Recently, I ran a half marathon 5 minutes slower than I’d hoped to, and I wasn’t sad at all.
This may not seem like a big deal, but 2 years ago I ran a half marathon with the exact same goal (1:29), and the exact same finish time (1:34) and I was devastated. As in, sobbing Nancy Kerrigan-style after the race, throwing the medal away, refusing to speak about it for months. I was so upset that didn’t run another half marathon for a year and almost swore off running for good. Yet after this year’s series of unfortunate race events, I was eating chicken and waffles and smiling within an hour of finishing. So what changed? Have I grown older and wiser or just lost my competitive fire? I think maybe a little bit of both.
Let’s start with my most recent race. I’d trained harder than I ever have for a half marathon before. I peaked at 60 miles a week, and was feeling mentally kind of blah and physically a little beat up going in. For the last week of training and going into the taper, I’d been experiencing some pain in my SI joint, radiating into my left hip. I saw a local chiropractor who wasn’t able to offer a ton of help or advice, except that probably nothing was broken and it may or may not resolve itself (by the way, if you live in the DFW area, please send me your best sports chiropractor/sports medicine docs!). Mentally, I’ve been training pretty hard since May and just really was ready for some down time. I’d been on team “break 1:30 or die,” but during the taper made peace with the fact that that might not happen for me.
When I woke up and checked the weather race morning, I immediately thought “not a PR day.” The weather was forecasted to be mid- to high-60s with high humidity and sporadic showers. I have run all my PRs in 30-degree temps, and I know I dehydrate very easily and would struggle. I shoveled down half a plain bagel, made it to the start where I ran a quick warmup, peed twice and gagged down a caffeinated Gu with 15 minutes to spare. I eyed my fellow competitors and pegged one girl to be my biggest competition, purely based on her clothing (buns and a cross country tee), and before I knew it we were off quickly. Too quickly, as it turned out. Just past the first 400 meters, I looked at my watch to discover the female I eyed at the start and I were running 5:30 pace. I backed off and let her go, and tried to force myself to slow down to my planned 6:55, but it turned out to be too little too late. When my watch beeped at 6:37 I knew I’d shot myself in the foot.
My low back was sending shooting pains into my hip by mile 2. The way-too-fast pace, humidity, and pain slowly caught up to me. I went through the next few miles in 6:50, 6:51, 6:51, 6:55, 6:57 and then I knew I was toast. I was working way harder than I should have been at mile 5 of a half marathon. I remembered my PR half marathon where I felt like I was effortlessly gliding and knew I felt not even remotely like that. I stopped looking at my watch at mile 6 and focused on not letting any other women pass me. The miles slowly, painfully dragged by until I slogged over the finish line in 1:34, second female by only a few seconds. I sat in the grass and caught my breath for a few seconds, ignoring the searing pain in my hip, and then limped off to find my husband and kids who were handing out jelly beans on the course.
I got several “are you ok?’ and “I’m so sorry!” texts after this race, and here’s the thing: I’m shocked with how fine I am with all this. I wasn’t sad even for a second. I was irritated that I’d gone out at such a stupid pace and a little miffed that I didn’t have any fight in me, but I don’t feel like I’ve failed as an athlete the way I did two years ago.
During the taper, I thought about my running career a bit. I ran my first half marathon in 2009 and finished in 2:07. Five months later I ran another one in 1:42, and slowly chipped my way down to 1:31. 1:29 sounds like a nice number, but if I never get any faster, is 1:31 any less impressive? I have rheumatoid arthritis, and I’ve had 2 kids, and 1:31 is a time to be proud of — just like 1:42 was and 2:07 was. Running doesn’t define me as a person the way that it used to. I used to constantly agonize over tempo runs I’d missed paces on. I tracked fellow runners on Athlinks and berated myself for not putting out similar times. Now, running is a fun part of my life, but not such a huge part that I feel incomplete if I don’t meet running goals.
In the wake of this, I made a few decisions. Most importantly, I switched from the Houston Marathon to the half. I would like to try to not run like a dummy in a half again, and I really just don’t have it in me to train for another marathon. There’s no way I’ll top the experience I had at Boston last year, and while part of me would like a faster marathon PR, the more realistic part of me realizes that my body isn’t ready for it. I’m going to lay low training-wise for a few weeks, and then get back into half training. I’m going to attempt to add more yoga into my training. I always feel so much better if I can get it in at least once a week, so if you can recommend any great YouTube yoga classes, let me know!
I’m excited to try to run a half marathon PR again one day. But I know that even if I don’t, I’m still a good runner, and I’m still proud of what I’ve done.