The day came and went in a flash! I set a new half marathon PR by 16 minutes!
Going into the race, I was really doubtful of my ability to break 1:45:00 because the longest run I had ever done at that race pace (roughly 8:00 min/mi) was an 8 mile run back in September (or August?) when I was training for Chicago. Then again, Lina and I ran a 13.1 mile training run back in March 2013 at an 8:13 pace, and given that we had since done two marathons and a whole lot of running since then, it seemed like an appropriate goal.
My pacing plan (detailed in my previous post) went out the door around mile 2 when I realized that I felt good. I remember deciding to run an 8 minute second mile just to see how that pace felt, and when it felt right, I tried to just focus on my cadence and my breathing and vowed to stop looking at my Garmin. I wanted to run by feel, which was made easier by the fact that I had forgotten my iPod so it was just me, myself, and I out there. I honestly only looked at my Garmin about 6 times the entire race.
Everything felt fine, easy almost, up until the 7 mile point. There is basically nothing noteworthy about the first 7 miles, except maybe that I saw Doctor Dribble, a guy who dribbled two basketballs the entire way; I also saw another runner with a bunny-hop gait. It was awesome, and made me feel like less of a freak. Then at the 7 mile point, we began climbing a noticeable hill and much to my horror, it lasted until nearly the 10th mile. Looking at the elevation chart afterwards, I realize that we actually started the climb around mile 2.5, but it was at the 7 mile point that we turned a corner and saw almost a mile’s worth of hill looming before us.
From miles 2-5, I was trying to maintain what I thought was an 8:00 pace. It turned out that I was gradually getting faster, but it wasn’t until miles 6 and 7 that it became noticeable. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to keep my newly-found speed up the never-ending hill; I remembered reading that with hills, it’s best to get up them by running with the same amount of effort, even though that usually means slowing down. I kept this in mind as I ran, and planted myself behind a couple who was trying to break 1:40:00. Even though I overheard them talking about being close to breaking it, I maintained my self-doubt and shrugged off 1:40:00 as a possibility. For some reason, I refused to look at my watch.
Anyway, I was kind of jealous of this couple because around mile 8.5 I wanted nothing more than to whine to someone about how sucky that hill was. I contented myself by a) taking a raspberry Hammer Gel at a water station, and b) channeling Lina by trying to pass runners in front of me who had slowed down; in addition to taking my mind off the hill, this also helped me log my fastest mile of the race because I refused to let anyone pass me on the downhill whom I had passed on the climb up. Thank youuuu, rare burst of competitiveness!
It was after the 10th mile that discomfort really started to set in. I could tell that I had spent most of my energy on the big hill, so the best I could do was try and hold my pace until the end. When I realized that I was running just under 7:20 pace (say whaaaat???), I went to war with myself: I was going much faster than intended, so I could easily slow down to 8:00 pace and still break 1:45:00; but, it finally occurred to me that I was within reach of breaking 1:40:00. To settle or to strive? To ease the pain or to increase it?
In the end, I held on as best as I could for miles 11, 12, and 13, neither intentionally going slower or faster, and then I gave it my all during the last stretch. Sprinting the last quarter mile was as much for a better time as it was to just get the race the hell over with. As a runner, I have to be okay with discomfort for some amount of time, but six miles of it was/is enough for me.
I can’t describe how great it felt to cross that finish line and know that I actually raced a half marathon. It was such a different experience from when I was younger. Due to the marathon training of the previous year, my legs never hurt from the distance. What I experienced was an overall fatigue, but never any actual pain. I walked through the water stations, but never once did I consider walking otherwise (in my previous half marathons, I usually walked once or twice towards the end). It was the first time I crossed the finish line of a half marathon and felt proud of how I did it, rather than just that I did it.
I had such a good time at this race that I look forward to running another half marathon within the next couple months. Maybe April? As Lina put it, the half marathon is a great distance because it’s long enough to feel like an accomplishment, yet short enough to find small bits of comfort throughout (4 miles down – only single digits left to go!). I feel as though aiming to break 1:40:00 now seems like I wouldn’t be reaching enough, so the next time around I may try and break 1:38:00. Even thinking about getting a time in the 1:30’s makes me giddy.
I feel as though there should be more for me to say, in terms of the race itself, but there just isn’t. I could obsess about age group stats or my race pics (in which the bunny hop is on glorious display), but it seems more fitting to just end here and save that other stuff for later posts. Now is the time to relax, recuperate, and recharge.