Man, racing is really fun. Settle in, it's another epic Run Like A Llama race report! :)
So yesterday I ran the New Bedford Half Marathon as sort of a "tuneup" race/a way to have a cutback week in my long runs before the last big push to Boston. The half marathon and I have had some interesting times together - my first one was cool simply because it was my first, but looking back it was hot and I got really dehydrated, resulting in an absolutely miserable last 4 miles or so. My second I ran at the end of track season last year, and while I was in really good 5K shape and had done long runs up to 14 miles, the endurance just wasn't there. I died pretty early and slowed down a lot over the last 5 miles, crushing my dreams of a sub-1:40 finish, though I did come through in a PR of 1:42:25. The last half I ran in August, as a kind of fun excuse to go back to Madison for one last run before I moved out to Boston...aaand it was a total disaster. I was sick, felt god-awful throughout the entire race, watched my friend/rival pull away from me at the 3 mile mark, and wound up finishing only 10 seconds faster than my first race - a pretty poor showing after 2 more years of hard distance training. Maybe that race just left a bad taste in my mouth, but I was skeptical about doing this race. Pretty much my overwhelming thought was - if I have a bad day on the course, if I don't PR, it's really going to kill my confidence for Boston, which really isn't what I need a month out from the race. Buuut with some convincing from Kelly and a cheap entry fee [$35 for a half? With medals, t-shirts, and a ridiculous spread of food after? Pretty hard to beat] I decided that I had to face my half marathon demons and see what I could do.
The race was about an hour away, so Kelly, Joy and I left pretty early because we knew it was a big race and didn't want to be stranded looking for parking at the last minute. Turns out, that was a genius idea because the check-in area was INSANE. Apparently they had moved it from the high school to the YMCA...which was way smaller, and involved waiting in long lines for a one-stall bathroom...ughhh. The line for number pick up was crazy even when we were there at like 9:30 [for a race starting at 11] and by the time we went off to warm-up, it was out the door...since I'm totally weird about having enough time to warm up and wander around before a race, that would pretty much be my worst nightmare...so definitely glad we got there early!
We went back to the car to drop off our clothes, since it was getting pretty warm out, and were trying to figure out what to do about the god-awful bathroom situation when suddenly...we spotted a lonely construction site porta potty! Being the smart runners that we are, we had to investigate. We found that they were fenced in, but there was a decent gap under the fence...someone mentioned that you could probably squeeze under, and I was already down army crawling under the fence haha. Of course, I got to the other side and stood up....only to see Kelly pushing the fence aside like a gate - apparently the two pieces weren't attached soooo I crawled under a fence for no reason lol.
After taking care of the bathroom, joking about going on a whale watch tour after the race, and warming up some more, we finally made our way to the start corral and worked our way up to the 7-8 minute mile area...only to hear an announcement that the race wasn't going to start until 11:15...half an hour away. We obviously weren't going to leave since we had a pretty prime spot at the start and there was no way we'd ever get back to it...so unfortunately we were stuck stretching and bobbing up and down as the MC tried to entertain us by enlightening us to the wonders of New Bedford....once again, talking up the whale museum hehe. At some point there was an announcement that the race would start in 7 minutes...and then approximately 2 minutes later the gun went off...and off we went!
I really had no strategy for this race at all, other than to just kind of relax into whatever pace worked and see what happened from there. The start was kind of crazy and the first mile I spent a lot of time weaving around people on a pretty long downhill...so when I looked at my watch at the 1 mile and saw 7:08 it was like - WHOA, slow the eff down. I pretty much just regarded it as money in the PR bank and tried to relax and chill out since clearly I wasn't going to be holding my 10K pr pace for a half marathon. Mile 2 was much more reasonable - 7:35 - and while in the back of my mind I had a few flashes of "but this is only 2 miles in, remember how you always crash at the end of halfs..." based on how easy the pace felt I knew that wasn't going to happen. There were a couple of little rollers leading up to a long, turning hill at the mile 3 mark [7:34 for mile 3 -holding steady], which actually kind of reminded me of Heartbreak in steepness and distance. Hills have generally been my downfall in life, but running up that hill, passing people and feeling really strong, made me realize that since moving to Boston, and especially over this training cycle, my hill running has improved immensely. I no longer look at hills with fear, but as a challenge to get through and push on into the rest of the race...and that's exactly what I did. Mile 4 was 7:39, with only a slight slowdown for probably 600 meters of hill. I think that was the moment when I knew - today was a PR day. But the real question was - could I go under 1:40? That remained to be seen.
The crowd support for this race was absolutely mindblowing - really, the ENTIRE town came out to support the race. It was really cool to see the pride these people had for their town and how excited they were about having this race. The cheers absolutely thrilled me and I had to think for a moment about how cool this was - me, who has this tendency to be so intense and get SO involved in races that I tune out the crowd and the experience of the whole thing, was actually enjoying the support, having FUN with this race. I mean, I was veering to the side of the road to high five little kids and loving it! I was just so relaxed, enjoying every moment, feeling like a rockstar to these kids who thought that these runners were the most incredible people around. And really, I feel like that attitude - just RELAXING for once, not completely freaking out every second over my splits or my pace or how I'm feeling, was totally the key to a monster PR in this race. Mile 5 was a 7:22, thanks in part I'm sure to the massive tunnel of screaming, cowbell banging, music playing New Bedford-ites gathered in a park to support the race. Seriously - so. cool. And at the same time I'm thinking..."I'm seriously running a 7:22 at mile 5 of a half marathon? Can I seriously go under 1:40 today?" All of those thoughts of a monster PR were always kind of present in my mind but they were never really the overwhelming thing - it was just stay relaxed, run your race, just do it.
Mile 6 [7:27] I took a mint chocolate Gu - YUM - which went down smooth since it had been heated in the sun haha. It was only maybe 55 out, but the sun was HOT out there! I took advantage of my recently discovered drinking-while-running skills to grab water at most of the aid stations since I've been down the road of HM dehydration before and I reallly have no desire to go back haha. So here I was, somehow holding pace, and feeling solid. Obviously I knew that the real race was yet to come, but for the moment I was just savoring the feeling of being able to run this fast for this long. Mile 7 was another 7:27, as we made the turn out of the random neighborhoods to start a long stretch by the ocean - what a gorgeous day to be running by the water. I actually NOTICED the scenery - the lighthouses, boats, sun sparkling on the water...it was just that kind of day. Also just past mile 7, possibly the greatest thing that's ever happened to me in a race happened. There was a random motorcycle? store that had music playing out of a car, and as I approached it I got excited, because hey, music! But suddenly it dawned on me what song was playing....
DON'T STOP BELIEVIN'
OK, I know. No one should really love a song as much as I love Don't Stop Believin'. But it is my anthem, my motto, and to hear it in a race, let alone a race where I'm pretty much having the race of my life, was basically the most exciting thing ever. I actually threw my arms up in the air with joy. The happiness of that carried me the rest of the way through mile 8 in 7:26. Still running sub-7:30 miles at mile 8 of a half? All I have to do is hold this pace...
And then there was mile 9. Which was pretty awful. Really the only dark time of the race. It was like it kind of dawned on my legs suddenly that, hey, we've been running fast for kind of a long time, and it would be nice to stop now? My left hamstring/glute was kind of starting to cramp, and I eased back a little bit to try to get it to work itself out. I really didn't realize I slowed down THAT much, so when I looked down at my watch and saw 7:56, I was definitely alarmed. So I guess it's time to race, huh? I forced myself to pick it up again after that, and set my sights on several girls in front of me to pick off and pass. Up until this point, I hadn't really paid attention to any other runners - pass me? I passed you? Whatever, I'm running my own race. But at this point I needed some other stimulus besides my splits to give myself the extra push, and picking off girls one at a time seemed to be the perfect way to do it. First came yellow singlet girl. Next up was tye dye shirt, followed by short girl with the sweet red singlet. I passed mile 10 in 7:32 and now that I was back on track, I realized that I had to stay on this pace for the last 3 miles, and I would get under 1:40 - the wall, broken through. There was a great aid station playing loud Irish music right after the 10 mile [the race was sponsored by the Friendly Sons of St Patrick, after all!] which gave me a boost, along with somehow managing to get the song "Kiss My Irish Ass" stuck in my head for the remainder of the race haha. I continued on with my picking-off plan...girl with the blue shorts, you're history. I was gazing at a woman in a pink hat for the longest time, but she was always just out of reach. We turned back into the city with the mile 11 mark [7:31] and I figured out [after about 3 minutes of mental math failing haha] that I had to run 2.1 miles in 18 minutes or something to go under 1:40. Well hell yes, I can do that!
I was starting to get really tired, definitely the point in the race when you are just ready to be DONE. But I set my sights on a girl in light green shorts and told myself to just HOLD ON. Just past mile 12 [7:34] there is a soul crushing, curse inducing hill. I have never wanted to walk so badly in a race as I did running up that damn hill. It's really the placement of it that's cruel - just looking at the hill its nothing spectacular - your average 400-600 meter, somewhat steep but not mountain-like hill. But at mile 12 of a half marathon? Death in road form. And for the first time in the race, true pain and exhaustion set in...but since I had just pulled even with green shorts girl, obviously I had to put in a little surge to pass her. Now I was at the top of the hill, everything simply screaming to stop, and yet...less than a mile to go and it's all basically down hill...come ON!
Finally there was one last big downhill leading to the mile 13 mark, and I just let my legs go and flew down the hill. Mile 13 was 7:31, all that was left was to kick it in...and I sprinted with everything I had. I actually pulled even with a short girl in an orange tank top, and was hoping to get past her, but she turned on the jet engines and shot away - I tried to respond, but my calves were cramping into tiny balls of pain and I just had nothing left to give. No matter, the finish line was a few steps away, and then, slamming my watch - DONE.
I really wasn't even sure what to do with myself. I chugged a bottle of water while waiting for Joy and Kelly to finish. Once we all met up we decided to forgo cooling down in favor of fish sandwiches, seafood chowder, and other goodness back at the YMCA, where the gym had now been opened up to form a more acceptable space for 2500 people haha. We drove back to Boston and I went out for a quick 2.5 mile granny shuffle cooldown/beer run, then spent the rest of the night relaxing, watching basketball, and passing out early - I was out like a light by 11 haha. Racing hard really takes it out of you!
The race was really competitive and full of club athletes, since its part of the USATF New England Grand Prix series, so I was pretty pleased with 622/2308 overall and 117th woman [assuming I counted right, unfortunately the results didn't give any breakdown of AG or gender placements and I'm too lazy to figure it out haha] out of who knows how many. But really in these races I couldn't care less about my place - especially this one. I honestly didn't believe I had it in me to run under 1:40 in a half marathon. Maybe somewhere around 1:40, maybe just barely squeaking under, but not this fast, especially feeling as strong as I did the whole way. I feel like this has given me great confidence going into this last month before Boston that I can really do some great things out on the course on April 19th. Creepily, my 10K time a month ago predicted this performance within 5 seconds. Does that mean that a 3:27 marathon [the McMillan prediction given both by this HM and my 10K time] is in my future? Guess we'll just have to wait and see. For now, I'm really happy with finally showing the 13.1 mile distance who's boss, and having an amazing time while doing it. :)