
Well, it got worse as I ran. I couldn’t take it. Reluctantly, I made an appointment since I wanted to run long-term. He said of the 8 people to visit him for possible stress fractures, I was the winner. He explained to me the importance of training during the week. Those runs are to help your body build up the ability to be on your feet and handle the stress of running. Between not doing those runs and then going into overdrive in NYC, I had created a stress fracture on my right foot. I was to stay off my feet for some number of weeks – no running at Savannah.
A Very Tough Decision
My world was crushed. I was so close, and I ruined it. I regretted not running my weekly goals. When I asked my brother his plans for the weekend, he said he was going to do the race even though he hadn’t done a training run since our 7-miler in mid-August. Even though I was jealous, I said I would go and cheer him on. Our parents and brother were going to come, too.
I walk sulking to my friend who is a really good runner and had run many races. He suggested that I should walk the race. I couldn’t believe the suggestion – was he serious?! I was scared about getting last place when I was running! If I were to walk, I’m sure I wouldn’t even make it past the 15-minute pace requirement. What if my foot hurt, and I couldn’t make it to the finish line. He explained to me that there would be medical tents throughout the course that could help me if I was in pain, that lots of people walk through the race so I wouldn’t look unusual, and also assured me that I wouldn’t get last place.
I agonized over this for days. Then, a few days before we were leaving, I went on a 3-mile walk and didn’t have any pain. “Okay,” I thought. “I’m good to go. I can’t miss out on this opportunity.”
Travel to Savannah
Savannah is a four-hour drive, so my family went down the night before. We stayed downtown on the Riverwalk so we could get to the start line easily the next morning. We stopped at the expo before crossing the bridge. What an unreal first expo experience. It was so exciting getting our bib and t-shirt then walking around at everything running. To that point, I knew to get a good pair of shoes and some GU gels, but I that was about it. I didn’t know about all of the things you could sell runners.
We went to dinner on the Riverwalk where I had a simple dish of pasta and vegetables. My brother and I laid out our clothes (I didn’t know to take pictures then!) and went to sleep. Early the next morning we got up, had our Cliff bars, and walked to the park.
The Start Line
Having only done three races (a small 5K, a small 10K, and a run at Yankees Stadium), this Rock ‘n Roll event was like something we had never seen before! It was insane how many people were there. My brother went to his corral in front, and I went to the back of my corral. I didn’t want to start in the back because I would need extra time to walk. I was so stressed about making the time limit and finishing.
While we were waiting, I started talking to a pacer and asking about her experience. To my surprise, a girl in our conversation said she was doing the marathon and hadn’t trained at all because someone told her she could walk and she “did that sometimes”! The pacer started giving her a lot of warnings, but it shocked me. Maybe I wouldn’t be too bad off, but I was really worried for her. The heat index was also unseasonably high for November, so the event crew was actually redirecting the marathon route to try to find more shade. After completing this race and Disney races, I give the race event teams a lot of credit. They are dealing with a variety of kinds of people. While I believe that everyone can do a half or a full who wants to, I do believe you need to train for them and have a healthy level of fitness. Even though my brother didn’t have a running plan he did, he was a very active, athletically inclined young male. As you will see later, I am very jealous of people like him.
Anyway, the national anthem played and the race started! We were off – I was doing a half marathon!
The minimum pace limit was 15:00/mile but my friend said I would have more than that if I didn’t start in the back. The last person at only 15:00/mile. My goal was to be around that pace, which would have me finish in just over 3 hours. I didn’t have a watch or anything at that time, so I don’t remember how I clocked it. I guess I just watched the race clock.
Even though I was walking, I have a quick walk. Even from the beginning, I was passing people, and I have no idea how. I was terrified of coming in the last place. The first mile or two was through the city with lots of spectators and funny signs. Since this was my first big race, I was surprised by all of the signs! I loved it! The first one I saw (or the one that I will always remember) was a man standing on a street corner. He was holding a bright yellow piece of cardboard in one hand and a beer in the other. It said “It’s early. I’m drinking. You’re running. I’m winning.” It was so appropriate for the drinking town of Savannah, and I laughed so hard.
The beginning of the race went through some neighborhoods I wouldn’t have ventured to on a normal trip. Many of the residents came out to cheer us on and they seemed happy to see us.
Around mile 5, we made our way back to the historic area of Savanah, which I find beautiful. It is gorgeous to see how the Spanish Moss falls off the trees around all of the squares. The course has a lot of out-and-backs and the middle part goes around parks, so it’s a great race to have spectators. They don’t have to walk very far to see you at 2 or 3 different spots. Seeing them was a huge boost.
Overall, I felt great. I got a cramp twice, and it was hard not to run, but I finished in 3:01. I was so proud of myself and everyone who participated. It was an incredibly hot day that day, so it was not an easy race.
One of the best things about this race was one of my favorite bands, Rascal Flatts, was the post-race entertainment! I couldn’t believe such a big and popular band would be playing FOR FREE after the race. I was in heaven.
My brother killed his first half. I think he finished around 2:30, which is amazing for not training. He had a killer cramp in his leg that was saved when someone gave him bananas to eat. He caught the running bug, too, and went on to do two more with even less training, more drinking, and both were PRs. I don’t quite understand how people can do that. I have to train, and training is a real bear. More power to them, but I will never understand how some people’s bodies can do that.
What I found amazing about this experience is that anyone really can participate in a long-distance race if he or she wants to do it. I didn’t believe people when they told me that before. I think one of my friends is right. He always encourages to do half marathons because anyone can do that without a ton of changes in their daily lives. Marathons require more adaptations, but they are possible. You just have to put your mind to doing it.
It was a long journey, but I made it! I’m glad I was encouraged to walk the race since I really wasn’t out of place. A lot of people walk during the race, and I was able to do it without hurting my foot more. I finished my first half marathon on November 7, 2015. This was the start of a new hobby and passion.