My sisters and I decided to run the Emigration Canyon Half Marathon a few months ago. That’ll fit perfectly into my training I thought as I paid the fee and glanced at the race description. Silly Alyssa. I have been pretty careful with my training to not up my mileage too quickly. About three years ago I fell off a rock face while free climbing (about 15 feet) and broke my ankle in two places and got tons of stitches (see picture to the right). My body hasn’t been the same since, especially when it comes to running. I had to stay off my broken ankle for about 3 months, and my calf muscles are still pretty out of proportion. All of that to say, I’ve tried to be careful getting back into serious, every day running, because I know my body is still pretty mad at me.

My longest run before the race was a pretty consistent weekly 8 miles or so. Though jumping up to 13.1 (especially when it was just meant to be a training run) was a bit of a stretch, I promised myself I would take it easy and run it slow. A few days before the race I glanced at the information online again and my sisters and I texted back and forth to make plans for who would drive with who. Race day came and I felt pretty good, but I underestimated one thing: my insatiable and compelling desire to compete. Everyone was there stretching, pinning bib numbers to their shirts, and jogging up and down the sidewalks to warm up.

The excitement was catching.
“Should I just run this as a real race?” I asked my husband.
“Well, he said, you don’t want to hurt yourself. And you weren’t really planning on it.”
“Yeah, but I think it’ll be fine. And I really want to.”
“Okay, but just be careful.”

My husband, who is not a runner, was much wiser than me. The race began, and I ran out at race pace, allowing the rest of the runners to sweep me with them, leaving behind my sisters and starting out at the front of the pack. Here are some things I learned during that 13.1.

The terrain you train on should match the terrain you race on

About a mile into the race, the group went up a gargantuan hill. The elevation went from 5,534 to 5,948 over the course of the second mile. And it sucked. As I was slogging up the hill, a girl next to me breathed out, “Are we going to have to run up that, too?” and gestured toward the second hill to our left.

“I was just wondering that myself,” I panted. The runners ahead of me took a sharp curve to the right, and it seemed we were in the clear. Unfortunately, I quickly realized that they the course had an “out and back” portion, and they were all coming back towards me, preparing to run up the second hill.

“Looks like we have to face it,” I laughed to the girl I was running with. Then we put our heads down and began our second ascent. Within the first four miles of the race, the elevation went up about 700 feet. Ouch.

I usually run on the same path each day near our house. It is a path that runs parallel to the mountains in Lehi, so I almost always run an exactly flat course. I was not mentally prepared for four miles straight of a merciless hill.  

Uphills suck your drive mentally, but downhills murder your knees

I rounded the bend of the top of the mountain, and it was clear that the rest of the race would be downhill. Since I allowed the excitement of race day to control me, I thought this is my chance to really get ahead and to make up the time I lost running up those hills. I picked up the pace and started pounding down the mountain. Some of my favorite tunes came on and I ran even faster, passing other runners right and left. I felt great for the first three or four miles, and my mile times were making me smile from ear to ear.

Then, my knees started screaming bloody murder. It felt like whatever cushy muscle/tendon that was supposed to keep the bones in my knee from hitting each other was basically now a messy pulp, and the bones were now hitting against each other. While slogging up hills was hard sprinting downhill is what killed my race. Since I didn’t train at all on any downhill or uphill terrain, both killed my race. My exercising has almost exclusively been biking this week since my knees are still recovering!

Wear clothes that have withstood the test of time

I wore a relatively new sports bra on that day, and by the end of the race, the plastic clasps on the front of the bra had worn my skin raw. I now have two nasty scabs in quite uncomfortable places reminding me that you should test out everything before you wear it in a race. I knew enough to break in shoes before racing in them, but every aspect of what you’re wearing and how you’ve prepared your body should come into account, from how you braid your hair to how you tie your shoes.

Be competitive with the clock and with yourself, not with other people

While I was standing in line waiting to go to the bathroom, I saw a girl that works at my school. We said hi and talked about the race for a bit, then went our separate ways. I decided that I wanted to beat her in the race that day, and kept track of her throughout.

She ended up finishing about 10 minutes before me, but trying to keep up with her is what pushed me to kill my knees going down hill. Even though I finished the race feeling like my muscles could have kept up, my knees wouldn’t let me. I had no idea that she even liked running, or what her training was like, or how much she had prepared for the race. I just knew I wanted to try to beat her.

I learned that choosing arbitrary people (except for pacers, perhaps) to try to keep up with/beat during a race is really stupid. You can’t know someone’s training or level of ability when you randomly select them and try to keep up with them (maybe no one else does this, but I find myself doing this during races).

Don’t let your emotions get the better of you

For months I planned for that day to be a fun run with my sisters. Ten minutes before the race started, I changed my mind and decided to run it hard like a race. My body is still punishing me for that decision, and I slowed down so much by the end that my sisters were only a few minutes behind me. Run smart, even if it means going against the pumping adrenaline in your body.

Overall, it was a pretty crappy race experience. However, it did teach me a lot of things about racing and running that I never realized before. Have you ever had a race where you learned a ton, even if you didn’t do very well? Share it in the comments below. If you’re interested in hearing more running advice and experiences from Just Stalling, subscribe in the form below.