I ran my first half marathon on my 27th birthday, three and a half years ago, in 2:18:53.
Around this time three years ago, I set a new PR, running the Divas Half Marathon in 2:14:44.
I was overjoyed when I ran 2:06:27 at the Queens Half Marathon in July, 2011 (Andy’s first time spectating, and his first time meeting my mom).
I got my overly ambitious sub-2:00 (barely) at last September’s Newport Liberty Half Marathon.
Two months later, I PR’d by two more minutes with 1:57:24 at Richmond.
All those races and PRs? They all came from time. From running and getting stronger and more efficient at Refine over time. The one thing I never did get around to? Train “for real.” I’d do a couple of midweek runs (if that) and a longer weekend run (those I stuck to) and called it training. I knew it wasn’t “real” training though, and I set out to remedy that last year — until I got my bunion injury and had to cut back once again.
But I still kept PRing. When people ask me what’s my advice to new runners, I always say the same thing: Slow down! Running doesn’t hurt or suck so much when you’re going really slowly, and you’ll naturally get faster over time.
Of course at some point you’ll have to really train smartly to see the results you want — and that is what I am doing this year in preparation for the Richmond Marathon.
This year I am “training for real.” Even though I wasn’t specifically training for the half marathon distance, I figured all the interval runs, the tempos, the five-days-a-week of running (previously unheard of for me — even for my last marathon I never ran more than three times a week), would have some sort of PRish result.
And it did.
Despite my failed attempt at a half marathon paced tempo last week, I am really happy to say that I crushed my PR at the 2013 Newport Liberty Half Marathon in 1:53:38 (an 8:43 average pace).
Now that you know the end, I’ll start from the beginning.
This race was HARD.
I did a slow 2 mile warm up to thestart. I checked my phone and saw my friend Ellen, who was going to pace me to my goal 1:55, was stuck in NYC because the PATH Train wasn’t running (what else is new?).
The fear set in. I didn’t know if I had a 1:55 in me. Sure, I ran 1:57 last year on very little training, but my legs were fresher. I was faster. I didn’t just attempt a tempo run at 8:50 only to find my miles were all 10:00. And was I doing my long runs too slow?
The race started in front of my office so like last year, I had a pre-race VIP experience with my own bathroom (those portapotty lines were insane…), water and Tiger Balm. I keep Tiger Balm in my desk drawer.
I went back outside and waited for the race to begin. I was COLD in the corrals but it was a gorgeous day, perfect running weather, so I was anxious for the race to start so I could warm up.
I was going to run data-free with Ellen pacing me. I had contact paper with me to cover my watch (I still wanted to analyze the data after) and I turned the sounds off so I wouldn’t be tempted to peek at each mile. But without Ellen’s assistance, I knew I needed my watch. I was stuck with no lap beeping since you can only change that setting from a computer, but that’s a minor thing and I wasn’t concerned. I was more concerned about my ability to keep the pace.
It was a very crowded start, and I felt frustrated most of that first mile. I thought my pace was in the 10s and I was annoyed the people around me weren’t running faster. I lined up in between the 8:00 and 9:00 corrals, and I figured I was with people around my pace.
And I was. The first mile came very quickly and I was shocked to see I ran it in 8:27. I thought I was going slow!
Since I no longer felt annoyed, the second mile was awesome. It felt easy to maintain this pace so I kept it going, even though I realized that I might pay for this decision later on.
Smart race strategy, I don’t have it.
Andy and Larry were spectating in between miles 2 and 3. I told Andy before the race that I’d hand him my waist pack since I didn’t need to have my phone on me anymore. Here I am trying to make sure he knows to take it from me.
But he didn’t know, and I had to yell “ANDY. TAKE IT.” and then when my ribcage cramp started a few minutes later wonder if it was because I talked while racing or if it would have happened anyway. In girl talk, that translates to “Do I blame my clueless husband for me losing the race?”
The thing is, that pain was one of many. I’d get a pain and then it would go away. So that ribcage pain happened (different than my rib injury pain, which is lower down in the muscles between my ribs). Then it went away.
I ran through Jersey City neighborhoods and around mile 4 a volunteer yelled out “You’re almost there!”
We ran into Liberty State Park and I didn’t notice the Statue of Liberty in my face the way I did last year. In fact, I forgot all about the suddenness of it last year and I wonder if we even ran in the same way. I was probably distracted by dodging big puddles.
My left calf started hurting; the calf I stupidly injured at the beginning of training (and later realized it was the orthotic, not the shoes, that messed me up). Then that stopped.
Then my right shin hurt. After a few minutes of wondering what the hell I was doing to myself, that stopped too.
Ribcage. Stopped. Calf. Stopped. Shin gave out. Thought I’d have to quit the race. Stopped. Got nauseous. Stopped (ish — I never was able to take any fuel but I did walk to drink at every single water station).
Not only were these alternating pains happening, my pace started catching up with me around mile 5. Running felt hard. I played many variations of the numbers game: “Once I make it to 5 miles, I just have a 5 mile run and a 5K” and “I need to get to 8 because I run 5 miles in the mornings as my easy run, I can do that” and “I’ll be happy when I finish 9 miles because 4 miles is a short, easy run.” You know the game.
I also distracted myself by listening to the conversation of the people behind me, and trying to stick with the group of friends in front of me. They were all talking casually and I wanted to be like IS THIS NOT HURTING YOU AT ALL ARE YOU HUMAN DO YOU HAVE FEELINGS DO YOU BLEED???”
One of the guys in the group ahead of me even left the course, did some pull-ups and rejoined.
When I reached 6 miles I had a thought… “Did I just beat my 10K PR?”
Yes, yes I did.
Note to self: Must find 10K to race ASAP.
And then things got really tough and the race became a mental battle. Except when we ran against strong headwinds, which happened a lot, in which case it was very much a physical battle. I’d be running through the wind with just as much effort as the rest of the time, then look down at my watch and see 9:xx.
I would NOT let my pace be in the 9s. Every time I saw it happen, I forced myself to speed up and get back into the 8:xx area. This is where I most felt my training kick in. And this is where I was glad I used my watch. While it can be helpful racing without one (I did it at the Richmond Half and loved it) it can also be a valuable tool. I never felt like I was working less hard, so I had to rely on my watch to know when to push it.
I’ve held uncomfortable paces in races before, but this was the first time I pushed to an even more uncomfortable pace.
This is the difference between improving through experience and improving through smart training. Thank you Coach Steph.
The toughest miles were 8-12 (13 was its own separate hell) and I find it absolutely fascinating how even my splits were for those miles. I just kept pushing through, no matter what hurt or how uncomfortable I was or how much I JUST WANTED TO STOP. I’ve never wanted to stop in a race so much — and that is saying a lot, because I always want to stop in races.
Of course, I knew I was on track to PR and I knew I had some time in the bank from the beginning miles. I just didn’t want to let myself get too comfortable. I wanted to run my best race.
Around mile 10, I had this thought: “Why do I care about setting time goals? This isn’t worth it. From now on, I’m only running races for fun.”
Famous last words.
The last part of the park was tough and my pace slowed. I was happy to exit and get back on the streets because it meant (1) a change of scenery and (2) the race was closer to being done.
Mile 12 included a street that is also hill that I never knew was I hill until I had to run up it during mile 12 of a tough half marathon. Just to clarify, it wasn’t even really a hill. It was a slight incline on an otherwise pancake-flat course that just so happened to feel like the hardest hill of my life.
But then the incline went down and I picked up the pace, and that was nice.
With 1.5 miles to go, a volunteer called out “You’re almost done. The hardest part is over!”
I couldn’t help myself. I called back “No, it’s not!”
I felt like death at this point. I still had 1.5 miles to go. I was nauseous. The outside of my left knee, my original running pain from years ago, started hurting. I was fighting so hard to hold on to my pace. I knew I would PR and I didn’t want to lose my momentum.
That last mile was one of the hardest of my life. It took everything I had to just keep moving. I was so close to being done but I wasn’t done and I wanted to be done and I needed to be done.
I remembered from last year how aggravating that last turn is off the waterfront path and onto Washington Blvd for the final stretch of race. You are so close to being finished but still have this annoying little ways to go. I pushed through as best I could and finally the finish line was in sight.
And then the suffering was over.
And for the rest of the day, I felt amazing! I was just so, so happy. All I wanted to do was talk about the race and my even, fast (for me, you know…) splits and my time. There is no high quite like that of crushing a PR — especially when you worked really hard to get there. For the past 11 weeks I’ve been training religiously, running 4-5 days a week and going to Refine once a week. This is the first time I truly earned my half marathon PR and I am so happy I pushed through the pain, forced myself to speed up and beat the goal I set for myself.
I needed this validation too because while my training is going well, I’ve been unhappy with my training run times. But the thing is — I thrive at races. I’ve always thrived at races. So what if I can’t hit my half marathon pace during a tempo run? At least I’m giving it the effort and my body is trained to work at that effort level. The speed, for me, comes at races.
And running a 1:53 half — a time I never in my life would have imagined I’d do — makes me feel like a real runner. A runner that trains hard and improves and can run 13 miles at an 8:43 pace. A runner who can beat her 10K PR DURING a half marathon. A runner who might not train fast but can perform at races. (Most of the time).
I can’t get over how drastically my running has improved since those early half marathons. I ran hard for those times; I was so proud of myself for that 2:18:53! I never could have imagined I would shave 25 MINUTES off that time. I never would have believed you if you told me.
This half was proof that all my work is for something. I’m excited to keep training and I didn’t mean it when I said I was done with racing for times. I take it back! (Until the next race.)
Running hard makes you tired.
Oh, and all those pains during the race? Totally fine now. I even ran 2×3 miles this morning at marathon pace effort with a 15 minute warm up and cool down, and felt awesome. The only thing that hurts post-race is my bunion (uh oh…). And my quads are really sore, but that’s to be expected.
Here’s how the rest of my week’s training went:
Week 11: September 16 – September 22
- Monday – 15 min w.u. 4 mile tempo, 3 mins rest 8 x 30 secs on, 1 min off 10 min c.d. (7.4 mi)
- Tuesday – Refine Method
- Wednesday - 35 mins with 4 x 100m strides (3.83 mi)
- Thursday – 51:33 with 4x100m strides (5.33 mi)
- Friday – OFF
- Saturday - 20 easy mins (2.13 mi)
- Sunday – 15 mi (2 mi w.u. + half mar 1:53:38 PR)
Total: 34 miles
Do you thrive at races? Do you push past uncomfortable and into faster-than-uncomfortable? What was your favorite PR?