Well kids, I’ll admit it: I got greedy.
Having PRed at my last 7 races, I was extremely hopeful about Saturday’s half marathon, despite my meager attempts to take the pressure off: “It’s just a training run, really!” I guess I really shot myself in the foot when A) I demolished my half marathon PR last month, by cutting more than 12 minutes from my previous time, B) ran a 20 miler on Monday, 5 days before the race, and C) selected the most challenging course I’ve ever run (i.e. off-road, all hills, hot and sunny).
On Friday night, before the race, I had the hardest time winding down after work. I lingered in the fridge too long, I goofed off on the computer, then tossed and turned in bed second-guessing my race outfit, my fuel choices, my wake-up time. I kissed the hubby good-bye at 6:15am and headed for the military base where the race would take place. It was 45 miles away but the drive flew by because I was totally wrapped up in my head: nervous, anxious, excited, terrified. I reminded myself: This is optional, you know. You don’t have to race. You could scrap the run, go home and go back to bed. That silly thought didn’t last more than 10 seconds. I’m too curious to not go through with it. I’d spend the rest of my life wondering how that race would’ve turned out. I guess that’s why I can’t stop myself from signing up for so many races… I’m just so darn curious to know what I’m truly capable of accomplishing. That, and there’s nothing like finishing a race–no matter how phenomenal or terrible, crossing that finish line is always an accomplishment. It’s like getting a grade back on a project you busted your ass for–you’re dying to know how you did because you gave it your all. You just have to know what the effort earned you.
I arrived at the base, where I was required to show my ID, proof of insurance and vehicle registration before following “Race Event” signs several miles across the base to the Starting Line. This was, by far, the most organized race I’ve ever participated in. I’ve said this to a few people who all respond: “Duh, it’s held by the military,” but seriously, I’m still jaw-to-the-floor impressed. I picked up my t-shirt effortlessly, got markings on the backs of my calves: “27″ for my age and “C” for civilian. I walked right into the cleanest port-o-potty without waiting in a line and even washed my hands in a portable sink with soap and paper towels!!!! All, effortlessly! I am still amazed…
The race was delayed by 15 minutes because there had been a long line of cars entering the base, but by 8:15, the National Anthem had been sung, the first wave (military men) was corralled and they were off! The second wave lined up (civilian men), where they waited for 7 minutes before taking off. The third and final wave was called (you guessed it, all women) and I lined up with another runner who appeared to be by herself. She introduced herself as Kathleen and we chatted nervously, joking that our running buddies ditched us because they were scared of the hills. Up until this moment, it had been blissfully cloudy and cool on base, but as the race director gave us our cue: “Get ready…” the sun burst out from the clouds and it’s punishment ensued. I looked at Kathleen and said: “Figures.”
And then we were off! Right away, I realized Kathleen was targeting a slower pace than I was, so I wished her luck and focused on finding my rhythm. Mile 1 went well. The crowd thinned out and I was thrilled to run a sub-9:00/mile without any kind of warm-up. Mile 2 brought the first uphill stretch, which got remarkably steeper through Mile 3. I felt so defeated to feel myself slow down so drastically and so early in the race. I wanted to cry, but thought: “What goes up, must come down.” Sure enough, Mile 4 took me downhill, where my heartrate also came down and I could let my legs fly. Miles 5, 6, and 7 were rolling hills that gave me a better opportunity to manage my pace and start picking off girls in my age group (i.e. this was the fun part!).
During Mile 5, I spotted a blonde in turquoise with “28 C” on her calves. I steadily caught up to her and when I started to pass her, she took one look at me, furrowed her brow and picked up her pace, pulling ahead. I let her go, taking the opportunity to draft behind her for a quarter-mile as we passed through an especially windy stretch, but she started to slow and I was holding steady at 8:20/mile and started to pass her again. This time, turquoise shirt shot me a dirty look–you know, one of those I-hate-your-guts looks from the playground–and sprinted ahead of me. Wow, I thought to myself, she’s gonna burn out. And so I hung out at 8:20/mile as she periodically glanced over her to shoulder, making sure I wasn’t trying to pull ahead. At Mile 7, I stopped at a water station to make sure I actually swallowed some water and turquoise shirt looked like she had hit the jackpot as she left me in the dust–literally! It was so hot and dry, we were all caked with dusty-dirt from our feet to our thighs. I got such a kick out of her giant, triumphant grin. I quickly settled back into 8:20/mile, soon passed her and she was nowhere to be seen by the time I hit Mile 8, which was a shame. I could’ve used the push as I headed into that 4-mile uphill climb.
Miles 8, 9, 10 and 11 were incredibly defeating despite the fact that I was consistently passing civilian and military men from the first two waves. I cursed the constant uphill climbs, one after another. My left hip ached. I was absolutely livid that my pretty, purple Asics were filthy. Sweat burned my eyes. My heart felt like it was going to explode. I looked at the pace on my Garmin and was furious. I wanted to give up. But I still had hope. C’mon, you can still break 2 hours! Make it happen!
Heading into Mile 12, I heard a volunteer shouting: “Top of the hill. Home stretch!” At that point, I let it fly–”fly” being relative here… I fell back into an 8:20/mile pace and held on for dear life thinking: Break 2 hours, break 2 hours, break 2 hours. The last few tenths of the course twisted and turned, uphill, over a curb, uphill again, through a parking lot and finally, finally, there it was, the glorious finish line. I raced across the blue and orange finish line strips with 2:12:00 on the race clock and hit stop on my Garmin: 13.27 mi, 1:58:30 (8:55/mi).
Again, I wanted to cry, not because of a hill or pain or feeling defeated, but because I did it. It felt like a Christmas miracle. No, it wasn’t a PR. I was more than 5 minutes off of besting that time, but this course…. this course was brutal. And still, I ran my heart out at Heartbreak Ridge and in my book, I won.
Mile 1 - 8:54
Mile 2 – 9:05 (uphill)
Mile 3 – 9:42 (uphill)
Mile 4 – 8:25
Mile 5 – 8:16
Mile 6 – 8:26
Mile 7 – 8:34
Mile 8 – 9:03 (uphill)
Mile 9 – 9:38 (uphill)
Mile 10 – 9:39 (uphill)
Mile 11 – 9:42 (uphill)
Mile 12 – 8:29
Mile 13 – 8:24
Mile 13.27 – 2:07 (8:07/mile)
Official Time: 13.1 mi, 1:58:32 (9:02/mile)
Clearly, I have a mixed bag of emotions about this race. Despite the fact that I am sorer from this race than ANY race I’ve run (including the marathons…), I am already planning to go back next year because, as my buddy, David, a marathoner in the Air Force would say: I want to DOMINATE IT! I hate walking away from a race feeling like I have unfinished business, like I did with the Flying Pig Marathon, but with that race and with this one, I did my best. I gave it my all, and I should be proud. I learned a lot about myself and the variables of running and racing and next year, I’ll dominate it.