Loco running expanded their portfolio of events last weekend with its inaugural running of the Harborside Half Marathon. Situated in beautiful Newburyport, and therefore not super far from home, I was really looking forward to running this one, until the morning came and my alarm went off.
That said, I took some lessons from Manchester, and applied them. It was only two weeks ago, right? So I laid out all my gear the night before, and even though I had my heart rate monitor, I didn’t look at my pulse, I just went and ran my race.
I accidentally seeded myself with people faster than me, so at first, the race was nothing but being passed repeatedly. Maybe for this reason, but likely more because I’ve been training at high speed all week, I went out harder than normal.
Background. This is my 15th official half marathon. After that first half marathon 26 months ago, I’ve set new personal records (PRs) on three occasions, the last time being towards the end of a frenetic 2014, when I raced seven half marathons in six months. The New England Half is probably my favorite half marathon, and I rocked that course fourteen months ago, bringing in a time of 1:56:27, and pacing under nine minutes (8:54/mile).
So yesterday when accidentally started the race with the fast kids, I was being passed frequently. I tried to “run my own race,” and just be calm and slow down, but I clocked my first mile at 8:15. Self assessment time!
Here’s what I figured out. I’d just ran a pretty fast mile, but felt good, and knew I was capable of running twice as far as I needed to that day. One mile down, 12.1 to go, might as well keep the pace up if my breathing isn’t labored. Still, that’s a lot faster than the old PR, so I slowed down a little. I decided to run the first third of the race cautiously, the second third thoughtfully, and the final third courageously. My pace dropped to just under 8:30, and I cruised through the first five miles.
I decided I’d call miles 6-9 the second third, and now it was time to really start thinking about my race. I was averaging around 8:22 a mile, and so I decided to try to ease my pace a little higher. I was laboring on the uphill portions of the course, and wanted to have enough left in the tank for the final third of the race so I could run courageously. If there’s nothing left in the tank, it doesn’t do you any good, right? I gradually eased my average mile up to 8:27 over the course of the middle third of the race.
In the final third of the race, miles 10 through 13, I knew I’d earned the opportunity to run courageously, because while I’d run a strong race, I was struggling more on the uphills and it was taking longer to catch my breath on the downhills. I put down an 8:17 for mile 10, then an 8:18 for mile 11. With just over two miles to go, it was definitely time to use some good old fashioned willpower to get through it. Mile 12 was 8:18, and then I started to falter a little. I held on as best I could, reminding myself that I didn’t run 12 hard miles just to give up at the end. My slowest mile ended up being mile 13, which I ran in 8:48.
It felt a lot slower than that, so when my watch signaled the end of mile 13, and I saw that I had run an 8:48, I felt totally empowered. 8:48 is faster than my average mile for my previous PR, which meant I was crushing this thing. This is when you dig deeper, and see just how much you can shave off your previous time, and that’s what I did. I dug in, started taking longer strides, swinging my arms as hard as I could while my form shifted from an endurance maintaining steady lope to a hard run, and finally, when I turned the corner on the finish, into a sprint. Andy (Loco’s announcer) called my name out, saying “here comes James Lee from Chester, finishing another great New England race,” and I paused my watch to see that I had killed it. 1:50:36 was my official time, putting me in 184th place overall out of 714 finishers, and 33rd out of 82 in my division (men, 40-49). That’s the 26th percentile overall, and the 41st percentile for my division.
As someone used to finishing at the back of the pack, and more recently who has flirted with the 50th percentile, getting to the 41st percentile is a big deal for me. It means that the last two and a half years are paying dividends when it comes to my performance.
I’ve had a good year running. I’ve got a race on Thanksgiving, and maybe one more in December, and then we’ll call 2015 done. I know I’ll be very hard pressed to repeat this type of reduction. I shaved 27 seconds per mile off my half marathon pace;a feat I am not likely to ever repeat.
And yet, I took a pretty serious break from running after Marine Corps last October, averaging under 6.5 miles a week for nearly six months. If I train even a little bit more than that over the cold months, I can’t help but wonder what next year will have in store.