Every year since I started running, I have done something with the Richmond half. The first year, it was my first half marathon. The second year, I ran with a friend to bring her to her first half marathon. Beyond that, for three years, I coached the half training team, so would be out on the course for all of our teammates. This year I had my sights on a relatively lofty 8k PR. I took a break from coaching to kind of get my own running in line. It’s hard to give advice and help push forward when you find yourself stuck in a “never-improving” rut.
I had been running for 5 years and I just wasn’t moving the needle at all. A lot of it had to with the hodgepodge of races I would sign up for….a lot of it had to do with lack of focus/purpose in my running. I had “goals” but never an overarching goal that could be achieved with the season I had set for myself. I was always over here doing a 10k, and then turning around doing a half. Then, I would sign up for a Spartan a couple weeks later, or a triathlon. I didn’t have a schedule that guided me towards success; I had a schedule that had me doing so many different things that I did none of them truly well.
For 2018 (after the marathon), my only goal was to get faster in the short distance. I laid out my schedule methodically and put in the work. When it came time for my goal race, I had actually gotten faster, but it was 3 minutes off my time instead of the 10 I had wanted. It’s hard to be upset at improvement so I dusted my ego off and kept going. Little did I know I had that 10 minute PR in me, just not for the short distance race.
While reading the book Run Faster early this fall (and realizing that I might be on the hook for some extra mileage at our trail Ragnar race) I decided to start training at a higher volume. I increased my midweek runs a bit and nearly doubled what I wanted to do on the weekends to prep for the upcoming 8k. My goal time was 40 minutes and I was still quite a bit from actually being able to achieve that. I was starting to get extremely discouraged until I ran a 10 mile EASY training run…at a pace that would have gotten me a 4 minute half marathon PR had I continued. An easy pace for me. Suddenly, I was torn. I hadn’t really been actively training for a half, but here I was running at a pace that would give me a victory that would feel SO much better than my “swing and a miss” attempt for the 8k time would. Should I switch to the half?
Obviously I polled everyone on the planet about it and everyone said the exact same thing. Do the half. Well, it was just over 2 weeks out, so I decided to run the entire 13.1 miles for the training run that Sunday as a “peak week” run and decide after that. I hadn’t really technically trained for the half distance, so was still a little concerned how I’d fare those extra three miles. Or even how beat up I’d be physically afterwards.
Well, the day came and I ran 13.1 miles; I got that 4 minute PR. ON A TRAINING RUN that barely had me breathing hard. So, I had my answer. I had to switch to the half and make it official.
Let’s fast forward to race day. The weather was perfect, but I always get nervous about getting too cold, so may have worn slightly too much. My friend, Staci, decided to not run and to be my sherpa instead and enjoy the event. So, I luckily had her thinking about things I wasn’t so all I had to do was walk my happy butt up to the start line.
First person we bumped into was my training buddy for my first half marathon ever. “Yang” (Chris) and I quit smoking about the same time and picked up running. We banded together and both set off on a great path of health. It seemed super lucky to see him right away. Here’s us at the first one and at this one.
The plan was to start slow and every three miles increase speed. I lined up next to my buddy, Liz (who I usually just call “Gunn”), who was pacing the 2:15 group. I figured if I could hang with them, I’d come out great!
But, that didn’t happen. The race started and I settled into a comfortable pace and found myself ahead of the pace group. At mile 1 I noticed my pace was a bit faster than I was hoping to be, but felt amazing so let it go. In fact, I didn’t feel even slightly fatigued until mile 6 when we hit the Bryan Park hills. I swear, I have run that park SO MANY TIMES as a coach and never remembered how endless it is. Up a hill, around a corner- oh there’s more. Down hill, up a hill, around a corner, still more.
Towards the end of the park my legs felt like they were on fire. I was barely through 8 miles and my legs already wanted to quit? There’s always that moment (or couple miles) of shear panic that you aren’t going to be able to do what you were already largely doing. I kept telling myself I couldn’t walk a single step because if I did I could toss my PR hopes out the window. I’m impossible once I’ve walked. “Well, I already walked, I need to walk again. Well, I’m already not going to make it, might as well walk some more.” So I just kept plugging away. I had maintained that same mostly-consistent pace the entire time, I could do this. I wanted to cry because I felt so tired, but I knew I wasn’t. My mind was just trying to crumple on me. I also knew my family would be waiting for me at the finish line, and I wanted them to be excited to have been there for a triumph not have to console me because I came undone.
It wasn’t until about mile 11 when I hit my stride again and was feeling good…so in miles 12 and 13 I was able to speed up and up- mile 13 being my fastest mile by about 30sec. I flew down the hill ready to bust into tears- I had done it! I really had really done it!
My hopes was 2:15 and my official time was 2’11’38. Over three minutes better than I had even dreamed. Since that first half marathon 5 years ago, I had shaved 17 minutes, 10 in the past year.
So, I guess while I didn’t quite get the 10 minutes off of the sprint triathlon I had originally wanted, I nailed it in a different race!