An alternative title for this post (obviously imagined around mile 9) was:
“How to Positive Split Like a Champ” or “I Used to Love the Half, Now I Hate it”
I was in a weird middle-ground going into this race, and I wasn’t really sure how to go about running it.
For starters, I’m running Ragnar Northwest Passage on an ultra team this weekend (tomorrow…yikes), so going all-out in a half marathon 7 days before was not an option. Also, I’m in a spot with running where I’m as far behind in terms of speed as I was a few months ago, but I’m not back to my “normal” paces yet either. This left me pretty unaware of what I could run with a moderately-decent effort. And finally, this was a half marathon in July: it was going to be hot, which always rattles my running chains.
So, needless to say – I didn’t really know what to hope for or try for going into this race. I decided I’d be very happy running around a 1:45 (~8:00 pace) and decided to play around with that idea. Also, I really hoped to not stop once for a porta-potty, which would be a big step in my running/Crohn’s recovery.
Well, turns out, despite having a multitude of unknowns going into this race (see above), the only thing I really should have considered was the one “known:” it was going to be hot.
And it was hot. I’m not really one for excuses, but shit, this race was hard. As in, harder than a few marathons I’ve done.
It was a pleasant/easy enough start to the race. There definitely weren’t enough bathrooms, but generally things were organized and it started right on time at 7 am. I’d been able to find people I knew, and generally I was excited to be wearing my singlet and a bib.
The first three miles felt exceptional; breathing was easy, legs felt good, and low and behold…I was keeping up a decent pace. I felt happy, strong, and generally gracious to be out there.
Then right about mile 4, I realized pretty quickly that it was going to be a long finish to this race. I was already sweating way more than normal, and it became clear that while I originally thought this was a fairly flat course – it was actually rolling up and down essentially the entire way. Not to mention the fact that the sun was creeping further overhead, and there was absolutely zero shade.
Despite how early on it still was, I could feel the bitter, negative thoughts barge into my head. I tried to reel them in and remember that everyone was going to be battling through these conditions – it wasn’t just me.
I really never like the middle miles of half-marathons. There’s excitement at the beginning, and excitement at the end, but the middle always seems to drag on. And this race was definitely the definition of “dragging” between mile 6-10. While the course was really beautiful, there were a lot of out-and-backs which got a little tedious. I really like seeing the top runners, but I don’t like knowing exactly how much further I have to go back in the opposite direction. It was fun to see Adam and Jess along the way, which helped give me some boosts, but generally I wasn’t a fan of all the turnarounds.
Around mile 8 I decided I needed to walk through the aid stations to make sure I was getting enough water since I was sweating so much and couldn’t really get a break from the direct sunlight. My strategy would be to grab a cup and a water bottle, drink the cup, swig from the water bottle, then pour the rest of the bottle on my head and shoulders. It took my breath away a little bit every time, but I think it was helpful to have a wet shirt for periods of time.
Needless to say, these walk/water breaks did nothing to help my “goal pace” or my even-split aspirations.
But, it was what it was. I realized fairly early on that surrendering my loose goals didn’t mean I was giving up, and in fact it was actually probably the smart thing to do – given the conditions and the bigger race I have this upcoming weekend. And truth be told, I don’t really think I could have pushed it much more than I already was. Suffering had already settled in, so all I could do was accept it and survive it.
My energy picked up some around mile 11, perhaps solely out of knowing that I had less than 20 minutes to run. I wasn’t really paying attention to pace anymore and just did what I could between my precious walk/water dump stops. Truly, I’d never felt this bonked during a half, and while it was disappointing – I knew I wasn’t the only one in the pain cave.
I clocked my splits manually when I’d see mile markers, but I somehow missed mile 10 so my distance was a little off. However, I’m convinced the distance between miles 12 and 13 was at least 1.25 miles…it took forever! Not to mention the entire last mile was along an open sidewalk that passed right by the finishing area before looping back around to complete the 13.1 miles. Such torture…I hate the end being physically so close but seemingly so far.
But, I mustered up my final dregs of energy and was determined to just finish the damn thing. At this point I could feel my skin burning and the sweat was pouring into eyes – it was time for this business to be over. Once I was finally approaching the finish line, I could see that I was going to be just below or just above 1:50 – and I think you know I wasn’t going to let that “4” change to a “5.” So, despite my grumbling and suffering over the past 8 miles, I found a little sprint left in me and gutted it out to the end.
I finished in 1:49:50 and 20th female, 7th in my age group.
After finding shade, cheering in friends and Adam, and stuffing ice in my sports bra, I began to feel like a human again. I don’t think I stopped sweating until we were back in the air conditioned car.
Am I happy with that time/result? On the surface, not really. I’m traditionally highly driven by time, and while I knew that I’d be nowhere near where my PR is, admittedly I thought I might be able to work a little magic.
But at this point in time, when I’m in flux in terms of fitness and speed, I’m learning to take anything I can from races, even those without pretty numbers tied to them.
This race was a lesson in not quitting, because more than once – I did want to quit. Even when my pace increased, there was no part of this run that was a “fun run” for me. It was brutal nearly the entire way, and while I may have had some not-so-pleasant, self-doubting thoughts, I did manage to endure. Suffering is a part of this sport, and it’s only by learning to suffer – and eventually embracing it – that we can reach a higher level and a higher respect for our own accomplishments.
Other key takeaways from this race:
-Hard, non-PR races give you ample respect for the races you do PR. More than once on this course I thought, “How in the hell did I run a 7:20 pace for this long at one point?”
-My body is (literally) getting it’s shit together. No bathroom stops, people! Not even a fleeting need for one. This was a big win.
-I still like to compete. Passing women (and getting passed) were the only things firing me up during this race, if only for a a few minutes.
-Heat training is solid gold. Sure, this was a sufferfest, no question about it. But I can guarantee that on a different (read: winter) day on that same course, I would have been able to run a very different race – I have no doubt about it.
-I can’t wait for fall. See point above. I have a good feeling about how my legs and motivation will react once the temperatures cool a bit. Fall is my golden zone of running and training, and if a productive fall marathon training season necessitates a brutal summer, then bring it on.
I’m expecting this upcoming weekend at Ragnar to hold similar types of takeaways in suffering. I’m a little unsure of what to expect, other than I know if will both be very hard and very fun. 30+ hours in a van full of runner friends interspersed with 35 miles of running: what’s not to love? 😉
Runners, we’re weird.