It was a no excuses kind of day. Partly cloudy, 55 degrees, no injuries or niggles to contend with, and I’d even had a decent night of sleep. Still, I was convinced that when I lined up for the Her Tern Half Marathon, I’d be putting myself through a hundred minutes of pain (or more) with zero chance of a PR. I felt under trained for the distance–a feeling my recent tempo runs had only reinforced. And though my last half marathon was well over a year ago, I remembered the suffering like it was yesterday. I didn’t think I could knock out anything close to the 1:38:48 PR I’d achieved with Salty by my side to pace and push me.
My running buddy and new coach Michelle finally convinced me to sign up for it a week prior to the race. I’d been hedging and thinking up all kinds of silly excuses why I didn’t want to do it. But when she pulled the “no matter the outcome, it will help you get stronger” card, I couldn’t argue. Plus, it was an all-women’s race with mimosas and cupcakes at the end. So there was that.
After a one mile warm-up and a couple of strides, I was ready to go. The sooner we start, the sooner we get this misery over with, right? I held back in the first mile, determined to go out at a nice steady pace that I could actually maintain for 13.1 miles. Even with significant downhill in the first mile, I managed to reel in the adrenaline and run 7:13.
The next three miles didn’t feel great mentally or physically. It was an out and back course, and the whole way out, I was tempted to worry about the way back. I reminded myself to stay in the mile and enjoy the first few miles when I didn’t feel like death. My target pace was 7:30s, but those first several miles–the ones I expected would feel easiest–were anything but smooth. I struggled to maintain a solid pace in the first half and to keep the negativity at bay. (If you’re struggling this much now, just imagine how awful and slow the last half is going to be!) I didn’t pay close attention to my watch, but whenever I did check it, I came away discouraged. Miles 2 through 6 were anything but promising: 7:35, 7:42, 7:27, 7:41 and 7:45.
Right before the turn-around (around mile 6), something clicked. I woke up, caught that elusive second wind, and switched into a new gear. As I surged past a herd of pony-tails, I glanced down at my watch and saw I was running sub-7:00. And I felt gooood!
I started to panic. I shouldn’t be going this fast! I can’t maintain this pace for 6 more miles! Or can I? I’m a batshit crazy marathoner, dammit! Don’t tell me what I can and can’t do! Mile 7 whooshed by in 7:21. I ate a gel in mile 8 and tackled a little hill, slowing to a 7:34 average. As for mile 9, how ’bout we throw in another 7:21?
I should note that during all of this, I had no idea what my actual pace or splits were. My GPS was on the fritz, registering 9:23 pace one second and 6:53 the next. I just went by feel. And by feel, I mean, I just kept asking my legs and lungs how fast they could possibly run for the next 5, 4, 3 miles before all my muscles and brain disintegrated into pure mush. And however they answered, that was the pace.
I still felt strong after mile nine. I had just passed a woman I recognized from some other local races I’d done, and was in the hunt for the next woman about 45 seconds ahead of me. I think it was mile 11 when I finally overtook her going up a hill. Mile 10, 11 and 12 averaged 7:14. Again, I had no idea. I wasn’t thinking about time, and I definitely wasn’t attempting any math. It was all just run run run, as fast as you can. (You can’t catch me, I’m the ginger-haired (wo)man!)
When I reached the final mile, I traded feeling strong and swift for sick and slow. Even giving it everything, I was crawling up those bloody awful hills in the last 800m. But when I crested the final hill and caught a glimpse of the clock, my urge to puke was suddenly replaced by a desperate need to sprint my heart out.
I expected 1:39-something, maybe on my luckiest day a 1:38-something. But with less than 50 meters to go, the clock registered 1:37:25. I was so excited that I would’ve whooped and hollered and grinned if I had even the slightest ounce of energy or oxygen left. Instead, I just stumble-sprinted and ugly faced it to the finish, crossing in 1:37:37. A 71 second PR!
I caught my breath and checked in with my friends Erin and Michelle, who were already done with their races. Then I grabbed some water and food (cupcakes!) and went back to the finish line to cheer in the rest of the friends I knew who were running. All of them had great races, and many brought home shiny new PRs to match their finisher’s bracelets.
So, lessons learned:
1) My Garmin is not to be trusted. Maybe GPS watches should be included in random drug testing going forward, because I’m pretty sure mine was off smokin’ crack when it should’ve been tracking my pace.
2) Don’t count your splits until they’ve hatched. (Okay, that makes no sense. It just sounded moral-of-the-story like.) But seriously–don’t do the math. Just run. There’ll be time for counting paces when the racing’s done. (Sing it, Kenny).
3) The first half of the race doesn’t have to dictate the second half. The first several miles of a race can be bold faced liars–just like those darn Garmins. It’s like Salty told me last week, “Just keep pushing hard, start to finish, and you can’t be disappointed.”
4) Cupcakes and mimosas at an all-women’s race may be a little cliche and stereotypical, but that doesn’t make them any less delicious. Long after the high of this new PR wears off, I guarantee you, I’ll still be craving those cupcakes!