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Posts Tagged ‘Heartbreak Hill Half Marathon’

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I really hadn’t planned on being here, yet here I was, at the starting line, wondering what the heck I was doing.

Having just come off my first heavy mileage week since late March, I wasn’t sure how my legs were going to react.

They felt heavy.

What the heck was I doing hopping last minute into a half-marathon?

***

One of the things I “love” about the half-marathon and marathon distance is that at some point, if you are a mid-packer like me, you will be tested.  It is not a question of if, but one of when.  Usually the test comes in the second half of the race.  In a marathon it is often during the last 10K (though mine at Boston came at 17).  In the half, I usually find that I must overcome my brain somewhere around miles 9 or 10.

Yesterday my test came during the first 4 miles.  I had jumped into this half-marathon on a whim.  I hadn’t trained for it, AND I had just started a new training cycle that already had me at over 40 miles for the week.  That isn’t a lot for some, but it is a full week for me.  My legs. were. tired.

As the starter yelled, “Go. Go! GO!” I got sucked out by the front of the pack.  I had run into RaceMenu/Mix1 teammate Greg (when he showed up I joked that everybody’s projected finish had just dropped one spot) and had made the mistake of hanging out with him near the start.  When the starter yelled go, I knew to let Greg go (he’s fast).  I didn’t give chase and I thought I was running at a smart pace.  Because of the threat of rain, I had left my iPhone (my de facto GPS device) at home, so I had no idea really what my pace was.  As we passed the first mile marker I tapped my watch and looked down.

6:09.

Um, what?!?

My goal for the half-marathon I had signed up for 2 weeks from now was to run 7:00 minute  miles (and that would be an almost 2 minute PR).  I had no business running a 6:09 first mile in an impromptu half-marathon.  I slowed myself down a bit which resulted in me watching several runners pass me by.

It’s never a good feeling when you get passed, even if you know in your head that it is the smart thing to do – it is discouraging at best.  As the faster runners continued to pass me, I quickly spiraled into a dark place wondering what I had been thinking.  I hit mile 3 in 20 minutes flat, but my legs felt like rubber.  I was spent.  I had gone out too hard, too fast and with  little over 10 miles to go, I was done.  By the time I hit mile 4, I actually had thoughts that maybe I needed to stop road racing – for a while anyway.  What was the point, really?  I mean, seriously, I am not fast enough to have a shot at winning any of these races; why in the world was I putting myself through this kind of hell?  Miles 4 and 5 were significantly slower and I started to think about walking or quitting.  The problem of course is that if I did that, I was stuck in the middle of nowhere and I’d still have to make my way back to the start.  On top of all of that, my right foot fell asleep between miles 4 and 5 (and would remain so for most of the race) and it felt like I was running on a stump of a right foot.  Yes, things were moving along swimmingly.

When I hit mile 6 I looked at my watch.

41:59.

Just under 7:00 per mile.  Granted there were still 7 miles to go, but a PR was not out of the question.  We were almost done climbing Heartbreak Hill and I notice that I was now starting to pass a few people.  I saw Greg coming in the other direction.  We slapped five as we passed each other.  He had a good 40 – 50 second lead on the second place runner.  Encouraged, I tried to quicken the cadence a little and push up the hill.  As we hit the turnaround and started heading back, I saw one of the runners who had passed me early on off in the distance.

I stopped thinking about my sleeping foot.  I stopped thinking about the pain and how tired I was.  Instead I focused on this runner’s tan shirt.  There were other runners in between us, but for some reason I did not want to lose to this guy.  It was time to go to work.  He was to be a good 75 – 100 yards off, but I slowly started to reel him in.  Coming down Heartbreak, a young kid pulled up next to me and I latched on.  Moments later I heard a loud, booming, “LUAU!!!”  I looked to see Kim from Tales of an Endless Runner working her way up Heartbreak.  I yelled back and carried on.  Running downhill felt good.  I finally caught tan shirt at around mile 8.  As I started to pass him, he surged, as did young kid.  I pushed along with them.  Tan shirt briefly opened up about a one meter gap before fading.  Young kid and I pushed on.

I still felt terrible.  My legs were sluggish and my breathing was labored.  My mindset, as it had been from about mile 5 on, was “just finish”.  Forget the PR, just finish.

I kept thinking if I could just hang with young kid, I would be all right, but I very quickly realized that in this particular case, youth was going to win out.  At mile 9 I felt young kid quicken the pace.  He was trying to reel in a group that was about 50 yards ahead of us.  I thought about coming along for the ride, but I knew I had spent my surge energy catching tan shirt.  I quickly glanced behind me to see if anyone was closing on me and saw no one.  I decided to keep my pace and let young kid go.  It was a move I would partially regret later.

When I hit mile 10 I looked at my watch.  70:16.  I started to do some math.  My PR was a 1:33:14.  That meant if I ran the next 3.1 miles in just under 23:00 minutes, I could PR.  My heart and my brain went in two different directions.  My heart said, “GOGOGO!!!” where my brain said, “be smart, run smart!”

I divided 23 by 3.

7 2/3.

7:40.

But that doesn’t take into account the extra 0.1!

23 divided by 3.1 is…

oh crap! too hard. I can’t even do that when I’m not running.

I arbitrarily assigned the 0.1 mile stretch 45 seconds.

22:15 divided by 3.

3 times 7 is 21.

that leaves 1:15…divide that by 3…that 75 second…25!

7:25!!!

I need to run 7:25 pace the rest of the way to hit a PR!!!

Yes, this is what was running through my brain as I covered mile 11.  When I hit the mile marker I looked at my watch – 7:18 for mile 11!

Re-calculate! 

Nononono!

Just run!!! Keep pace.

Mile 12 came in 7:19.  1.1 miles to go.  If I could just maintain my pace I would beat my previous best.  I looked ahead.  I had pulled within maybe 75 yards of the guy ahead of me (young kid has disappeared out of sight).  I thought about trying to make up 75 yards over the course of a mile, but I was spent.  That said I did manage to pick up the pace.  With less than a few hundred yards to go, I heard RaceMenu Chief Alain cheering me in.  There was no one behind me and there was no way I was catching the guy in front of me, but I picked up the speed with one last push.  I knew the PR was mine.  As I made the final turn and ran through the chute, I saw the clock – 1:32:23 – a PR by 51 seconds.

1:32:23 - 22nd overall, 4th AG, 51 second PR

I. was. beat.

Alain handed me a mix1, congratulated me on my PR and told me that Greg had won the race in a course record 1:14.  Man that guy is fast!  Greg and I posed for a picture for our sponsors.

So, I finished in 1:32:23, 22nd overall and once again, as it seems to be my fate in these things, 4th in my age group, just off of the podium.   Maybe if I had chased young kid back at mile 9 – 10 I would have caught the 40-something that finished ahead of me – of course, maybe I would have crashed and burned before even making it to mile 11, who knows.

I’m glad I chose last minute to hop in on this half-marathon.  I’m glad I passed the test early on in the race.  Did I learn anything? Maybe that even when it feels like it’s all going down the tubes, if you put your head down and battle through, sometimes good things can happen.   Makes me feel pretty good going into the Boston Run to Remember Half Marathon over Memorial Day Weekend in 2 weeks.  That race is MUCH flatter than this was, so I’ve actually got a shot at another PR.  We shall see.

***

On a tangentially related note, it seems that Sunday may have been National PR Day.  Many of my running friends scored personal records in the races they ran, none more joyous to me than my buddy Brendan (@mainerunnah on Twitter) who ran the Pittsburgh Marathon and got his BQ in a 3:19 finish.  Those of you who read this blog regularly may remember Brendan from my Smuttynose BQ.  At that race we were both shooting for 3:19’s as part of Team Kinvara, but he unfortunately came up 33 seconds short.  Getting the text that Brendan had achieved his goal actually brought a tear to my eye.  Congratulations Brendan, you have caught the Unicorn!  I will see you in Hopkinton in 2012!

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Don’t be a spectator. Don’t let life pass you by.

-Lou Holtz

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In every race that I have run, I have always been grateful for the people who come to cheer the runners on. Whether coming for a friend or family member, these people end up cheering everybody on. It is a great energy booster for me as a runner when random strangers cheer me on and even a bigger one when it’s from my family and friends.

Last Sunday was the Heartbreak Hill Half Marathon. I had no plans of running it, but I had two friends who were. Had I not been nursing this knee, I probably would have shown up last-minute to run, however, I did the right thing and staked out a spot late in the race to cheer on my buddies (Josh – @bostoncardiovet and Alett – @petfxr…I’d find out later that Alett had suffered a minor injury and was not running). I got to my spot maybe 20 -30 minutes early. I asked a cop what mile marker we were at (just shy of 11) and then asked the spectators already there how many people had already gone by (maybe 10 at most). I looked at my watch. 90 minutes, shy of mile 11, 10 runners. I did the math. Damn! I wish I was running this. Given healthy conditions, I could have had a shot at being one of those top 10. As the runners began to trickle by, I cheered each and every one of them on. Some said thank you, others were in a zone and kept on running. I envied each and every one of them.

This was the first race I had been to where I wasn’t a participant, and I’ve got to tell you, it was hard. I’m not talking “oh geez, I wish I were running too” hard.  No, I’m talking “pang in my heart, itch in my legs, must resist the urge” kind of hard!   I was never a huge racing fan before I started running, and even after I started running, I didn’t get into races until I ran my first one. As great as it was to cheer on complete strangers, all I wanted to do was run.

When Josh came running by about 20 minutes later I kicked off my flip-flops, put my coffee down and began running with him. Yes, I know. I’m rehabbing and I’m not supposed to be running! But I promise I was forced to run lightly since I was completely barefoot. It felt great.   Just being out there with the other runners felt absolutely awesome.  After taking Josh up a particularly steep hill, I bid him good luck and jogged back to my spot, cheering each runner I passed.

So, what did I learn?

I learned that running a mile barefoot isn’t so bad. It actually got me thinking that maybe one of these days I’ll try a 10K or half-marathon completely bare.

But the biggest thing I learned on Sunday was that I don’t like being a spectator.  I will continue to support friends who run local races, but I have a feeling that if I’m healthy, I’m a lot more likely to be joining them at the starting line instead of cheering them on.  I think that I can apply this to other parts of my life as well.  How many of us have spent a good chunk of our adult years as a spectators or watchers?  While I try to figure out what that means, I’ll just have to start with a half marathon next week (anybody else running the Boston Run to Remember?) and some 5K’s over the summer.

I can’t wait to get back on the road.

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