I doubt that this is going to become anything even close to a regular thing again, but after 5 months away from my blog, I'm finally compelled to post, thanks to a horrible race experience yesterday that I need to write about in order to process.
There have been two other races that I've run since Philly last November, but since I was still in the process of returning after my 6-week winter ITB syndrome layoff, I didn't really race either of them all out, but treated them more as tempo runs. One was the State Police 5K at the end of April, which I ran as a few tempo miles in the middle of a 10-mile training run, ending up with a 7:39, 7:23, and 7:01 - a nice effort at the time.
After that I ran the Providence half (for the eighth time), and treated it as a training run, aiming to run a pace that felt moderately challenging, which turned out to be right around 8 minutes per mile.
The Mystic Half Marathon was the one I was really waiting for, though. I was looking forward to running in Mystic, and I felt like it was good timing for me to get out and really put myself to the test and see what I could do. Based on my training runs leading up to race day, I felt like I had a good shot at running right around a 7:50 pace, and I even hoped I could drop down into the 7:45 range for the final miles.
Since I was planning to truly make it a race effort, I even took a complete rest day on Saturday - almost unheard of for me, but I wanted to make sure I went into race day as rested and prepared as possible. And my other runs/workouts during the week were lighter than usual, too.
I wasn't obsessively checking the weather (surprisingly, since I usually do), but I did check it Saturday night, and it looked like it was going to be in the upper 60s, but cloudy and possibly rainy. I figured the clouds and rain would keep it cool enough that the warmer temp wouldn't be too much of an issue. And since the race started at 7am, I thought we'd end up with something closer to the lower 60s.
I was wrong.
As I was getting my stuff ready and eating my breakfast Sunday morning, I stepped outside to gauge what it felt like, and I knew right away that it was going to be warmer than I had anticipated - and humid, too. And the sun was out. Hmmmmmm......
I tried to keep thinking positive, though, and kept waiting for the rain clouds to appear as I drove down to Mystic, but skies were still clear. It was definitely warm just standing around at the start, and the race announcer kept reminding everyone to drink lots of water because it was going to warm up out there.
But I was still excited, and anxious to get going. It's been such a long time since I really raced, I had forgotten what pre-race nerves feel like, and even though it's tough to get so nervous like that, it's such a big part of the excitement, I was happy to be experiencing it again.
And that moment of standing in the corral moments before the race start - I love that so much, and at that point, my head was still in a good place, so I was smiling as we finally heard the horn blast and headed out.
The first mile I focused solely on getting into a good rhythm with my planned pace of 7:50. It was flat, so it was tempting to go fast and it took a little back and forth, but in the end, I nailed it for mile 1 - exactly 7:50. I got a little ahead of myself during mile 2, with a 7:42, but brought it back down to 7:50 and 7:49 for miles 3 and 4.
Unfortunately, by the time I got to mile 4, I was already in a very rapid downward spiral. The temperature at the start was 68 degrees, and the cloud cover I was hoping for never showed up. And the first 4 miles of the race were basically in full sun. It was a very pretty route, but all I could think about was how stinkin' hot it was.
I was completely overheated at mile 2, and having trouble catching my breath due to the humidity, and feeling very nervous about what that was going to mean for me in the later miles. And as we made our way up a pretty decent sized hill in mile 4, I felt nowhere near as strong as I typically feel on hills.
I tried to tell myself that it was ok, that I'd bounce back and still meet my goal, because I was doing a good job sticking to what I had thought would feel like a pretty conservative pace for the early miles.
But as we continued through a bunch of rolling hills through miles 5, 6, and 7, the 7:57, 7:54, and 7:48 miles I ran felt a whole lot harder than that pace should have felt for me.
A very large hill around mile 8 nearly brought me to tears. I was struggling, and I can't remember the last time I felt so bad in a race. I'm usually passing people on hills, but this time I was barely able to keep my feet moving, and it was sheer willpower and stubbornness that kept me from stopping to walk. As soon as we got to the top of that hill and I saw a water stop, I did stop to walk and take my Gu, which cost me, making that mile an 8:10.
Seeing that 8 was very discouraging, and just added to the absolute barrage of negative thoughts that was swirling around in my brain. It was all I could do not to completely succumb to them and just park myself on the side of the road.
I pulled it together enough to rally for a 7:46 for mile 9, but that was probably not a good idea, because then somewhere around mile 10, I was completely and utterly done. My brain was screaming at me to just stop and walk already, as it had been for miles and miles, but this time I listened.
And as I walked for a good 40 seconds or so, I kept muttering under my breath, "I suck. I just suck."
Not a good place to be. In fact, a very, very bad place to be.
It's hard to describe the mind games you go through when you sink to such a low point during a race. It was so easy for me to tell myself that there would be nothing wrong with just jogging the last few miles at a truly easy pace and calling it a training run.
But as soon as I'd think that, I'd get even madder at myself for even considering it. This battle went on for miles. And as I struggled, the phrase "epic fail" kept going through my head. But I just reminded myself over and over that if I kept pushing, it wouldn't be a failure. I knew I wasn't going to make my goal, but I also knew I had to cross that line knowing that I hadn't thrown in the towel; that I still gave it my all.
For mile 11, that meant an 8:02. Still way off where I wanted to be, but better than the 8:57. And thanks to some nice downhill, I managed a 7:58 for mile 12.
I was still fighting for nearly every single step, but knowing there was only a mile left, I fell back on my "you can do anything for one mile" mantra, and got my legs moving for a 7:40 for mile 13.
That final .1 always seems to take forever, and it seemed even longer this time, but I found a little kick, even passing someone and registering a 6:34 pace for that final little stretch.
As happy as I was to be done, I was completely and utterly dejected seeing the 1:45:41 on the clock. A good 3 - 4 minutes slower than I had hoped I'd be. But what was most disheartening was that the whole thing felt so damn hard.
I kept going back to a 12-mile training run I ran a few weeks ago, where I maintained a 7:50 average pace and felt great. But the weather that morning was in the low 50s, and completely dry - a far cry from Sunday's hot, humid conditions.
I usually hang around at least for a short while after a race, but I was so disgusted and angry with how my day had gone, I grabbed water and a snack and headed out immediately. Luckily the remainder of the day was salvaged with some fun as we spent it at the Air Show at Quonset - a good remedy for a major case of disappointment.
And later in the day I checked the results and saw that I was 4th in my age group. (I appear to be tied with the third place finisher, as they have us both listed as 1:45:41, but I was actually two tenths of a second slower than her, so I am technically 4th).
Seeing that gave me a lot of perspective, because if I can have what felt like one of the most difficult, crappiest races of my life, and come in 4th out of 107 in my age group, I'm still doing something right.
This race taught me a lot. It taught me to never, ever underestimate the effects of weather on a run. I've enjoyed some lovely cool sunrise runs this spring, and I've run some great training paces, but my body has not had any chance to acclimate to warmer, more humid weather, and it hit me like a ton of bricks.
It also taught me that even when you hit your lowest point, and you're bent over, shuffling along, certain you'll never be able to run again, you CAN come back. Because I was at that point, and I sunk to that walk, and to that 8:57 mile, but two miles later, I ran a 7:40.
Never give up. Never count yourself out. Never stop trying. Because there is so much more strength inside you than you ever thought possible.
And that's what I'm going to take away from this whole experience. That even though I flirted with failure, and I flirted with quitting, I didn't quit, and I didn't fail. It may have been one of my worst half marathons, and there are elements of it that I want to just put behind me and forget about.
But the next time I feel discouraged and beaten down in a race, I need to be able to remember this one, because knowing that I was able to fight back this time will be the fuel I need for the fire the next time.
In the end -
8:05 pace officially, but thanks to me still not being good at running the tangents, Garmin has me at a 7:57 pace for 13.33 miles.
103 of 1,044 overall
25 of 687 females
4th of 107 in my age group
As much as I want to get back out there and redeem myself, I'm glad the next race on my schedule is a 5K next weekend that I'll run with Dante. A truly fun run is probably the best thing I can do for myself right now.