If you run an exciting new half marathon PR, but your name is nowhere to be found in the official race results did that exciting new half marathon PR really happen? Unfortunately, this is not a rhetorical question. It is what happened to me last weekend at the Richmond Half Marathon, my goal race for the fall season.
The nice people at the organization responsible for the timing of the race assure me that they are hard at work resolving this issue, so I’m optimistic that someday there may be official documentation that my new half marathon PR does actually exist. In the meantime, I will regale you with a little Richmond race report according to my personal recollections and the data on my Garmin.
1:29:59 or BUST!
I settled on a half marathon for my goal race this season for several reasons: Most importantly, I have a serious marathon bad luck streak that needs to be broken. Yes, in case you missed it, my 2012 fall goal race was the New York City Marathon (cancelled), and the A race for spring 2013 was Boston (bombed). I figured I would do major marathons everywhere a favor and take a season off in hopes of eradicating the Wasabi-signs-up-for-a-major-marathon-and-bad-things-happen phenomenon once and for all. I sincerely hope it worked, because if all goes according to plan, I’ll be toeing the line in Hopkinton again this April. And speaking of Boston, since getting over the qualifying hump turned out to be a little tougher than I anticipated, I’ve spent the last 3 years training for marathon after marathon as I chased the BQ and finally checked the world’s oldest annual marathon off the bucket list. Needless to say, my body and brain were probably due for break from marathoning. So I set my sights for fall 2013 on blowing the doors off my old 13.1 PR of 1:32:58. I settled on a goal time of 1:29:59 because being able to say “My half marathon PR is 1:29: xx just sounds waaaayyy faster than saying “My half marathon PR is 1:30: xx.” Also, I felt that breaking 90 minutes seemed ambitious, but not unattainable. And thus “1:29:59 or bust!” has been my battle cry for this season’s training.
The Part Where I Actually Tell You about the Race…
To run 13.1 miles in 1:29:59, one must maintain an average pace of 6:52 per mile. I’m not gonna lie. The thought of running that many miles at a sub-7 pace scared the shit out of me as I stood on the start line. I had a mostly great training cycle that yielded new PRs in all sorts of shorter distances from the mile to the 10K, and I’d been hitting paces in my workouts like a boss. However, I did little to no sustained mileage at half marathon goal pace and running 6:52 for the entire distance seemed pretty daunting.
My plan instead was to go out at around 7:00 min pace, maintain it through the 10K and then think about hauling ass. This way, barring any severe blow up or crisis, I would be set up for a new PR, even if I didn’t hit the stretch goal. This was the plan that I advertised to anyone who asked, anyway. But in my mind, going out 7:00 pace, and more importantly having to speed up after running 7:00 pace for 6.2 miles still seemed intimidating. So I secretly told myself that I could live with it if there were a couple of 7:05 or even 7:10 splits up in the mix, although I resolved that anything slower than 7:15 was absolutely unacceptable. I knew if I could make it to 9 miles feeling good I could bust out 4 miles at my LT pace (6:40 ish) like it was no big deal, so I started conservatively and hoped for the best.
I cruised through mile 1 in precisely 6:52 and congratulated myself for nailing the goal pace right off the bat. I also spotted my super-sherpa Saffron somewhere in that first mile and waved enthusiastically while I swore to her that this would be the only time today when I would wave. Prior to the race I received stern talking-tos from pretty much every running-type person I know to curb my spirited spectator interaction habits so I could focus on running and executing my race strategy.
Somewhere in mile 2 a new friend from my home town who I met at the start line pulled up to me and struck up a conversation. This caused me some minor feelings of anxiety and moral dilemma because there is absolutely nothing I love more than talking while running, and conversing with friendly random strangers has historically been among the things I enjoy most about racing. (Or perhaps I should say it has been one of the things I enjoy most about participating in races.)
The problem was that I had promised all of those same people who got on my case about the waving thing that I would also refrain from chatting my face off during the race so I could just get shit done. My new friend asked what my goal for the day was and I sheepishly told him I was hoping to break 1:30 as a 7:10 mile split flashed up on my watch. I reminded myself that this pace was the absolutely slowest I was allowed to go today, and channeled the inspirational good-luck-in-your-race Bit Strip that my friend Kara posted on my Facebook wall the night before as I dropped my mile 2 BFF with as much subtlety as I could muster.
Shortly after clearing the third mile in 7:11 (Yikes!) yet another fellow runner pulled up and asked me if we had gone through mile 3 yet. I told her that we had, and when she asked what my goal was I mumbled something about 1:32 to 1:30 ish, already starting to let go of the dream and feeling strangely annoyed by my popularity on the course thus far. As it turns out, my 2nd new friend of the day, Maria, was also hoping to run something in that ballpark, and she announced that she would just tag along with me for a while since we had compatible goals and I was highly visible in my cheery yellow arm warmers and bright orange compression socks. Again, this made me feel a little anxious, since my primary objective was to stay mentally focused, but I liked Maria’s eye for style and I figured with the way things were going so far I might be needing some company to keep my mind off the suffering later.
As it turned out, Maria was a perfectly delightful ball of energy from Richmond who knew the course like the back of her hand. I was very grateful for her mile by mile “what to expect when you are running the Richmond Half Marathon” commentary. And apparently she is kind of a big deal in the local running community because she got all the cheers and side fives as we ran by. I imagined that we were at home in Durham, and that her fans were my fabulous local running community cheering for me.
At mile 4 the course did this out and back thing where you could see the lead pack coming down the other side of the street. I yelled heartily for my speedy teammates Heidi and then Jen as they sped by (Whoops. I temporarily forgot that no yelling was also a critical part of my race strategy), and Maria commented on how strong and speedy my friends looked. I ran 7:04 for mile 4 and 7:08 for mile 5. This was the part where I told myself that I needed to start working harder or 1:29:59 most definitely would not be happening. I let Maria go for a little bit, and I guess this helped me find a little more focus because miles 6 and 7 were 7:01 and 6:59 respectively. That’s more like it.
Please leave me alone! I’m trying to run an effin’ race here!
But then we hit the only significant hill on the course to speak of and I ran another 7:09, convincing myself once and for all that today was not my day to break 90 minutes. I figured my pace was crap, so I might as well shift the focus to having as much fun as possible, which meant … you guessed it … time to chat up more random strangers! Conveniently, I spotted a contender. I pulled up to her and struck up the standard “What local races have you done recently?” convo, but she politely announced that she needed to drop back, which may or may not have been a nice way to say “Please leave me alone! I’m trying to run an effin’ race here!”
In any event, that gal did me a tremendous favor by deflecting my chatting attempts, because that was when I had a major epiphany. I realized that I had made it to mile 9, the mile where I was supposed to drop the hammer. I was sure beyond a shadow of a doubt that 1:29:59 was officially off the table, but I figured I might as well not run the last 4 miles of the race like an utter lazy douche bag, so I reverted back to my original game plan to pick things up. I clocked a 6:57 for the 9th mile split. Sigh. Still above goal pace, but at least it was sub-7.
I decided that owed it to myself and all the people who put time into sharing their training expertise with me this training cycle to at least take a shot at running the last 3 miles at goal pace. Furthermore, as I began mile 10 I realized that despite (or perhaps because of) many miles of piddling and lollygagging I was suddenly feeling pretty awesome. I nailed the 6:52 for mile 10 and continued to gain momentum in mile 11 with a 6:46.
Saffron was waiting for me at mile 12 holding the sweetest, most thoughtful sign made for me by her 8 year old son. This little display of support boosted me to a 6:33 split for mile 12. I was feeling pretty unstoppable and not at all like shit at this point. And friends, that is the surest sign that you didn’t run the first 9 miles of your half marathon anywhere near fast enough.
Now I was on a mission to make up as much time and stay as close to the original goal as possible. I had definitely missed the sub-1:30 boat, but maybe, just maybe I could at least keep it sub-1:31, and update my 13.1 PR to 1:30xx. The final mile was an all-out effort, and under any other circumstances I surely would have blown up in the first 800m. But by the grace of God, the last 1200m or so of the Richmond Half Marathon is a crazy-steep, raging downhill. I still don’t even understand how this happened, but somehow my shell-shocked quads managed to keep me upright and moving forward for an unheard of (at least for me) 5:57 for the final mile! (This may not sound like a big deal to you, but that is by far the fastest mile split my watch has ever seen in a race longer than 1 mile.)
I stopped my Garmin at 1:30:52 and 13.22 miles. Interestingly enough, my average pace for those 13.22 miles was, wait for it… 6:52. Aka, exactly the pace one must average for 13.1 miles in order run 1:29:59. I suppose we may never know for sure what my chip time was, and I am admittedly bummed at the thought of not being able to claim the new half marathon PR that I trained my arse off for on Athlinks, but I am also generally happy with my time, especially given my poor execution of the first 3/4’s of the race. I collected my swag and headed out of the chute. I hung out at the finish with my friend Cortney and watched all my new half marathon besties, Maria and the lady who just wanted to effin’ race finish and then gave them some hugs and high fives. I found Saffron and my racing friends and was happy to discover that fast, successful races were had by all at America’s friendliest half marathon!
My #1 take-away from Richmond is that I am fit enough and strong enough to break 1:30 in the half marathon. Everything about my training leading up to this race indicated that this was true. Sadly, when race day arrived I lacked the confidence to believe it. I ran an overly conservative race (at least for the first 9 miles), and (this part is tough to admit) purposefully distracted myself from the goal because I was afraid I couldn’t do it. I am 100% prepared to get yelled at by a lot of people now that I have confessed this on the internet. It worked out pretty well in the end, but I suspect I would have run a significantly different (and by different I mean slower) time if it hadn’t been for that ridiculous downhill final mile.
Fortunately my winter/ spring race calendar includes two more half marathons (Charleston, SC in January, and Virginia Beach in March.) I am really excited to see what I can do next with my new found confidence in my ability to hold a sub-7 average pace for 13.1 miles, improved race strategy execution, and maybe a few workouts that include sustained mileage at half marathon goal pace. And yes, I’ll probably also need some duct tape so I can keep my trap shut for the next one.
Are you a sandbagger who is afraid to put it all out there on the race course? Do you like it when people chat you up in a race?