Yesterday, I ran a half marathon. On Thanksgiving weekends in 2011, 2012, and 2013, I have now run the entire NCR Trail marathon, the first leg of the 2 person relay, and the anchor leg of the 2 person relay. As someone said to me yesterday, now that they also have an 8 kilometer run, if I were to run that next year, I would then have the entire circuit of events on the Saturday after Thanskgiving. We'll see whether I would do that next year. Not certain.
As for closing out this year, the year I ran an amazing set of races that included 3 personal bests. One during mararathon training in which I ran a 20 mile race in 2:29:56 (meeting my goal of 2:30), the Philadelphia Marathon in 3:09:49 (meeting my goal of 3:10), and a half marathon leg of a 2-person marathon relay yesterday that I ran in 1:30:47. Finally meeting my goal of holding the 7:00 pace or better for a half marathon race. (I note specifically the time in a race because that has mattered for the half marathon and 20 miler. For example, I have much better 20 mile times in marathons at cooler times of year but this was my first 20 mile race on Labor Day weekend in under 2:30 in 4 attempts. And in the half, I had run a non-race half just under 7:00/mile but never managed that in a race setting.)
The race yesterday may have been a little short of 13.1 for me. My watch said 13.03. My relay teammte's watch suggested a little over 13.1. Regardless, even if I just ran 13, this would still have been a 6:59 pace. And that was what I was looking for.
The marathon and the relay start at the same time: 8:30. I accompanied Lauren to the starting line, wished her luck, and saw her off. Then, I headed back inside to use the warm restroom one last time. The organizers made an announcement that the buses would be loaded and leaving. I went and picked up both my bag and Lauren's bag and headed for the bus. The bus driver then told us that the bus would not actually be leaving until closer to 9 AM. So, I, along with many others, just sat.
It was not bad to sit. We had a lot of time for conversation. Turned out that I had sat across from one of my oldest son's Sunday School teachers (from when he was in 2nd grade and he is now a college freshman). We eventually included others in the conversation. We got into a conversation about Boston marathon--registering for it and running it. The other runner mentioned that he had known people who had run 2:22 and had not gotten in when the registration was purely first come, first served. I asked if he ran as fast as the people eh hangs out with. He said, "I only run a 1:08 half." That would have been everyone else on the bust. He was part fo the winning relay team, but only "only" ran a 1:11.
In any case, we got out to where the buses parked. More time to sit. There was still some snow on the ground there, but it really didn't make a didfference.
Watching the clock, it eventually got to be about 9:50. That was 1:20 or so after Laurent had begun and I expected her in under 1:40. So, I decided to head out. I walked to the handoff spot, put as much in my bag as possible, and left the bags by the side of the trail. As we reached 10:05 (1:35 after the start), I took off my last layer other than what I was going to wear to run the race and threw it on top of the two bags that were linked together. I hoped that Lauren would simply notice and figure it must be mine. (She did.)
Eventually at 1:38:17 after she crossed the starting line, Lauren crossed the mat for the handoff. (We think it may have been closer to 13.2 than 13.1.) In any case, she looked strong. We touched hands, I yelled where she could find the bags, and then I started. It was so much easier than two years ago when we had to exchange an ankle strap. This time we only had to tag and go; we each had our own chip and the technology allowed them to combine the chip time information.
So, I was off and running. The first 0.15 miles or so goes up to the turn around point and, much like I had twice in the Philadelphia Marathon, I had to do a hard 180. I did that and then heaeded south. That would be the direction of most of the rest of the race except for the twists and turns on road back to the Sparks elementary school after we got off the trail later.
I made sure that my watch was on average pace within the mile and found that I was running a bit faster than I should at the start as I passed by the handoff point--this time running on the "southbound" side. I was at about 6:30. I needed to slow down a bit. Fortunately, I did and I was at 6:50 at the end of mile 1. I was not at all sure I could keep that up, so I ratcheted back a bit. During that first mile, I had gone past most of the people who were in the group that went through with or immediately before Lauren. Once I passed that group, I was in the intereesting position of having no one immediately ahead of me. Lots of runners coming the other way. But no one to pick off for a while.
We had chosen for me to run second strategically. Despite having run a marathon six days earlier, I was the stronger runner. Running the anchor leg meant that (a) I would have the uphills at the end, and (b) I would be passing people in the second half rather than being passed by people. Much better for the psychology of the run (at least for our team). The uphills at the end are pretty substantial. Three years ago when I ran the full marathon, my average per mile time was 7:30, but I ran miles 25 and 26 in 8:24 and 8:49 and struggled through the very end at a 12 minunte pace. I didn't plan for that to happen this time.
So, I trotted along The second mile was run at 7:03. Now, for the first two miles I was quite happy as that put me just under 7:00/mile. Miles 3 and 4 were then run at 7:01 each. Couldn't be more on target and creeping up a little was not a problem as I was still just below 7:00/mile.
In mile 5, I finally started to reach people to pass. I passed three peopel somewhere in the midst of mile 5. I came through that in 6:53. It did not seem that much faster and my Garmin 10 has had occasional issues on the NCR trail, so I decided to switch my watch to the total time and use the permanent markers on the course instead of either the mile markers or my watch. Why was that useful? It gave me something to do with my brain by doing a little mental math during each mile.
Mile 6 was back to a 6:59. Again, right on track. And, in mile 7, I passed three more people and ran a 6:56. Mile 8, my mind started to wander a bit and I ran a 7:01. This was where I had to make a choice.
I could run an okay overall time even if I had would run 8:00/mile for the remainder of the race. But that is not what I wanted at all. That was not what I had come for.
A week earlier, when I was questioning myself toward the end of the race and slowing down, my running friend (and relay partner of two years earlier) came up behind me and reminded me, "This is what you trained for." A day earlier, in an email exchange, a friend overseas had told me about his decision to push through the races he really wanted. Just yesterday morning, when Lauren and I spoke about how Jackie had helped me a week earlier, we talked about I could just envision Jackie during the race.
So, I hunkered down. I pictured Jackie (and my coach who had developed my 20 week training plan) reminding me of how hard I had worked. I picured Diarmuid telling me about how I had to want the time. And I picked up mile 9 coming through in 6:52. At this point, I was no longer counting individuals one-by-one whom I was passing. While each one did not make as big of an impression, I had people in my line of sight and that was really all that matters.
Mile 10 and I had a 6:51. Too bad it was not a 10 mile race as that would have been a PR there too. During mile 11, the race goes off teh trail. At first it is mostly flat or downhill a little still. I ran mile 11 in 6:52. Still concentrating.
Then, I had to go into the two miles that had cost me last time. The key question was wehterh I would be able to overcome that feeling of inability to push through and come in with a PR or just get a good time if I fell apart as I had last time. Christian Cruetzer was at a water stop telling me to pick it up. Great to see a familiar face encouraging me.
Pushing through mile 12--I ran a 7:10. That was a wonderful feeling. I had made it up and over the hill and then strong back down. That was one of the things that really changed this training season--my capacity to return to pushing after an uphill.
Mile 13--7:06. Again, I had been able to remind myself of what I had trained for. I was able ask myself, "How much do you want this?" And answer "a lot!" With the fraction of a half after 13 miles, I had a total of 1:30:47. Passing one marathon runner basically as we came across the line. I felt bad for him, but I had my best half marathon time by far. And the happiness of holding the slightly under 7:00 pace. As you can see, running approxtimately a 6:59 and going no slower than 7:10 is an entirely different outcome than in my marathon three years ago. And even a different outcome than in my first leg of the marathon two years ago when (on a much less hilly part of the course) I slowd to almost 7:30.
Biggest lesson--as my boss told me in June--go for the win.
So many interlinking lessons from one run to the next.
So many lessons from three major PR's.
So many lessons that cross between running and life.
All is good.
And along the way, I met the woman who won the female race--a 43 year old who had just achieved a five minute PR. We exchanged stories about doing just that--having approximately 5 minute PR's in our 40's--and it is efinitely fun to hear about someone else having such success.
Final thought--I end November with 2040 miles. As long as I can be consistent over the month of December I can hit 2200 miles for the year. Pretty cool.