I learned a very valuable lesson when I ran this race last year - don't skimp on marathon recovery. If you don't recovery properly, you'll pay for it - and I did last year, for sure. I actually ran this half 4 minutes faster last year (but last year I was just coming off of a 3:30 marathon, so was in much better shape), but I felt pretty rotten the whole time.
This year, I ran what is actually a pretty good pace considering that I was coming off a 3:53 marathon that I wasn't properly trained for - but most importantly, I felt great, and I truly enjoyed the whole race. And that, in my mind, is well worth the additional 4 minutes it took me.
After taking a full 6 days off from running post-Boston, and just doing a couple of very easy elliptical workouts that first week, I had a great first run back, and an even better second run back, and that trend has just continued.
I still didn't have high expectations for this race, since it was just two weeks after what ended up being a tough 26.2 for me, but it was a beautiful morning and I was excited to run, because I had been feeling so good.
The full marathon started 10 minutes late, but thankfully the half went off on time, unlike last year, when it was nearly 20 minutes late.
I figured I'd start around an 8:30 pace, and after a quick first half mile (7:44 on the Garmin - oops!), I settled in nicely to a pace in the mid-8s. My first 4 miles were 8:13, 8:03, 8:16, 8:16, and I was feeling amazingly good.
This is not an easy course, but I've gotten to know it pretty well now, and I know where the hills are and how bad they are. The ones in the early part of the course are long, gradual inclines, which are the kind of hills I tend to do really well on. Last year they really did a number on me, but this year, I barely noticed them, and passed a lot of people as we climbed.
After mile 4, I'm not entirely sure what happened, but it felt like my legs found another gear and dialed in, and I was just along for the ride as my pace suddenly dipped down to 7:55, then 7:53, then 7:50.
I wondered how this was going to play out. I still felt great, but I knew the biggest hill on the course was looming, and there was still one more doozy after that (at mile 11). Did I really have it in me to run a sub-8 pace for the remaining miles? Surprisingly, I felt like I did.
And the hill at mile 7/8 that absolutely crushed me last year hardly phased me at all this year. I powered up, feeling strong, and looking forward to the downhill on the other side.
As I came to the top and started down, I decided to put in my headphones. For some reason I can't quite figure out, the song that was playing over the loudspeakers when we started the race was "Follow the Yellow Brick Road" from the Wizard of Oz.
An odd choice, and although I love the movie, that is NOT the song you want playing on repeat in your head while you're running a half-marathon - but that's exactly where it was for the first 7 or 8 miles of my race, until I finally couldn't take it anymore and stuck my headphones in to drown it out with my own music.
The big hill slowed me a little, to an 8:00 mile, then once I hit that downhill, I knew I was just going to go for it and see what I could do. Mile 9 came in at 7:38, and mile 10 was a tad too fast at 7:19, but the final big hill at mile 11 kept me honest, taking me back down to 7:56.
But truthfully, I was still feeling great. Getting tired, but not feeling like I was overreaching. I really just felt like the whole thing was so fun - being out there with so many other runners, running a course I know so well, on a perfect spring day that was warm without being hot, under a blue sky filled with sunshine. It was just everything I wanted it to be, and I was loving it.
The last two miles were run directly into a pretty stiff headwind, but I didn't even care. I was determined to finish strong, so I kept pushing. It was only 2 more miles, and I knew I could hold on, so I did, running the final 2 in 7:34 and 7:37. And as I turned the corner for the final stretch, I had plenty left in the tank for a final little kick to the finish at 6:58 pace.
I was thrilled to cross in 1:44:01. Nowhere near a PR, and on any other day, I'd consider that a 'slow' half, but on that day, it was a time to be very proud of, and I couldn't stop smiling.
I circled back to watch my friend Lisa cross, and was happy to see that she had a great two-weeks-post-Boston finishing time, too.
After we grabbed a bite to eat, I checked my results on the race app and was shocked to see that I had placed third in my age group! Most other years, a 1:44 would not have placed me so high up, but it was a nice surprise. Prizes were only given out to 1st place age-group winners, so I didn't win anything, but it's still nice to know I was 3rd.
I don't know if I would have run this race if I didn't have a streak going, and if it wasn't part of the Triple Crown series that I signed up for again this year - but I'm glad that it is and glad that I did run, because it was such a great race experience for me this year, and left me feeling so happy and so confident and upbeat about what lies ahead.
In short, it was the exact opposite of my experience here last year. And when I think about that, I can't help but think some of that is due to my state of mind.
After Boston last year, I was kind of a mess. My head was not in a good place, and that feeling lasted a really long time. Even when the worst of it had faded into the background, it was still there below the surface, and of course as April 21 approached this year, it was front and center again. As I wrote about in my Boston recap, I knew the only way to finally let it go was to run again.
And ever since I did just that, I've felt lighter, like a tremendous weight has been lifted off my shoulders. I didn't just leave it all on the course physically over the course of those 26.2 miles - I left a piece of my heart there, too.
My running identity has been so completely wrapped up with Boston for the past year, and if I'm honest, I have to admit that there's a small part of me that's relieved that I didn't qualify for 2015.
I may go back as a spectator next year, but I'm kind of glad that I won't be running. I need some space, and I need to take another step forward, and after this race, I feel like I'm well on my way.
As I ran down Blackstone Boulevard Sunday - one of the prettiest parts of the course - feeling healthy and strong and having so much fun, I realized that it was the most I've felt like 'me' in a long, long time. It was completely empowering.
And it wasn't just about the pace I was running - it was about the fact that I was out there doing what I love, and really truly loving every second of it.
It may sound dramatic, but I feel like I found myself as I ran those 13.1 miles - the part of myself that's been buried under a cloud of uncertainty and stress for the past few months. I've missed her, and I'm glad she's back.
So this absolutely proved to be lucky number seven for me, and I'm still on a post-race endorphin high (one that gave me the final push to sign up for the Philly Marathon in November - something I've been thinking about for a while now, and finally pulled the trigger on - more on that in another post!).
And the numbers aren't too shabby, either -
3/232 in my age group
A great race, a fabulous start to the Triple Crown, and the perfect way to kick off what I know is going to be a great, fun summer race season. Ready. To. Run!