I went into the New Bedford Half hoping for a PR, but also viewing it as an experiment and a testing ground of sorts.
I wanted to start slow, and really practice pacing myself so that I didn't go out too fast (something I still struggle with on training runs and at races). And I also wanted to see, once I did start picking up the pace, just how fast I could go in a longer distance race.
I'm now in my second round of marathon training in just 9 months, which means I have a LOT of speedwork under my belt, as well as a LOT of long runs and a LOT of tempo runs. The improvements have been apparent in my 5K time, and in my training, but I wanted to put them to the test at a longer event, and see what I could do.
The late start time (11am) meant that I didn't have to get up crazy early Sunday morning, even though the drive to New Bedford is just over an hour. But of course I was up crazy early anyway. I wasn't that nervous about the race, since I wasn't terribly focused on a specific time goal, but the excitement and nervous energy kicked in as it always does, so I found myself alone in the kitchen at 5:30am having my coffee.
Helping Scott get the kids dressed and fed and ready for their day helped distract me and keep me busy until I left the house around 8:30.
I got there with lots of time to spare, which was good, because it took me a little while to find a parking spot, and I ended up parking on the street a few blocks away from number pickup. I had plenty of time, though, to get my stuff, bring it back to my car, make a few pit stops, and then head up to the start.
The weather was supposed to be fairly warm (near 60), but there was a decent breeze off the ocean, so I was glad I had chosen to wear my arm warmers with my tank top and shorts. They worked out perfectly - I never got too warm, but they also provided much-needed coverage when we ran into that cool ocean breeze many times during the course of the race.
Once I was waiting at the start, I went through my usual nervous moments, and then as the clock ticked down toward 11am, I got myself into that wonderful calm moment of peace that I seem to always enjoy just before the gun goes off. I think once I know that I'm really on the verge of actually getting going, I can finally calm down and get myself centered.
And that's where I was when my feet crossed the mat. Ready, and happy to be finally racing.
I was bound and determined to NOT go out too fast, and as I knew it would be, it was a real challenge. This is a seriously competitive race. Tons of track clubs and running clubs are in attendance, and lots of people use it as a tuneup race for Boston, so the talent is impressive, and the field is very fast.
I held back, though, and just kept repeating in my head that I needed to run my own race. I knew full well that even if I had the race of my life, I wouldn't be anywhere near fast enough to even come close to placing in my age group, and although a PR would be nice, it was more important to stick to my plan and start slow.
So I was actually really pleased when I saw my Garmin reading 8:18 for the first mile. And even happier when I saw 8:20 for the second mile. Victory - finally - a race where I was able to keep my speed in check for the first two miles!
It got a little harder after that, though. I was glad I was sticking to the plan, but I was really having to fight the urge to not panic that maybe I was going too slow, and that it was feeling too easy.
The long hill at mile 3 kind of squashed that way of thinking, though. I did run that mile slightly faster - 8:11 - but it definitely did not feel easy.
Once I recovered from the hill, though, I felt like it would be ok to slowly begin to pick up the pace, and mile 4 came in at 8:02. Still somewhat conservative, but a little faster. And I was feeling pretty fantastic at this point. Aside from the mile 3 hill, most of the course had been flat, and the stretch ahead, from what I could tell, looked like more of the same.
So I gave myself permission to head into a tempo-run pace, and see how it felt. I wanted to just go with it and see how long I could hold that pace. I've had so much success with my 8-mile tempo runs throughout this training cycle, I thought for sure that I'd have no problem running the remainder of the race at that speed (or at least close to it).
And for a few miles, I didn't have a problem with it. Miles 5, 6, 7, and 8 - 7:30, 7:32, 7:26, and 7:37. And not only was I holding a great pace, but I felt amazing! I wasn't struggling in the least bit - I was comfortable, I felt like I was flying down the road, and having the time of my life.
Then we turned the corner to run along the ocean. It was very scenic, and flat, but the wind. Ugh. The wind. I don't know how strong it actually was, but I do know that it was strong enough to almost instantly turn my floating-on-air feeling into a trudging-through-mud feeling.
And I'm not entirely sure how long that oceanside stretch was, but it felt like it lasted forever. My awesome 7:30-ish pace had suddenly become a 7:50 pace, then a 7:46 pace.
When we finally turned and left the ocean behind us, I thought I'd be able to get back to that faster pace, and I tried. I tried so, so hard. But it just wasn't going to happen. 7:53 and 7:47 for the next two miles.
I wasn't giving up, though. I was fighting, and I was working so hard, but no matter what I did, I just couldn't get back to that pace - and I definitely couldn't get back to feeling amazing. I wanted out. I wanted to be done.
And then there was the hill at mile 12. I had heard about it, so I knew it was coming, and I hadn't been all that concerned about it. I run lots of hills on my training runs, and I've run lots of races that have hills at or near the end, so it's not something that really gets me worried.
But now, with the way I was feeling, I was dreading it. There was no choice but to put my head down and get up it, though. There was no way I was stopping to walk. I refused.
Mile 13 was a completely demoralizing, discouraging, and depressing 8:03.
Thankfully, I had just enough for one last little kick to the finish, and was happy to cross in 1:44-something, which I knew, adjusted for the gun time, would translate to 1:43-something, which I knew was a pretty decent PR.
I almost never feel really hungry after a big effort like that, but this time, I was starving, and grabbed several slices of orange. Orange slices have never tasted so good : )
It's hard to describe how I feel about this race. I walked away with a really nice PR (almost 2 minutes), but I feel like I executed it so poorly, and I had such a hard time running the second half of the race, it's hard to really enjoy it.
I am proud, though. To take nearly 2 minutes off your half-marathon time in less than a year is no small feat, and I guess the fact that I did that despite feeling like crap for half the race means I should be that much more proud of it.
But I also want to keep in mind how awful I felt, so that I never make that same mistake again. I did well easing into the first few miles, but when I picked up the pace, I thinnk I picked it up a little bit too much.
I also think I should have taken a Gu or some kind of fuel at the halfway point. Up to now, I've never fueled during a half, and I've never felt it really had any negative affect on me. But I've also never pushed quite that hard during a half, and I think that had a lot to do with why I faded so badly during those final miles.
So I'm not going to feel too discouraged, and instead am going to see this as a very valuable learning experience. And for the first 7 miles, I was really enjoying myself - the race is very well-organized, with lots of spectators, a nice course, and the best water stops I've ever experienced. Every water stop was spread out over several hundred yards, making it so easy to find someone to grab a cup from without having to worry about crashing into other runners.
Which is a great segue into the other valuable thing I learned from this race - I am able to drink water while running! I've wanted to try this other times, but always opted to just stop and walk. But this time, I went for it - I grabbed a cup, pinched it together, and was able to take several good sips and spilled almost none of it on myself. So that was my other little victory for the day.
All in all, kind of a tough day, but still a good effort, still a PR, and still a great training experience as I get closer and closer to April 14.
The final numbers -
38 of 338 in my age group
812 of 2771 overall
And now, I continue to move forward.
Four weeks 'til Gansett!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!