I don't think I've run a race 'just for fun' since I was pregnant two years ago, so it was very strange to not feel the familiar, almost-week-long pre-race jitters that I usually feel as a big race approaches.
But I knew when I put this race on my calendar that it would be imperative that I run it as a training run, instead of going all out and trying for a PR. With only 4 weeks left to go 'til the marathon, it's not time to deviate from the plan and waste time and energy on a smaller race.
That being said, I didn't plan to just go out at a leisurely jog, either. My goal was to run the 13.1 miles at as close to marathon race pace (8:23) as possible.
This was my chance to really get a feel for what it would be like to hold that pace for a long distance, in race conditions. And it just so happened that my training schedule called for 15 miles at an 8:30 pace that day, so the race fit perfectly into my schedule.
More perfection - the weather. It was a bit windy in spots, but aside from that, it could not have been better. Cool - in the very low 60s - dry, and blue skies. It was downright chilly as we waited at the start, but I knew once we got moving, it would feel great.
This was the first time I've ever worn arm warmers for a race, and they worked out perfectly - kept me just warm enough when the wind was blowing and cooling things off, but didn't make me feel overheated, the way a long-sleeved shirt would have.
The pre-race nerves didn't get to me the week before the race, but they definitely hit that morning, and I was a nervous wreck. I knew I wasn't going out for a PR, and that I wouldn't have to run super fast, but I did have a very specific goal in mind, so I was still feeling some pressure.
And since this was very much a test run for the big day, I tried to get myself in the mindset that I was out there to run 26.2 miles. I wanted to pretend, at 2 miles, that I had 24 more to go. And at 8 miles, that there was still 16 left to go. I hoped that this strategy would help me reign myself in, and prevent me from going too fast in the early miles.
Happily, it seemed to work! I did still have a few miles that were a bit too fast, but overall I paced myself pretty well.
But the best part of all is that I ran an 8:21 pace for the entire distance, and I felt FABULOUS! On Facebook, I described it as feeling 'almost easy,' which is pretty accurate. It wasn't effortless by any means, but it felt like a very comfortable, very sustainable pace.
And believe me, I know that running that pace for twice the distance is a whole different ballgame, and is going to feel much, much harder. But I now feel like it's very doable.
I had hoped this race would restore my confidence, which has been flagging a bit, and thankfully, it did just that.
The course was billed as 'breathtaking, scenic, and flat,' and that description was accurate, on all three counts. I've lived in Rhode Island for 10 years now, and had spent barely any time in Westerly until the boys and I went down there one day this summer, and I was flabbergasted at how gorgeous it was, and how foolish I'd been for not going down there sooner.
So I knew that the race would be as scenic as promised, and in fact, after looking at the course map, I had a pretty good idea of exactly what it was going to look like. The first 5 miles of the course ran along roughly the same route as the Shoreline Biathlon that I've done several times - lots of oceanfront scenery, and flat as a pancake.
And the last 8 miles wound through some beautiful backroads with lots of pretty wooded neighborhoods and nice houses. Very peaceful, but also interesting enough that it never got boring.
There was one major hill on the course, in the village of Watch Hill. It was short and steep, so it was over quickly, and didn't set me back too badly. And when you got to the top of the hill, you were treated to the sight of this spectacular landmark, and the sunlight sparkling on the ocean beyond it, so it was well worth the climb : )
It was really nice to run on such a beautiful course. I know that the routes I train on most weekends are also along the ocean, and there are some really gorgeous, scenic spots that I run past every single week. But I've been running past them Every. Single. Week. - and yes, I've become a bit jaded, and the beauty doesn't strike me all that much anymore; especially at mile 18 of a 20-mile run.
So I think, even more than the fact that the scenery was beautiful, was the fact that it was new, and different, and I didn't feel like I was slogging over the same path that I've run countless times this summer.
The miles flew by, and there were only a handful of times that I felt tired. And not once did I feel like I didn't want to be out there. I reveled in every moment of that race, and spent a lot of time smiling, which is something I haven't done much of lately while running.
This marathon training has sucked some of the joy out of running for me these past few weeks, and it was really, really nice to feel that happiness again. To be happy just to be out there putting one foot in front of the other and moving forward, just for the fun of it. Yes, I had a goal in mind, but I knew it wasn't an incredibly lofty goal, and I knew that falling a little bit short of that goal would be no big deal, so I gave myself permission to just HAVE FUN, even if it meant slowing down a bit here and there.
In the end, my pace averaged out to 8:21, and it broke down as follows:
8:17, 8:24, 8:34, 8:12, 8:17, 8:43, 8:13, 8:41, 8:21, 8:29, 8:13, 8:23 - and in the final 1.1, I really had some fun - 8:01, 7:21.
It was nice to finish a race feeling like I had something left in the tank, and to not feel like I was on the verge of collapsing. I accomplished what I set out to do, and I felt great while doing it. A win-win situation, for sure.
So now I focus on my final 20-miler this weekend, and then begin the process of tapering. It seems unreal to me that the race is only 4 weeks away, and that I've completed 12 weeks of training to get to this point.
I know there will be more ups and downs during these final 4 weeks, but now, when I feel that doubt creeping in, I can shift my thoughts back to Sunday's race, and to how awesome I felt, and to how well-prepared my body was for that effort, and to how happy I was just to be out there running.
I'm going after something big here, and it's going to be hard work, and it's not always going to feel good. But even in the midst of the pain, I need to remember why I do this - because it's fun, and I love it, and in the end, that's what matters most.
Final stats for the Surftown Half -
254 of 812 overall
76 of 455 females
15 of 81 in my age group
Far from a PR, but the confidence this race gave me is so much more valuable to me right now than a PR, and will help me so much more in these final 4 weeks.