This year, I decided to conclude my racing season in October so that I could spend some more time focusing on other projects. I’ve heard that training for a half is like having a part time job that doesn’t pay you, and I find that to be true in more ways than one.
Leading up to my race, I spent most weekends doing long runs. When I wasn’t recovering, meal prepping, or asleep, I was thinking about recovering, what I should be eating, and when I would be sleeping. Oddly enough, I love how consuming running is; however, I know I can only keep this routine up for so long.
In the past six months, I’ve done a minimum of one race per month. It’s been difficult, yet eye-opening. I’ve had on and off shin splints since July and my left heel started aching about a month ago and hasn’t gone away since. My body has told me that it’s time to give it a rest for a bit.
Knowing that I was going to hang up my racing shoes for several months, I wanted the end of my season to be epic. So I thought, why not go international? I’ve had positive experiences with both Rock and Roll Brooklyn and Rock and Roll Philly, so my confidence in the organization led me to select the Rock and Roll Half in Lisbon. I had absolutely no idea what I was in for.
I registered for the race without thinking about jet lag, my pre-race routine, or all the things I would miss about racing in my home country. Nevertheless, my adventurous side overtook me, so I set off for the race of a lifetime.
The race was on a Sunday. I took a half day at work on Friday and flew out on a red eye that evening. My flight ended up being delayed because of a medical emergency (I never found out what happened but I hope he/she is ok) which brought us back to the gate and then, there were 17 planes ahead of us queuing for takeoff. My flight was supposed to be 6 hours but it turned into 8.5 hours. I had no leg room and was incredibly stiff upon landing. Thankfully, I had a day before the race to walk it off.
Once I landed, I went to my hotel to put down my bags. I thought I’d do some sightseeing since it was 9am and then head over the the race expo at lunchtime. That was a colossal mistake.
After getting lost in the cobblestone streets, I headed into a pharmacy to get directions to the expo. I wasn’t too far off. I approached the race expo around 1pm, planning to get in and out of there to grab lunch. To my dismay, the line for the race expo was out of the door and down the street. It was a couple hundred of people long! Even worse, it was 80 degrees and the line was directly in the sun.
I almost turned around and gave up. Then, I reminded myself that I had been training for this. My whole racing season came down to this moment and I wasn’t backing down because of a long line.
Unfortunately, I didn’t realize that that line was only the beginning. Once I was inside, there were no more women’s tech shirts, so I had to settle for a men’s shirt.
The morning of the race, I had to take the train to Oriente and then a shuttle to the start of the race on the Vasco de Gama Bridge. And I waited in-you guessed it-another hour long line! At least I was covered by the shade of the station this time.
I made it to the start line by 10:10. I set off to find my corral. There were no corrals! Thousands of people and no corrals! I couldn’t believe this was real life. I tried to stay positive since the race was starting soon. Without staggered starts, I crossed the starting line at 10:40.
The first 4k were amazing. Running across the longest bridge in Europe forced me to conquer my fear of bridges. The views were staggeringly beautiful and I was trying to take all of it in. It was hard to run and enjoy myself as there was a significant amount of people walking and even walking backwards to take selfies!
Around 5k with temperatures approaching no less than 85 degrees, I was ready for some water. Still, I had yet to pass a water station! I was so thirsty and wished that I had brought my hydration belt. Finally at 6k, I saw a water station.
I’m obviously unfamiliar with European ways, because I didn’t realize they would be passing out full on 16 oz bottles! It’s not like I could drink the whole thing. I took a sip and threw my bottle down. I suddenly realized how stupid that was, especially since who knew how long it would be until I could get water again.
The course continued past the Oriente Station where we boarded the shuttle and toward Parque des Nacoes. There was a 10k going on simultaneously, so the course felt crowded until we split off around 8k.
I don’t remember where exactly the next water station was, but I have an inkling it was between 9-10k. This time, I decided I would carry a water bottle with me in my hand. I hate running with things in my hands because it causes me to flex my wrist, but given that I saw people on the sidelines collapsing from heat exhaustion, I had to make an exception.
Kilometers 10-15 were in no man’s land. Everything around us looked very industrial, and there were few people cheering us on. This is generally the hardest portion of the race for me. By this point, the sun was relentless. I was trying to hold on to my pace, but it became difficult. Because of the extreme heat, I decided it wouldn’t be smart for me to try to PR that day. I hadn’t seen in a single medical tent during the entire race and without a working phone, I couldn’t afford to be in trouble.
When I saw the 15k sign, I smiled. I was hitting my favorite mile in the half marathon, mile 9. I had officially entered the last third of the race. Slowly but surely, my surroundings started to look more familiar as we approached the downtown area. At 17k, I saw a hill. A very large hill. We were going to climb Avenida de Liberdade. I had heard that this course was flat. Although it wasn’t flat at all, this was the largest incline so far. It was roughly 1.5k up the hill. I jogged up the whole thing, but it was a struggle. When we reached the top, we had to run back down. My knees were killing me and I felt like I was just going to roll down the hill and hope I finished the race in one piece.
After the most trying incline of my life, I had about 1.5 km to the finish line. I tried to speed up a bit, but the fatigue was hitting me so hard. Soon after 19k, there was a water station as well as volunteers throwing water on runners. I’ve never been so happy to have water thrown on me. I finally reached Terrairo de Paco, the finish line. With the red carpet laid out under my feet, I sprinted the last 100m.
I was so glad to be done, given that it was rough 24 hours into the race. I will definitely do more research ahead of time before registering for another international race. Having a race start at 10:30am in 90 degree weather is never going to be a good decision. I also missed the energy of US races because it was difficult to bond with the runners around me who were speaking a myriad of languages.
Despite all the challenges I faced, I’m extremely proud of myself for running the entire race. I did not PR, but I did run in a foreign country in a different time zone in weather I’d never run in before. It was a great way to close out my running season, and I can only look forward to what next year will bring.