USATF Half-Marathon Championships: A Bigger Deal than I Thought, but Less Scary than I Expected

 Tristin was excited when she made it to Pittsburgh!

Tristin was excited when she made it to Pittsburgh!

Big road races are so much less stressful than track races. You get to start with thousands of other people who don’t even know you’re an elite, you get to pace with some of the sub-elite men, and you can zone out while bands play on the side of the road.

At least these were the thoughts going through my head while I was on my way to Pittsburgh for the USATF half marathon championships. How naive I was to think that I would be mixed in with everyday runners, hidden in the crowd, and in the perfect environment to make a million excuses to slow down and relax the pace...not the case.

When I found out the elite race would start 10 minutes BEFORE everyone else, preceded by a huge introduction and hundreds of eyes watching us line up, I freaked. During the elite athlete meeting before the race, I looked around and saw so many faces of women who I knew would crush me: Olympic gold medalist Gwen Jorgensen, Pan American champion Sarah Hall, and USATF 10k champion Aliphine Tuliamuk. My first instinct was to run up to them and ask for their autographs, but I held back and tried to play it cool even though I was spazzing out inside my head. “Will they lap me? Can I even get lapped in a half marathon? What if I’m last?” The nerves officially entered my body and I knew they would be there until I crossed the line the next morning.

 

Here’s a breakdown of my half marathon PR and 12th place finish!

 Photo credit to Pete Madia

Photo credit to Pete Madia

Sparknotes version of Tristin’s thoughts during the half marathon:

Introduction (Freak out mode): OMG I’m so excited and I can’t wait to race but also I’m so scared and I just threw up in my mouth and HOLY CRAP Gwen Jorgensen is doing strides next to me.

Chapters (miles) 1-4: Let’s go out at a 5:30 pace and run with the big dogs...oh wait, maybe I should settle in and make sure I’m comfortable so I can actually finish this thing.

Chapters 4-8: OK I feel pretty good. I’m tired, but my pace is consistent. Why are there so many bridges here? It’s humid, let me grab some water--oh wait, that's gatorade and now it’s in my eye. Let’s run through mile 6 with my left eye closed. Remember to smile! Ok it’s more of a grimace...

Chapters 8-10: Now my legs feel it. They really feel it. WHY ARE THERE SO MANY BRIDGES?! Stay with this girl. Don’t leave her. I really want to stop running. Ok Tristin, just take it one mile at a time. I think I’m having fun right now…?

Chapters 10-13: My GPS isn’t right because I feel like I’m walking up this hill right now. Should I get more water? Wait no, I don’t want to go blind if I accidentally get Gatorade again. Wait my legs actually really hurt. Just pretend you’re doing a tempo with Coach Steve. Only a couple miles left. I know I’m in the top 15....and I’m really broke so I need this money--wait don’t think about the money. Just try to beat people. But I really want some money. Wait, this is actually really fun...but painful...wait not painful, “uncomfortable.”

Conclusion (last 0.1):  Is that the clock? Am I gonna PR??? I swear I’m walking right now. OMG I’m gonna break 1:16! SPRINT.

As it turns out, the race was nothing short of amazing. Not because I ran “fast,” but because it was such a different and rewarding experience. Not only the race, but the whole experience of running in a US championship and major road race was so much cooler than I can accurately describe. I felt strong and I had FUN. Although cliche, I think the key to this whole long distance thing is just having fun with it. Being part of RDP has taught me that being present, having fun, and trusting in yourself and your training can take your legs further than you thought you could go.

Here’s to more fun to come!