Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Running on Air

Sunday was the Tobacco Trail Marathon and Half. A flat, speedy course where ambitious runners set out to BQ, and I set out to PR in my second-ever Half Marathon.

I set a clear goal: under 2:15 (my first half was 2:24:24 on a mildly hilly course in November). I also set a "hope". Under 2:10. But deep down, this competitive girl knew 2:10 was the real goal.

The strategy: start off easy, begin gradually increasing the pace after the first 3 miles, then continue to pick it up through the gradual incline from 8 to 10, leaving enough in the tank to push hard at the end.

The challenge: I've been told that every race will bring some moment that you could not possibly have planned for. Mine was starting out beside the 2:10 pacer. This was not intentional. This was not a blessing in disguise. This was bad. I do not run well with others. I'm a surly, competitive runner who smiles and seems chipper but on the inside says many, many four letter words. So as our chatty 2:10 pacer set out to be the next John Bingham, I cringed.

Then I did what you are supposed to do when a race throws you a curve ball. Count to 10. Then think, "Am I going to die?" No. "Can I continue?" Yes. What do I need to change to make that happen?

I have to run my own race. I don't do well if someone else sets the pace - fast or slow. The only choices were to slow down and risk not finishing in 2:10 or continuing to run into this pacer or to speed up, break free and risk tiring myself early. I chose option two.

I pushed ahead. It was an ever-so-slightly hilly start, but I pushed to get far enough ahead to not have to battle with the group of 2:10ers the whole race. I felt some minor discomfort in my calves, but nothing major. I kept on moving now at a steady, comfortable pace.

I kept waiting for IT band tightness. It never came. I kept waiting for the knee clicking or pain that has been part of every training run since Disney. It never came. I focused on my pace, my stride, my breaths. I focused on relaxing my arms, engaging my core. I sipped water.

One mile turned into the next. I wasn't experiencing a runner's high, where you're suddenly inspired and invincible. But I was very much in the zone.

At 6.55 miles I has plenty "left in the tank" and started gradually picking up speed. As expected, miles 8 to 11 were the most challenging mentally, but they were not as bad as I expected. I felt like I was continuing to gain speed. At mile 11.5 I found myself wanting to run slow. I didn't give in. I said, "It will feel so good to push harder, finish tired, and be proud. Don't think 'I could have given more. I could have finished faster.'"

I finished in 2:10:42. Just over my "hope" goal of 2:10 and well under my 2:15 goal. Even better, I beat my City of Oaks half by almost 14 minutes. I'm elated. To run smart and pain-free felt like nothing I have ever experienced. Sure, the weather and the course were in my favor. But my focus and training played a role as well. And I'm feeling really proud of that!

My next race is in 4 weeks. I'm not hoping for a PR there. I'm just going out to have fun, while my husband runs his first Half ever. We won't run together. He's much speedier than I am. But I'll be thrilled to see him waiting for me with a beer at the finish line!

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