Finding the guts, one step at a time
Yesterday I ran the North Olympic Discovery half marathon. This was my 4th NODM and my 10th half marathon. Although I could not sustain my streak of a new PR with every race, I have no regrets and plenty of pride about my performance out there. I ran a 2:13:25 — nearly three minutes faster than last year — on a very warm day. I was 7th out of 55 people in my age/gender group. While I couldn’t beat my most recent time at Whidbey of 2:12:01 (on a day that was 10+ degrees cooler, on a flatter course, in a steady rain), I still handily smashed my most recent time on this course. So it’s still a PR of sorts!
Several things were different, and presented new challenges for me, in this race. For various reasons I hadn’t done as much hill training as I’d planned. I ran with a friend (the first time I haven’t raced alone). The race organizers had recruited pace bunnies (a large-race luxury that I seldom see). We lined up behind the guy running with the “2:10” sign and for the first few miles my friend and I stayed right behind him… which was faster than I’d planned to be at the start.
When we hit the hills in the full sun at the 5 mile mark I knew it was going to get tough. My friend had to talk me into taking a walk break — which helped a lot. And then another walk break. I wasn’t losing very much time… yet. What we lost walking up the hills we gained back flying down the hills. At mile 8, coming down from the last big hill, we were on a 10:15 cumulative pace, only five seconds per mile off where I’d wanted to be at that point. We ran mile 9 in 9:18 and turned west for the final push along the waterfront. I was feeling great at that point. It seemed that a PR might still be within reach, but I knew I’d better back off a little if I wanted to have anything left for the finish.
Somewhere in those last few miles, my brain — which had apparently become accustomed to the walk breaks — simply demanded that I walk again. I really had to talk sternly to myself to keep going, but I slowed down and did keep going.
At the finish line, side by side with my friend, I was moving faster than I’ve ever run in my adult life. We ran the last quarter of a mile in just over two minutes. I probably won’t buy my finish line photo because I forgot to look at the camera, but I actually look like I am RUNNING!
As much time as we made up in the last few miles, however, it just wasn’t enough to get that lifetime PR. I admit I was sort of bummed at first because I really wanted that PR, but after some time to reflect I’ve decided I have every right to be proud of myself. I found the guts and kept going — and I was three minutes faster than last year! I had enough speed left in the final miles that I actually ran a negative split by two full minutes.
Looking back I can see where I made mistakes. My friend is faster than I am. She said she hadn’t really trained much recently, just wanted to do a “fun run,” and would follow my lead on the pace — but I probably tried too hard to impress her especially early on. Certainly that “2:10” pace bunny sign was an irresistible draw for both of us during the first several miles. Another mistake was letting my brain get used to the idea that it was okay to walk the hills. Once I’d let go of that “I can run for 13.1 miles” mindset, it became too easy to take another walk break… and another.
Perhaps the biggest thing was that, when I was standing at the starting line, I was already thinking ahead to getting serious about full marathon training. I was already imagining myself running 15 miles, 18 miles, and more… Some part of myself was thinking, “what I’m about to do today is easy, of no great consequence.” When I started feeling the heat, and when I couldn’t recover quickly after the first big hill, those things came as shocks. I wasn’t well focused yesterday.
Yet despite all that I still ran a good race and came home healthy and strong. I’m very happy to be able to say that. And now, a week or so of rest and I’ll be off to run some longer, slower miles.
One step at a time!