I admit that I often complain about the weather. It is either too hot, too cold, too windy, too rainy, too snowy or too humid. It is never perfect. In the days leading up to this half marathon I found myself complaining once again. It had been so nice (almost perfect) all week long and it was suddenly going to drop in temperature, increase in winds and dump snow just in time for the start of the race. I mean, really, I should have totally expected this a month ago when I signed up for the race! It is not like I hadn’t been training in these conditions already. Sometimes I can be such a baby!
Well, maybe it helps to be all whiny and complainy (I’m sure that’s not a word, but I like it). I approached the starting line with thoughts about having fun and doing this as part of my triathlon training. I didn’t expect to get anywhere near my Personal Record (PR) even though I had a goal of completing it in under 2 hours. At least that was a reasonable goal because I have been running 10 to 12 miles every Saturday at a decent pace.
My friends and I stood at the starting line in anticipation. And then they all took off while I slowly meandered through the crowd. Sure, I would’ve sprinted to keep up, but I know myself too well (one great thing about having a bit of half marathon experience). If I started off too quickly then I would die before I even made it to the finish. “Run at your own pace” is what I often tell myself during these races. It usually works very well in my favor. We strolled along the creek on a trail that I was quite familiar with. I knew what to expect around mile 6: the start of a gradual incline that would lead to a steeper switchback at around mile 7. I wasn’t too worried, but I did do something that I NEVER do during a race. I grabbed one of the gels that were being passed out. One that I had NEVER tried before. I put it in my pocket and continued on up the hill.
I just love when I pass someone and then they pass me a quarter of a mile later and then I pass them again another quarter of a mile later. When someone is coming up behind me I glance sideways and take note of who it is: “Oh, it’s that dude in the gray pants suit again. He was walking when I passed him and now he decided to start running again. There he goes. I bet I can pass him on the hill.” Or: “It’s that guy again. He is the one who elbowed me when he passed me before. I better steer clear of him this time.” Of course there is always: “Oh no, that chick might be in my age group. I totally can’t let her pass me!” This is the kind of stuff that keeps me entertained during a race. Seriously, the miles just fly by!
It was real annoying when I had to be ultra conservative while running on the ice-covered patches. As time ticked by, those patches became slushy and even more slippery. I couldn’t risk slipping. No way would it be worth hip replacement surgery at my age! I let people pass me on those stretches and then I kicked it up an extra notch when I reached the dry pavement. Do you ever watch how the person in front of you runs? At one point I was marveling at a girl who totally runs just like me. She had the whiparound legs that flapped out to the side as she ran. I suddenly became very attuned to my running form and I reigned my own legs in. During the long incline I was stuck behind a guy with very bright shoes who was running at my pace. I stared at those shoes the entire time so that I wouldn’t know how much further it was before I finally reached the top. Next thing you know, we were there!
That switchback hill was not fun. Not fun at all. But, it wasn’t as bad as it looked. It took everything I had not to slow down. I kept pushing for my pace to overcome it. And that I did. When I reached the top I just wanted to lay down in the snow, but I knew that wasn’t an option. I still had 5 more miles to go. What did I do instead? I closed my eyes (well, maybe not completely, but they were partially closed). I know it may sound funny, but I almost fell asleep. I was at peace for that short moment. And then I remembered where I was. I looked around at the amazing view and I pumped my legs faster as I flew down the hill. I had to play catch up for lost time on that uphill battle. Yet, I couldn’t overdo it.
At that moment I realized that it was probably very dumb of me to push it so hard. That seems to be a common scenario. I kept thinking about how I needed to do my swim/bike workout the next day. I couldn’t put that off just because I wanted to finish a fast half marathon. My triathlon was more important than this race. But then you just get in the racing mindset and there is nothing left to do but push as much as you would in any race. My legs were tight, my hips were out of tune and my lower back was cringing, but it was nothing that warranted a slower pace so I continued on.
As I neared the bottom of the hill, I thought about that gel in my pocket. I knew I was going to need more fuel than what I had, but I wondered if it was worth a possible gastric attack. If I was going to continue at this pace, then I would need more fuel. I opened it up and swallowed. Hmm, not too bad. I always wondered what those tasted like and they weren’t bad at all. And it must have agreed with my stomach.
Another measly 5K and I would be there. It wasn’t until I got to this point that I realized I would definitely finish in under 2 hours. There was even the chance that I would be very close to my PR of 1:49:57. There were a few times during the last 5K that I considered slowing down, but I forced myself to stay on pace. Every little hill seemed harrowing, but I set my mind to passing people (a little competition always gets me motivated).
I made it a point to sprint to the finish even if it made my finishing picture look very bad (if it isn’t bad then you are obviously not working hard enough). I finished in 1:50:05, just 8 seconds more than my PR from a very flat, very sea level race back in Jacksonville. I really don’t know how it happened, but I do know this: if someone says they are probably going to have a bad race day, are complaining about the environmental conditions or say that they haven’t really trained, then they will most likely kick some serious butt! Don’t believe a word of it!
And the best part of it all: I had fun! The weather didn’t scare me, the trail conditions didn’t scare me, the competition didn’t scare me and I didn’t scare myself (well, not too bad).