I may not have managed to recap the last two weeks of training, but I’ll be damned if my resurgence in the blogging universe doesn’t result in a race recap!
I ran the Colorado Half-Marathon last Sunday and felt about as prepared as I could have going into it. As always, I could have stretched more often, done even a little bit of strength work, and probably fit in a few more workouts. But considering my schedule, I’m happy with how training went overall. Here and there I was feeling like I’d plateaued a bit with running; general lack of big improvements and my recovery time seemed to lag a bit. However, I was hitting the paces needed to run the race the way I was hoping to, and at this point in my running “career,” really any incremental fitness increases are worth celebrating.
I went into race weekend feeling rested, calm, and focused. I was ready to really race hard and execute on the past few months of training. I’m not really afraid of race pain on the front end of a big goal race, in fact in some ways I crave it, so generally I was psyched to see what was possible. As for specific goals, I had a hard time defining a specific time I wanted to hit throughout much of training. I’d love to run under 1:30 at some point, but to go from 1:33:57 (my current PR) to 1:29 is a huge leap, so I decided that something in the 1:31s would be more reasonable. Still hard, but do-able. This would mean averaging just under a 7:00/mile pace, which was intimidating but felt possible on a good day.
The course is net downhill; not very steep, but noticeable enough to give a little boost. I was counting on this, and I actually checked out the decline per mile so I’d know the points I could push a little bit. My plan was to go out right around a 7:00/mile pace and chip down as the race progressed. I felt confident in this plan, although I’d never really strung together more than 7 miles at this pace before.
Anyway, I arrived in Ft. Collins around 3 pm on Saturday before the race and everything was smooth sailing. I was rooming with a stellar crew (Troy, Mike Bell, Pace and Dan Nally), the expo was easy, and we were fed and ready for bed nice and early. The boys were all running the full marathon and Pace was playing race sherpa/cheerleader, so we were all focused on our respective races but also jovial and relaxed. I went to bed around 9 pm (ready for a 4:00 am wake-up) and slept decently enough; in and out a bit but there were some solid hours in there.
I was up before my alarm and felt nervous but not anxious; certainly better than I’ve felt before other big goal races. I had a power outfit picked out including my new favorite bright NP-tagged tee (above), Saucony spandex shorts, my trusty Brooks hat, Stance ankle socks, and my Adidas Boston Boost shoes. I braided my hair, dressed, sipped on water, bathroom, Picky Bar, coffee, re-braid, bathroom, banana, ordered an Uber, bathroom, and was out the door!
We needed to be bussed to the start line since it’s a point-to-point course, and even though our VRBO was only a mile or so from where the bus pick-up spot was, I didn’t want to waste energy or risk getting lost. A $4 Uber ride it was! I waited in line for the buses for 10 minutes or so, and soon enough we were all loaded up and ready to go. All I wanted to do was listen to music, close my eyes, and focus on getting amped up. I listened to my go-to motivating songs all while visualizing strong and steady running. I don’t race with headphones (anymore) so now was the time to reel in all the musical inspiration I could get.
Once arriving at the start line, we had about 45 minutes until the actual start, so I visited the porta-potties, found some of my NP friends, and Tyler(Tiger) and I headed out for a little one mile warm-up jog. I was happy to be around him since he was also trying to get in the zone and we could stick strictly to race-talk and help one another temper our nerves.
Soon enough, we were lining up, a high schooler played the National Anthem on a trumpet, and we strolled 200 yards or so to the official “start” line. 3-2-1, go!
I was right up front and surrounded mainly by a group of people following the 1:30 pacer. Thanks to my incessant curiosity of certain race paces, I knew this meant they’d be running right around 6:50 pace, which was too fast for me. So, I hung back from the group right from the get-go and tried to settle into a comfortably hard pace. My initial plan was to keep my watch on time-of-day mode and just run by feel, but since I didn’t want to run too fast in the early miles, I switched it to show current lap pace. That way, I wouldn’t be obsessing over my overall time but could focus on my per-mile pace, one at a time.
The first mile went by fast in 6:56. A little quick, but I was comfortable with it. I was already running somewhat by myself and kept my mind focused on turnover and deep breathing. Staying relaxed would be instrumental in not getting overwhelmed and maintaining ease. Mile two was also 6:56, and I was happy with the consistency since I hadn’t been checking my watch too diligently.
We got to our first aid station midway through mile 3 and I was ready to rinse my mouth out with water (my mouth always gets super dry at the start of races). I started saying “Water?” as soon as I was passing because none of the volunteers were saying if they were holding water or Nuun. And they just blankly starred at me! I irritably snapped, “Is this water?” when I got to the last volunteer and she told me water was behind me. I may have let an expletive slip since I needed to take a few steps backward to get water. I felt bad once I left, but c’mon! Tell runners what you are holding!
Along I went, and I already felt sweaty and a little warm. The weather was pretty ideal (50s and overcast), but since I was working hard I expected to feel hot throughout the race.
Mile 3: 6:58
Mile 4: 6:59
I took a couple of Honey Stinger chews right after mile 4 along with more water and was determined to finish the whole pack before I hit mile 11. No fuel malfunctions allowed!
I knew mile 5 would be one of the more downhill miles, mile 6 would be uphill, and mile 7 would be the steepest downhill of the day, so I was able to focus on each individually with their own unique pacing plan.
Mile 5: 6:42
Mile 6: 7:02
Midway through mile 6, I started getting a little overwhelmed at how much further there was to go. I’d already run 10k faster than I’d ever run it before, and I was supposed to run another one…plus more! I’ve experienced this kind of mental battle before and commended myself to stay in the mile. “Just get to 7.” I knew the November Project aid station would be between miles 7 and 8, so I kept my focus on getting to them.
Mile 7: 6:44
Despite the mostly downhill, I was starting to hurt. My lungs felt okay, but my legs were getting pretty fatigued from the pace. We had also veered from the pavement onto a cement bike path, which is my least favorite surface to run on. Plus, I was still all alone! I could see runners 1-2 minutes up ahead of me and there were sporadic groups of people cheering, but overall it was just me attempting to take deep breaths and trying to stay in the mile.
I finally saw and heard the NP cheer station up ahead near the 8 mile mark and I was determined to smile and carry their positive energy along with me. It was awesome to see everyone and they were by far the loudest and most encouraging spectators of the day.
Mile 8: 6:57
I got a little boost from seeing people, but I quickly crept back into the pain cave…and it was getting worse. We were at a really windy portion of the bike path at this point, which I love on a regular run, but in the race it made it hard to feel like we were moving anywhere. 5 miles to go also felt like a really, really long way, so I just kept repeating in my head, “Just finish the mile.” I knew I was averaging a pretty good pace still, but it was feeling harder and harder to hang onto.
Mile 9: 6:58
After mile 9, everything just kind of got dark and spooky. It was physically impossible for me to speed up even though I knew my pace was dropping, and it was starting to take every ounce of self-encouragement to not just slow down. “Just get to 10, just get to 10.”
Mile 10: 7:05
We had finally entered the part of the course that cross-pollinates with the 10k runners, and I couldn’t have been happier about it. I needed some kind of a distraction, and I didn’t even care that I was needing to start dodging around people. There were also more spectators since we were getting closer to the end and I’m pretty sure I was a sight to see amongst the 10k walk-runners; I was starting to heavily pant at this point and my pain face was strained at the effort.
Mile 11: 7:07
I had no concept of what my overall time was at this point, but I knew there was no possible way I could work harder, so the only thing to do was not let go. I had started talking out loud to myself a little bit, things like “You’re okay,” “Don’t quit, don’t quit,” literally anything to keep my head in the game. I kept thinking that if it had been a workout, I would have keeled over long ago and stopped dead in my tracks. That pain that I craved before the race started? Here is was. A few times the expression, “PRs aren’t supposed easy,” popped into my head, and I felt especially annoyed by how true it felt right then.
Mile 12: 7:15
Just get to the end! I imagined the 1 mile it takes to run from my house to a specific stoplight and how “easy” that normally feels. I hadn’t felt this kind of tunnel vision since Boston last year, and oh how glad I was to only be running a half instead of a full.
I finally came around the corner where you leave the bike path, turn right and run the straightaway to the finish line. This straightaway was wayyy longer than I’d remembered it when I spectated last year, and so much as I would have liked to, I could not have had less of a finishing kick (almost comically so).
Mile 13: 7:13
Last .2: 7:40 pace
Official time: 1:32:27
I had no idea what my finish time was going to be until I hit the stop bottom on my watch upon finishing (with my hands on my knees and my head down, of course). At first I couldn’t even remember what my PR was, and admittedly I was bummed to not see a 1:31:xx. But once I gathered myself together a bit, I realized that I’d run a 90 second PR, which of course I had to be happy about! It only took a few minutes more to admit to myself that there was no way I could have worked harder in that race; I was maxed out, and considering I didnt’ give up when every part of me wanted to, I was/am really proud of the outcome.
Lesson learned? You can actually hit the wall in a half-marathon. I haven’t felt that kind of race pain in a long time, and if nothing else, it was a really great exercise in not succumbing to the temptation to quit. I hardly think I would have literally quit and DNF’ed this race, but I spent the last 4 miles denying my body’s cries to pull back.* More than anything, I’m really proud of myself for hanging on. Do I think I have a better race in me? Absolutely. Do I think there was anything more I could have pulled out last Sunday? Definitely not. With that, I cannot help but be satisfied.
Of course, though, I am the kind of runner whose satisfaction doesn’t sit still for very long. I love the half, and I think it’s an excellent distance to train for and push the limits on. I’m looking forward to whenever the next one will happen!
But for the time being, I’m really ready to say “See ya later!” to specific time goals. While time goals are certainly motivating to me, and likely always will be, there comes a time every year when I’m ready for less structure. I can’t wait for the months to come that includes single track and summits! There will be races and undoubtedly goals along the way, but until then you can find me blissfully mozying through the Colorado back-country.
After all, I need to get it all out of my system before a certain special huge marathon the first weekend of November. Spoiler! Stay tuned…
9th female (of 650)
Garmin pace: 7:00/mile (13.2 miles)
Clock pace: 7:03/mile (13.1 miles)
*In some races, it’s absolutely best to pull back when your body is telling you to, exhibit A.