As I was driving to Sedalia this weekend to run a half marathon, I suddenly found myself thinking about why I was doing this. The race, I mean. It all boiled down to that this was just a training run. A test of fitness. A chance to work on pace. And then I thought… “Holy crap…” I don’t wanna be “that” guy! You know the one that destroys your hopes, dreams and self esteem by totally blowing off the race you have been training for for months by calling it a “training run” or a “C” race…? Those uppity, snooty scrawny bastards used to really piss me off by making it sound so easy. Like they could just as easily have been running at home, but they just wanted an extra shirt.
My worry was not that I had gotten uppity or snooty. I know better. I’m a better person than that and I totally respect the sport and anyone who dares to try it. And I am nowhere near good enough to be blowing off any race any time. No, my worry was that I had gotten complacent. That I wasn’t taking it seriously enough. That treating this like any other run but with aid stations and a clock was a dangerous game to play. A half marathon IS serious and can be everything from uncomfortable to downright dangerous if you treat it lightly. But more than that. ANY race, be it a fun mile or an ultramarathon, has to be taken seriously. It is inevitable that the moment I become lax in my preparation or concentration is the moment stupid stuff happens.
So now… I’m half way to Sedalia (about an hour from me) on race morning and I start to panic. Am I ready for this? Not just race prepped, but what is my plan? Am I dressed right? What about water? Did I hydrate enough before the race? The longest I ran to get ready for the race was 12 miles… is that enough?
So in a little less than a half hour, in the car, on the way to a race that I hadn’t even brought a change of socks for, I vowed to get serious. I know, I know… It’s like saying “stop or I’ll shoot” AFTER you pull the trigger. But what I mean is, I have always taken this race seriously or I wouldn’t have signed up for it. But how was I going to run it. I had no goal pace. No strategy for survival. Just an extra shirt to change into when I was done.
So thinking about my goals for the year and where this race fit into them, this is what I came up with.
- Cross the finish line upright and breathing
- Try to set an 8:30 pace and stick with it for the first two miles to see how I felt.
- Pick a race pace by mile three (it usually takes me that long to get warmed up) that I thought I could stick with for the rest of the race.
- Attack the ups
- Cruise the downs
- Pace the flats
- Enjoy the ride!
- Anything under 2 hours would mean a successful race.
I rolled into the parking lot for the race and ran through my checklist. Hat, sunglasses, water bottle (I carried my own for this race, even though there were plenty of stops), shoes double knotted, sunscreen. OK… ready.
After checking in and getting my packet, I just settled down and tried to relax. I was early (as usual) so I chatted a bit, fretted about my knee, went to the bathroom… the usual. I was kind of upset with myself because there were no pre race jitters. In fact, I was having a tough time getting fired up at all. I just wanted to get moving. I warmed up a little through a neighborhood and then wandered back to the registration area and listened to the excited conversations. This person was doing another half marathon in a week, that person was a first timer and was terrified, etc. Someone asked me if I was ready and I replied “I’ll let you know in 13.1 miles”. I really didn’t know.
We moved over to the starting line, the race director mumbled something about running on the left side of the road and then said “GO”. And we were off and running.
The race started with the 5K and half marathoners together. The 5K just went out a mile on the main race route and turned around. The first (almost) mile was a loop through a neighborhood and then out on to open country roads west of Sedalia. Pretty farm country and fairly lightly traveled. The drivers were all nice and courteous and at least somewhat patient. You could tell most of them had seen this race before… I didn’t really have anyone I had planned to run with but was happy when my friend Jake from the club joined me. We talked through the first mile as the runners settled out. I kind of got the feel for who was running about my pace and just settled in.
MILES 1 to 3
Jake and I ran through the first mile marker at about 8:30. Dead on what I wanted. A systems check let me know that I felt really good and relaxed and was running easy. I was still able to say full sentences without huffing and puffing. As the route left the neighborhood and moved out on to the road, the terrain would be what I would call gently rolling. There were a couple of hills that were long, but not terribly steep. Mile two went down and then back up. I was at about 8:39 for that mile. Mile three continued up and then flattened off. I hit it at 8:36. Frighteningly consistent for having NOT worked on pace. I think it was at about this point that I told Jake that this was a good pace for me. He said he wanted to back off a bit and we parted company.
Miles 4 to halfway
Miles 4-6 were almost dead even with each other. Between 8:30 and 8:32. I tried to drink from my bottle every time I came through an aid station just as a reminder, but I really liked having there for a sip in between them as well. The temperature at race time was around 65. It warmed up a little but then the clouds moved in and I thanked the running gods for that one. It would have been pretty hot otherwise. Finish line temperature was about 78. I would love to say that the scenery was varied, but it was just big farms and fields. Pretty, if you like that sort of thing. Boring if you don’t. I occupied my mind thinking about, of all things, tractors. It’s a long and wandering story… don’t ask.
After the first mile loop, the course goes out another 6 miles and then comes back on the same road. I got to see a lot of my faster friends on the way back and cheer them on. When I grow up… I wanna be that fast. I hit the turnaround with an 8:24 mile (slightly downhill) and felt really good. Almost too good. Uncomfortably good. Of course my mind wandered to the darkness that always follows me in a race… When will the wheels come off?
I didn’t have to wait long for my body to report a problem. Blisters. I NEVER get blisters. But I guess my old socks need to be replaced because I started to feel a hotspot on the ball of my left foot at mile 8 (8:29). But what do you do? It’s a small race with 2 aid stations between me and the finish and unless there is a boy scout or a very prepared mom manning one of them… I’m screwed. So I just sucked it up and ignored it. I think part of the problem was that the road had a pretty high crown and running on the opposite side of the road that I usually run on threw my gait off a little. Mile 9 was starting to get warm but also went down a pretty good sized hill so I ran it at 8:22. I kept thinking “this is about the point I start to implode… why do I feel so good?” A flat, uneventful mile 10 at 8:32 got me to do a pretty deep self analysis. OK, legs… good. Lungs… good. Brain… (questionable) good. Hydration… better than it’s ever been (really?). Well then… there is no sense leaving anything in the bag then… is there? Mile 11 I picked up the pace for and ran an 8:16.
MILES 12 and 13
Mile 12 is pretty flat so I knew I was pushing the pace a little when I could feel myself breathing hard for the first time all day. I told myself “you SHOULD be breathing hard! This is the farthest you have gone all year!” I hit the 12 mile mark at 8:06! If I had paid more attention I might have even run harder just to have one mile under 8… The course finishes the last mile on an uphill… Yes, the course designers are evil. Not a bad uphill, but any uphill at mile 13 isn’t pleasant. I saw a guy in front of me grab his hamstring and pull up with a cramp. I just put my head down and said “don’t be that guy”, but my hydration was good. Not even a hint of a cramp all day. I rounded the corner into the school parking lot and crossed the finish line with an 8:22 uphill mile as the last mile of a half marathon. My first thought was… I could have run faster… I’ve never said that before after a half… O.o
My overall time was 1:51:47. A PR by about a minute. I’m relatively certain that if I keep training I can easily get under 1:50:00. Now… whether or not I can do that after 56 miles on a bike and a 1.2 mile swim…? I’ll let you know at the end of September…