What Happens When You Plan Your First Half-Marathon On Your Birthday

By Crista Tappan - June 05, 2012

Yesterday I finished my first Half-Marathon. I hadn't originally planned on running my first half on the day of my birthday. It wasn't until I noticed on Active.com that Compete Green was planning the Ojai to Ocean Marathon and Half-Marathon in my hometown. After looking at a map of the course, I was even more intrigued. For the half, it started off in Ojai and weaved its way down the bike path, to Ventura and crossed through the promenade. I'd been running the promenade a few times a week for the past few months. The course was all downhill, smooth, and considered one of the best Boston-qualifiers out there. ....Not that I am anywhere near qualifying right now, but more speaking to how easy it is. AKA...perfect for my first half. Also intriguing? It was scheduled for the day of my twenty-fourth birthday. Beam me up, Scotty!

The weeks and days leading up to my race made me feel like I had developed OCD primarily for running. I made sure to stay on my running schedule obsessively, took my rest days when I needed them, backed off a little when I felt like I was over-training, and ate a clean diet to support my body through all the madness. I'd heard horror stories from my fellow runners about their first half-marathons-- pulled muscles, destroyed knees, and injuries that left them cross-training for months. Two of my best friends, Michelle and Bobby, ran their first marathon in Big Sur two months ago. At the beginning of the year, the three of us signed up for the Ojai to Ocean half together. Only Bobby was feeling good enough to be able to run with me, Michelle was still battling a stubborn knee injury (but she still drove us and hid in the bushes taking pictures! What a champ!). So...needless to say, my fear of injury and not being able to run for a while was at the top of my list. Did I think I could run the distance? Of course. Did I know how my body would handle it after? No idea.

I had all the important things set out the night before the race :)

Nobody ever really knows how their body will react during a run until they actually start. It's just one of those things. Either your body will feel great, or it wont. I ran the Merrell Down & Dirty Mud Run two months ago and felt like complete shit the morning of the race. My stomach hurt the entire run, and I ended up finishing a 5K in around 48 minutes. Granted, there were twelve lame obstacles, a massive hill to climb, and two mud pits (one of which earned me the glorious picture I use for the header of this blog), I was still more than horrified by how long it took me to just run three-point-freaking-one miles. It was an off day. And I had to remind myself after that it's part of the journey to have your ups and downs.

I was relieved that my lack of sleep didn't make me feel miserable for this race. Planning my first half-marathon on my birthday was an awesome idea, although, I didn't anticipate the number of middle of the night birthday texts I'd receive. There was an hour-long span around 12:30 AM that I received around 5 texts from different people. It was a bittersweet feeling, fighting the feelings of frustration because I wanted to sleep and excitement about my sudden surge of love from my friends. Because my cell phone is also my alarm clock, I couldn't exactly turn it off to stop it from buzzing all night. I was also too sleepy to realize that putting it on silent would still allow the alarm to ring. I also set a million alarms with various levels of threat to entice me to wake up :)

The alarms I set...just in case I missed the first one. Proud to say I got up on the first one!

I have a serious love/hate relationship with my best friends.

Right as I finally seemed to fall asleep, my alarm went off for reals (4:05 AM...ugh) and I went right into auto-pilot. Bobby showed up at my doorstep first, sleepy-eyed and ready for a cup of coffee. Michelle showed up a few minutes later, with a Trader Joe's canvas bag (because she knows I have an obsession with TJ's bags) filled with my favorite snacks (Chili Covered Mangoes and Chocolate Covered Espresso Beans) and a gift wrapped in owl wrapping paper (I was in love with it before I even knew what it was). She had bought me a race medal/ race bib holder. Best running gift ever!

Now I get to hang my cool race swag, instead of pinning it to my wall with thumb-tacks! 

"Say cheese!"

I was delighted to see my Grandparent's had set out a little birthday cake for me. Cake counts as appropriate pre-race fuel, right? :)

We drove to the race start, which was at a different location than the marathon start, and finish line. Two days before, I had worked packet pick-up and was overwhelmed by the amount of people asking about the race logistics. "Is there parking at the race start?" "What if I'm not signed up for a shuttle?" "Can I switch my 4:00AM shuttle time to a later time?" "Where is Foster Park?""Where exactly is the start for the half?" ...needless to say, I had answers to none of those questions and figured it would probably be good if I figured it out for myself, too. The start for the half ended up being at Foster Park (in Ojai), and was a little nervous when we saw no other runners nearby. We drove around a little, and finally saw a bunch of cars parked under the freeway underpass and some shuttles going towards what seemed to be the right direction. We started following a group of runners with bibs on walking down the bike path. Some other runners started following behind us, and we got nervous after a while when we didn't see the starting line anywhere. It became one of those moments where we had to establish what was going on. I stopped and turned to the group of women behind us. "We are following the people in front of us, tell me you aren't doing the same thing with us and know where you're going." I horrified the entire group of women, who admitted they were just following us and had no idea where the start was. I saw a couple panic and pull out their phones. Shit, fuck hell. If I was to blame for an entire herd of runners missing their race, I'd never forgive myself.  Thank god we came upon the start within a few more minutes, because I was ready to run the opposite direction in fear of leading an entire group of people the wrong way. 

Even though it was misty outside, it was surprisingly muggy. This made me mad because I had planned on wearing my long-sleeve, and if I had known I'd be wearing just a tank top, I'd have worn my newly sewn Caballo Blanco memorial t-shirt. Oh well, I'll save it for my next half (which is better because it's a trail run anyway).

Bobby: "I wonder where the port-a-potties are."

Before I had a chance to get cold or antsy, the race started. Bobby and I hung towards the back, letting the runners spread out before we started working our way up. There were a thousand runners in the half, and I quickly abandoned my goal of placing in my age division. On the other hand, Bobby and I spent the majority of the run weaving through the crowds of runners. Part of me felt like they had just gone out too fast, and the other part of me felt like I had just trained a little better than them. ;-)

Abandoned oil-refinery. Quite the view!

Bobby ran the entire race barefoot. I repeat, Bobby ran the entire race barefoot. Not minimalist. Not in sandals. Bare feet to the pavement, yo. He warned me before we started that "it might start to get a little annoying" and at first I thought he meant the running barefoot part. Then he added, "people always say things. They can't help it." It was then I realized that he meant the people making comments about his  choice of foregoing shoes.

Soon enough, the comments started rolling in. "Hey! Barefoot man!" "Did you forget your shoes at home?" "Oh my god, he is barefoot, look!" My favorite, by far, was "If God wanted us to be barefoot, he wouldn't have invented Nike's!" ....there were so many come-back's I thought of to that comment, I couldn't even decide which to throw back before the guy was too far away to hear me.

I felt solid for the first eight miles of the race. Around mile 9 my hips started to feel a little tight. I felt like the Tin Man from the Wizard of Oz, only that I had lost my can and was nearing the squeaky, painful, oh my god, oil me please! moment. At different moments my knee started to burn, and the arches of my feet started to feel a strange sort of pinching sensation. I reminded myself that this was only feedback information from my body and as long as something wasn't totally unbearable, I could keep going. At mile 12, I started feeling anxious for the end to near. My pace up until this point had been extremely consistent (9:54 per mile) and although I gave up the sub-2 hour goal (which was in all honesty a little extreme for where I was at), I was still running much faster than anticipated.

At one point, Bobby turned to me and said, "Have you been running a lot?"
I didn't know exactly how to respond. "Yeah, what makes you say that?"
"Your pace," He said, jumping over a rocky-patch of asphalt. "You're way faster and more consistent than you were the last time I ran with you."
I thought about it, and the last time I ran with him and Michelle was over two months ago. Both of them had been healing since their marathon, so I'd been training the majority of the time by myself or with other people.

It was at that moment I realized how much improvement I had made in the last six months, and especially in the last two. I went from only being able to run a few miles (roughly) in a row, to a solid 13.1 miles with a faster pace than I had ran in my first 5K of the year. I remembered complaining to them about a four-miler we did once. I remembered needing to stop during another 5 miler, and my knee hurting for a few days after. The last few months I've noticed myself get more and more personally involved in running. It wasn't just something my two best friends dragged me out of bed every morning for. It became something that I dragged myself out of bed every morning for.

I didn't stop once during my race. I didn't expect that. I promised myself, that if I wanted to walk, I'd walk. I wasn't about to risk injury for the hopes of getting a certain time. But I felt good. Even when Bobby gave me the "get out of jail free" card (i.e. "We can walk if you get tired"), I still kept running. I figured, there are so many people who don't have the opportunity to run. I have trained for this. I'm not walking. 

I had a long list of reasons why I wouldn't let myself walk. When my body started hurting pretty bad the last mile, I thought about Micah True. I never had the chance to meet him in person, but I met many of the people who loved him the most. The impact this man had on the running community is immense. One of the most important things I've ever learned in running came from him: Just enjoy yourself, enjoy the scenery, and run happy.

So I did. I turned my attention away from my hurting body, to the ocean waves crashing to my left. I watched the crowds of people at the finish line drawing me in closer. I listened to the sounds of people cheering, cow-bells ringing, and waves crashing against the shore. I felt the biggest smile stretch across my face, mainly because I was so ecstatic to have made it to the end in one piece (and that I would be able to stop soon). It was almost over.

"You ready to sprint yet?" Bobby asked me.
I laughed pretty hard, mainly because I couldn't imagine running any faster than I already was. But somehow, I managed to pick it up, just a little bit.

We crossed the finish line at around 2:09:10. My phone clocked me in at 2:10:32 for a distance of 13.17 miles. Since I stopped it a little after I passed the finish line and kept walking, I'm going to just say I did it in under 2:09 :). I was more than happy with the results. And even happier with the race medal.

Surprise surprise! The race medal doubles as a beer opener! Useful!

Leave it to Compete Green to create a useful running medal! I approve! 

My awesome friend with the same name, Christa (with and H!) met me on my walk back to the car with a bunch of balloons and one of the biggest smiles in the world. She pinned the balloons to my shirt and I walked like a two-year-old, overjoyed :) I went straight home after to shower (didn't even hang around to gather free goodies from the expo like I usually do). When I got into my bathroom and started to take out my pony tale, I was horrified to see that a giant dread-lock had formed in my hair during my run. I couldn't even get my hair-tie out.

It took me about twenty minutes in the shower and a bottle of conditioner to get all the knots out.

All showered and ready for my birthday brunch! More shocking? Me in a dress. Happens about once a year.

I promised myself if I finished my race, I'd earn myself an entire day of gluttony. So what did that entail? Chinese food and Champagne, of course! Had to get my fill before my 30-Day Vegan Challenge (future blog post coming soon, ha!). 

The first of many plates of food. Did someone say buffet?

This is an awesome hat my artist friend Meaghan made for me. I thought it was amazing.

....and then I turned it over. EVEN MORE AMAZING. 

I had to model the hat for the camera. And my dear friend Christa had to photo-bomb me :)

My amazing friend Alexis made me a cake! She also ran in the half, side-by-side with another one of her first-time half-marathon runner friend. 

Alexis and I :) All smiles after our half-marathon!

Music happens when Kevin, Roy and I are in the same place at the same time. It's just a fact.

I forgot how to play my Uke. So I pretended. I wonder if my friend Caitlin noticed.

I'm a total hippie. So what? :)

There was only one last thing I wanted to make my day perfect. I'll give you one second to take a guess what it was.

A BURGER! We all pooled into the car and got In & Out. We drove to the Cross (which is a look-out point in Ventura) and sat on the wall while we ate. We stared at the view. It was amazing.

Does it get any better than this? Really? (This is also a great view of the course I ran, which further reminded me how far I had traveled on my own two feet that day). 

It was around this time that I started to feel reaallllyyy tired. I reminded myself that I had less than 2 hours of sleep total, ran 13.1 miles, and gorged myself on chinese food and champagne all day. Then I topped it off with birthday cake and a burger. Needless to say, my body was starting to stage a revolt. I was thankful my friends weren't trying to persuade me into going out downtown to drink more. There are some positives about having a birthday on a Sunday. Everyone has work the next morning. So I got the pleasure of climbing into bed at 8:45 PM the night of my twenty-fourth birthday. No injuries. No aches and pains. Endlessly happy. It was the perfect birthday :) 

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  1. Christa, what a great race report and birthday report! :) I live near San Luis Obispo, so I totally want to run the Ojai half next year... sounds like great fun (and wow what a medal!). I'm thinking about starting a Barefoot Runners Society chapter for the Central Coast of California - and I hope you and your barefoot racing friend join it. :) Thanks for your awesome comment on my site, BTW. Your energy is completely contagious! ~Caity

    1. Thank you, Caity! Let me know about the club you're starting, I would love to run with you guys sometime! Hope you'll accept one Barefooter and one Luna Sandal's wear-er!