DNS: Did Not Start

I had imagined all sorts of race scenarios for the Victoria marathon, but I never saw this coming.

Friday morning I woke up feeling ever so slightly congested. No big deal, and I felt better soon after breakfast.

Saturday CFL and I got up early to catch the morning ferry to Victoria. I had a sore throat. We walked downtown to the ferry. We found seats and I soon dozed off. No worries, I’d had a short night, right? A nap should fix everything.

We docked in Victoria, walked to the race expo, and picked up our race bibs and shirts (CFL was walking the half marathon). We walked to our favorite deli for an early lunch. We walked to our motel.

It was barely past noon, but we figured we could drop off our bags, and then check in later in the afternoon. But I was tired, and my throat was getting very sore. I asked if we could check in early so I could take a nap. They had a room ready for us.

I went to bed and slept soundly until about 3:30. I had planned all along to eat an early dinner so I could get to bed early and try to get a halfway decent night’s sleep before the marathon. So I got up and we walked to our favorite place for pre-race dinner.

After I’d eaten, I felt a bit better, but I was beginning to realize that I’d need a miraculous overnight improvement if I was going to run 26.2 miles.

I was back in bed before 8:00.

The full wrath of the virus from hell hit overnight. For hours I struggled to breathe. My head felt like it weighed 5,000 pounds and was going to explode any minute.

Still, it was not until 3:30 AM that I fully accepted that no way, no how was I going to run a marathon that day.

I vaguely remember CFL getting up and going out to walk his half marathon.

I didn’t get out of bed until noon.

From that point, I began to feel better. I was able to get up, walk around, eat, sleep another night, and get myself back to the ferry and home on Monday.

I’m still tired, but essentially I “only” have a heavy cold now. I’ll feel a lot better in a few more days.

I spent some time last night looking for another suitable marathon between now and the end of the year, but there isn’t anything that would tempt me to travel to run. So I’ll just put all those weeks of training on the shelf. I’ll decide, probably around the first of next year, whether I want to train for another full marathon. I probably will. I still want to do it. But right now I am so, so disappointed.

There were 21 people in my age/gender group. Had I run the race I’d hoped to run (basically, I figured I could do the 4:50 I ran two years ago, plus or minus 2 minutes), I would have finished in the top ten. I guess that’s enough to keep me motivated.

Until next time, I guess!

Marathon mania!

I’m into the final countdown. By this time five days from now, I’ll be into the last few miles of the Victoria Marathon. I’ll probably hurt. I’ll probably berate myself for not being as well prepared as I should be. I’ll probably fight back tears now and again. I’ll get it done, one way or another. And I’ll look forward to feeling both proud and very relieved at the finish line.

My taper has gone well enough. I’ve backed off the distance and the speed, and focused purely on running a steady pace. My feet have not given me any problems.

Over the past couple of days I’ve found myself wishing that I had three or four more weeks to train… but not merely to be more race-ready than I am. Rather, I’ve finally gotten into the rhythm and the mindset of the training… and I enjoy it. Running for hours on end has its rewards. I sleep soundly and long. I eat well and with relish. I feel healthy and happy. It’s a great feeling.

I have a time goal, but as usual I’m not telling. Actually I’m predicting that I’ll finish somewhere within a rather broad time range, and I’m telling myself that I’ll be happy with wherever I end up within that range. Nah, I really do have a specific time goal… and I’m still not telling.

I’ve had a few running dreams. I’m pleased to report that all of them have been happy dreams in which I finish feeling triumphant and spectacular.

I have one more run planned. I’ll do 6.6 miles on Thursday, steady and easy. I’ll get out early to simulate the 8:45 race start. It will rain, as it’s forecast to do on Sunday. Thanks to our great summer, I haven’t had any opportunity to train in the rain, so I’m looking forward to rain-testing the clothes I plan to wear on race day.

Beyond that, there isn’t anything more I can do to be any more ready than I am. The clock is ticking — I’m really going to do this.

One step at a time!

Marathon training is not easy

Don’t ever think that marathon training might be easy, or maybe a fun thing to try. It’s not something to undertake on a whim, and it’s not possible to shortcut the process. Marathon training is hard physical and mental work, involving many hours over many days and weeks, out there by yourself with lots of time to wonder why the heck you are running all those miles and hours.

I’ve now completed my 21 mile run, which was the longest and final long run I’d planned to do before the Victoria Marathon on October 11. I’m now officially into the taper stage. I wish I could say that everything had gone according to plan and I’m comfortably optimistic about race day. But that simply isn’t true.

Things went great and I was on schedule with my plan, until the day of my 18-miler back on September 7. On that day, everything got weird. Even during the first few miles when I was fresh, I couldn’t seem to summon any speed. Then about 7 miles in, my right foot decided to spasm, over and over again. It didn’t really hurt, but it felt like my foot was collapsing under me. I’d take a walk break, settle down, and resume running. All would be well for a few minutes, and then ZAP — all over again. I finished the 18 miles, but soon regretted having tried to push through it. My hips, thighs, and knees were very sore for a couple of days. I could only figure that I’d tensed up all over, fearing the spasm, and actually injured myself with an overly-stiff stride.

I took a few days off to rest, recover, try to figure out what had gone wrong, and correct that. The first part of my solution was to buy a new pair of shoes, even though I only had about 150 miles on the pair I’ve been wearing. When I’d bought that pair, the same size I’d always worn had felt small, so I went up half a size. However, my new shoes had always felt a bit loose. I thought that maybe my feet were moving around too much inside my shoes and that the spasm was the result of that movement. So I bought another pair, going back to the old size.

The second part of my solution was to buy a new pair of compression tights. I was running in tights that were almost four years old and, frankly, weren’t giving my knees and hips all that much support anymore.

Five days after that disastrous 18-miler, I ran 7 miles in my new shoes and new tights. Everything went great! Problem solved!

Or so it seemed.

Back to my planned long runs, only four days behind schedule. I did my 16.3 mile run a little slower than I’d hoped, but in relative comfort. I had a couple of foot spasms in the later miles, but they weren’t worrisome.

So on September 24 I did the 21-miler. Everything went great through the first 15 miles. Then  my right foot began to spasm occasionally. Then it progressed to a sharp pain with every footfall. Needless to say, that pain necessitated an immediate walk break.

I’d walk a bit and feel better, so I’d try running again. Everything would be fine, and then the pain would return.

All the rest of me — knees, hips, heart, lungs, brains — kept going along just fine and feeling great. I felt physically and mentally strong and focused. I asked myself what a stress fracture might feel like, and if this could be one. But every time I resumed running, it would feel fine — right up until the next stab of pain.

I ended up walking a good portion of the last 3 miles. Even so, I finished within the time I’d predicted at the start, and only a couple of minutes slower than the 21-miler I’d done during my last marathon training two years ago.

My feet had no bruising, no swelling, no sign of anything resembling a fracture, neither immediately after finishing nor over the next few days. I really wasn’t sore anywhere; the new shoes and tights have fixed that.

The problem with my foot shows up in the later miles of a run. Upon reflection, I’ve become convinced that it’s due to the relatively short time (less than 9 weeks) that I gave myself to train for this marathon. I simply haven’t given my feet enough time and miles to gain strength and toughness. My feet get tired, and when they get tired they hurt.

I’m now officially in taper mode. Yesterday I ran 6.6 miles, strong and steady, no issues. I’m planning three to four more easy runs of 6-9 miles over the remaining twelve days before the race. I’ve committed myself to walking a few miles every day that I don’t run — anything to try to firm up the feet.

I don’t feel optimistic about a great performance at Victoria. I know that I’ll complete the race, but I expect to need walk breaks, and I expect to do some hurting in the last few miles. I don’t anticipate a PR — but it will be a PR for me in my new age group! If I ever run another full marathon (and I’m sure I will), I’ll give myself a lot more time to train.

I’ll get it done, but it won’t be easy.

One step at a time!

Do the miles. Finish healthy.

Earlier this year, when I registered for a half marathon in June, a 6-day, 400-mile bike ride in August, and a full marathon in October, that combination of events seemed obviously doable. I’d focus on running (with a bit of bike riding) in the spring, switch to intense cycling training (while continuing to run 2-3 times a week) through early August, and then ramp up the running in the latter part of the summer. I’d only have about 9 weeks of serious marathon training, but I’d have a solid baseline of running and cardiovascular fitness that would allow me to quickly work up to a 20+ mile long run.

That was the plan.

The reality was this: After the half marathon in June, I traveled to California for two weeks, where I spent time in air conditioned rooms in the close company of a few thousand other people. I came home with a heavy cold, and couldn’t get excited about either running or cycling until well into July. I then realized that I wouldn’t have time to get properly prepared for the bike ride while also running 2-3 days a week. I had to let go of the running. As of the end of July, therefore, I had run a mere 28 miles since the half marathon.

We did the bike ride, and had a wonderful time. CFL and I were among the slowest riders, but mattered was that we had trained well enough to finish the ride.

When we got home from that, I was fairly exhausted, but there was no time to lose. Let the marathon training begin!

Google “marathon training plan” and you’ll see that there are a lot of them out there. Most of them assume a duration of 16-18 weeks, although you can find 12-week plans.

I had eight and a half weeks.

The only 8-week plans I found assume you are ready to do a 16-mile long run in week 1. In other words, it’s a 16-week schedule with the first half cut off.

Clearly, I’d have to design my own plan. I’d have to focus on quality versus quantity. What’s the least number of miles I can run and still be somewhat ready on race day? And I’d have to center my training on the long runs, working everything else around them.

I developed two simple principles:

  1. Do the miles.
  2. Finish healthy.

I would run 3 times a week. The long runs would follow a simple progression: 12, 14, 16, 18, 16.3 (the psychologically important 26.2 kilometer race simulation run), and 21 miles, followed by a 2-week taper. The mid-week runs would rotate between steady-pace, fast-finish, and rolling-hill runs. There would be no procrastination, no postponements. I’d do whatever it takes to get through the long runs — rest stops, walk breaks, whatever — but I’d always do the miles. And I’d finish each run healthy, with enough in reserve to know that I’d be ready to do the next one.

When I went out for my first serious run on August 12, I’d done so little recent running that I’d actually lost the calluses on my feet. My soles were sore after only five miles. I realized that it would not be enough just to do the running miles. I’d also need to spend easy miles on my feet, walking or hiking, on the non-running days. So I sadly turned away from my bike and committed to doing the miles.

I’m now at the end of week 3. I’ve done the 12-miler and the 14-miler. I’ve done all of my planned shorter mid-week runs so far. On nearly all of the non-running days, I’ve walked — typically 4-6 miles. Today I’ll go out and run 16 miles.

Do the miles. Finish healthy.

Honestly, come race day, the same principles will apply. Do the miles. Finish healthy. If I have a good day, I’ll be a few minutes faster than I was two years ago when I ran my first full marathon. If I’m slower, I’ll still have run a full marathon at age 60 — a feat I couldn’t have imagined at age 50. Either way, I can’t lose!

All I need to do?

Do the miles. Finish healthy.

One step at a time!

That was fun!

It would have been considered perfect race day weather probably anywhere in the country except for here on the Olympic Peninsula. Here, we locals shudder at the idea of running when it’s over 70 degrees.

When I got off the bus and took my place at the starting line for the 13th annual North Olympic Discovery half marathon (coincidentally also my 13th half marathon), the temperature was already in the low 60s. There was neither a cloud in the sky, nor a hint of a breeze. It was going to be a scorcher!

I got through the first couple of miles fine, and actually a bit ahead of my plan. As we hit the first hill just past mile 3, I was talking firmly to myself and instructing myself to slow down and save energy for the hilly miles to come.

Somewhere in mile 4 or 5 my watch must have hiccuped at least once. It lost about a quarter of a mile, although I didn’t realize it at the time. What my watch said was that all of a sudden I was running a lot slower than I expected. I lost (or thought I lost) so much time in those two miles that by the time I got to the really steep hills at mile 7 I was almost 3 minutes behind the elapsed time I’d expected to see at that point. This, combined with the heat itself, was starting to feel very discouraging.

As I came down the big hill in mile 9, however, I could feel that I still had some speed left in me. I picked up the pace. I figured I still had time to pull out a 2:13:something, which would be a respectable time on this warm day.

Rounding the turn toward the waterfront, I felt a hint of cool marine air. I would have appreciated feeling the usual brisk breeze at that location, but there was none. Still, I was feeling all right and I pushed on.

When I reached the official mile 10 marker (at which point my watch said I’d run 9.7-something miles), it finally occurred to me that my watch might be wrong. It finally occurred to me to look at my elapsed time, add another 30-ish minutes, and I’d have a projected finish time. That time was 2:11:something. A PR was very much in sight!

So I ran the last three miles as hard as I could: which turned out to be 9:43, 9:43, and 9:23. I hit the finish line at 2:10:38, which is a new PR by 56 seconds. It is also my first sub-10:00 half marathon — I averaged a 9:59 pace! This is a major, really-big-deal milestone in my running career!

I took 8th place out of 61 in my age group. I was comfortably in the top quartile of all female runners, and in the top third of all runners. I’m very happy with that result!

It took me a while to realize that I’d done it and to enthusiastically congratulate myself. The free beer at the finish line certainly helped.

The beer went down especially well because it was 72 degrees and climbing at the finish line. We sat in the sun and had a few beers. Yesterday’s high turned out to be 82 degrees — not an all-time record for early June but certainly much warmer than normal.

Today I’ve got a few sore muscles, but not bad. I have some serious chafing on my chest from wearing my heart monitor. One of my toenails looks a bit bruised — a first for me. Other than that, I feel great!

Now I plan on taking at least two weeks off from running while I attend to other priorities. In late June I’ll start running again, focusing on long and slow. I’ll also do a lot of bike riding to prepare for a cycling event in early August. I won’t start the serious full marathon training until the second week of August. That gives me two months to prepare for Victoria. At this moment I’m confident I can do that!

The art of the taper

Once again, it’s taper time!

I guess I’ve finally reached the point where I’ve been doing this runner thing long enough that I no longer stress very much about training for a specific event. At distances up to and including a half marathon, I can pretty much be ready to race with only a few weeks of focused training effort. Or it seems that way to me anyway, at the moment.

The North Olympic Discovery Half Marathon (NODM) is now only twelve days away. I’ve done some hill training. I’ve done some speed drills. I’ve done a bunch of medium distance (6-9 miles) tempo runs.

Last Saturday I did what I call my “dress rehearsal” for NODM — I ran essentially the last 11 miles of the course, give or take a short dogleg. I ran it at race pace (it actually would have been PR pace) and I finished feeling really, really strong. At the time I wondered whether I might have overdone it, but I came out of it feeling just fine. I was helped immensely by absolutely perfect weather — overcast, calm, and 55 degrees — which definitely contributed to how easy it felt. I doubt I’ll be as lucky weather-wise on race day, but I’ll have the always-helpful adrenalin factor to help carry me through.

So now I’m contentedly welcoming the taper. Over the next week and a half, I’ll run shorter distances with less intensity. I’ll try to limit my other activities, or at least try not to go all-out (as I write this, I’m looking forward to an e…a…s…y……. 15-20 miles on my bike this afternoon). I’ll try to eat well and get lots of sleep. I’ll try not to stress out when the scale tells me I’ve gained a pound or three: it’s all that glycogen and water I’ll be storing in my muscles!

I’ve generally taken a rather scientific approach to my running — the thoughtfully designed training plan, the carefully logged miles, the focus on the numbers — but I’m coming to see that there’s an art to it as well. Sometimes, when I don’t feel like running, the best thing to do is take a few days off. When I’m fed up with pushing the pace, it’s okay to slow down. My baseline fitness is now good enough that I can give myself those little breaks and still be ready on race day.

There’s an art to this running thing, a beauty and grace that I’m finally beginning to grasp. The other activities (cycling and hiking and walking almost everywhere I go around town) that also occupy my time and interest these days have helped show me this. It all has to do with living an active and healthy life. It’s not just about what happens on race day. It’s how I feel the next day, the next month, the next year. It’s getting out of bed every morning, feeling alive and eager to be out there and moving in the world.

It’s the overall, constant rhythm of activity that matters.

Slow and happy!

Easing into training season

It’s April!

I guess that means I’d better get serious about training again. Since the beginning of the year I’ve been content to run a bit less, with less intention. Although we’ve had an extremely mild winter, I’m generally less than enthusiastic about running when my hands and feet are sure to go numb for the first 3 or more miles. I confess that my weekly mileage has been down… a lot… so far this year. Whereas I usually aim for 17-25 miles a week (and I can train quite adequately for a half marathon on that mileage), I’ve been doing more like 8-12.

But it’s April! So it’s time to get serious again.

The other day I passed the one-year anniversary of breaking my arm while trail running. Although I hiked on many miles of steep, challenging trails last summer, I’ve kept my vow to resist running on a rugged, rocky, root-filled, hilly trail ever again. I’ve recognized that it’s not for me. My habitual semi-shuffling gait is not well suited for avoiding obstacles on uneven trails, and I’m not likely to change my running style enough to warrant risking my life out there.

Fortunately I have many beautiful places to run while staying on pavement. I’m good with that.

But now it’s suddenly just nine weeks before our local half marathon. It’s time to get busy!

My primary goal for this year’s NODM on June 7 is, of course, to arrive at the finish line safely and in good health. Beyond that, I’d like to beat my current PR for this race, which I set two years ago, of 2:13:25. On this rather hilly course I’m not likely to set an all-time PR, but a race PR would be nice, and feels quite doable.

I’ve recently invested in some new running gear that has been really helpful. A couple months back, I decided to try running with a heart monitor again to see what I might learn about my progress as a runner. I used one for a while, maybe four years ago, but stopped using it because the big numbers I kept seeing were scary! I almost convinced myself I was going to have a heart attack out there, even though I was actually feeling just fine.

Well, when I strapped on the heart monitor again I was delighted to see how much progress I’ve made! I know enough about myself as a runner now that I know what it feels like when I’m pushing hard rather than just moseying along. The heart monitor provided validation of those feelings. I still habitually tick along on the high side of what the charts say I should be doing at my age, but the numbers are lower and less variable than they used to be. The fact that I can run along for miles with a steady heart rate of 150+, and still comfortably carry on a conversation most of the time, actually means that I’ve got a very healthy heart. I should celebrate those numbers, not fear them!

So I spent some money and bought a new heart monitor that, in conjunction with my watch, tells me a lot of really interesting things like how far my feet come off the ground (not nearly far enough to consider trail running) and how long my feet stay on the ground (a rather leisurely amount of time). With this data I’ve figured out that the best way for me to get faster is to focus on cadence and simply turn over my feet a bit faster. I can do that!

After upgrading the heart monitor, of course I could not resist upgrading the watch. I’m now the proud owner of a Fenix 3, Garmin’s latest multi-sport GPS watch. While in the past I’ve worn a GPS watch only while actually running or cycling or hiking, this one is also an activity and sleep tracker. Hence I’ve taken to wearing it 24/7.

It’s not exactly a fashion statement on my wrist. It’s huge!

But it does get the job done. When the danged thing buzzes and tells me to move, I get up and walk around the house.

I’m about to go out for a 9 mile run. I’ll put some big numbers on the step counter, and try to put some smallish numbers on the average pace screen.

Tomorrow I’ll ride my bike. I’m trying to alternate running and biking days so that I’m doing lots of both. As the days get longer and warmer I’ll start mixing in hiking days. But from now through June 7, running is my top priority.

After June 7, cycling and hiking will take top billing. I have a major cycling event coming up in early August. After that I’ll get serious about training for the marathon I’m going to run on October 11.

What about you? What are your running plans for 2015? Has your training kicked into high gear yet?

Wrapping up 2014, planning for 2015

After I broke my arm while trail running last April, I stopped worrying about my running mileage goals for 2014. I knew I wasn’t going to set any annual distance records. I was happy simply to run again after having to take seven weeks off! I was thrilled to run a slow half marathon only nine days after being cleared to run again. Then I was elated in October to run another half marathon and set a new PR.

That was enough, with respect to specific running goals for the year. I spent the rest of 2014 running for pure enjoyment. I ran when I felt like it. When I didn’t feel like running, I walked or rode my bike… a few miles every day without fail.

I did my now-traditional long run on Christmas day, and logged 11 miles. I briefly toyed with the idea of running a half marathon just for fun, but decided I didn’t want to raise the bar too high for next year.

I finished 2014 with 670.04 total running miles. My average distance was 7.2 miles. I still enjoy going long and slow most of all. I figure, why even bother to go out and run if you’re only going 3 or 4 miles?

I’m already looking forward to training for another full marathon next year! I’ll run my local half marathon in June, and then focus on training for the full in October. Currently I’m only thinking about those two races, but I may toss in another half or perhaps a 10K or two somewhere along the way.

I’m currently anticipating that I’ll run about 900 miles in 2015. In addition to that, I expect to cycle about 1,500 miles and put in lots of hiking and walking miles.

I’ve also added light weight training to my routine. I’m finally starting to get some real strength back in my left arm. By summer I hope to show you one of those awesome bike ride finish photos of me holding my bike high over my head!

What about you? Did you achieve your running goals for 2014? What are your running or other activity/fitness goals for 2015?

Are you finding that the focus of your goals changes from time to time? It doesn’t always have to be a specific number of miles or a certain race. Sometimes it’s just about going out and doing as much as you can do, one step at a time.

Here’s to a happy and healthy 2015!

The marathon is calling and I must go

I could feel it calling me while I was in Victoria enjoying the afterglow of having completed a very satisfying half marathon. I kept watching the people who had run the full marathon (identifiable by their very stylish jackets) and envying them.

After I ran the full marathon last year in Victoria, I told myself I wouldn’t run another full until a time that my age ended in “0” or “5” — so that I’d be among the youngest people in my age group. Well, next year’s Victoria marathon is scheduled to take place just days after I celebrate a birthday that ends in “0.” What better way to recognize a milestone birthday than to run a marathon?

My plan gets a little more ambitious than that, however. I couldn’t help but notice that the Victoria race takes place the same day as a much bigger and better-known marathon: Chicago! So I’ve been online busily researching what it will take to earn myself a spot in that world-class marathon.

Many of the race spots are awarded by lottery, so all I have to do is put my name in and hope that I’m one of the lucky ones drawn. If I get picked, then I’ll be enjoying a very big October vacation. And if I don’t? I’ll be thrilled to run again in Victoria!

I don’t expect to be competitive in my age group, even with the advantage of being one of the youngest. Just as I was last year, I’ll be happy to train safely, run strongly, and finish. But I get shivers every time I think about running 26.2 miles with 40,000 or so fellow runners.

Between now and then, I’ll maintain a fitness baseline over the winter, running 15-20 easy miles per week in all sorts of nasty weather, before starting to amp up the running intensity once again for the North Olympic Discovery half marathon in early June. By the beginning of July, I’ll move into serious marathon training.

I suppose it’s a sickness, wanting so badly to again go out and do a thing so demanding, so consuming of time and energy. But once I recognized that I really, honestly want to do this again, there was simply nothing to do but yield to the clarion call.

With apologies to John Muir, then:

The marathon is calling and I must go! 

Another half marathon PR? I did that! Safe and sound!

I went to Victoria with, shall we say, a bigger than usual focus on a goal. My last few weeks of training and preparation had gone so well that I wasn’t simply looking forward to running another race. I figured that I had a realistic chance at finishing faster than 2:12:01 and finally setting another PR a year and a half after that previous great day.

I really didn’t want to screw up my chances, so I planned every last detail — what I would wear on race day, exactly what and when I would eat, the precise times I needed to hit at the end of every mile. Okay, I went a little around the bend into obsessive-compulsive territory. The Victoria half marathon had become a Really Big Deal for me.

I’m one of those runners who almost always runs to music. I run in beautiful places and I do love the sights and sounds of nature, so I keep the volume really low. Still, there is something about a running anthem that helps me to gather courage and keep going at times when I might otherwise feel like stopping to take a photo or maybe walking for a while.

My usual running playlist contains about 130 songs, which is about 7.5 hours worth of music. I put my iPhone on shuffle and let it serve me up songs randomly; whatever comes up is usually good enough.

For this race I got the idea of creating a custom playlist that I would let play through in order. I timed the order of the 37 songs as closely as I could to my planned pace of about 10 minutes per mile through mile 10, and then as fast as possible.

I planned to go over the starting line to the opening notes of the theme from the movie Chariots of Fire. I know, really hokey, but the song always gets me pumped. For the first few miles I’d be listening to music about relaxing and enjoying the day, designed to keep me from going out too fast. Then at certain key points I’d hear very specific songs that would cue me to think about this thing or do that other thing. For example, I put “Run-Around” by Blues Traveler at the point where the course turns back toward the finish. I’d hear “Eight Miles High” by the Who at the 8-mile mark. From that point on I had songs that were designed to help me get down to work and seriously pick up the pace. Finally, I planned to finish to two iterations of “Safe and Sound” by Capital Cities. The phrase “safe and sound” is sort of a running mantra for me.

I timed the whole thing so that if I could get to the finish line before “Safe and Sound” ended for the second time I should have my PR by 15 to 30 seconds. I added one more song after that so that if I faded (or miscalculated the song lengths!), I wouldn’t have to finish in silence.

I had a lot of fun assembling the playlist, and doing that project helped me quell the pre-race jitters as well.

Before dawn on race day, CFL and I walked the mile from our motel to Victoria’s Inner Harbor where the race would start and end in front of the Parliament building. The sun was just beginning to rise as we lined up with nearly 4,000 other runners. I lined up with the “2:15” crowd and CFL, who was walking, went back toward the rear.

After the horn went off at 7:30 it took me about three minutes to reach the starting line through the crowd. I queued up my music as I crossed the mat and off I went.

The weather was perfect — low 50s and calm with a light cloud cover. My feet did not go numb in the first mile as they usually do. Everything looked good!

The first couple of miles went exactly as planned. Then I noticed that the course, which I always think of as flat, is actually quite hilly. Victoria fools me that way every time! By the time I hit mile 4 I was working harder than I wanted to and was still a couple seconds over the magic 10:00 minute pace. I was regretting that last taster at the brewpub the night before.

There was some downhill in mile 5 so I made up all that time with a 9:36 mile. I then managed to get myself settled down over the next few miles. My GPS watch was telling me I was on pace, and the fact that I was hearing the right songs at the right time confirmed my watch data and gave me that extra bit of confidence.

At most of the aid stations I was only taking splashes of water, and choking on most of that. One of these years I’ll master the art of drinking on the run, but I’m not there yet. I eventually got rather warm and thirsty so I decided to walk through an aid station at mile 10 and take a few full swallows. That was my first walk break.

At mile 11 I had one song backfire on me. The opening notes of Joe Cocker’s “High Time We Went” caused my mind to scream, “Oh no we’re not going!” I placated myself with another, very short walk break. But I was just under a 10 minute pace at that moment and that PR was not yet out of reach! After a few long deep breaths I decided to ignore that part of my mind and get back to work.

I ran mile 12 in 9:29, carried forward gallantly by David Bowie’s “Heroes.” I started mile 13 right on schedule to a reprise of “Chariots of Fire.” Then when “Safe and Sound” came up for the first time I knew I had exactly 6 and a half minutes to get to the finish line.

I got there with at least 10 seconds to spare. I passed several people right at the finish. I finished in  2:11:42 — a PR by 19 seconds! It was a negative split by almost two minutes. I placed 67th out of 173 in my age/gender group, which is my highest-place finish at Victoria and a Really Big Deal for me.

I finished feeling safe and sound, but I’m quite sore today — more so than I usually am after a half marathon. I really did put it all out there in the last couple of miles. I’m not sure I could have done it if it weren’t for that silly playlist. I think it actually helped me to maintain my commitment to myself in those late miles when I was getting very tired.

As for CFL? He took a leisurely stroll on a beautiful course, finished in 3:21, and told me in great detail about the sights he’d seen along the way — things I’d mostly missed while in my tunnel-vision running world. He had a great day too.

We’ll be back to do it again next year!



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