My First Half Marathon

My First Half Marathon by Sarah Maren Photography
I honestly am having a hard time writing all of this down. Despite the race being only a week ago, it seems like so much time has passed! Still, I am so happy to share the tale of my first half marathon because it’s truly a story I never thought I’d tell.

We started our trip to Southern California bright and early on Friday morning. Like before the sun rose early. No small feat with two small kids and a super tired husband. We picked up Best Friend Jill and away we went down I-5 to Disneyland. We made great time, avoided most traffic thanks to Dustin’s navigation apps and arrived at our hotel early that afternoon. After getting everything up to the room Jill and I headed out to the expo to pick up our packets and race gear. Jill also picked up some sweet LED arm bands so she isn’t hit by a car doing her early morning training and I got my 13.1 sticker for my car. Then we went out to dinner with some of our lovely SoCal friends and had THE BEST time. It was so lovely to catch up with my dear friend, Bethany who pinkie swore she would run Tink with us next year.

My First Half Marathon by Sarah Maren Photography
Saturday we took it easy. Dustin and I took the kids to the expo with the kids, walked Downtown Disney a little and then went to get some food. Jill and I were still 100% adhering to our Whole30 because I had MULTIPLE nightmares about missing the race because of tummy troubles. So we wanted to stay as on track as possible. That is harder than you’d think when you’re eating a big meal out. We ended up at Mimi’s and it was kind of a disaster. My food was terrible, Jill’s wasn’t much better and we just felt icky afterwards. So we headed over to the grocery store to pick up some sweet potatoes, bananas and coconut milk so we could have a cup of coffee before the race. Once we were back at the hotel and putting everything together for the race I REALLY started to get nervous. Yes, there was a little manic cleaning of the hotel room and quadruple checking my pile of race gear. Dustin took the kids to my sister’s hotel room for the night so we could get as much uninterrupted rest as possible. Finally at 8:30 I put on my pajamas and settled into bed. The ONLY reason I slept was because I took a low dose sleeping pill. My stomach was in knots as I went off to sleep.

Before I knew it, the alarm was sounding that 3am had arrived. It was go time. Oddly, my nerves were at ease. Dustin made us some coffee, we ate a hard-boiled egg and half an avocado for our pre-race meal and allowed a generous amount of coconut milk in our coffee. I kept my water drinking minimal as I ALWAYS have to pee shortly into a run, and I wanted to make it as far as possible without using a port-a-potty. I packed a bag with fuel, fresh socks and Nuun tabs for Dustin to meet us with at mile 6. Yes, I said fresh socks… I’m an over planner and an over packer. It’s who I am. We checked our supplies one last time, laced up our shoes and took off to get in our corral.

There were 14,000 people running the half marathon, so being in the final corral was a sight to behold as the masses were in front of us. The race started at 5am, but we didn’t cross the starting line until around 5:20. Talk about adrenalin rush! First of all, just the excitement of the race was enough to get your heart pumping. Then add in the fact that for the first 6 miles of the race you are running THROUGH Disneyland and California Adventure! I was like a kid in a candy store! Jill kept telling me to slow down so I didn’t fade toward the end of the run. And really, I TRIED to slow down (my splits actually say I DID slow down for mile 2-3) but my goodness it was just fun. The other awesome thing was they had all the park bathrooms open for runners. It was so nice to not have to squat in a porta-a-potty; just a beautifully clean Disneyland bathroom with no wait at all. Amazing!

My First Half Marathon by Sarah Maren Photography
After our break we stopped only to get a couple snapshots with characters. I happily bypassed the lines of runners waiting to get pictures taken until we got to Peter Pan and Wendy and The Lost Boys. Peter Pan is just one of my favorite stories ever and one of my most beloved Disney movies so we HAD to stop. It was totally worth losing a little bit of time at the finish line for some super fun pictures I will always love.

My First Half Marathon by Sarah Maren PhotographyMy First Half Marathon by Sarah Maren Photography
Mile 6 (my personal fastest mile of the race) led us out of the park and into the streets of Anaheim. This is where my beloved husband, Dustin was supposed to meet us with the supplies. Somehow though, he was at mile 4.5 in Downtown Disney and we had TOTALLY missed each other. This is kind of where I had a slight tizzy because, like I said, I’m a planner. I had the goal of seeing my husband at mile 6 in my head and I WANTED to see him so badly. I think mile 6 was my fastest because I was slightly irritated and because I just REALLY wanted to get to him. I also knew that by missing each other there was no way he would have time to go back and pick up the kids to meet me at the finish line. So in the course of a mile I had to mourn the loss of my planning a bit. My kids wouldn’t be there, but at least Dustin would. Jill and I carried on and, as always, Jill was the world’s best cheerleader.

Mile 8.5 was where the race had Cliff Shots available to us. Originally, we weren’t going to take any of the gels because well, we hate them mostly. But additionally, we really hadn’t had sugar in 3+ weeks thanks to doing a Whole30. Sadly, because we passed Dustin like a ship in the night we were out of fuel by this point. If there is ANYTHING I learned from my long runs before this race it’s that I MUST fuel every 3 miles. Now, I know for you seasoned runners out there you think I’m ridiculous. But because of my hypoglycemia I learned that if I don’t want to hit a wall at mile 5 I MUST fuel at mile 3. Jill has seen it when I hit a wall and it is NOT pretty. So, I was erring on the side of caution and kept my fueling going strong. I had 2 mini LaraBars in my belt pouch (mile 3 and 6) and an emergency almond butter packet. When we got to the fueling station we decided to grab a few for safety’s sake. I’m glad we did! I gagged down one (oh my god, they are THE WORST!) at mile 9 and half of one a few miles later and I was fine for the whole race.

My First Half Marathon by Sarah Maren Photography
I did get really tired around mile 11 (my slowest mile) but in the middle of that mile I finally found my handsome husbands face in the crowd and I SPRINTED to him. Talk about hysterics! I had totally kept my emotions about the race in check up until that moment, but the second I saw him I was a wreck. I threw my arms around him (which was difficult because he had two cameras strapped to his chest) and just sobbed. Seeing him made the race REAL – it made what I was doing, and what I have been doing for the past year REAL. He kissed me, snapped some pictures of me and Jill, patted my bum and sent us off for the final miles with the promise of seeing me at the finish. Needless to say, mile 12 was my second fastest of the race because he refuled my spirit at JUST the right time.

I won’t lie to you, the last half of the race is kind of dull. Running through Anaheim after running through Disneyland is a bit anticlimactic. But as we got to the end of mile 12 my heart started pounding like I was sprinting and my eyes started filling up. This was a BIG deal. We had walked a little of mile 12 and were back to running when we approached mile 13. Oddly enough, running felt better than walking. Both Jill and I have tight IT bands that effect our hips and for some reason running felt better on my hips than walking. So we kept with running for the majority of the race. Occasionally we did a walk/run interval that was wildly popular among the racers that day. We used stoplights and light poles as our interval measures. It was perfect because it kept us going during the hardest miles. As we came toward the finish line we ran hard, slowing only so we were not directly behind anyone when we crossed the finish line because I wanted DAMN good pictures of us at that moment. Jill and I grabbed hands and crossed together. Again with the hysterics, only this time I was not alone in my uncontrollable crying. Best Friend Jill was right there with me. When someone you have known since you were a kid, someone who has been with you through EVERYTHING is telling you that they are proud of you for doing something you never thought you’d do – well – there is nothing left to do but cry. There is NO ONE I would rather have crossed that finish line with. I kind of forced Jill into this race without really giving her a choice about it. Dustin just registered her when he registered me. That was it! I can’t tell you how thankful I am that she didn’t tell me to shove it, but put on her running shoes and trained for my first half with me. She gave up 5 days with her family to hang out with mine, and I won’t ever be able to properly convey how grateful I am for those 5 days and for her presence. She is amazing! I feel like the luckiest person alive to have her as my bestie and now as my running buddy.

My First Half Marathon by Sarah Maren Photography
After we finally got ourselves to stop weeping hysterically we grabbed our medals and a box of food and headed to the family meet-up area to find Dustin. Well – we DID flag down several photographers to take our pictures first. Dustin was awesome and pre-purchased images at the expo so I knew I’d be able to get all the digital files with the money he already put down. Because I knew this in advance we stalked photographers throughout the race – if there is one thing I REALLY wanted (other than to finish) it was to have great pictures… and I got them!

My First Half Marathon by Sarah Maren PhotographyMy First Half Marathon by Sarah Maren PhotographyMy First Half Marathon by Sarah Maren Photography
We found Dustin and headed back to our hotel. I was just so proud of us, and so happy to call myself a finisher. We had to take the long way to our hotel since the race was on the street we’d normally walk to get there and they’d closed the sidewalks. (Next year I’m staying on Disney property dang it!) The second we got to our hotel I kicked off my shoes and laid on the bed. I didn’t move for a half hour and it was lovely. Once the kids got to us we got ready and hit the parks for the rest of the day. We even shut Disneyland down the next night. All in all, it was an AMAZING time with my best friend and my awesome family.

My First Half Marathon by Sarah Maren Photography
After we got home on Tuesday I hung my medal in my office, my race bib on my cabinet door with the other bibs I have from the 5K’s we did last year and downloaded the pictures from our race. I can hardly believe after MONTHS of training and insane anticipation I am finally, officially, a runner and a half-marathon finisher. I NEVER thought I would do this. I NEVER believed I could. The past year has changed so much more than my size or appearance, it has changed my mind. I believe in things I didn’t before; I know I am so much stronger than I ever imagined I was and I can do so much more than I ever thought I could. I cannot thank my supporters more – my BELOVED husband, my awesome family, Best Friend Jill and my other beautiful friends who never gave up that I could do this thing and who cheered me on in ways that made me so grateful for them and their friendship. I am a different person than I was 12 months ago and for that I am so grateful. Life is so much different now, better and more challenging in ways I didn’t anticipate but am thankful for. I can’t wait for my next race! I’m already training and greatly looking forward to crossing another finish line.

My First Half Marathon by Sarah Maren Photography
Special thanks to Jill for letting me steal pictures off her Instagram account because she is a better Instagramer than I am. 🙂


you gorgeous blonde skinny bitch i love your transformation!!!!

Wow, Sarah! I am so happy for you! What an amazing accomplishment and such a great way to ring in your success! You rock! 🙂

Congratulations! My sister told me this morning to check out your inspiring post about your run and I am so glad I did. You are amazing Sarah and I’m so happy to hear your first 1/2 went this well. What an absolute triumph.

What an amazing experience!! I teared up a bit reading this. I can only imagine how wonderful this accomplishment must feel!! Congrats to you & Jill!!

I knew you could do it, your attitude has always been positive and you were READY to make the change. I hope that next year I can hit that same milestone – you are my inspiration! Congrats Sarah 🙂
and Dustin – you rock too! 😉

You guys are AWESOME! Congrats, Sarah! xo

The end.

I’m so excited you posted your journey. My friend called me from Disneyland last week and said “We are so doing this next year”! I’m so proud of what you accomplished…you’ve inspired two “older ladies” to go for it! – Thanks & Great Job!

Well…here I am crying AGAIN. I should know better.

Love you. SO SO SO proud of you.

You are a super awesometastic rock star of the most amazing variety. LOVE YOU.

This is so wonderful and inspiring and encouraging. I am SO PROUD OF YOU, sister. Really. The most I have ever run is a 10k and it took everything I had in me to finish that. You’re a rockstar, and you look AMAZING. Keep it up!

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