For several years, I’ve been able to routinely do a half marathon under 2 hours with no problem. Always, even through winter, I would keep my mileage up enough to comfortably finish a half marathon, even having quick recovery afterwards. But the past several months, I have focused more on weight training and less on running. My mileage dropped from 30 miles per week to 20 miles per week (and some weeks my mileage was under 20 miles). Still, I assumed that I could crank out a sub 2 hour half marathon. Not that it wouldn’t hurt, but I figured it was probable.
My long runs were usually in the 9-12 mile range consistently with 3 weeks at higher mileage and one week at lower mileage. Pretty standard. But this winter, my long runs were sporadic at best. Knowing that the half marathon was coming up, I made sure to get in some consistent long runs — 10 miles, 11 miles, 11.2 miles, 11.5 miles, 11.8 miles. But that was it. And each one left me feeling beaten up in a way that is not normal.
In the few days leading up to the race, I wrapped up weight training on Wednesday and started carb-loading. It’s harder to carb-load when you follow the paleo diet — carbs come in the form of sweet potatoes, fruits, squashes, raisins, etc. I was keeping track of my carbs on paleotrack.com, but I was still having trouble getting up there. So on Thursday, I broke down and bought a big bag of Smartfood popcorn. I ate half the bag Thursday and half the bag Friday. I used to enjoy it, but this time I didn’t.
Saturday’s forecast called for temperatures in the 30s, sun, and wind. While St. Patrick’s Day was the coldest 5K I had ever run, March 23 turned out to be the coldest half marathon I had ever run. I selected cold gear running tights, 2 long-sleeved shirts, a knit hat, and my thickest winter running socks (even though they are known to give me blisters).
I drove to Queens and walked the loooong way from the parking lot to packet pickup. I got my stuff, filled my fuel bottles with coconut water, drank a container of coconut water, and put my bags of raisins and cell phone in my running belt. Then I waited around a “reasonable” time before putting my sweatshirt and backpack into gear check. I checked my gear and walked over to the starting area.
Everyone was standing in the sunny spots trying to keep warm to whatever degree possible. Good running weather is not good standing-around weather. Eventually the race started, but the race start was about 10 minutes later than the advertised 9 am time.
I started out with my half-baked strategy of running my old goal half marathon pace (8:40s) and hoping for a miracle. That worked out for about 5 miles until the wheels started coming off the truck and this old body started slowing down. A more prudent option (which ran through my head but was discarded) would have been to start out with the 2 hour pace group and then speed up later if I felt like it.
At several points in the race, I alternated between feeling overheated to feeling cold when we were running into the headwind. Runners’ attire varied as much as the course conditions varied. Some people wore tanks and shorts; others were more bundled up than I was. Lots of gloves and hats were scattered throughout the course, shed by those who were too hot. I saw a couple of girls in booty shorts. (Ladies, if you are planning to wear booty shorts, please ask a friend to go with you when you try them on to make sure that your booty isn’t hanging out the bottom of the shorts — we don’t need to see that).
Somewhere between miles 8 and 9 I was overtaken by the 2 hour pace group. In my mind I swore. I did hang with them for awhile, but then I decided to let them go and just see where I ended up.
I struggled through the final miles. At mile 10, I told myself, only 5K to go, you can run 5K. Somewhere in mile 11 I toyed with the idea of walking, but after debate, I decided that would be a bad idea and I’d be realy mad at myself so I kept going. At mile 12, what’s the point, it’s only a little over a mile, gotta keep going.
We were going around a small “lake” and toward the finish line. I looked over to the left and saw the stream of runners who still had about a mile and a half to go, and I was grateful not to be back there again.
In that last half mile, I picked up the pace by telling myself that it was like finishing a 400 m track repeat. I looked at my Garmin and saw that I could still finish in under 2:02. I crossed the line in 2:01:40-something and didn’t know whether to laugh or to cry in relief or frustration or what. I got my finisher medal and mylar blanket and walked through the tent with the food. Most of the food I don’t eat, but I was grateful to see bottled water, bananas and oranges. I headed over to gear check and found my backpack. I drank the water and ate the banana and saw other runners going through their post-race rituals. Most people were donning warmer clothing that they had stowed at gear check. I asked a woman to take my photo, and then a guy asked me to take his photo. Then I started the long walk back to the car and started to really feel the blisters on my big toes. When you’re racing and everything hurts, you don’t notice the individual pains. But afterward, I noticed the blisters, the achilles’ soreness, and an uncharacteristic left knee soreness (that was a new one).
What were my thoughts after this race? One of my friends said that I sounded disappointed and that I’m too hard on myself. Both are true, but after analyzing this event, here are the conclusions that I came to.
1) Part of me is disappointed in myself for letting my running go so much. My endurance is poor, and that is totally my own fault.
2) Part of me is thrilled that I was that close to a sub-2-hour half marathon on bare bones training.
3) I need to remind myself to do as I say, not as I do.
Now I’m all fired up to work on my running training. I don’t know when I’ll fit it in though…….