2018 Soaring Wings Half Marathon
Hello! Long time no blogging, right? Sometimes, I’ll be the first to admit, I have to triage tasks, to-dos, wants and don’t wants - blogging is usually pretty far down the list. In addition, now that I have returned to a regular training schedule this year (after an injury that kept me sidelined for much of 2017), my “free” time is precious.
During a speaking engagement at the 2013 Runner’s World Half Marathon Festival, of which I was in attendance, one of my running heroes, Deena Kastor, said that, as athletes who are reaching toward big, important goals, we must guard our time wisely and learn to spend it on the things that are of most value to us. Most of the time, I’d rather be working toward smarter recovery strategies, building strength and preparing for new challenges. But, I digress…
Speaking of building strength and new challenges, I ran a personal best in the half marathon distance on Saturday, October 20, at the Soaring Wings Half Marathon; I’ve run this course three times before and I always say that I’ll never run it again. Saturday’s experience may have changed my mind.
I’d originally planned to run a “tune-up” half marathon on November 3; it’s a flat course, one I’ve run before, and I thought it would be good practice for my goal race later this year. I was quickly reminded that I have a very important event to attend that weekend (my best friend is getting married - whoops!), so I scrapped the race. My coach was eager for me to get into a couple of fall races, to use the strength I’ve built over the the summer months and build some mental toughness, so I suggested Soaring Wings; I knew that one of my local running friends, and another of his athletes, Tia (Arkansas Runner Mom), would be there, too.
Thankfully, the weather has started to cool down just in time; it was around 55F degrees at the start of the race and, after a summer of high dew points and humidity, it feels like such a relief. When I received my race plan from Coach, I admitted to him that felt a little anxious about it; post-injury doubts, while gradually fading, still haunt me on occasion. He gently reminded me of a recent, very challenging, workout that I managed with ease; I decided I was ready.
I was able to chat with Tia for a few minutes, just before the race start, which helped calm me down a bit. The half marathon race was scheduled to begin at 7:10 am, the sun was barely up, and I reminded myself of my strategy: this is just like a workout - run the mile you’re in, don’t get too caught up with the pace every second, just listen to your body and try to stay relaxed - this is part of training for the big dance.
The first mile includes a slight decline, but I managed my pace well and made sure to control the start; after that, well, it’s definitely NOT all downhill. This race course doesn’t have any major hills, there are just so many challenging changes in elevation that, by the end, my legs are toast. I like to call this a “slow death” course; I think I prefer swift and painless, but I needed this challenge. I ran the first four miles in 8:31, 8:21, 8:20, 8:17.
There’s a decent-sized incline in mile four, which I seem to have managed really well, and then I felt like the race, and pace, was slipping away from me. I held on during mile 5, thanks to a downhill break, but watched as the pace began to creep up during miles six, seven and eight…oof. I remember thinking, “What’s happening? Is my Garmin messed up? I feel like I’m running at least as fast as I was earlier, but it keeps slowing down! Maybe I can’t do this. It’s not my goal race, maybe I just can’t hold this pace this long.” Blah, blah, Jedi mind tricks. Shut up, brain; keep going. I ran miles 5-8 in 8:17, 8:32, 8:31, 8:32.
And then, I found my second wind (okay, what really happened is that there are a couple of long, gradual inclines during those last three miles and I finally got a break - ha!). My legs started turning over more quickly, I regained some confidence, I’d eaten a Huma gel, and I realized that if I could continue to keep the pace up for a while longer I could finish this race really strong. I focused on form, staying tall, rolling over the course, and ran miles 9-12 in 8:16, 8:23, 8:19, 8:22.
With just one mile (and that pesky tenth) to go, I started doing crazy runner math. If you’re a runner, you know exactly what I’m talking about: breaking down the distance into segments you’re familiar with in workouts (miles, 400s, 800s, whatever) and trying to figure out how fast you need to run to finish that distance within the time you’ve got left to meet your goal.
Before I got very far, I realized I was about to make the turn for the home stretch and then I could see the clock…tick, tock, tick, tock. I knew I’d be cutting it pretty close, but I pushed and pushed from some secret bank of energy and crossed the finish line in under 1:50 for THE VERY FIRST TIME. Official race time - 1:49:49, good for a second place age group award.
With just seven weeks (as of Saturday, October 27) until my goal race day, December 15, I’m looking forward to what lies ahead. No matter what happens on the day, I’m so thankful that I pushed a little harder, had a little more faith in my abilities, listened to my coach, and took advantage of a great day last weekend. As my friend Rebecca (who just ran her first sub-3 hour marathon!) always says, ONWARD!