I posted on Facebook the other day that I had run Hartford as my first half marathon back in 2009, but I was wrong - it was actually 2007! I had planned on running the full that year, but got injured and was barely able to train for the half, and finished in 2:14. That seems like eons ago, and a lot has changed in those 8 years (and I've run 24 half marathons in the course of those 8 years, making this my 25th!).
What hasn't changed is that HMF puts on fantastic races, which is why I went back and ran the full in 2011. It wasn't my first full, but it did become my first Boston Qualifier. So Hartford definitely has some significance for me, and I was excited to go back and run the half this year. And really - what's not to love about finishing under this arch?
Due to there not being packet pickup on race morning, I opted to spend Friday night in town, which was great, because I was able to see Dimity and Denise from the Run Like a Mother crew at the expo Friday afternoon.
The weather Friday night was rainy, and actually kind of warm and humid, but the weather forecast was calling for cool and dry temperatures Saturday morning, so I just hoped they were right.
I took advantage of having a hotel room all to myself and had a nice, quiet, relaxing night, and got to bed relatively early, which was good, because I woke up at 5am - well before my alarm went off. According to the news and my weather app on my phone, the cool, dry air had rolled in, and the temperature was right around 50 degrees. And it looked like the sun would be coming out, but not warming things up much above 60 degrees. In a word - perfection.
I definitely had some pre-race jitters, but I was mostly really excited and couldn't wait to get out there and run. Even though I knew that I was only running the half today, my mind kept going back to the incredible bundle of nerves that I was when I ran the full 4 years ago. My goal that day (BQ) was something that had once seemed so unbelievably out of reach, so to actually be there attempting it that day was almost surreal - and those feelings kept washing over me Saturday morning.
I'm glad they did, though, because as much as it put me in that jittery frame of mind, it was also a reminder for me of how much I accomplished when I got that BQ, and how much I accomplished when I ran two more marathons after that, each time faster than the previous. It reminded me of how many obstacles I've overcome, how much I've learned and grown as a runner, and how much running has brought to my life.
I knew being back there would call up all those memories, and it made me smile as I made my way through the city and over to the start. Race morning always makes me really emotional, and this race morning just had a little extra dose of that.
And here's where I bow my head in shame and confess that as I stood near the starting line, soaking up the whole scene (I love watching everyone milling around and going through their pre-race rituals), the DJ blasted the song "More Than a Feeling." Yes - total cheeseball 80s rock anthem that I would never in a million years choose to listen to.
But when that song came blaring out of the speakers, with the sun rising behind the city skyline, it totally got to me. And I have since downloaded it to my iPhone. We all have our guilty pleasures, and I guess cheesy rock anthems are one of mine. (Yes, I have "Don't Stop Believin'" on there, too).
So after my moment of 80s-rock-inspired zen, I made my way to the actual start, and was pleasantly surprised that it wasn't all that crowded. I was able to find a spot right up between the 7:00 and 8:00 pace signs.
I was hoping to run a 1:41, which would have been about a 7:42 pace. I felt like that was a very reasonable goal, given my 1:42 finish in Surftown last month and the 7:07 pace I ran for the Zooma 10K.
As they made the announcements, the corral became much more crowded, and I was just so ready to start running, and was so relieved when the gun finally sounded and we were off.
I had looked at the course elevation a few days earlier, and knew there were some hills, but they didn't look too terrible, so I wasn't all that concerned. Just kept it in the back of my mind that it was not going to be a flat course.
All I could think as we started out was how amazingly perfect the weather is. The thought kept running through my mind that this was PR weather, and I really needed to take advantage. I didn't have a firm pacing goal in mind, but of course had wanted to start slow. And of course I didn't. Mile 1 - 7:30, mile 2 - 7:33, mile 3 - 7:32.
So I hit that 3-mile mark, and there was a timing clock, and I saw those big red numbers at just over 23 minutes, and I thought "Hmmmmm... that's a little fast." But I also thought about how great I was feeling. And I also thought about how completely and totally ready I felt to do this today. And I thought about how I did not want to waste this opportunity - this perfect day, this great course, this event that I love - I wanted to make the most of it.
So I kept going.
The hills were there, but they were rolling - just the way I like them. Most were very gentle inclines, and they came just often enough that they were almost a welcome change. I was loving the course (a different one than I had run in 2007, and way better, I think). Every time I'd start feeling like I was getting sick of a long, straight stretch, we'd turn a corner and get a change of scenery. Everything was clicking.
Mile 4 - 7:29. Wow. That one freaked me out a little bit, I think, and I consciously dialed it back a little for mile 5 - 7:40. But, um, that didn't last long. Mile 6 - 7:19 and mile 7 - 7:22.
Around this time I started to try to do the math, and realized that I was on track to be well under the 1:41 I had hoped for. I had thought to come in at 1:40 would be fantastic, but now I started thinking that 1:39 was a possibility - and maybe even 1:38?? I didn't want to get ahead of myself, but I knew I was in a good place, and I just wanted to stay there.
I definitely will not say that the pace felt easy, but it felt right. I was working hard, and it was challenging, but I was loving it. This is what I wanted to be doing, even though it was work, and it did hurt a little. And there were times on some of the hills where I felt tired, but I never once had that feeling of wanting to stop and walk. I never once felt like I didn't want to be there, giving it my all. That in itself was a victory.
Mile 8 slowed me down a bit - 7:39, but I worked back down to 7:33 for mile 9, and 7:12 for mile 10.
And that was it - 3 miles to go. I wasn't going to hold back now. Mile 11 - 7:14. Mile 12 - 7:03. I had hoped I could negative split those last few miles, but a hill in mile 13 held me back to 7:13.
Then it was the final turn and through the arch, and I ran the last .1 at a 6:57 pace, and almost started crying when I saw 1:38:18 on the clock. Less than a minute off my all-time half-marathon PR, which, for the last couple of years, has seemed an entirely unattainable goal. Guess I need to rethink that!
Also great to meet Samantha, who I've gotten to know virtually through her FB page - always so fun to meet FB friends in real life! Thanks again for the pics, Sammy!
Never in a million years would I have guessed I'd be able to run that pace on this day. I had begun to think that I'd never run a half marathon at that pace ever again. It didn't seem real that I had just done it, without even planning to.
I thought that Surftown was a huge turning point for me - and it was - but this was even bigger. Running 1:42 in Surftown made me feel like I was getting close to being ready to train for another 3:30 in Boston next year. But running 1:38 in Hartford makes me feel like I am ready, and that 3:30 is well within reach.
I've always known that mental training is a huge component of preparing for a race, and the boost I got from Surftown last month definitely made all the difference in the word for me heading into Hartford. After being ambivalent for quite a while, my head was completely back in the game on Saturday, and that was a key component of how successful my run was. Never ever underestimate the power that a positive outlook can have, in running and in life.
And if my finishing time hadn't made me happy enough, my standing in the results was the icing on the cake. In a decent-sized race with a pretty competitive field, I had made the top 10 in my age group - 9th out of 411! And just barely missed being in the top 10 Female Masters - came in 11th of 1, 161. I keep going back and looking at this, because I still kind of can't believe it.
The smile on my face says it all : )
1:38:18; 7:30 pace (7:24; 13.3 miles by my Garmin)
9th of 411 age group
11th of 1,161 Female Masters
68 of 2,963 females
327 of 5,059 overall
So happy to be back, and already looking forward to my next race!