On the quest for a half marathon before Marine Corps, I was going to “race” the Craft Classic Half Marathon to evaluate where I was in my training for Marine Corps Marathon.
While I wasn’t feeling too good the day before the race with a lost voice and some chest congestion (my usual race jinx), I woke up the morning of the race with nothing worse than just being crazy sleepy. And with the weather being the best it could possibly be (hurricane Irma’s effect), it was perfect race conditions.
While chatting about the race, Coach G super casually mentioned that I could run a 2:30 half. I believe I gave a teenager worthy eye roll after my eyes settled back after popping out in shock.
How in the world was I to run a 11:30 pace over a distance of 13.1 miles?!! How the … was that supposed to happen?? My PR was at the downhill Revel Rockies in Colorado and I had averaged 12:05. And I was supposed to go faster on a hilly course? I knew I was stronger now than back in June, but THAT much stronger? I wasn’t too sure.
Truth be told, I was afraid. Anytime a distance race involves pace numbers and time, I get scared. I think I’m afraid of failure. Afraid of what would happen if I don’t hit my aggressive goal. Ever since Georgia Half Marathon and Pittsburgh Half Marathon enroute to the #LongRoadToAugusta, I’ve been learning to get over the fear of failure by accepting that failure is part of trying for success … but I still can’t help the panic that comes over sometimes.
I took heart in what I was told – “If you’ve run the pace and you can run the distance, you can run the pace at the distance. This is what separates races and training.”
That part was true – I had run that pace a lot, and I had comfortably paced the distance at the Alien Half Marathon just 2 weeks ago in oppressive humidity. Numbers and cold logic speak to me much better than a motivating “you can do it”!
I talked to the 2:30 pacer before the race even though I had no intention of following the pacer. I HATE following someone else and I believe that my internal pacing mechanism serves me just fine. And for whatever reason, something just prevents me from ‘taking off’ from the start in a long distance race. It can be both a strength and a weakness – some people admire that I can hold back in the midst of all the adrenaline of race start and some people say that it’s all mental that I can’t run faster initially. Either way, it’s helped me not collapse after half way point and so that is what I usually follow.
I was going to do my usual race strategy of start slower (11:45-12:00), get to race pace (11:30) and then try to push for a negative split.
Miles 1 – 4
With the goal being a 11:30 pace (that I still didn’t believe in), I tried to stick to a 11:45 pace. But with my initial hesitation of starting pace and getting used to the rolling hills, it was closer to 12:00. I did try sometimes to pick up pace, but everytime I did that I felt uncomfortable and I’d back off, afraid to feel uncomfortable so early in the race. I averaged 12:05 this segment.
Miles 5 – 9
I picked up the pace slightly to try to get to 11:45 at least. I’d occasionally glance at the Garmin and was pleased that the pace increase didn’t seem too hard with the rolling hills. There was a nice downhill stretch that I took advantage of too. I averaged 11:33 in this segment.
I believe I turned my music on (I really must get Spotify Premium one of these days!) somewhere around this time. I’m used to running without music, so this was more to just shut out external noise rather than for motivation.
I thought a lot about Chris, bracing for a hit from hurricane Irma, and Krystal, a mum of two, with a fresh diagnosis of breast cancer, and Shannon, another mum of two fighting stage 4 cancer for the past year. Carrying the three of them in my heart gave me a sense of peace and the love I felt gave strength to my legs.
Miles 10 – 11
I knew there was a long 2.x mile hill coming up somewhere and mentally braced myself for it. It was described as not bad, but just so long that you want to start walking. Now, I’m not too concerned anymore about whether I run straight out or take walk breaks. I just want to get from point A to point B in the fastest possible way. But I didn’t want to waste too much time walking a lot either, so was prepared to do some structured interval running; until then I was running all the downhill portions and walking some 30 seconds during the mid parts of the hills.
We turned onto the Atlanta Beltline and we were running alongside the many walkers, runners, and cyclists. I saw John Bips up ahead and slowly passed him. I must say that it was a huge confidence booster – although older, John is a pretty fast runner!
I was starting to tire a bit (I was doing 0.25 miles: 30 seconds run:walk intervals on the Beltline) and was wondering how I could keep pace up the long hill if the Beltline was tiring me – I didn’t realize that the Beltline WAS the long hill in the course. Then I spotted Jill’s InknBurn capris ahead and felt relief – she is a strong runner, and was aiming to run just below what I was going for; so if I could hang in with her, I might just have a chance.
Jill asked me what pace I was running at. I reckoned that I might be around 12:15 average pace (which would put me very close to my previous PR). And then just for the heck of it, I switched displays on the Garmin to see my average pace and almost lost it – it said that I was averaging 11:48 at that point !!
I was so startled that I refused to tell Jill my average pace; that number I saw scared me. HOW in the world could I have been holding a sub-12 pace amongst those hills for 10 miles, when I wasn’t even actively running by pace numbers?
But … Could I possibly get to another PR?
More importantly, could I actually get to the goal pace of 11:30?
All I had to do was push a bit or atleast try to hang in there and not lose pace. After that, anytime the hills would start to annoy me, I’d remind myself that all I had to do was hang on. Jill says that what I thought was a internal pep talk was me talking out quite loud. I managed an average pace of 11:52 in this segment.
Miles 12 – 13
After Jill dropped back, I concentrated on passing people one by one. Many of the runners had a normally fast pace, so they’d pick up and run ahead faster until they’d stop and walk and I’d pass them (that “natural” pace is what I wish I was faster at ..). I was running strong and yet just barely hanging on at the same time, if that makes any sense. The more steep hills felt like mountains and I was frustrated to walk up them, but I’d pick back up and start running when I was a few feet from the very top.
I don’t normally curse, but I did drop some choice words on the course. Aloud.
While I didn’t have a big push in the last 3 miles, I did hang on and averaged 11:26 in this segment and saw some tiny gains in average pace which dropped from 11:48 to 11:45.
Do you know what is the WORST part of a race? The end little bit when you can hear the finish and the Garmin tells you that you are just 0.25 miles from the finish but those 0.25 miles feel like the take forever to run!
I hit 2:30 (goal time) when I entered Grant Park (12.7 miles) but took a whole 5 minutes to get to the actual finish line!!
I couldn’t believe that I had finished in 2:35 – an average pace of 11:45. After I came in at 2:40 at the downhill Revel Rockies in June, I honestly thought that I would NEVER have a 2:3x to my time and that I’d have to chase another downhill race for it.
And of course, after a race where I achieved what I once thought was impossible, the next thought was – could I have actually hit 2:30 if I had planned better, if I had really really believed? (One of my biggest weakness – to always look back and wonder instead of enjoying and moving ahead. Maybe I could’ve been slower just for 2 miles instead of the first 4? Maybe I was still scared. Maybe … )
It felt good to celebrate after with friends!
This brings me to 6 weeks to Marine Corps Marathon with 3-4 more weeks of intense training. And I am liking where this is going! Not counting my chickens yet, but as long as I follow the training, manage my nutrition (how can I drop a few pounds in the peak of marathon training?) and DO NOT FALL SICK, I believe I have a good shot at the marathon goal that I’ve been chasing since Chicago 2012.