Going into the race I identified my goals as:
- Don’t Walk
- Easy and relaxed for first 5k to warm up
- Huma Gel at miles 4 and 8 with water
- Negative Split
After using the bathroom a couple times, I stood under the awning of a local coffee shop to get out of the brisk breeze that was blowing. It was 57 degrees – perfect running weather and I was excited about this, since this was the warmest out of 5 years running this race. While waiting for the start, I met a lady who was running her first half marathon! I was so excited for her and told her a little bit about the course, where the water stations were, and answered questions she had. We walked to the start together casually chatting (her husband is a retired police officer) and I took my place at the back of the crowd, forcing me to start slow and remain in control of my pace. I explained this to Mary Winn and she agreed she wanted to start in the back so I offered to run with her for a bit.
The countdown began and we were off. I had to walk for a good 2 or 3 minutes to get to the starting mat. I started my Garmin a smidge before I stepped on the mat and we were off. I was casually jogging along as hundreds of people passed and my legs felt fresh. They felt a little heavy, but not tired so I focused on keeping my pace easy and relaxed. Mary Winn and I chatted a little bit and checked in with each other on our pace. During this mile I also had a side stitch under my left rib cage, and instead of this mentally affecting me, I remember actually smiling and thinking “I’m so happy I’m prepared to focus on the process of this race and what I can control”. As we headed downhill, I mentioned that by the time we get to the trail, we’re at mile 1 and just like that, our first mile was done. My Garmin read 1.05 miles. We continued on the trail and I remember thinking how great the weather was. I wasn’t cold, and was just beginning to break a sweat. I was grateful I opted against wearing a long-sleeved shirt and just stuck to my tank. Mile 2 was pretty uneventful; I kept my pace relaxed and easy and actually felt like I was holding back still, but I also knew I had a lot of miles ahead of me. And my side stitch was gone by now, which I was really grateful for. I think relaxing and just keeping my pace easy helped. I took a little water from the first station and kept going. By Mile 3 I was still passing people, but in control of my pace. I remember during this mile I actually started feeling tired which I thought was odd. I vividly remember thinking about how I wasn’t stressed by this, I was just noting a fact. And since I was prepared to take my first Huma Gel at mile 4, I knew I would get a good bit of energy soon. The next water station was scheduled to be at mile 4 so I opened my gel in preparation and started taking lit bits of it.
Interestingly, following my intuition worked out well because the water station ended up being closer to the 5k mark. I grabbed a cup of water and washed down the rest of my gel. Mary Winn and I were still running together and she knew I was taking the first 5K as a warm up. At this point, I remember thinking, “this is it – this is the race now. You have fuel in you, water, and you’ve been holding back. This pace is comfortable, but I’m here to race.” I was a little ahead of Mary Winn at this time, and I turned around, waved to her and said “Have a great race!” She wished me well and I was off.
I took a big stride and in one step dropped by pace by a good 40-45 seconds. I remember thinking, “wow that was a big increase in pace, and not gradual.” And my immediate thought was, “yes it was.” And in that moment I knew I needed a big shift in my pace to create a shift in my mental focus. And it worked.
This is it Randi. You’re racing now. You’re in this now. You’re not warming up, you’re hitting a hard challenging pace, because this is what you worked for.
And I instantly felt calm. I felt fierce and strong and confident. I remember thinking I have no regrets with how I shifted my mental focus from warm up to giving it my all. It was also during this time that I swiped my Garmin screen to my heart rate monitor page; since I wasn’t wearing my monitor it was blank. I did this totally on a whim, but I remember thinking that I didn’t want to be intimidated by my pace and slow down. I wanted to give it my all. I also didn’t want to waste precious mental energy on constantly checking my pace. This was so against how I had trained for the past 12 weeks, but I also knew it was the right call to make. Mile 4 came quickly, I took a little water and was invigorated by the crowd support and sped up.
Going into mile 5, I felt strong and hurt way less than previous half marathons. Granted my legs were tired, and I had a spot on my right quad/hip flexor area that was a little tight and my right foot had a sharp pain every time I landed, but it was more a nuisance than anything. I also had the stark realization that I wasn’t running alone. A good part of this race is ran on paved walking/running/biking trail. Its very pretty with a creek and trees lining the trail, however it also makes it very hard for there to be extensive crowd support. And having ran this race the past 4 years, around mile 5 I’m usually running solo on the trail, but not this time, I was actually in the mix of hundreds of people. It was refreshing to know that my effort was keeping me with other runners. My Garmin buzzed – Mile 5 9:04 – it was then that I knew I made a good call to change my screen, because although I knew I was running hard, I wouldn’t have guessed it was that fast.
During mile 6 I was still passing people, another new experience for me. I checked in mentally with my goals,
Don’t walk: check
Easy 5k: check
Fuel mile 4 and 8: check so far
Negative Split: check so far
And then I started fading and I was fading fast. I had never experienced this before. I was running along pushing myself, but overall I felt spent. It was hard and it took a lot of focus to maintain my pace and stay in the mile, but it was like a switch went off and I was TIRED. My breathing got more labored, I was definitely in the “I’m hurting now” part of the race, and I remember thinking, “wow, when you race and run faster you definitely use up your energy stores quicker”. It was a little startling, but I knew I’d be taking my last gel soon. At this point I would lock onto a person and make it my goal to catch up to them and run with them. Interestingly enough, every time I caught up to the person, I’d pass them because I just couldn’t slow down. I’d try to slow my pace a tad to stay with someone, and I’d always pass them. There really are no words for this – I just felt like as bad as I was fading, my legs were doing their own thing and just turning over one foot after the other. And honestly, I just went with it. Going into the race I had mantras and personal statements ready to repeat to myself and I tried a few of these:
I run to be.
And none of them were working. Instead what came to mind were silly mile rhymes:
Mile six, in the mix.
Mile seven is heaven!
Mile eight is great!
So I continued to repeat Mile Six in the Mix. My Garmin buzzed ahead of the sign once again (this was really frustrating and hard mentally to see a mile time, and STILL be running to that mile sign on the course) and read 9:03. I second faster than mile 5.
By this time in the race it was clear that I was in the mix with 3 other runners, a gentleman, and a couple. The couple were clearly running together and the gentleman was solo like me. I was still fading and shocked I ran mile 6 faster than mile 5 and still negative splitting. Heading into mile 7 I was still fading and just needed some energy. I opened my second gel in preparation for some water that was coming up (I knew it would be after mile 8 because it was before mile 4 on the way out). I took a little bit and the lemon flavor was refreshing. It was also at this time that I became so focused on the gentleman’s calves and his stride in front of me that I became mesmerized. I focused so intently on his feet in front of me that I felt like a string was attached from me to him, and it worked! I literally stayed on his heels. I knew I was in his personal space and I had a split second thought on this and I said “screw it, I’m here to race and give it my all and he can drag me along!” I started repeating Mile 7 is Heaven and just focused on the man’s cadence in front of me. I watched each calf muscle flex as he pushed of the ground. I listened to the rhythm of his feet as each one slapped the pavement beneath him. I watched his stride as he propelled himself forward. I became so focused, I was entranced and mile 8 snuck up on me.
Mile 8 is Great. I finished my Huma gel, drank some water, and focused yet again on the man in front of me and his calves. At this point in the race I was in pain. Not injury pain, but I was hurting nonetheless. My feet hurt from blisters, my knees hurt, my right hip was aching and felt on the cusp of a cramp, my legs were tired and I had slugged through almost 2 miles on fading energy. And this is when I really wanted to walk. Others on the course were walking and when I passed them it was REALLY hard to stay mentally strong and not join them. Others were doing walk/run intervals at this point. This destroyed me mentally. I wanted to walk so badly. But I also knew I didn’t want to walk and regret that decision when I crossed the finish line.
Mile 8 is great.
Mile 8 is great.
Mile 8 is great.
It took everything in me to stay in the mile because at this point in the race I was ready to be done, let alone run another 5 miles. The whole course is basically rolling hills. The trail is flat except for some short up hills and down hills where the trail connects to roads. I charged up these engaging my glutes and breathing, and staying in control. Rounding in on mile 9 I knew our first legit hill was waiting for us.
Mile 8 is great.
Slap, slap, slap.
Flex, flex, flex.
I stayed focused on the guy in front of me, allowing him to pull me along by the invisible string that connected us. We ascended the hill together, me on his heels and pumping my arms frantically to give my legs any help that I could muster.
Mile 9 is fine. At this point I could no longer ignore the possible cramp in my right hip/butt. It was cramping and I was in pain. Around this time the gentleman I had been following had a significant lead and I tried focusing on some one else, but it didn’t work. I dug deep and found strength I never knew I had. “No regrets Randi. Don’t’ walk. That is goal 1 – you can do this.” Mile 9 is fine. During this time I started focusing on everything that didn’t hurt. I was pretty much left with my head, arms, ears, and fingers. But I focused on them. I focused on how I didn’t feel too hot and the weather was perfect. I also focused on how the miles were flying by even with me riding the struggle bus. My Garmin buzzed: 9:49. Negative splitting was obviously out, but the fact that I was running sub 10:00/miles elated me. I was tapping in to strength I haven’t uncovered in 18 years of running. I felt re-energized.
For whatever reason, mile 10 always seems be the longest mile of this race. I mentally prepared for this and instead of looking ahead, I looked down at my feet and legs and focused on my quads flexing, my feet propelling me forward and the yellow lines on the street blurring under me. Mile 10 is win. Mile 10 is win. I instinctively grabbed my butt/hip…I was cramping and I just couldn’t ignore it any longer. The pull to walk was the strongest it had been so far. I thought it was strong a mile 8 but now I wanted to stop and walk and I had a split second thought of “ok, walk” and I quickly snapped out of it. I looked down again at my own feet still moving, and my legs still powering through all the pain. Mile 10 is win. My Garmin buzzed (ahead of the sign yet again) 9:55. I had slowed down, but I was astonished I was till running under 10:00 miles, and with a cramp.
Mile eleven, smile. Writing this out now, I guess it doesn’t really rhyme, but out on the race course with a cramping butt, aching legs, blisters being rubbed against my shoes, and just so ready to be done, it rhymed, I promise. Haha.
It was this mile where I grabbed my butt again and had to shuffle. I had taken in water and Gatorade at every aid station and I was just focused on getting to mile 12 so I could get some more Gatorade. I was so ready to be done and couldn’t think about having 2 miles to go – it actually felt nearly impossible. Mile 11, smile. So I just smiled. I smiled through the pain, and focused on getting to mile 12. My Garmin buzzed, 10:33.
Mile 12 is swell.
I felt anything but swell, but I knew I wasn’t going to stop. I actually just stopped thinking about walking at this point, and anytime I saw someone walking I looked down at my own feet. Surprisingly, by this point in the race I was still passing people; this has never happened. I have gotten use to, and even comfortable, with being passed repeatedly by about mile 6. I knew I was digging deeper than I ever have and I felt proud.
Mile 12 is swell became No Regrets.
Two men running together (at what seemed a very easy and casual pace) along with a lady trailing behind them, passed me. I overheard the lady jokingly ask “can I just attach a string to you guys and let you guys pull me in?” We all chuckled and I was thinking “yeah seriously can we?” And one gentleman said “yeah get behind us, draft us. Let’s go, we’ve been following you this whole race.” And I took this open invitation for myself. I easily fell directly behind the guy on the right and once again, I focused on this guy’s calves. His feet. His effortless stride and pace. I tuned out their casual conversation as I was getting annoyed that they clearly felt so great. I instinctively grabbed my butt again as the cramp remained strong. I quickly fell a few steps behind, and screamed “NO!” in mind. I let my butt go, and charged ahead settling right behind the guy, again focusing on his calves and his feet striking the ground.
This course finishes on a hill. Like a Hill, HILL. It’s a challenge every year. And I’m pretty sure I have walked up this damn hill every year and then I sprint through the finish once I get to the top and its flat. This year I didn’t have that same adrenaline spike like I usually get when finishing any race. I was so focused on the guy in front of me pulling me to the finish that I didn’t even really register the crowd and all the cheering. I pumped my arms with everything I had, limped up the hill and as we came back to flat ground, the men and gal pulled away. I stayed focused and gave a little kick, knowing I had PRed and could finally stop and walk.
I crossed the finish line with my arms raised above my head and feeling so damn proud.
I bent over putting my hands on my knees and my legs immediately started shaking. I knew I needed to just sit down and when I took a step forward my butt/hip cramp screamed, and I dropped to the ground.
Up next, Part 3: The Finish