The Newport Half is one of my favorite races of the year, solely for the reason that I absolutely love the course. I have to note that I think it's soon to be edged out by the Gansett Half, which will have just as beautiful a course, and which I know firsthand is going to be superbly organized and well-supported (two areas where I think the Newport half has a lot of room for improvement).
But I do still love Newport - it's a gorgeous city, and a great place to run, which is why the race has grown so much in recent years, and why I keep going back every year (despite some organizational snafus like shuttle issues and late race starts).
It's also part of the reason I signed up for the Triple Crown again. I've got a streak going in the Providence race, and I like to run the Newport race, so I figure why not throw Jamestown in there and make it official?
With the injury forcing me to take two weeks off, and run a very scaled back week last week, I didn't really know what to expect in Newport, but thought that I could safely plan to finish just under 1:40. I was nervous about how difficult that pace would feel, but felt I had a good shot at pulling it off.
After the Jamestown debacle in July, I was determined to get to this race start earlier than necessary, and I executed that part of the plan flawlessly. Driving over the Newport Bridge at sunrise has a way of filling you with optimism about the day ahead - another thing I love about races in Newport.
I parked in the designated half marathon lot, but opted to walk over instead of deal with the shuttles. It's not a long walk - maybe just over a mile - and it was such a gorgeous morning, and I had plenty of time. I had brought a jacket and long pants, but all I really needed was a long-sleeve shirt (and gloves) over my tank and arm warmers, and I was fine.
I didn't have a lot of time to mill about, but just enough to check my bag and hit the porta-potties. The marathon started nearly 20 minutes late, and I wondered if we'd go off on time, but made my way to the start assuming - and hoping - that we would. And luckily, we did.
Unfortunately, despite many, many reminders from the announcer to seed yourself properly (i.e., slower runners in the back), I immediately found myself surrounded by people running just under a 9-minute pace, even though I had lined up pretty close to the front. Frustrating.
It is so difficult to try to bob and weave around people in that first mile, and I was beginning to have flashbacks to Jamestown, and didn't want to start the race in that completely stressed frame of mind, so I just let it go and passed when I was able, but didn't work hard at it.
Thanks to that, and a very large hill, I ran mile 1 at the painfully slow pace of 8:55. I didn't freak out, though - I knew it would probably be better that I started so slow, especially since I still needed to be conscious of what was going on with my hip.
And what was going on with my hip was...... absolutely NOTHING! It felt completely and totally fine. Such a relief.
The course flattens out and has a nice downhill stretch for mile 2, and mile 3 is mostly flat, and I got ahead of myself a little bit and ran those two miles in 7:20 and 7:18. Oops. I saw those paces, and all I could think was "oh boy, I'm going to pay for that later."
So I really did try to slow down, and got mile 4 down to 7:32, which seemed more reasonable. But then mile 5 came in at 7:15. Crap.
This is when I realized that I was spending too much time and energy focusing on the numbers, and I wasn't enjoying myself at all. I wanted to run well, but I also wanted to enjoy this run, mostly because a week ago, I wasn't sure if I'd even be out there.
So after we came out of Fort Adams and headed down towards Ocean Drive, I made the decision to flip my watch over on my wrist and ignore it. As soon as I did that, I felt better. I told myself that I've run some of my best races without paying attention to my pace, and that I needed to trust that my body would run to the best of its ability, and that was all I could ask of it today.
That strategy worked, for a few miles. Miles 6 and 7 were great. We ran along Ocean Drive, and it wasn't a wall of wind, as it has been so often in years past - it was just a beautiful, sparkling, blue-sky autumn day - absolutely ideal conditions. I had shed my arm warmers and gloves back at mile 2, and the weather could not have been better, and I felt great. (I didn't know it, of course, but I slowed to a 7:42 and 7:39 for those two miles)
Then came miles 8 through 10, which is where I struggled. A lot. Not the whole time, but my emotions were very up and down. I'd have moments where I felt like I could run forever, and moments where I wanted nothing more than to stop. But I kept pushing on, just waiting to hit that 10-mile mark. It showed in my paces, too - 7:43, 7:40, and 7:52.
I didn't know at the time what my splits were, though - all I knew is that I was running as hard as I could. I was not giving up or backing off. I was giving it my all, and hoping that my all would be enough.
The last 3 miles of a half marathon are always tough, but you get through them knowing that it's only a 5K to go. And that's all that kept me going. I followed the familiar twists and turns of the course, and kept telling myself to just keep moving forward.
As badly as I wanted to stop and walk at the water stations, I didn't. I knew if I stopped to walk, getting started again would be too hard. (Mile 11 and 12 splits were 7:49 and 7:46.) It was a real battle at this point. My legs were like lead, and it was taking everything I had to keep running.
I did think several times about wanting to hold onto my Triple Crown age-group win - it's really not a big deal, but it was a motivator for me going into this race. I had gotten myself to first place, and I wanted to stay there!
So I dug deep as we made the final turns and headed back toward the finish, and the glorious downhill (the same large hill in the first mile of the course).
The only problem is that after you have that great downhill, you still have quite a ways to go before you get to the finish. You run down the street and into the parking lot, and then down the parking lot, and down some more, and down some more, and it seems like it will never end.
But of course it does, and as I came up to the clock, I was more than a little disappointed to see 1:41 on it. I still sprinted in, though, and I'm proud that I was able to get my last mile split down to 7:33, and the final .1 to a 7:30 pace. Not my usual finishing kick, but better than nothing.
I was pretty dejected, though, and spent most of the remainder of the day feeling that way. I was questioning everything - Philly, my overall running fitness, the wisdom of trying to run a fast marathon when I couldn't even run a fast half, and honestly wondering if I've hit the point where PRs are behind me, and my race times are going to start going in the other direction.
My half marathon PR is 1:37:28, and it's stood there for 2 years now, and I'm frustrated that I can't seem to get back there - or even get close!
I was feeling a bit dramatic, and a bit sorry for myself. And I knew I shouldn't be - taking my injury and all the missed training runs into account, I had still run a really great race. But it wasn't what I thought I'd be able to do, and I was disappointed.
Luckily, just a couple days later, I've gained a little perspective, and although I am still slightly upset that I didn't come closer to my goal, I have realized that I need to be incredibly happy that I raced 13.1 miles without pain, just three weeks after I was literally limping around my house and wondering if I'd be sitting on the sidelines for months.
Honestly - 3 weeks ago, I could barely walk normally, and here I am, a few days after running 13.1 miles at an all-out effort, and I feel great.
And that's the other thing - I found myself questioning if whether ignoring my watch after mile 6 was a good thing or not, seeing as how my pace slowed dramatically as soon as I did that. But I replay it over and over in my head, and I know beyond a shadow of a doubt, I was not holding back. Watch or no watch, I was racing, and I was giving it everything I had.
So if I had been looking at my watch that whole time and seen those slower paces, I think it would have done nothing but discourage me even further, and mess with my head in ways I didn't need.
So what I now take away from this race is not that I didn't hit my goal, but that I ran healthy and strong, and that is the absolute most important thing at this point.
And what I also take away is that I am more determined than ever to do what it takes to get back to training and get back to running the times that I know I'm capable of running.
In the span of a few hours on Sunday, thanks to some not-so-welcome red numbers on a clock, I managed to forget about the 8 weeks of spectacularly successful marathon training I have under my belt right now, and how everything I'd done up to that time pointed to me being able to run a 3:25 marathon next month. Granted, this little injury has thrown a wrench into the works in respect to the 3:25, and if I do feel able to run the full 26.2, I'm doubtful that it'll be in less than 3:30.
But I'm not going to throw my hands up in the air and decide that my days of fast running are completely behind me. No way. Not yet.
So now the focus returns to continuing to heal, continuing to go to PT and acupuncture (I had one appt. this past Sat, and will try to go back again this weekend), and getting back to some semblance of training - whatever my body is up to.
Philly is still a big question mark, and one that may not be answered until just before race day, but I'm not counting it out yet.
The stats for Newport, and the stats for the Triple Crown Series, where I placed 2nd overall female, and 1st in my age group!
1:41:26, 7:37 pace
11 of 434 age group
58 of 1,745 females
224 of 2,818 overall