I decided to do this race about a week ago, as I am gearing up for the Denver half marathon in mid October and I wanted to see where my fitness was. (I also wanted to see where Denver’s parks were. I should be ashamed of how little I have explored my neighboring metropolis). I have been running consistently, feeling strong, and enjoying training for the first time in a while. Also, starting this month, for the first time since I moved to Colorado, I feel I can work much harder before I have the sensation that I am sucking air through a straw. I had a good feeling about the race.
Pre race: I got up at 5:10 and drank my smoothie, which consists of 1 cup chocolate soy milk, about a half cup of water, half a banana, and a scoop of chocolate protein powder. I made myself drink a tall glass of water, then sat down with my preferred beverage (coffee) and logged into my workoutlog.com account to review what I had done in 2007 at the New Bedford half marathon. That was the last race of a similar distance where I remember feeling really good about my performance and negative splitting so I wanted to go over the details to see what I had done right that time so that I could hopefully repeat it. My friend came to get me at 5:45, and we arrived at the race start by 6:30. By 6:55 I was lined up at the start line by the 9:00/mile sign. I figured I could start off around this pace, then speed up around the second half. I had not decided at exactly what point I would increase my pace, but I knew it would be between mile 4 and mile 6, depending how I felt.
Race: The gun went off and I started at a pace I considered not hard, but not easy. The first mile was downhill, and I got through it in 8:49. There were a lot of people bunched tight together but I tried to avoid wasting energy weaving too much. By the second mile the crowd had thinned quite a bit and I was able to enjoy the scenery, which at this point I believe was Cheesman Park. My split for mile 2 was 8:56. So far, so good. Mile 3 went by in 9:09. My breathing was a little more labored than I wanted it to be so I tried to slow down a little and not worry about what everyone else was doing. My split for mile 4 was 9:01. I was really focused on my breathing, as I didn’t have much else for cues… I didn’t want to get obsessed with time so I only looked at my watch for mile splits (and not at every mile), and I didn’t wear my heart rate monitor (it chafes me and it often gives me weird unreasonable useless numbers that I know are false), and I chose not to bring my Garmin Forerunner 305 (because I would be so annoyed if it malfunctioned and then I didn’t even know my splits or the time). But as it turned out my watch’s memory for splits ran out after mile 4 anyway.
I was very much enjoying the scenery and the fact that the roads were blocked to traffic. I got to mile 5 and decided I felt good enough to pick up the pace just a notch, so I did. I held it there till mile 6. Mile 6-7 was pretty much all downhill, so I took advantage of that and decreased my pace to about 8:40 for mile 7. I had been leapfrogging with this one lady for a lot of the race and as we approached the decline, her friend/coach instructed her “Stay with that girl. Follow her down the hill!” When I heard her footsteps getting closer, I became extra motivated to drop her, which I eventually did. Then it just became a little game of passing people, one by one, whoever was just in front of me, or way in front of me, whoever had passed me earlier, whoever was older than me, younger than me, thinner than me, fatter than me… I was open to passing anyone I could. It gave me a good chance to look at the other women’s hair as I came up behind them, in neat perfect pony tails or sleek braids… I noted the fact that I had made a major hair mistake in trying to put my not quite shoulder length hair back in a ponytail, wearing a visor and pinning my bangs back with a little barrette. This is the first time I’ve had bangs since I was in the seventh grade, so what to do with them during a race was a little baffling. I did the best I could, and while the bangs were mostly behaving, the rest of my not-really-long-enough-for-a-ponytail hair was falling out of the elastic and getting caught under the visor and it was just annoying. So I learned that I need a new short hair/bangs race hairstyle and I also learned that I need to stop drinking coffee no sooner than 45 minutes or so prior to the run. I had a major stitch through miles 5-8ish that I attribute to the last minute coffee. This also happened to me a couple of weeks ago, when I sipped on an Americano in the car on the way to my long run, so I know its not a fluke.
By the eighth mile, the stitch was under control and I was getting tired but I knew it was almost done. I tried to pick up the pace a little more and pay attention to my form, short quick strides and elbows straight back…. As I ran through the ninth mile mark I was really ready to be done and I think I slowed down a little because a girl in a pink visor came up next to me and said “Don’t slow down! You’re all that’s keeping me going!” I laughed and said “Uh oh!” but this motivated me to run faster. She fell behind a little and I turned and said “Come on!” but she didn’t. I would have liked someone to keep me on my toes for that last bit, but instead it was just me and my fear that my insides wanted to come out. I tried to ignore that feeling as I settled into a pace and focused on staying there. About a half mile from the end though, a girl I had passed eariler in the race came up on my shoulder and tried to pass me on my right but as soon as I heard her footsteps, I ran a little faster. She tried to come around on my left but I accelerated a little more. Then I saw Dan and his parents waving and cheering for me, so I picked it up some more… Finally I turned the corner and there was the finish line just 25 meters away. My official time was 1:28:20 but there was no timing chip. I think my real time was 1:28 even, for an average pace of 8:48.
Post-race: Before I did the math, I didn’t mind my 1:28 that much, considering I felt I had ran as fast as possible. Also I had negative splitted, which was one of my goals. Later, I got out my calculator and determined my pace and felt totally depressed. I thought my running was getting back to normal but apparently this was not the case. I just couldn’t figure out what happened. I used to do my long runs at an 8:48 pace! I could do an 8:20 pace half marathon two years ago!! What was happening!? Were my steely little gray hairs stealing my lung capacity?? Was it worth wondering why? I was just so frustrated. After much whining, venting, explaining, pouting, thinking, a few tears and sniffles and a some hugs (courtesy of Dan) I decided I think its altitude. All my faster running was at sea level. Some people have told me altitude robs you of 30-45 seconds per mile. The next thing I need to do is sign up for a 5k or 10k next time I am at sea level and see what happens. Then I can better decide if its the altitude or whether its something going on with me that I need to explore. In the meantime, I checked the race results online and found I was 24th of 111 girls in my age group, which cheered me up a little. Along with an Illegal Pete’s green chile burrito, a cone of peach ice cream from Glacier, and the Style section (especially Modern Love and Vows) from yesterday’s New York Times. And webchatting with my parents, which was superfun because my dad got to see himself on a screen which he obviously loved and my mom and I got to show each other our new haircuts. (My visor/bangs situation had been taken care of well before that point).