I’ve been putting off this race report because it was easier for me just to pretend it didn’t happen. But 2 full weeks and a big glass of wine later, I’m finally ready to process exactly what happened over my 13.1-mile-long (or 13.4 according to my GPS) meltdown along the streets of Houston.
A little history: in November I ran a half in Fort Worth. I’d hoped to go close to 1:29, but ended up with a 1:34 which I felt ok with given how my training went and the non-running-related stress I’d been under. After that, I’d originally planned on running the full in Houston but decided that considering I was (a) pretty burned out, and (b) secretly hoping I could run faster, I decided to downgrade to the half instead. My half PR is a 1:31.14 on a hilly course, and Houston is usually a recipe for a PR: cool and clear, and a fast, flat course.
Training had gone mostly well, but as taper approached, I started to feel like things were off. My motivation was seriously lagging. I completed my workouts but dreaded most of them. I’d procrastinate doing them until later in the day and choose the treadmill over the track for speed workouts when the weather was even slightly unpleasant. I noticed my easy run and long run times were slowing down, and I couldn’t get them back to where they’d been in previous training cycles. During an easy run I tripped over nothing the week before the race and landed on my knee with a nasty scrape. A part of me was a little sad it wasn’t a serious injury that would mean skipping the race.
So, yeah, it’s safe to say that my mental game was weak going in to the race.
But nonetheless, on the day before the race I loaded up my podcasts and made the 4-plus hour drive to Houston solo. I went to the expo, met up with a friend from San Antonio for lunch, did a 2 mile shakeout and had a delightful evening alone in my hotel room watching Friends reruns, eating room service spaghetti, and going to sleep at 8. My alarm went off at 5 the next morning, and I was happy to see temperatures in the mid-30s with clear skies. One hair-raising Uber ride later, I was at the race start with about 30,000 other cold, nervous runners.
My plan was to try not to start too fast. I hoped to keep the first 2 miles around 7:00-7:05 and then cut down to 6:50-6:55 for the remainder of the race. My first mile was 6:58-a little quick but not too bad-and my second was 6:55. Faster than I’d planned, but I’d hoped I could hang on. I pushed down thoughts of “oh my gosh, 11 more miles to go!” and tried to enjoy the scenery around me. Mile 3 went by at 6:40-too fast but not terrible-and 4 was 6:50. By then, I knew it wouldn’t be my day. What should have been a manageable pace, and has been many times before, felt hard. I was breathing hard and my quads were talking already.
Worst of all, mentally I was falling apart. The thought of 9 more miles at this pace seemed impossible. By mile 6 I was considering walking off the course, but didn’t see a safe spot to do so and knew that physically I wasn’t injured enough to warrant a DNF. I was just having a bad day. I glanced at my watch to see my splits getting slower and slower…6:58, 7:03, 7:08..until finally I pulled my sleeve over it and stopped looking.
The miles slowly, painfully slogged by and I watched runners I’d seen at the start sprint past me like I was standing still. Finally, I saw the 12 mile marker, and ran the last 1.1 directly into the rising sun and saw the finish line clock read 1:35. I could not believe it; part of me hoped that I wasn’t going as slow as I thought and would still finish with a time close to what I’d trained for. I collected my medal and water, faked a smile for the photographers, found my checked bag and got out of Houston as quickly as possible.
So What Went Wrong?
I guess it’s not a huge mystery as to what went wrong: I was really burned out. I’ve been training hard for over a year. I ran a half-marathon PR last November, went straight into Boston training, and then straight into 5k/10k training over the summer. I knew going into Houston that my mental game was off, but I’d hoped that I’d be able to ride out a decent race just by virtue of being in good shape physically. I underestimated the extent of my burnout. I’m disappointed in the race but I’m glad to put it behind me.
What’s next? A break! I’m taking an entire month off of running. I want to run some races this summer for fun with no expectations and maybe run some 5ks with my daughters. I’m currently 2 weeks into my running break, and unsurprisingly, I don’t miss it at all right now.
Now back to pretending that race never happened.