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The Road to Half Marathon: Bass Lake/Yosemite Half Marathon Done!

I’m WAY behind on this, but in early May 2021, I finally ran the Yosemite half marathon I’d been planning to run. (Yes, I was training for this back in May 2020.) First, let me just say it was beautiful!

And also painful.

And I discovered how chaffing works between your arms and sides. (It hurts, that’s how it works.)

But I did it! In 2 hours and 18 minutes! 

And all in all, it was a great time.

Quick disclosure: this half marathon is outside Yosemite National park. It’s not actually inside the park. No Half Dome views. No running past Yosemite Falls. But it was very pretty and is relatively close to Yosemite.

middle of half marathon
I know I look like I’m legitimately suffering, but actually, at this point, I was having a great time — I just didn’t realize the photographer was taking pictures. I was in my own little world having a grand ol’ time. (Photo credit: Vacation Races)

So, what was it really like to run my very first half marathon race? 

It was a lot of fun. I think I got a runner’s high… Either way, there were definitely times I was running where I was grinning so hard and just having a blast enjoying the scenery, drinking incredibly sugary fluids, and stocking up on some Honey Stinger gel snacks at almost every rest station.

But there were other times that I wasn’t all smiles and joy. Mostly, the very start and the very end. Like, first two miles and last mile and a half. Those were rough. Here’s why.

The first two “Can I Do This?” miles

Right before I crossed the start line, I noticed a bunch of people taking selfies, so figured that was the right thing to do here? (Photo credit: Johanna Flashman)

During the first two miles, I was just warming up. It was maybe 8 am, there wasn’t any coffee like I’d expected, I’d just sat on a bus for 45 minutes, and I didn’t really know what one does at the start of a half marathon.

The start line was open because they just had a chip on your bib number that started your timer when you crossed the start line. I filled up my water bottles, went to the bathroom, did some stretches, and then was just like… “guess I’ll start now?”

I started slowly, warming up because that’s what the Nike Run Club coach always says to do and it makes sense, but going slow got me antsy. It was still an effort and that made me nervous. I was thinking “damn if this is effort, how the heck am I going to do the whole thing?!”

The first mile marker felt like ages and the second one also felt long. I was doing between a 10 and 11-minute mile and felt sluggish. It didn’t feel good that I was just willing the next mile marker to show up around the next corner. Then I’d look at my phone’s mileage tracker and be at 1.44 miles.

But then I passed mile marker 3 and suddenly I was 6 miles in, then over halfway done, and feeling good. My stride was stronger, I was relaxed, and smiling. The volunteers at the fuel and water stations cheered us on and I was passing quite a few people (probably because I’d signed up for a much slower time category since I wasn’t sure how I’d do when I signed up). 

Pushing through the end struggle

yosemite half marathon end
At the very end of the race. I look like I’m having a great time and I was, but also, I was suffering. (Photo credit: Vacation Races)

These good vibes generally stayed strong through the run until maybe mile 10 or 11. Then it started to feel hard again. My feet hurt. I had been sweating so much I was dusting dried sweat salts off my forehead and side of my face (gross, I know you didn’t need to know that, sorry). 

Then I noticed the chaffing. The inner parts of my upper arms were red and raw from the amount of time swishing back and forth against my tank top. I was cursing myself for not thinking about vaseline before starting the run  — I’d never gotten it on my arms like that though, so hadn’t even thought about it!

At this point, we were running on the closed-off road around Bass Lake with houses lining the road. Some people were hanging out in their front yards with music, noisemakers, or signs cheering runners on. I have to say, that felt cool. I knew I was almost done and almost there and yes, I do got this! But it was still nice to be told since my legs were very tired.

Finishing My First Half Marathon

finisher medal yosemite half marathon
My finishers medal. (Photo credit: Johanna Flashman)

At the finish line, I was so ready to go sit down and drink my chocolate milk. 

But also, it felt a little anticlimactic. Like Christmas morning at 17 years old where you still kind of expect something magical to happen, but also, it doesn’t really.

I got my box of snacks (that I demolished and was still hungry after). I got my finisher medal. And I met up with my mom who had been cheering me on and had done the race with me (she started earlier than I did and finished with a time of 3 hours 54 minutes — I’m VERY proud of her!!!).

It was a great feeling. But also, was I really any different? Not really. Did I still feel accomplished? Definitely. Was it incredibly challenging to stand up after sitting down to eat my snacks? Yes, yes it was.

Some Finer Detailed Notes on Doing My First Yosemite Half Marathon

mom and I at end of yosemite half marathon
My mom and I at the end of the race. Getting up to take this photo was maybe the biggest challenge. (Photo credit: a kind participant who took our photo)

In case you’re thinking of doing a half marathon any time soon (you 500% should! — if you want to), these are my finer notes on the experience with how I trained, fueled, and what I’d do differently in the future.

My Training

Since my race got postponed several times due to Covid, my training was a little weird. I’d start to get serious, then ease up, then stop a little. Then get back into it…maybe..but not actually. And then ACTUALLY did some training.

So my structured training started around 9 weeks before the race. I used the Nike Run Club app (suggested by my sister) and played around with their 14 weeks to half marathon training plan to make it work for me. 

Basically, I ran 5-days a week — some very easy and short 15-20 minute runs, some longer 30-45 minute ones, and one longer distance-based run per week. The long run got longer and longer each week up to around 12.5 miles two weeks before the race. 

My Fuel

On my longer training runs after around 7-8 miles, I started bringing snacks and water on the runs with me. I always used my running vest from Montane and used the soft water bottles that came with the vest, but I experimented a little with snacks. 

Here are a few of the different snacks/fuel I tried and how well they worked.

  • Fruit cereal bars: a solid choice that sat decently in my stomach. Didn’t give a ton of quick sugar calories, but definitely enough for 8-10 miles.
  • Giant gummy worms and gummy coca-cola bottles: I was so excited for these and the fact that they got me more motivated to go on the run might have been worth it in itself. However, the ones I had were super chewy and kind of hard. May have had to do with the fact it was cold. Would definitely eat again.
  • Dried apricots: these were definitely good, but a little sticky to eat. Also, I kind of got tired of them.
  • Honey Stinger gels: these are what the race had at fuel stations and they were solid. Sweet, tasty, didn’t give me any cramps or make me feel sluggish, easy to eat while running.
  • Gnarly drink: they also had this energy/electrolyte drink at the race and it was also good, though probably not something I’d want as a usual training thing because wow it was really sweet.
  • Clif Shot Bloks energy chews: I really like these. If they weren’t so expensive, I’d use them for all my long runs and hikes. They’re basically candy, but don’t give you a stomach ache or make you feel bogged down. (Maybe it’s just a “candy but healthy” placebo effect, but it works, so I’ll take it.) Honestly, they may not be that different from something like gummy bears or something, but they are tasty.

What I’d Do Differently

My pre-jitters short run in Bass Lake the day before the race. (Photo credit: Johanna Flashman)

In general, I feel happy about the way things turned out with my run, but there are things I could definitely improve on.

  • Start structured training earlier: because I was going off this 14-week plan and adjusting, I always felt like my plan was a little bit rushed. It worked out just fine, but I think it’d try to do the full 14 weeks and see if it felt any different.
  • Do more speed training: out of the different runs I skipped, I think I skipped the speed runs the most. If I were to run again, I’d probably want to beat my current time, so I think it would be cool to see if the speed runs made any extra difference.
  • Rest 2-3 days before the race: I was supposed to be relaxing and resting the few days before the race aside from a little pre-jitters short run the day before, but we were in Yosemite! We were hiking. Having a good time. Some hikes went longer than we’d planned. It happens. It was fine at the time, but I think if I were to do it again, I’d like to feel more fresh on the day of the race. Not like I’d hiked an average of 8 miles each day over the past 5 days before the race.

Have you done a half marathon? What was your first half marathon experience like? Share in the comments in you’d like 🙂

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