Yesterday I ran our local half marathon. After my experience at Manchester I looked to this race with a balance of excitement and fear. As I warmed up with a half mile jog I kept telling myself, “make Manchester count for something…make Manchester count for something…”
After my implosion during the second half of that race I was determined not to make the same mistakes.
“Don’t go out too fast!”
As I fiddled with my gadgets (I ran with my iPhone running the Runkeeper program and a pair of Oakley Rockrs) and chit chatted with a good friend who was also running, I almost missed the starting gun.
Things didn’t start off well. Nothing came through the earbuds. No music. No voice cue from Runkeeper. I pulled the phone off my armband and tried to get it to work. Nothing. My legs kept moving but I had no idea how fast I was running (one of the cool features of The Runkeeper app is that it gives you average pace for your run). To make things more difficult, my sunglasses began to fog up. I was not only not hearing anything, now I couldn’t see! Finally, about 3/4 of a mile into the race I rebooted the program and got things going. Aaah, music! I looked up just in time to see my buddy Mike directing the runners around a corner. I waved, put my head down and finally began focusing on the race.
I passed the first mile marker, pressed the lap button of my watch and peered at the number through foggy glasses.
Dammit! Dammit! Dammit!
What had happened to “don’t go out too fast?” My pre-race goal was to run 1:35. I didn’t care about the seconds. If it had a 1:35 handle, I was going to be ecstatic. My strategy was to start in the 7:30/mile range and then run slowly progressive negative splits the rest of the way. A first mile 7:04 was NOT part of the plan! I slowed down ever so slightly and after about a quarter of a mile Runkeeper beeped and told me it was time to start a new half mile interval.
In my fumbling with my phone I had managed to restart the app 3/4 of a mile in. My stopwatch and Runkeeper were completely out of sync. “I am thinking too much about my gadgets dammit!” I said to myself. I decided to sync the watch with the app. For the next 3 miles, things were humming. I was consistenly running 3:20 half mile splits and every time Runkeeper mentioned my average pace, I was right where I wanted to be.
At about 4 1/4 miles I realized that I wasn’t getting my audio cue on my splits anymore. Then on the 35 minute cue, Runkeeper announced that my pace was 8:00/mile and I had run 3.5 miles. Somehow, today of all days, my phone had lost its GPS signal. Runkeeper had never failed me and it is my favorite app for my phone, but I guess it was Murphy’s Law that it was going to happen today! It was time to stop stressing the technology and just run. I had my music. I had my stopwatch. At mile 6 I tapped the lap button, took a sip of my honey water, put my head up and surveyed the thinning crowd.
From almost the start of the race I had been trailing a fellow runner. She had been on average about 10 – 15 yards ahead of me the whole race. Sometimes she would stretch her lead on me to about 30 – 40 yards, I’d reel her back in and then she’d stretch it out again. She did this over and over again throughout the first half of the race. She had no idea that she was pacing me or keeping me focused on the race for that matter. I was behind her the whole time.
At about 7 1/2 miles we approached the steepest hill in the race. She was about 20 yards ahead of me going into it. For no apparent reason, I decided it was time to experiment. An experienced runner who I had recently become friends with suggested that I lean slightly into hills to make the ascent a little easier. I thought to myself, “why not lean ALL the way in?” I must have looked absolutely ridiculous. I don’t know what I was thinking trying this in the middle of a race, but there I was, leaning into the hill like I wanted to kiss it. I could feel my legs kicking out behind me and then quickly catching my fall. I was literally falling UP the hill. Gravity was doing most of the work. When I got to top I looked up and there was the woman, not more that 3 feet in front of me. I had my hooks in her and I wasn’t letting go. We ran stride for stride over the next mile and a half. I made sure that I didn’t get uncomfortably close, but I wasn’t about to let her stretch it out again.
At mile 9 the two of us caught another runner as we approached a hard left turn on the course. She took him on the inside. I had been running just slightly behind her to the left so at this point I had no choice but to swing wide right and pass him that way. My plan going into the race was to hold steady for 10 miles and then push the final 5K hard. But as I passed this guy and saw the woman put a few more feet between us, a little voice in my head said, “Drop…the…Hammer!!!” And suddenly I was off. I left my lifeline and partner behind me and eyed the next runners ahead of me. Now for some reason, as I sped off, I got it in my head that I had just passed mile 10. Why? I have no idea. So when I did hit mile 10 a few minutes later, the wind was briefly taken out of my sails. I thought, “Oh, no! I’m gonna run out of gas!” But then a small miracle – a hill.
Before this race I would tell you that I hated hills. After the race, I will still probably tell you that I hate hills. But at that moment, in my particular state of mind I said to myself, “Yes! Time to kiss the ground!” I leaned far into the hill, my feet flailing behind me. As I hit the top of the hill I cruised past a group of 3 runners. There is the runner’s high, which I love. But there is another high – I don’t know if it has a name – the “I’m cruising past 3 runners as if they are standing still” high. I love that one too!
At this point I had the gas pedal floored and I wasn’t going to let up. I covered the next two miles in 13:30, picking off runners here and there. But now with a little over a mile to go I could see one more runner in front of me. He had to be a good 100 yards ahead of me. I thought, “there’s no way.” I could feel myself running out of gas. I had just covered the last 3 miles in just a touch over 20 minutes…faster than my sweet recovery run of the other day. I almost resigned myself to my place…”just hold on” I thought.
But then the next little miracle…well, three of them actually. I could hear my wife and two daughters yelling, “Go Daddy!!!” from across the street. As I peered through my foggy sunglasses I could just make them out, and then the headphones kicked in with the Rocky Theme. It was perfect. I waved as best I could and dashed off. As I rounded the corner, another hill! Yes! I pulled my new gravity move and flew up the hill. As I turn the next corner, the guy in front me was not more than 50 yards away. We had a half mile to go.
“Gonna Fly Now” rang in my ears. I was reeling this guy in. With a quarter mile to go he was 20 yards out. I was so focused on him, I nearly missed the big, lumbering man in a green shirt flying by me on the right. I panicked for just a moment and then actually heard my wife in my head say, “Oh no he di’n’t!”
150 yards to go and the three of us are racing for the finish line. I’m trailing both of them by about 10 yards, but Green Shirt obviously has used everything up passing me and the other guy is fading fast. I’m wondering if I’m going to run out of real estate. I’m pulling them in but I’m not sure if it’s going to be enough.
50 yards and I’m almost on their heels.
With less than 10 yards to go I catch them both and race into the chute ahead of them. I look up at the clock. 1:33:14!
I saw my buddy Mike with his family at the finish line. He looked at the time. He knew more than almost anyone what this time meant to me. I was 2 minutes under my goal and nearly 10 minutes better than my only other half marathon. I managed to finish 38th among 655 total runners and 9th among the men in my age group (which my wife will remind people I will only be part of for another month). What a high!!!
About 10 minutes later, I saw the woman who had carried me through the first 9 miles of the race. I thanked her. She smiled, not sure exactly what she had done to help me.
I was happy that I was able to take some of the lessons from Manchester and apply them to this race. But more importantly, I learned that making adjustments on the fly can make a huge difference. I’m not sure that the Falling Uphill move is for everyone. I’m not even sure I could pull it off again in a different race. But in this particular race, for this particular runner, it worked. I managed to climb three different hills letting gravity do most of the work. In each instance, I reached the top of the hill fresher than I had started at the bottom.
This race took away a lot of the self doubt that I felt from Manchester. I am now actually thinking of skipping both Disney AND Miami this January. My desire to run those races on short rest was predicated on the chance of qualifying for Boston 2010. Since that can’t happen now, I think that I am going to use this race as a building block. Perhaps I will finally try my hand at the Falmouth Half Marathon this February…the race that indirectly got this whole running thing started. Disney would be have been a panic race. I don’t need to panic anymore. I know I have a BQ in me and I know I have at least until September of 2010 to run it.
Meanwhile, if you see a someone flailing up a hill, face to the ground and legs flying backwards, yell out “Luau” and I’ll try to wave without falling flat on my face.