Fairfield Half Marathon Recap

How do you recap a race you kind of hated?


Well, let me clarify: I hated the course and I hated the weather.

But there was plenty about yesterday’s Fairfield Half Marathon that I loved.

I went into this weekend feeling surprisingly optimistic about the race. Despite a somewhat tumultuous month battling an annoying Crohn’s Disease flare-up, I felt confident being on a high dose of steroids, hoping they’d kick in just in time for the Sunday morning start gun.

(I actually don’t think there was a gun, just an “On your marks…GO!”)

I wasn’t looking to PR in this race. I wasn’t looking to do anything but run smartly and make it to the finish line.

That happened. Yay!

I woke up at 4:30 am on Sunday morning, allowing myself plenty of time to follow my morning routine: abs, shower, eat, bathroom, bathroom, bathroom.

The temperature in NYC had already climbed to the high 60s, but in my mind that is perfect legwarmer weather.

No, I didn’t keep them on for the race. But they did keep my calves and shins toasty during the commute to Connecticut.

At this point you may be wondering, “Hey Ali, why did you go to Connecticut for a race when there are a million for you to do in NYC? That seems like a big effort.”

That’s true.

I did the Fairfield Half Marathon with the Run For The Rabbit crew! The finalists all ran the race together and the entire filming team was there to capture the action for upcoming commercials and webisodes. It was a little nerve-wracking, knowing I’d be on camera before, during and after the race, but it was also exciting.

I met up with Lee, the owner of JackRabbit, and two of the other finalists to drive up to Fairfield at 6 am.

The drive was easy, and we made it to the race start with plenty of time to pick up our bibs, use the bathrooms and do some filming.

I am happy to report that my stomach was feeling good at this point. I tried not to dwell on it too much, but I knew it was calmer than it had been at any time during the previous week. That fact alone helped me stay positive and happy.

One thing I immediately disliked about the race was the start system. There were no corrals, but they separated the start by gender. I’m not sure how this makes sense. Yes, I understand that many men run faster than some women, but overall the idea seems silly to me.

We started pretty far back in the pack, and admittedly I did a ton of weaving right from the get-go. I got the impression that many of the women I was behind weren’t out to race, but rather to enjoy the run with their friends. That’s fine, but please get out of my way.

The first mile was great. It was flat, and despite running in the grass and on the sidewalks to get around people, I was feeling strong. I kept my pace around 8:30, as advised by Coach Cane, and did my best not to try and fly right away.

Then we got to mile 1.5. We rounded a corner and I was greeted with a hill.

I train in Central Park, so I’m not really afraid of hills.

But these hills came at me like mountains. They were huge. Long hills. Steep hills. Seemingly never-ending hills.

I stayed strong on the first one. My pace wasn’t anything spectacular, but it didn’t suffer too badly. I also liked the downhill that immediately followed the climb.

But then the hills kept coming — and the shade disappeared.

Within the first five miles I realized just how challenging this race was going to be. I felt like I was constantly facing a hill and my breathing was heavy. I stuck close to an 8:15 pace for the first five miles, but by mile 6 that dropped off fast.

I was definitely dehydrated, as evidenced by the fact that I got so dizzy and went into blackout mode three different times.

Scary? A little bit.

I kept envisioning myself crossing the finish line on a stretcher. I don’t know if the film crew would have loved the drama of that or hated it.

Miles 5–10 were a huge mental struggle for me. I’ve had a few tough races lately and I just kept thinking negative thoughts. I convinced myself I couldn’t run a marathon. I told myself I was stupid for trying to “become a runner.”

At mile 6, I got a nasty cramp in my side and pulled to the side of the course to try to get rid of it. A nice lady told me to push in, breathe deep, something like that, to make it go away. It didn’t really work, and I ran the next two miles with a searing pain in my side.

Not cool.

Something I did love: all the sprinklers along the course. I don’t think there were enough water stations considering the heat, but I did love all the kind Fairfield residents who set up their hoses and sprinklers so we could run through them. The cool water felt amazing.

But still, the heat brought me down. After the third time things went dark, I realized I needed to regroup. So at the next hill, I let myself walk.

I never walk during races.

I knew I had to, though, or I wasn’t going to make it to the finish. I was so dizzy and felt so dehydrated. As much as I wanted to run through it, I know that walking two of the hills is the reason I survived.

Judge accordingly, but I say there’s no shame in walking during a race (just stay out of the way of the runners plowing past you). My little walking breaks were life-savers.

Once I hit mile 10, I somehow felt amazing again!

I finished the final 5K in a respectable pace and I swear I smiled the entire time. I knew at this point that the hills were behind me and I knew there was going to be a dang camera getting in my face at mile 12.

I didn’t love that so much. Running the final mile while being asked, “How do you feel?!” is kind of tricky. I yelled out something about the race being hard, then I’m pretty sure I told the camera guy to “get out of my face so I can finish this race.”

Classy, Ali. Real nice.

I promised myself I’d finish the race with a smile, and I did.

Official finish time: 1:56:11.

Way off my PR, but I’ll take it. I didn’t die. Score.

Also note how stretched out my shirt was because it got so drenched. Between the sweat and the sprinklers, I had to wring out my entire outfit after I finished.

But I look like I have leg muscles. Leg muscles = runner.

I was so, so happy to be done this race. It was really hard, but I don’t think I could have done anything differently. I’m trying not to beat myself up over the fact that my time was significantly slower than at the Brooklyn Half Marathon, during which I stopped twice to use the bathrooms.

Plus, we had a great time after the race! It was fun watching other runners finish and chatting with everyone about their race experience. It seemed like the conditions took a toll on lots of people, but everyone was happy to cross the finish line.

I was a little nervous to report back to Coach Cane about how the race went. I didn’t want him to be disappointed by my finish time — and he wasn’t.

Seriously. He is the best, and he made me feel good about the race.

An excerpt from his email to me: I am not disappointed in you at all. Keep in mind that all marathoners go through growing pains. Today was a bump in the road, but one from which we can both learn and improve. Also keep in mind that I never intended for this to be an “A race”. Let’s go for a casual run together this week or next and just chat as coach/runner/friends, without any pressure or expectations.  I admire your competitive nature and your desire to do right by JackRabbit, but I want to make sure you do right by Ali too. And when you cross the line on 9/24 and give me a big smiling, sweaty hug, all this junk will be a distant memory.

Yes, of course I read that and cried. I’m a sappy runner.

I slept the entire car ride back to the city, got dinner with my cousins, ate 16 Handles and passed out.

And today I am wearing my most-sweatpant-like work-appropriate outfit. Comfort over cuteness.

There you have it: my Fairfield Half Marathon recap.

To summarize: Ali hates hills. Ali hates heat. Ali is beating Crohn’s Disease.



0 Responses

  1. OMG I feel so bad I thought the course was flat and told you that! The parts I always run are! I guess they hide the hills. I’m so sorry!

  2. you are so right about the hills (and blazing sun)! i knew this course was rolling, but omg – this is definitely not a PR-type course. i’m glad that you were able to finish with a smile on your face, because some races are meant for fast times, but others just need to be about the experience. and in the end, we do this for fun, right??

    we do need to find a race that’s flat and maybe around 55 degrees though. i’m actually thinking about running the Philly 1/2 in November – it’s 2 months after your marathon, could be fun!! any interest?

  3. Great job! That is an amazing time- heck, my own PR is right in that neighborhood and I was running in 45 degree weather. A few of my high school friends go to Fairfield University, I’ve heard it’s a gorgeous area!

  4. Good job! Each different race is it’s own day, and shouldn’t always be compared against others. Please make sure to take care of yourself and don’t be too hard on yourself for not producing the times you’d expected. It’s hot out there, and continuing a long and healthy running career is really what’s important!

  5. You are awesome!! Seriously! I’m sorry the race didn’t go as well as you had hoped BUT you finished, you didn’t have to stop to use the restroom, you crossed the line with a smile, and you are much stronger for it!! Every race teaches us something about ourselves as a runner, and about just how much we can withstand. You are a strong runner and getting stronger every day. I’m so impressed by your attitude and determination. You are beating Crohn’s….and it is pretty amazing to watch. 🙂 Congratulations Ali!

  6. Ali, you are just so awesome. I hope you know that. You are beating Crohn’s and you are fundraising for others to beat it, too. I know that hot, hilly runs are no fun, but you are doing something so much bigger than running a race. Coach Cane definitely sounds like he has his finger on the pulse. I love it. Keep doing what you’re doing!

  7. Wow! You did so great despite the hills and the heat! It’s awesome to hear that your stomach was the least of your worries! And you DO have leg muscles. I actually said that to myself before I read what you commented about them. =) You’re such an inspiration to new runners like me. Oh – and I totally get Dance Spirit magazine and when I figured out that you were the Deputy Editor, I think I showed my whole family (and some of my friends) your article and was like “See this writer? I kind of know her.. I follow her blog.” Ha.. I’m not usually that creepy, I swear.

    xo Marie
    Chocolate & Wine

  8. I am proud of you for finishing. The thing is, these are the types of races that will make you a stronger runner. Bad runs help you realize how awesome the good runs are!! And you can for sure do a marathon, because I’m doing a marathon and you’re faster than me, and I can do a marathon. We both can.

    Sometimes, when i’m having a bad run and i’m being mean to myself, I start to thank God that I am able to run and that I have my legs and arms. It sounds really cheesy, I know, but it helps me to be grateful for the fact that I can use my body, that I have the money to race, that I can challenge myself in this way when so many people have other things to worry about. The last time I did that, my pace picked up and I had a great finish. It just helps me keep things in perspective and it helps me remember why I love running so much.

  9. Wow hills + heat = misery. And you STILL ran a great race even if it was painful at times. You are amazing. You are doing so great – and I am SO SO SO glad your stomach held up!! That is a huge plus. I also loved what your Coach had to say, he is a true blessing,huh?

  10. Seriously amazing. You powered through that the best you could and your time is still amazing!!! I am glad Coach Cane’s words helped and I hope that you know you are a rockstar in all that you are able to accomplsih!! amazing! congrats!

  11. i agree with coach cane, you can learn something from EVERY race…especially if it’s not as good as you hoped. i always chase every race with a healthy dose of self-reflection. and i can’t say this enough, the fact that your stomach was ready to run is a HUGE win. any half marathon is a sweatastic accomplishment and I hope that are spending the day in a pair of leg warmers, listening to mandy moore and reminding yourself that you are a bad ass runner.

  12. First of all an 8:15 pace for the first 5 miles is amazing so congratulations!!! Second of all hills are super hard and totally take a toll on race pace and overall performance. So, those things combined with your stomach problems/dehydration I think you did a fabulous job! You crossed the line with a smile and that’s what this is all about right? You run for yourself, the confidence it gives you and how amazing it makes you feel! You just ran a half marathon which is soo much more than a million and one people will ever say. Nice work Ali!

  13. Great job! You never cease to amaze me with your running during a flare (although you gotta keep hydrated girl!). also loved “bathroom, bathroom, bathroom.” sounds like my morning, every morning, since 2003 – even post colectomy.

  14. That race sounds tough, but kudos to you for sticking it out and FINISHING! I hope you’re able to figure out the blackouts, though– do you think it was just dehydration, or a side effect of the medication?

    16 Handles is for sure the cure. Hope you enjoy your easy run/chat with Coach Cane this week! 🙂

  15. Ali,
    Wow you continue to inspire me again and again. I had to walk at my last half marathon and it is very disheartening but understanding and honoring your body is so important, good for you! Your a star! I am so sorry for all the tummy troubles but super happy that it worked out this weekend. But the blackouts are scary, I hope you guys figureout what is going on soon! Where are you in your goal for raising money btw? Finally I may be stopping by NY in the next week or so, game for a run maybe?

  16. I think Fairfield beach is SUCH a pretty place to run! I went to college in Faifield.. and often stop to run by the beach on my way home from work (I stay below Post Road to keep everything flat!)

    I love the HUGE smile you have on your face at the finish too. You look so happy! 🙂 Congrats on getting through the run.. the hills, the cramps..the heat. Really a great accomplishment!

  17. Great job! you take the best running photos ever!!!
    Many more doubts will cross your mind while you train but crossing the finish line of the marathon will be the greatest feeling in the world. Just reading through your blog, I know you are more than strong enough of a runner to complete a marathon. You have a very wise coach!

  18. You look REALLY pretty! Love that color on you. You also look happy. You are so fast! I can run my absolute fastest and never be like you, so be proud! I know it wasn’t your personal best, but you are still insanely fast even with a tough race and blacking out (!). I would LOVE a camera in my face as I run a race. Sign me up.

  19. Great job in some tough conditions!

    What you describe from miles 6-10, that describes a lot of races for me. I tend to think, “Why am I even trying, I’m not good at this” or “This is terrible” and then at the end I am SO MAD AT MYSELF for doing that. I need to stop that asap, pronto, stat.

    I love this website, http://believeiam.com/, and want all of the stuff, thinking that if I wear it, I’ll have more confidence in my running self — yes, I’m SURE that’s my problem.

    Also, wear do you get your running shorts – love!

  20. Great job Ali! I feel your pain. I had that dizzy feeling in my race yesterday too!! This heat is too much!!! Congrats on finishing with a smile : )

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about ali

I’m the creator of the Ali on the Run blog and the host of the Ali on the Run Show podcast. I’m also a freelance writer and editor, a race announcer, a runner and marathoner, a mom, and a huge fan of Peanut M&Ms, Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again (way better than the first one!), and reliving my glory days as a competition dancer in the early 2000s. I’m really happy you’re here.
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