Today was the day of my SIXTH half marathon. Last week I was sick with pneumonia, and hadn’t run much in the week leading up to the race, so I wasn’t expecting anything too great. In fact, I secretly feared I wouldn’t even be able to finish the race.
You see, about 4 weeks ago I had a disastrous race. I was trained and ready … and got a bit of a stomach bug prior to the race and threw up twice during the race. Sure people cheered me on for even finishing, but I hated how I felt during that race. I didn’t feel strong; it felt like every mile was a struggle just to survive. At the end it certainly did not feel like I could have kept running; and that scared me because I am in the middle of marathon training. Everything I wanted out of that race, I didn’t get.
So yeah I wasn’t expecting much with the race today. Add to that, the weather was terrible. The weatherman called it a “blustery” day … 20-25mph sustained winds predicted for the entire race and the temp not expected to pass 45 degrees. Brrrr, makes me cold just thinking about it. And this was a trail run (my first ever) with like 10 miles of the race being on a trail.
I struggled mightily with what to wear! I have never wished I had more clothes on during a race, because I heat up pretty quickly. But dang, it was cold and very windy so I didn’t know what to do. My running partner was wearing 3 layers (a long sleeve tech shirt, a thin jacket, and a vest) so she thought I was darn crazy when I announced “I promise you I will cross the finish line in just my t-shirt and capris!” I did buy a cheap sweatshirt that I could throw away … and I made my own arm warmers out of knee socks.
Early this morning we got up, and drove 45 minutes to the race. As we got out of the car, I was shaking and shivering and started to second guess my clothing choices, but I just told myself “you never wish you had more clothing, you will be fine.” The line for the port-a-potty was LONG and I was running later than I wanted to be. I am quickly throwing up my fuel belt and stuffing my pack AS I am walking to the start line.
And we are off… and directly into the wind. Holy buckets, it is cold! First mile and I am feeling ok … second mile I feel like I am running through quicksand… third mile not much better. Oh no, I start freaking out. See, I can’t do this … this race is going to be another disaster. I pick a person in front of me and I try to focus on passing her. We jockey a few times, and finally I am able to pass her up. I settle down a little bit, until I see my mile split. It’s like 30 seconds off where I usually am at this point. Oh crap! This is going to be the slowest run of my life if I am that slow down, I usually only get slower from here. I try to push down the panic building inside me.
At mile 4 I find this amazing couple. They would run fast for about 1-2 minutes, but then walk slow. I would concentrate on trying to pass them every time I ran. It was working … next mile split was right about where it should be. I settle down and decide to stop worrying about time so much. I mean, after all, coach had reminded me that this is “just a training run not a race” because I have a bigger goal in mind. I stick with these guys until literally about mile.
About mile 5 I start to feel like I am running through quicksand again… so I realize I have not taken any salt tabs, so I take one. Within a few minutes I am feeling strong again.
At mile 6 I realize that I feel as good at mile 6 as I did at mile 1. This is pretty exciting to me. At mile 8 I realize I still feel as good as I did at mile 6. This is even more exciting to me. I focus on trying to keep the run intervals constant, matching my songs to the pace of my clodding foot paces. Somewhere around this time the Biggest Loser Theme Song Remix comes on my iPod “what have done today, to make ya feel proud?” blares out my speakers.
Mile 9 as we are crossing a footbridge, an odd rock song that I don’t usually listen to comes on. It’s by some band called Runner, Runner and the song is called Unstoppable. “We are, we are … oh a whoa, we’re unstoppable!” I giggle, as this is a pretty fitting song.
Breathing is going well, not nearly as much coughing as I expected – but my poor nose is running like crazy. Seriously, I must have had to do a million farm blows (and of course I always look around before I do) because I have no Kleenex and my sweatshirt and arm warmers were tossed a long time ago.
Do I have any pain? Sure … I have various moving pains. My hips flexors are a bit tight, but my quad strain has gotten a lot better to the point I don’t feel it anymore. I have intermittent periformis tightness on the right hand side, but it also goes away. I realize at mile 2 that my shoe is a bit too loose, but I do manage to forget about it after I while (I don’t wanna waste the time to fix it). I had a weird pain on the outside of my right lower leg, but I attribute it to the fact that it’s a trail run. I even remind myself at mile 9 “you are NOT in pain, you ARE tougher than this, and you CAN push through this!”
I hit mile 10 and I realize … I still feel ok. This is pretty much the best I have ever felt at mile 10 … and then mile 11 and I feel ok still. Sure my pace isn’t as fast as it was in the beginning but I’m not feeling like I want to die either.
Somewhere around 11.5 I start I struggle a little bit, and I realize AGAIN it’s been a while since I took a salt tab. I take another one, and I start to improve. I flip back and forth through my iPod trying to find songs that I can match the beat perfectly. I settle on a horribly stupid Katy Perry song Peacock, only because the beat works perfectly with me. But I am back in my groove and I feel like I could for a while. I barely even notice mile 12 and unlike every other race I have done although I was happy to see mile 12, I did NOT feel like I was ready to die…
I see one of my friends up ahead just after the mile marker (she had some GI issues and did not have a banner race for her). This is shocking because she is quite a bit faster than I am. I am very very happy to see her, and she starts coaching me to the finish. I am pushing it hard … she asks how I respond best to coaching. I tell her honestly, just scream and swear at me! She obliges (not sure some of people around me had a sense of humor)… and I pick up the pace. I even have enough for a decent sprint out to the finish … and its over! I cross the finish line and instead of feeling like I wanna pass out, I’m tired but otherwise ok!
This WAS the race I wanted 4 weeks ago. Let’s see 4 weeks ago my goal was to finish the race confidently and strongly, and maybe even feeling like I could have gone another few miles. Well I didn’t get it 4 weeks ago, but I sure got it today. I felt much, much, much stronger during the middle of the race than I usually do, and certainly much stronger and miles 10 and 11 than I have before. I didn’t WANT to run another couple of mile, but I felt like I COULD have run another couple of miles (well before that last push to the finish of course)! I feel hope that I CAN complete the marathon, well with more training of course.
So the kicker… did I get the PR today… NOPE! I missed it by about 30 seconds… yet in some ways I am happier about this race than I was the day I PR’d. I FELT STRONG and CONSISTANT. In fact if I look at my splits … if I take the extra 20 seconds off my mile 2 and 3 and wouldn’t normally be there (they were artificially slow because of the wind) that would have been a PR! My splits are consistent (with the exception of mile 11 which was horrible, not sure what happened). Heck mile 12 was faster than mile 11 … 6 was faster than 5 and 8 was faster than 7. I had enough for a good strong sprint in at the end.
And best of all… my hydration and fueling was near perfect. This was the first race I did not drink a single drop of water, only G2 and when I was running low on my supply I did get PowerAde from the stations. Mental to myself that when I start to feel sluggish, I really do need salt …. It’s not just all in my head. I took salt tabs at mile 5, 8.5 (was going to wait until 9 but felt like I needed it) and 11.5 (should have taken it at mile 11 probably based on my poor split time)… every single time I took a salt tab I improved. When I finished, I was not dizzy or lightheaded (nor was I during the race). I did not cramp … and following the race I had energy (which is rarely the case). Hydration and fueling is a big battle for me since I don’t have a colon and get dehydrated very quickly. And today, it seems like I got it right!
So the moral of the story… expect the unexpected and stop selling yourself short. It doesn’t matter how fast you run, it’s the size of your heart and how stubborn you are that matters. It’s the time that you put in when you are not racing. And crazy enough, even missing a whole week of running, you body does remember! Thank you to everyone for your messages and support as I slog along on this journey.