Monthly Archives: October 2014

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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Learning to love the taper

The Victoria half marathon is now only seven days away, which means that I’m well into taper mode. My last few weeks of training have gone well enough. My longest long run was a solid and steady 11-miler back on September 20 (V minus 22 days) followed on 9/30 (V-12) by a very brisk 9-miler.

I have mostly focused my recent training on pacing. I’m feeling very strong (for some odd reason!!) so I’m having to fight the urge to go out too quickly, which always only results in tiring too much in the later miles. To train for my race strategy, I’ve practiced staying steady on pace during the first half and then making each mile in the second half just a little quicker. For the most part I’ve been successful doing that.

Over this past week my focus has turned to rehearsing for race day itself. I confess that now that I’m no longer working, I’ve developed a very casual attitude toward mornings… as in, I don’t do them at all! I’ve never been a morning person, but these days if I’m out of bed before 8:00, that’s early. But the race will start at 7:30!

So for my last two runs, I have set the alarm and made myself get up. On Friday, I had it set for 5:40 and managed to talk myself into getting up at 7:00.

This morning I set the alarm for 5:30 and I was up at 5:40. What an improvement — hurrah!

Unfortunately I can’t simply wake up, go out the door, and run. There is food to consider, and there are morning rituals. My goal for this week’s running has been to duplicate as many aspects of race day as possible.

I know from experience that if I’m up three hours before the start of the race, and if I’ve finished eating two hours before, my stomach will usually allow me to run without too many complaints. I also know from experience that a banana or two along with a slice or two of bread and a cup of coffee will usually work well for me on race day, provided I’ve eaten well (three cheers for pasta!) the night before. So — despite the fact that I really don’t like bananas at all — I’m eating bananas.

The other good thing about bananas is that I can usually find them in Victoria. Running this race means international travel — albeit only 20+ miles across the strait. I’ve learned what foods I can and cannot bring with me into Canada. I’ve never had any problem bringing a few slices of bread, but fruit? Yogurt? I’m not even gonna try. But there’s a little deli restaurant along the way from the ferry dock to the motel, and I’ve never failed to find a bowl of bananas there. They might cost me a dollar or more apiece, but I’m reasonably confident that I’ll find them there.

I plan on running just one more time between now and next Sunday. I’ll set my alarm for 4:30 on Wednesday. I’ll eat a danged banana or two and then I’ll go out and run 4 or 5 easy miles starting at 7:30, just moments after sunrise.

I was thinking about this whole taper thing while I was running this morning. I was thinking about how nice it is that I don’t freak out about it anymore. I no longer talk about “taper terror.” It’s not that I’ve become blase, but simply that I now know what to expect. I know I’m going to be anxious. I expect to gain a pound or two. I’ll have nightmares and butterflies and at some point I’ll become convinced that I’m going to fall apart. Or not. Whatever. On race morning I’ll be an insufferable basket of nerves, but I’ll somehow get myself to the starting line and I’ll run.

I’ve done this. I know how it works. I know I can do it. The nerves and the spreadsheet obsession are simply parts of the process for me.

Within the next week, I’ll pass two life milestones. One is a birthday — my 59th — and the other is the 6th anniversary of the day I first stepped onto my new treadmill and pronounced myself a “runner.” I put those two numbers together and marvel at the fact that I’ve been running for more than 10% of my life. Given that, I guess it’s about time I figured out a few of the tricks of the trade, right?

This morning I took some time after finishing to look around and enjoy the beautiful morning that I wouldn’t have otherwise seen.

 

It was worth getting up for! I could learn to love this.

One step at a time!