One of my favorite running days of the year is July 1st. This is my oldest daughter’s birthday and every year on this day we run her age in miles. We started this tradition when she turned 9 and it’s been a very memorable way to celebrate her special day each year. It’s the anniversary of the day I became a mom so there are a lot of emotions packed in it. These birthday runs definitely help me from turning into an emotional basket case with each passing year. It really seems like she should be 5 or 6 right now- not 13!!
Abi’s never trained for her birthday run and it’s always been very low key- just the two of us waking up early on July 1st and putting in the miles. Last year had some challenging moments (to put it nicely) and I told her if she wanted to go for 13 next year she would have to actually prepare for it. Not serious training but at least a couple longer runs so she wouldn’t get injured and she would enjoy it more. Her training was pretty simple but it was enough for her right now. She ran junior high track with her school in the spring and we just added on a few 5k’s. In June she ran about 4 days a week (2-4 miles) and had 3 “long runs” consisting of 5, 6, & 9 miles. I would have liked her to have had one more longer run in there but she went to camp one week and wasn’t able to run at all. I figured 9 miles was better than nothing and in my opinion it’s always better for kids to be a little under trained than to run too much. The day of her longest run I ran the first 4 with her. My oldest son ran her next 3, and then my youngest daughter ran her last 2. Definitely a team Stone effort!
Finding a Half Marathon
When I realized that Abi’s 13th birthday fell on a Saturday I really wanted to find a half marathon. How perfect would that be? But, in case you were wondering, there are not a lot of half marathon options on July 1st! The few that I found online happened to be in Oregon, California, or Colorado- basically places with decent summer racing temps. Nothing around Arkansas and for good reason- it’s hot as blazes around here! My husband is VERY generous when it comes to running and racing but it just wasn’t realistic for us to make a huge trip across the country for my daughter and I to run a half marathon. I had accepted the idea that we might just run 13 miles along the Arkansas River Trail but then about a month before her birthday I found a new race listing on halfmarathonguide.com. It was the Memorial 13.1 Half Marathon in Hattiesburg, Mississippi. There wasn’t a lot of information about it since it was an inaugural race but I looked up Hattiesburg and learned that it was only a little over 6 hours from our house. I mentioned it to John and we decided to make an entire mini family vacation out of it. The beach was just another hour or so south of Hattiesburg so we planned a trip around the race. That’s right- a true racecation. I contacted the race director who was incredibly helpful and then we registered. I booked a house on AirBnB and we were set!
During the race registration and “racecation” planning process I was in the thick of dealing with plantar fasciitis. One week I took off completely from running and cross training. On the other days that I did run it was mostly between 4-5 miles. Sometimes I biked and sometimes I just rested. What was I thinking jumping into a half marathon not trained? My last run over 6 miles was 6 weeks before the half marathon. Basically I was relying on my running base from before the injury to get me through it. Would running this half marathon completely set my recovery back another month? I remember telling John at one point I wasn’t sure if I could do it. Maybe I could go to different sections of the course and cheer for her. But Abi really wanted me to run with her and I wanted to be there every step of the way. A week before the race I decided no matter what it did to me or how bad it hurt I was going to run with her. Three days before the half marathon I went on a 5 mile run on the turf and I could tell something was different. It actually felt a lot better. It still wasn’t 100% but that day and night following the run it was not nearly as sore as it usually was. This run gave me hope that maybe I was coming out of this injury. It was a turning point for me and it could not have come at a better time.
The half marathon started at 5:45 AM which meant we had to leave the beach house EARLY. I had my alarm set for 3:10 which is now the earliest (by far) that I’ve ever had to wake up for a race. I woke up Abi just before 3:30 and were in the car by 3:40. I wanted to get to the race by 5 AM since we had to pick up our packets, put on our bibs, and use the restroom. Since it was such an early race I suggested to John that he and the younger kids could all sleep in and stay at the beach house. With such an early start time we would be back just after they woke up and had breakfast.
I didn’t have to warm up since I wasn’t racing and I was glad about that since it was already in the mid 70’s with the temperature rising. It was a smaller racing field but the volunteers and runners seemed very friendly. There was even a runner (Carol) we knew from Arkansas running with a group of Half Marathon Maniacs. It was so nice to see a familiar face! I realized a few minutes before the start that I had forgot my gels. I knew Abi would need to fuel at least once during the race so I asked a volunteer if the race would have any at an aid station. They didn’t think they would (and they didn’t) but another runner had extras so she gave me 3 GU’s. She was a lifesaver!
I went into this race knowing nothing about the course. That’s definitely a first for a half marathon! The race director informed us all at the start that the course was basically two 6.5 mile loops with a little added on before and after. Knowing this I tried to point out certain signs and landmarks on the first loop to distract Abi and to give us something to look forward to on the second loop. We quickly settled into a comfortable 8:50-9:00 min pace. I really didn’t want her to go any faster because of the heat. There were 3 aid stations each loop and I carried a bottle of water with me the entire race. She had something to drink just about every other mile.
The course had some rolling hills so I tried to point out every downhill. After the first loop I could tell it was getting a little harder. We stopped and walked through all the aid stations in the second loop. Other than that she kept plugging away. Our pace slowed a little the last 5 miles but she stayed with it. I only remember seeing 2 mile markers (7 & 9) on the course and both were off according to my watch. This made me think that the course might measure a little long (which it did) but I didn’t want Abi to worry. Once we hit mile 13 I told her we were almost done. Finally we saw the race director and we made the turn back towards the finish line. We sprinted in and finished together in 2:05:50.
I’m so proud of my Abi. She conquered the hills and heat for over 13 miles. I will always remember this half marathon and I’m so glad I was able to run it with her. My foot felt “off” about half the race but it was never too painful. When I finished it felt similar to how it did after the one mile race. I thought that this was progress. It was sore that night but felt a lot better the next day. Again, progress.
We enjoyed another day at the beach with the family and then a short excursion to New Orleans on the way home. All in all a great birthday weekend racecation!! And now for an excessive amount of family vacation photos….