Well, if there is one word that sums up my race today, it is: humbling.
When I first started running in 2010, a half-marathon seemed so HUGE to me. It was something to train several months for, and just finishing it was something to celebrate. After running three full marathons, something happened in my brain where I just didn't think of halfs the same way anymore. I regularly run 8-12 miles for my long runs, and it's usually no big deal to sign up for a half-marathon on a whim, knowing that I can do it. The half-marathon distance became "just another race" to me.
I say that today was humbling because I realized just how big of a deal it is, and that it ISN'T "just another race". It's tough!
With that intro, I'll start my race recap. As of 10:00 last night, I still wasn't even 100% sure I was going to do this race. My younger brother, Nathan, said he had to push a car out of his driveway last night (I didn't ask), but if he was able to get to bed at a decent hour, he'd do the race, too. I sent him a text at 6:30 this morning, and he said he was in, so we planned to meet at the race at 8:00 (it started at 9:00) to register.
It was COLD this morning. I wore some Eddie Bauer clothes that I'm going to write a review for soon (long-sleeved top, jacket, and tights), and some fun Running Skirts compression socks. I really wanted to wear the new Altra shoes, but the farthest I've run in them has been 6 miles, so I figured I'd better play it safe and use my Adrenalines. I also wore a hat and gloves. The "feels like" temp was 33, but it honestly felt colder than that to me.
The start and finish of the race were at the State Park, which is only about five miles away. When I got there, there wasn't a line at all, so I registered quickly. Then I noticed that Nathan had sent me a text saying that he was there and registered, so I went to his truck where we sat until a few minutes before the race started. We really could have left home at 8:45 and still have been to the starting line on time!
I noticed that there were several people wearing shirts that said, "I run for ___" and someone's name. I really wish it had occurred to me to make a shirt in honor of Mark! The proceeds of the race go to benefit the Special Olympics, so for that reason alone I am glad to have run today.
I was feeling really nervous because of my lack of preparation for this race. I honestly had no idea how it was going to go. I figured I'd feel good for about 7-8 miles, and then the rest would be totally up in the air. It was so cold, and my feet were numb, so I really just wanted to start moving. Finally, the race started. I'd told Nathan to run his own race, so that he could do well and I wouldn't hold him back. Also, that would make me feel less pressured to run fast.
I ran at what felt to be pretty easy--I guessed it was probably a 10:00/mi pace--and was surprised to see that it was actually an 8:58 pace about a quarter mile in. I deliberately slowed down, but I felt like everyone was passing me. I always warn new racers about this happening: it always feels like the entire pack of people is passing you, but just stick to your plan and run your own race. So I tried to keep that in mind, but I still started too fast for the first mile.
I could have sworn I went much farther than a mile, but my Garmin hadn't beeped. Then I remembered that I had forgotten to turn the auto lap feature back on! I was at mile 1.3, and there was no way I could run the whole race without knowing my lap pace, so I changed the settings (mid-run) to turn the auto lap on. It screwed up the first two laps (the first one was long and the second one was short) but by mile 3, it was back on track.
My first mile was about 9:08, and I knew that was way too fast. I briefly thought, "Maybe I should go for sub-2:00 today!" because I was feeling really good at that point; but then reality reminded me that I wasn't trained to even run a half this weekend, let alone a sub-2:00 half ;) So I decided to try and keep my pace at around 9:45.
Everyone was wearing headphones, so there wasn't anyone around to talk to while I ran, which was disappointing. So throughout the whole race, I kept thinking about my breathing. When I was in Bethlehem, I met Budd Coates*, who wrote a book called "Running On Air". He taught us how to breathe while running, and I found his whole presentation so interesting! It wasn't at all what I was expecting. He said we should breathe rhythmically based on our steps, and it should always be in an odd pattern (a lot of people inhale for two steps, then exhale for two steps, which can cause injury to one side of the body). So through the race, I was trying to focus on inhaling for three steps and exhaling for two steps (his recommendation). It helped pass the time, if nothing else!
*Side note: I learned a fun fact about Budd while I was there--he's one of very few people to have run a sub-3:00 marathon in five different decades of his life. Pretty cool, right?!
I really love the course of this race, because it's all so familiar to me--I've trained on nearly all the roads/paths that the course is on. At around mile 4, I could hear someone yelling way up ahead, and it sounded suspiciously like Jerry. I started looking for him, but it seemed like forever until I actually saw him--that's how loud he was. It was fun to see him, so I gave him a quick kiss before I kept running. I continued to hear him yell for a good 3/4 of a mile down the road, haha.
I felt the exact moment that my legs just went to shit, for lack of a better way to word it. It was at mile 9, when we were back in the State Park. I had maintained all sub-10:00 miles up to that point, so I was really determined to stick it out to the end. But no matter how hard I thought I was running, my pace was slowing down. I kept seeing it get over 10:00, so I would sprint a short ways to get it back under 10:00.
I actually started to wish that the State Park wasn't so familiar to me, because I kept imagining how much farther I had to run, and that messed with my head. I squeaked by under 10:00 for miles 10 and 11. And then at mile 11.25, I just felt so defeated that I gave up on hitting all sub-10's. My calves were really cramping up (something that had never happened to me before). I decided to just jog it out to the finish (I was imagining my pace to be closer to 11:30, but it turns out that I actually didn't slow down THAT much).
I knew that I would still probably keep my average pace under 10:00, so I was happy with that. But I was SO CLOSE to keeping all my splits under 10:00--it just shows how hard it actually felt to me. Normally, I am really good at mentally fighting through runs. If I'd been running with someone, I probably would have been more likely to push myself, but I started thinking the "Why am I doing this?" and "You weren't trained for this, so why would you expect to have a good race?" thoughts.
In truth, I was planning for a 10:15-ish pace, but hoping for a sub-10:00 pace. So the fact that I was doing as well as I was made me think it was totally fine to let go of the last two miles and just run however I could to finish. Those last two miles, I just kept thinking about how humbling the whole race was. I went into it expecting to feel pretty decent (not fantastic, but I'm a seasoned runner, and assumed it would feel like any other (shorter) race I didn't train for).
Mile 12 was 10:16, and mile 13 was 10:10. Those miles felt like they lasted forever. My average overall pace was still 9:45-ish, so I was very happy with that. I saw Nathan waiting for me just before the finish line, and I could barely high five him because I was so exhausted. I crossed the finish line in 2:08:18 (a 9:48 pace). I was given a medal, a can of Red Bull, and a water bottle (the race gave out nice reusable plastic water bottles filled with water rather than the usual disposable ones, which I thought was awesome).
Nathan was there after I crossed, but it took me a minute to catch my breath before I could even talk to him. He did AWESOME! He finished in 1:44:51, an 8:00/mi pace. This was only his second half-marathon, and the first one that he actually raced (the first was part of his 20-mile training run). I'm really glad that I encouraged him to run his own race, because that is a fantastic time.
Overall, I'm very glad that I ran the half today. And even though I felt like crap through the last four miles, I am actually glad for that, too. It confirmed that the race isn't "just a half"--it's HARD when you don't train correctly for it, even as a seasoned runner!
After the race, I found my friend Stacie. She was the race director last year and this year (she's retiring for next year), so I knew she'd be busy, but we made plans to get together on Wednesday. Now that the race is over, she's got quite a bit of free time. I'm excited to catch up with her--she's actually getting a book published next month!
I wouldn't have said this during miles 12 and 13, but it ended up being a great day :)