Monday, March 17, 2014

New Bedford Half 2014

As I waited for the train on yet another sub-30 degree March day, I wanted to be someone else. The type of person who, like the group of 20-somethings dressed in neon green socks and headbands standing nearby, ran 5Ks for fun. Instead, I was off to race a half marathon. And unlike a 5K for fun, I knew it was going to hurt.

The weather forecast for the race had been slowly dipping lower, starting with a promising high of 40 early in the week and ending with the real thing...high of 32. And windy. Woof. Dragging my tights out for a race in mid-March was not an enjoyable experience. I had my now-traditional pre race Finagle Bagel and met up with Joy and Briana for our annual pilgrimage to New Bedford. We made it to number pickup, where security was crazy. Guess these are the times we live in. I looked up my number and got REALLY excited for a minute because it started with a 14. 14 is my favorite/lucky number and somehow despite how many races I've run this was only the second time I've had it appear on my bib. So I figured today had to be a good day. I knew I was fit. That wasn't the issue. The problem was that I had run out of my mind to a 3 1/2 minute PR at this race last year off of virtually nonexistent training. So, with multiple 50-60 mile training weeks under me, it was going to be quite a blow to my confidence if I didn't PR. But my pace of 7:15 from 2013 already seemed crazy, even as fit as I was. It definitely didn't feel like a given, and that was what was in my mind heading up to the line.

After finding the "secret" YMCA bathroom with the door that locked from the inside, we warmed up a bit and then headed to the corral. After the singing of the national anthem, it was time to get underway. New Bedford is a HUGE race and as a New England Grand Prix race it draws a lot of fast runners from the various clubs. Also cool was that Kim Smith had jumped in the race last minute (apparently doing a tempo run...which still meant she beat all but 2 of our men's team. Pro runners are amazing.) I came off the line with Briana and Taylor and tried to get into flying V formation..and off we went. Taylor immediately took off, and I decided to just relax into it for a bit. My legs had felt rough all week, so I wasn't sure how things were going to go. I feel like I know the course at New Bedford well, and I pretty much knew even splits were out of the question. Mile 1 is downhill, similar to Boston actually, and I came through at 6:48. The second mile continues in a general downhill direction but I usually slow a bit there. Then comes a mile-long set of rolling hills. I was leapfrogging with Briana and several other people at this point, and interestingly I was actually passing on the uphills!! I honestly am not sure if I've managed that was a strange feeling to actually feel strong heading up a hill. I knew I had slowed a bit with the hills, but I felt strong and in control, and I also knew that coming up next was possibly my favorite 4 mile stretch of any race. My split at mile 4 was a bit slower than expected...I think like 7:20? I can't actually take splits on my current watch so I had to do math. I wasn't feeling amazing, so I had a little moment of panic there for a second...not nearly as bad as last year, but still, the doubts were there. But then I remembered where I was, and how I never run even splits on this course. And I decided to fly.

From miles 4-7.5 you run through essentially a long, gradual downhill, and I knew if I was going to put time in the bank, this was where it would happen. So I started thinking about covering more ground, pushing off, and most importantly, passing people. And next thing I knew, I wad clicking off 6:55-7:00 splits like nothing. If you had ever told me I'd see a sub-7 mile beyond the first crazy mile of a half, I would have laughed in your face. And yet. My biggest concern was actually that I now felt massively underarmor long sleeve was feeling stifling and I was seriously jealous of a girl I saw up ahead of me who tossed her over shirt and gloves to someone on the sidelines.  Around mile 6 I picked up a group of 2 girls in red singlets, girl in orange shorts, and a tall guy. I was seriously excited, because I almost always seem to find myself running alone in a pack! It was so exciting! We ran together for a mile or so, and it was just the stimulus I needed to not back off the pace even as I was getting just the tiniest bit fatigued. Eventually I passed through and was on my own again, but thinking about those 3 girls behind me kept me pushing.

We made the turn onto the ocean, and at first, miraculously, there was a TAILWIND. I was feeling pumped on life at this point, and passing people left and right. I took my Gu and it was just delightful. I saw a camera and I actually smiled at it. I smiled at the spectators. I smiled at myself. Why would I ever want to casually run a 5K when I could do THIS?
Smiling! In a half marathon! Just feeling so, so great.

I was still hitting 7ish splits, although the fatigue was starting to sneak in a little bit....annnd then we turned into the most cruel headwind ever. I pretty much immediately felt my pace go downhill and life got decidedly less fun.  Suddenly everything was really, really hard. I was also running kind of alone again so I didn't have anyone to draft off of. The rest of the race was full of mental and physical ups and downs. The Irish water stop at mile 10 was a joy, but then I just wanted to be done. I finally caught a pack, and then it disintegrated. We turned into town, and my brain couldn't do math any more so I had no idea how much I slowed down. And I just wanted to be DONE. We came to the hill at mile 12, which actually was not as bad as I remembered. Then I almost got taken out by a woman with a giant stroller crossing the course and I just couldn't handle it anymore. We made the turn towards the finish. I looked at my watch, saw 1:32 something, and suddenly the haze I had been in for the last 3 miles lifted, and all I could think was "oh, shit! I've gotta GO!" And I absolutely sprinted down that hill, passing a ton of people in the process. And finally I crossed the finish line in 1:34:05. An almost 1 min PR.

Home stretch. Photo by Krissy Kozlosky.

Now I will be honest: I was a teeny bit disappointed that I couldn't pull out a 1:33:xx. BUT in the end, it didn't matter. Because I finally ran a PR where I put in the work and I truly deserved it. And that feeling - to work hard, to race hard, and to have it all pay off in running faster than you ever have before - is worth everything.

Next stop, Boston...

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