When I set this half marathon as a "goal" race some 3 months ago, I did not anticipate taking 7 weeks off to be a lazy bum. So, as the day grew near and RC kept telling me that he KNEW I could start the race at an 8:20 pace and hang on to that for 13.1 miles...well, I knew he'd lost his mind...but since I'm in Grasshopper Probation Status, I just kindly agreed with him...no real reason to make him any madder at me, right?
While I was certain that 1:49 race (the equivalent to an 8:20 pace) was not in my future, I knew I'd PR for this race. My best time was 2:16 at the Mercedes Half in Birmingham and I knew that even running it at "easy" pace, I'd run a better time than that. But...what I really wanted was to run a 1:59:59 race. Just a sub-2 hour half...that was all I was asking for.
As the day grew nearer, my long runs sortof started to suck more...actually my entire week leading up to the race was not spectacular...all my runs seemed difficult...even the easy ones. It wasn't until the Tuesday night prior, at the track, when I commented to someone about how hard this all seemed...well, at that moment, Phil (a local runner) said something like "you're just worried about the race. Stop worrying about it because really, you aren't going to win the thing."
For some reason, what he said hit the mark. My 400s and 800s that evening (in the pouring down rain) got better and better. And my attitude for the next 3 days improved dramatically.
Because, really, I wasn't going to win the thing....under any circumstances...even if I had of trained like I was supposed to.
By Friday, I decided I was going to experiment with this race and do something I'd never done before: not let myself get nervous. Really. At any moment that those waves of butterflies started to float up, I just told myself "you're not going to win so stop worrying." I actually spent the entire day on Friday NOT BEING NERVOUS. It was a first in running for me, and it turns out...it actually works. More on that later.
Saturday morning came very slowly...I must have woken up 47 times on Friday night. Not because of nerves but because we had some very noisy children staying in our hotel. But, it was funny...I didn't get angry or upset that I was losing precious hours to be rested for the big day...every single time I got woken up I felt like I had been sleeping for 10 hours...even if only 10 minutes had passed since the last time I woke up. It was a strange feeling....
5:30am finally arrived and I completed all my pre-race routines and we were out the door (shower, get dressed, eat breakfast...no, I don't do anything crazy like pray over my shoes or put voodoo hexes on my competitors). I still wasn't nervous. I wasn't nervous about getting there too late to warm up...I wasn't nervous about whether I ate too little or too much...I wasn't nervous about being able to keep my pace...I wasn't even nervous about all those hills....
I got in an 8 minute warmup before I realized that a pee break (sorry) was in order...the line was long but moved quickly...and then I sprinted across the grass 6 times doing some pre-race striders.
I still wasn't nervous.
In line...I found some locals (Melissa and her friend Judy)...I saw Terri behind me...Andrew, FM, and Marcus in front of me...I'm sure Troy was at the front of the pack...and Tim, Stef, and Kenny somewhere behind me.
I still wasn't nervous.
The cannon went off and I spent the first .18 miles (yes I looked) weaving in and out of people and wondered to myself: why would people who are walking feel it necessary to start at the front of the pack? Or why do people who are running together not run in a single file line until the pack spreads out? I'm going to write a book on running etiquette one day.....
And then I lost my first earring. The earrings I've worn in every single race I've run since I started this. I took the other one off, holding it in my gloved hand, waiting until the pack spread out so that I could toss it in my back pocket...and then...just like that...it was gone too. My lucky earrings were gone.
But I still wasn't nervous.
I was pushing an 8:20 pace at this point and feeling fine. Wondering...maybe I can keep this up for the entire race?
We round Barnhardt Circle and then headed into the park...finally some elbow room! FM catches up with me and we hang together until right before Mile 2. He asks me what pace I'm shooting for and I tell him 8:20 and he says "well, then why are we running an 8:04?" I didn't answer back...I was comfortable at that pace and I just wanted to hang onto it as long as I could.
This year, as the temps were in the mid-40s I opted for a short sleeve race tee, shorts, gloves, and an old long-sleeve tee cut in a few strategic places so that I could easily get it off while still running. At the mile 2 water stop I took it off and handed it to one of the volunteers...and I did it while I was still running!
This race winds in and out and around the park. It's extremely scenic with all of monuments and beautiful old oak trees and fields for as far as you can see. Funny that last year, running at a much slower pace, I never even paid any attention to it! My short sleeve race tee says across the rear bottom band "Does this shirt make my butt look fast?" The miles clicked by as people ran by me and said one of two things: "No, that shirt doesn't make your butt look FAT at all!" or "Great shirt...glad you brought some humor to this."
I told myself in the beginning that I'd try and maintain an 8:30 pace for the first four miles. After that, I could slow down to an easier pace of 9:00 and still make my 1:59:59 (yes, I was counting my chips while they were still on the table...bad GH...bad GH). But before I knew it, I was at mile 5 and still maintaining roughly an 8:30 pace. And I still felt good. I had climbed some hills pretty effortlessly and still maintained that 8:30 pace. So, I decided I'd give it to the halfway point of 6.5 miles at an 8:30 and then slow down. 6.5 came and went and I was beginning to get amazed at myself...I hadn't done this in training...I was definitely in uncharted waters. I just tried to not over analyze it...
And then I remembered: I still wasn't nervous! It had actually worked!
I just kept plugging along until about 7.5 miles and then life started to intervene. My brain started to get sortof fuzzy...my pace was slowing dramatically...I would crest a hill at a 9:15 pace and was struggling to get it back down to an 8:30. At that point I decided I was okay with anything under a 9 minute pace. I was almost done...more than half way there....I was NOT going to intentionally slow down just because I could. It took my almost two miles but something happened around 9.5...a fire got lit under my rear and I was ready to run an 8:40 pace again.
And I did. For the remainder of the race.
Finishing in 1:54:07, or an 8:39 pace overall.
And I never got nervous. Not once did I want to throw in the towel and call it quits. Not once did I even contemplate walking. Not once did I think these goals were stupid.
Running the half was very different than any half I've run before, or any 5ks I've tried to race in the past. There was a lot of strategy going on climbing the hills, recovering coming down, dressing in layers and not getting too warm or too cold, alternating 2 gulps of water with 2 gulps of Powerade at every other water station, keeping my pace without looking at the whole picture (I never looked at my overall time or pace the entire time...the only thing I could see was my distance and my half mile lap pace).
It was just very different.
I did not in fact win the thing but I kept my cool, never got nervous, and in the end ran one of the most enjoyable races I've had!