Last night I ate steak and tortellini for dinner. I justified it by the following logic: protein is good, I’m also having a salad, and tortellini is pasta, which is made out of carbohydrates. Makes sense, right? Of course, this logic ignored the amount of cheese and cream that was included in the pasta. It was a heavy meal.
That’s the backdrop on this morning’s Shamrock Half Marathon. Add some questionable weather (it’s “spring” in New England). As Claire drove me to the start, I was glad that I had chosen tights over shorts, and that I had a light jacket in my bag. I added the jacket to my layers as I was dropped off fifteen minutes before the race’s start and jogged over to the starting line, then cruised around at a slow jog until it was time to assemble for the race.
The OTHER bit of backdrop to this race is my half marathon PR of 1:44:45. Here’s the thing about that PR: I earned it on a short course. So I usually think about that PR in terms of pace. I ran it at 8:08 per mile, which should be good for a 1:46:33 half marathon. So when I think about this “personal record,” there’s always a big asterisk sitting on it, which I don’t like. As I’ve been training, my goal was to earn a PR that didn’t need an asterisk next to it.
I decided that sub eights was where I wanted to be. Nine seconds per mile faster is challenging but not impossible. So this is where I lined up this morning:
Why not? Go for it, right? I was shocked at how few people lined up near me… but when the race started, I started getting passed right away. Lots of other runners were overtaking me. If someone had been running at about 7:55 pace, I would stay on their six, but that didn’t happen. Lots of 7:30 runners easily overtook me.
I let them go.
The course for this race is an out and back that has three loops, but uses three different roads to achieve it. The “out” portion is a little over two miles uphill, with the steepest portion at the end. The “back” is mostly downhill. That first uphill was pretty easy, and the downhill back was a good chance to catch my breath. But the second uphill caught up to me, and I developed a side stitch at 5.5 miles, with a mile of hill to go. Yuck.
I did some rhythmic breathing to calm the muscle spasm down, and made it to the top without too much trouble. I was worried, though. I was only half way through the race and this was shaping up to be pretty challenging. Still, my average pace was just under eight minutes per mile, so I decided to use the downhill back as an opportunity to work the side stitch out and maintain pace at a lower effort.
My strategy was to give myself an opportunity to do well. If I could maintain the pace for the next mile, do it. Didn’t matter how hard it was, just run it out and see what happens. That was easy enough for the downhill back, but making the turn back uphill, I knew it was going to be interesting.
So I talked to myself a lot. I reminded myself that I didn’t run this far to only run this far. I gave myself the mantra… obduro, obdurabo, which means, I endure, I will persist. And I reminded myself that all I wanted was a chance at sub eights. At the start of that last long hill, I was a minute and three seconds ahead of 8 minute pace. I reasoned that I could run two miles at 8:30 and give back sixty seconds and still be ahead of my goal, if only just barely. I allowed the hills to rob me of some of my speed and pressed forward. My pulse still surged to 183 beats per minute, but as I crested the hill, I realized I had only given up 45 seconds. I had given myself a chance.
Also, my right calf pointed out that my glutes weren’t carrying their fair share of the load, and started threatening to seize. We’ve danced to this tune many times, so I consciously started trying to run with my glutes doing most of the work. It worked, and I got through Mile 12 in 7:54.
I kept the pace up, and even bumped it to 7:26 for mile 13. There was enough left in the tank that the final 0.1 came in at 6:33 pace. No calf spasms and an average pace of 7:54, a full 14 seconds per mile faster than my previous personal best.
I’m pretty pleased with these results. I know it means I get to dig even deeper in three weeks when I have my next half marathon, but that’s ok. I run, in part, to become a better athlete. For today, mission accomplished.