I wrote this response to someone on a running Facebook group the other day, and since then it's been running through my head repeatedly, and the more I see/hear it, the more I feel it's kind of become my motto when it comes to running and racing.
There's always plenty of reasons to doubt that you can do something, and plenty of excuses for why you shouldn't do something, but why wouldn't you at least try?
I never thought I'd be able to run a half-marathon, but then I did. I never thought I'd be able to run a full marathon, but then I did. I never though I'd be able to qualify for Boston, but then I did. I never in a million years thought I'd be able to run a sub-21-minute 5K, but then I did.
They weren't all instant successes, and there have been plenty of failed efforts along the way - but I never stopped trying, because if I stopped trying, I'd never know what I was capable of.
That became my motto during this weekend's 20-miler/half-marathon, too.
I set out to run 20 miles at an 8:30 pace. Since I had run 20 at an 8:23 pace a few weeks ago, I wasn't worried about maintaining an 8:30 pace. I was actually worried about going too fast, especially since I was going to be running the final 13.1 miles in the Ocean's Run Half-Marathon.
But I held back - for a good long while. My first 7 miles solo were nice. It was a chilly day, but as soon as I started moving, I warmed up, and felt just right - not too warm, not too cold. And I was doing great sticking with my 8:30 pace. A few miles dipped down to the low 8:20s, but mostly I was being very conservative, and enjoying running easy.
When I joined up with the race, I knew I'd have to really focus to stay at that slower, easier pace, and I intentionally lined up farther back than I normally would. And with the congestion at the race start, it was very easy to run the first mile at 8:24. To go any faster would have required bobbing and weaving, and I wasn't racing, so I had no interest in dealing with all that jockeying for position.
Once I found some open road, though, it was tough to not pick up the pace. There were two turnarounds in the first few miles, and as I saw the groups at the front of the pack going by, I wanted so badly to be up there.
But I reminded myself that I have bigger things waiting for me next month, and this needed to be a training run, not a race.
I did end up running most of the first 6 miles of the half at just under 8:30, though. The course is unbelievably flat and fast, and it was an effort to keep myself in the 8:20s, so I was happy I was able to do that.
Then we got to mile 7, which was mile 14 for me. Six miles to go, and I was feeling better than I have ever felt on a 20-mile run.
And I gave myself permission to have a little fun and push the pace a bit. And I ran mile 14 in 8:18.
And I was still feeling amazing. In awe of how great I felt. So I ran mile 15 in 8:09.
Then I stopped trying to slow down. I didn't really make a conscious decision to run faster - it just kind of happened, and I was no longer preventing it from happening. So I ran mile 16, 17, and 18 in 7:52, 7:53, and 7:51.
As I was running - and smiling, because I honestly felt so awesome, and couldn't believe I was pulling off sub-8-minute miles at the END of a 20-mile run! - I kept thinking that maybe I shouldn't be doing this. Maybe I should slow down to at least an 8-minute pace. Maybe I shouldn't be pushing myself so hard at a race that I wasn't supposed to truly 'race.'
But my legs kept turning over, and I kept checking in with my body to see if it was ok with this pace, and I kept getting a resounding "YES!"
And then I only had two miles to go, so of course I reasoned that I had made it this far, I wasn't going to slow down now. Mile 19 - 7:36.
One mile to go, and finally I was starting to feel a little tired. But that only motivated me to go a little faster, so that I could just get this thing over with. My body was happy to oblige with a 7:19 for Mile 20, and a 6:49 for the final .1 to the finish line.
Crossed the line in 1:45:08. An 8:05 pace for the half, and an 8:11 pace for the full 20 miles. (Sixth in my age group out of 55 - not bad for having run a 7-mile warmup prior to the race!)
A few friends had run the 5K and stayed to cheer me on (especially nice, since I wasn't even really racing), and I hung out at the finish line to see a few of my own friends finish the half, which was awesome, as always.
The sun had come out, and we were in a beautiful spot by the ocean, and I was with friends, all celebrating each others' accomplishments - there wasn't much more I could have asked for at that moment, and I'm really glad I signed up for this race. (have to mention, too, that it was a fantastic race - my first TriMom Productions event, and I was definitely impressed with the overall organization, the volunteers, and the fun - and plentiful - food at the finish line.)
A part of me still wonders if maybe I shouldn't have run so fast in those final miles, but when I finished the race, I still felt great. And usually when I do a long training run in the morning, the adrenaline keeps me buzzing for hours, but then I totally crash late in the afternoon.
But this time, that didn't happen. Later in the afternoon, and even that evening, I was still a bundle of energy - and truly less sore and achy than I've been after all my other 20s.
So it was kind of an accidental progression run, but I'd say it was a very happy - and successful - accident.
As I sit back and process the whole thing, I realize that I am extremely thankful that I decided not to race this one. I was thinking in those early miles about how fast I could have run on such a flat course - I'm fairly certain I would have been guaranteed a half-marathon PR.
But at this point, what I did yesterday was way more valuable to me than a half-marathon PR would be. Because what I did yesterday was prove to myself that I can run really pick up the pace at the end of a long run.
And to know that I can do that - that I can pull off that many miles under an 8-minute pace at the end of a 20-miler - gives me so much confidence that I can pull off the 3:30 I'm shooting for in Boston.
In fact, I've never felt so confident. I'm brimming with confidence. It's put a spring in my step and a smile on my face since I crossed that finish line yesterday morning.
Because I never would have thought I could do that. But then I tried - and now I know : )