When last we were talking about this half marathon thing, I was twelve days away from running Boston’s Run to Remember. My final long run was over and I had nearly two weeks to take it easy (workout wise), wrap my mind around racing thirteen (point one) miles, and worry about how likely it was that I would poop my pants mid-race.
I think most distance runners will tell you that taper weeks might actually be the hardest two weeks of your training – even harder than your highest mileage week. These races tend to be far more mental than physical, and that’s especially true in my case. I mentioned in my previous post that I knew with the proper training I could run a half marathon, and I was definitely properly trained.
Before we go any further, let me interrupt for a mini-commercial: if you want to be properly trained, too, you should call Alicia at A Healthy Balance. She doesn’t pay me to say awesome things about her, but I will proclaim loudly and often how great both the bootcamps at A Health Balance and training with Alicia for my half have been for my running! And, you know, my general fitness and health. CALL HER. And Alicia doesn’t pay me to say good things about her, but you can totally buy me Starbucks to say thank you for giving you awesome advice. (iced grande soy chai, thanks!)
Also before we go any further, you all know I talk a lot so you should probably make sure you have a beverage and possibly a snack before you keep reading. We
might will certainly be here a while.
Back to where we were…I knew I was properly trained and that I could run thirteen miles, but I also knew the hardest part of the actual race would be mental. For one, of course it was five days out from the race that the arthritis in my left knee flared up. It was, thankfully, significantly less painful and shorter lived than previous flare ups, but it’s not what I wanted to happen during my taper. I also woke up three days before the race with a completely out of the blue migraine – the first (out of the blue, anyway) since February. I’m sure somewhere in my head I knew that would be over and done and I’d be fine for the race, but that doesn’t mean that I didn’t spend all of that day feeling horrible and worrying that it would affect my half. These, my friends, are called the taper crazies.
In addition to the taper crazies, and with more free time than I usually find myself with since I was skipping bootcamps because of my knee, I also got to spend a lot of time thinking and worrying about how to run the race itself.
What’s that saying? Eyes closed, head first, can’t lose!
Wait, that’s not it.
I haven’t checked with Alicia, but I suspect she likes the Dillon Panthers version better. I also suspected it would take more than just a catchy motivational saying to get me through this.
This was where I had to convince myself that I was going to nail this race, knowing that I would end up doubting myself or wanting to give up on my time goal and take it easy during the race. I was totally confident that I was physically capable of running a half marathon, but I had done all but one of my long runs with friends, and even that “solo” run wasn’t truly solo because I had company for the first ~5 miles (of 12). I knew a lot of people who were also running Run to Remember (we had 10 Running Dawgs running either the half or the 5-miler!), but I hadn’t talked with any of them about their goal times and assumed that I would maybe start with some of them, and possibly see some of them along the route, but I would be mostly on my own.
It turns out I got super lucky…my friend Natasha (below in the hat) was planning to run her race at a pace that was almost exactly what I needed to do to hit my goal time, and my friend Breann (below in white) was hoping to finish about five minutes faster than us so planned to start with us, see how things went, and maybe take off at some point. I’m still disgruntled about how the race organizers decided to start both the half marathon and the 5-miler at the same time this year, so there were 12,000 runners in a non-corralled start…turning from very wide roads to very narrow roads and causing 2-3 bottlenecks in the first 2 miles, but whatever. It kept me from going out too fast, and gave me time to take a quick selfie while we were still feeling all caffeinated from our pre-race coffees!
It turns out, that when you design great t-shirts for your running club and have tall running club members, they’re easy to spot in a crowd of 12,000 runners! Somewhere in the middle of the second mile, we saw another Running Dawg from across three lanes of the road and realized our buddy Richard was about 50 feet in front of us…so of course we started weaving our way across and up to him. He thought we were nuts, and I thought we needed another selfie to document that we had found him.
Richard stuck with us for another few miles, and the four of us did a pretty awesome job of entertaining ourselves, keeping our pace, and not losing each other when some or all of us stopped at water stops. I won’t lie, I was impressed with our ability to stick together being solid mid-packers in an 8,000 person race (we dropped 4,000 runners who split off around mile 2.5ish for the 5-miler). Eventually, we were watching the lead runners come back towards us from the turn around, so we made our way to the middle of the road and started scanning the crowd for two of our speedier Running Dawgs…despite having them text a photo pre-race, I screwed up who was wearing what color and we only spotted – and of course screamed at – one of them (race spectating tip: get a photo of your runner pre-race so you know exactly what they’re wearing and can double-check it while you watch for them if needed! This makes it a thousand times easier to find them in the crowd).
I think the turn-around, which was around mile eight I think, was where I would have poked my eyes out due to boredom if I had been alone. We did spot – and cheer for - Richard, who had fallen behind us a few miles earlier, but after that it was just about getting back across the river to the last few miles of the course and being done already. This is what I’m talking about when people are shocked I don’t want to run more half marathons…eight miles is about my 1:20 mark time-wise, and I’m kind of over running at that point. Can I keep doing it? Sure. Do I want to? Not especially. Around mile nine was when Breann got ahead of us at a water stop and went on to run her own race. Around mile nine and a half was where I was really starting to feel over it and I plugged in an earphone.
Let’s rewind a minute and talk about my play list for a second. Hockey Mike will not condone this behavior, but I usually listen to music during my races. I often have only one earphone in, but I like having the music there. Last week, I got my final instructions from Alicia which outlined my plan for pacing this race to hit my goal and then I sat on my couch and crafted an amazing playlist that had songs worked out nearly perfectly timed to my pace plan…a few slower songs to start for the crowded miles when I wouldn’t have much control over my pace, then a block of slightly faster songs for my next few miles, then a bigger block of even faster songs for the bulk of my race, and then wrapping up with some overly speedy songs to get me through my last few miles – when I was supposed to be giving it whatever I had left. I crafted this playlist and knew I needed to start it at the race start even if I wasn’t planning to listen to it until later in the race, because otherwise it would throw off my pace instead of helping it. I also only made this playlist two hours and twenty minutes long, so if I totally blew my goal (2:15) I was going to run out of music just when I needed it most, so I really needed to not blow my goal.
So around mile nine and a half, I plugged one earphone in. I really wanted to stop and go to the bathroom, but I wasn’t willing to wait in line and I wasn’t yet (overly) concerned about pooping my pants despite my stomach being not thrilled since around mile five. It wasn’t long before I decided I needed to plug in the other earphone and get serious about getting to a port-a-potty sooner rather than later…if that meant finishing, then I wanted to be done with it, but I would be happier if it meant there was a port-a-potty without a line somewhere before that.
For the entire race, I was intentionally not looking at the clocks at every mile. I can barely do math on a good day, you can imagine what happens when I try to do math mid-race! Looking at those clocks and trying to figure out how many minutes to take off because I crossed the start a few minutes behind the gun, and then trying to figure out how many minutes I had left to hit my goal, and then to take those minutes and divide them into mile splits. I knew if I started doing that, I would screw myself up. I had my watch set to show me distance, heart rate, and pace for the full race. I heard it beep for most of my mile splits and knew I was pretty close to the plan…all I wanted to do for the entire race was see my splits on there, know they were where they should be, and do that thirteen times over. At one point, Natasha started to say “we’re at 1:4…” and I interrupted her and was like “DON’T SAY IT!” I knew 2:15 was totally within reach – which was her point – but I didn’t want to start over thinking it and cause myself to either a) panic, speed up, burn out, and blow it or, equally possible, b) think I had more time than I did, get too comfortable, and blow it.
By the time we crossed back over the river, just about mile ten, I was singularly focused on getting to a line-free port-a-potty, so I (sorry Natasha) plugged in my other earphone, buckled down, and started to pull ahead of Natasha. If I was going to stop I wanted to make up some time before then so I would have less to make up between my pit stop and the finish, because I suspected I could make a pit stop and still hit my 2:15 goal. Lucky for me, there were line free port-a-potties in mile 10. Not lucky for me, my clothes were soaked through with sweat because despite the cool weather, it was pretty humid (moist, if you will), and it’s tricky to do a quick pit stop when you’re already soaked and sticky with sweat and then you step into a plastic box with very limited space and no air circulation. Regardless, I got in and out as quickly as possible and got back on my way.
My music, at this point, was prepped to get me to a much faster pace and it was working. There were a few spectators along the Public Gardens with signs for me (well…for someone named Sarah, so I mentally claimed them as mine – thanks strangers!), and it wasn’t long before we were winding through Downtown Crossing and the Financial District. A lot of folks complain about the number of turns on the Run to Remember course, but the part of this course with all the turns, that runs through the heart of the city is what I love about this race (I think the 5-miler course is perfect, it’s hands down my favorite city course). It’s early on the Sunday morning of a holiday weekend and the streets are closed to traffic…it’s you, 7,999 running buddies, and a few dozen spectators…and you OWN the city for the hours you’re running this race. That’s why I ran the 5-miler again last year despite the early start time. It’s why I was willing to make this my half this year. It’s why I’ll probably run the 5-miler again and again despite the early start and even though I’m fed up with the security and start logistics of the race. So this point? This was where I was ready to get down to it and race.
I sped up, slowly but surely, and wound my way through the turns. I kind of loved running around my office, and getting to run straight down the middle of the streets I’m usually dodging cars and MBTA buses on while I’m out getting coffee or lunch in the middle of the day. The course was a bit different from past years, so there were a few turns that threw me for a loop, but soon enough we were on Atlantic Ave and turning down Seaport Blvd. This is the tricky bit, as there’s an incline on the bridge over the channel that isn’t huge, but is significant when you’re trying to figure out exactly how far away from the finish you are and exactly how fast you can go right then without burning out before you get to that line. I heart me some hills, though, so I smiled and dodged around a few Air Force guys with a little “see ya, sucker!” in my head as I passed them. Not long after the bridge I saw Natasha’s yellow hat ahead of me, and I chased her down. I had to weave around folks and ended up on the other side of the road from her, and I didn’t have the energy to cross back and get her attention. And then it was just me and the finish line, and a clock that I didn’t read closely, but I knew was pretty dang close to my 2:15.
I won’t lie, the finish felt a bit anti-climactic and as I turned into the World Trade Center to get water/food/whatever, I was blasted with heat and forced to a slow walk (and near stop) because of the crowd. There was definitely a second there when the heat and the lack of moving were too much and I knew I needed to get something to drink and get the hell out of there before I passed out…so that’s basically what I did. It was easy to find my other Running Dawgs (seriously…I designed awesome shirts, if I do say so myself) and got to catch up on how everyone’s race went. Oh, and get one last picture.
I don’t remember what point it was that I finally got my official results, but here they are….13 seconds away from hitting my 2:15 goal, and I’m totally happy with it!
You’re now 2,500+ words into this little “race recap” (if you’re still here…thanks for sticking around!), if you can call it that, but I’m not sure I’m done talking about it yet. You just may come back here soon and find a little “things I don’t want to forget” post. Plus…supposedly official race photos come tomorrow, and if the historic trend continues there are sure to be some ridiculous ones to share!