Yeah, I know, it’s been six months since I’ve trotted out this old blog, which was just about (exactly, in fact) the time I started blogging over at my new digs – Pahla B Fitness. I talk about life and fitness and health and running over there, too, so it would be super cool if you’d join me! But since this blog is exclusively for running, it still seemed appropriate to post a race report here rather than there. Because in my heart I will ALWAYS be an Average Athlete on race day!
I haven’t raced since July. There were a couple of reasons for this, most of which were related to convenience and desire. On the convenience front, we had a really busy fall (like always) with the kids’ Cross Country season. Which, by the way, went incredibly well! Big Boy finished off his high school career – sob! – with some huge PRs, and Little Boy blew everybody out of the water with his improvement over last year (when he was already an incredibly strong runner).
And then there was the desire, or lack thereof, to run any more short races. You know, signing up for the Tour de Fit when I was sick with anemia seemed like a terrific challenge and lots of fun. And then, when I felt better, it started to sound like a bunch of 5Ks. And I don’t like running those.
So, I focused instead on the Big Goal: the CIM, my favorite race in the whole wide world. This – finally! The seventh time I’ve run this thing! – would be the year that I trained well and raced it well.
(Wanna read all about how I almost never train for this thing? Here ya go: I wasn’t blogging yet in 2009, my first year of running it, 2010 Race Report, 2011 Race Report, 2012 Race Report, I skipped writing about it in 2013 when I DNF’d, and last year’s 2014 Race Report)
Training this year went spectacularly well. Better than ever, better than I could ask for, and honestly, good enough that I’m going to stop talking about it here and write a whole ‘nuther post about it some time in the near future. Really. Because it was that awesome. I felt 100% prepared to run really well this year. I felt like I could run something between 4:15-4:20, which would be my second fastest marathon by a LOT (fastest ever was 4:10:07, and second fastest was 4:35:16, so I had a nice big window to hit my second fastest time).
Race day dawned with the very strong possibility of rain. I was fine with that, I actually like running in the rain. And as long as it wasn’t a repeat of the Great Monsoon of 2012, this was going to be okay. We had some sprinkles during the bus ride up to the starting line and a little bit of spit before the start and I think I remember a little bit of rain at maybe Mile 2-ish, but other than that, my day was dry and lovely, cool and mostly cloudy. In other words, perfect! Apparently the faster runners (like my dear UltraIronHubs, who ran a spectacular 3:20!!) got a lot more rain. I’m not sure how that happened, exactly, but it made me happy to be slower. Ha!
I’ve learned over the last year or so that I do much better on race day when I go out conservatively, so after our warm-ups, I kissed UIH and wished him good luck and then lined up in the waaaaaaaaaaaaay back. Well, maybe not the way, way back, but at least halfway back. I had no desire to burn all of my energy in the first mile, and I was starting to realize that I had a huge knot of anxiety in my stomach, so I really wanted to take it easy for as long as I needed to get into my groove.
Ah, yes, the familiar knot. I was a little pissed about this, because I really thought I had taken care of managing my race nerves. I mean, I was ready for this thing! There was nothing to be nervous about! But there it was anyway. So I concentrated on eliminating it. I started hydrating before the starting gun (speaking of topics that deserve their own post, my fueling plan for this race was on point! A huge improvement over years past.), I was consciously aware of ignoring negative self-talk, and I focused on running my own careful pace, rather than going out with the crowd.
Because, OMG. Even though I was near the back, people around me and behind me went out like gangbusters! Streaming past me like I was standing still! There went the 4-hour pace group, there went the 4:10 (less than a minute behind the 4-hour – oops, I think you went out too fast, honey!), there went people who slowed down to a WALK within the first 300 feet. Not that I’m anti-walking. Far from it. Just that you should maybe not push past people only to screech to a halt in front of them.
So I moseyed through the first couple of miles. I had my headphones in and I worked on settling into a comfortable pace. My legs felt great, so all I had to do was get my stomach on board with our plans for the day.
I didn’t look at my watch at all. I have learned that the more I look at my watch, the more I get caught up in my pace and my time, and it’s almost never good news. So I run what the day brings me. And yesterday, the day brought me a 1:01:xx 10K split. I had forgotten that there was a clock on course at this point. I remembered the half-marathon clock, but wasn’t prepared for the one at Mile 6.2, just after the first relay exchange. I knew that my time was “slow” for a stand-alone 10K, but for the life of me, could not do the math to figure out what sort of pace I was running. Maybe something near a 10-minute mile? That would be perfect! Exactly what I was hoping for! So, on I ran, starting to feel more confident.
At Mile 8-ish – as so often happens on this course – I suddenly felt wonderful. The knot in my stomach dissipated, my legs felt terrific and my mood took a nice little upswing. I was drinking enough, I could tell. My thoughts were positive, my iPod was playing really good songs, and things were going really well.
I picked up the pace a little bit. Cautiously. It was still pretty early in the day to start chasing people down, but I could feel it coming. Rather suddenly, a little before the Mile 9 mark, as I was climbing one of the many, many hills the first half is littered with, I heard the most incredibly lovely thought in my head:
I’m good at this.
I tell you what, that thought surprised me! I am no stranger to forcing some positive thoughts into my head during tough times, but for this wonderful thought to just come floating in of its own accord felt like a tiny little miracle. I’m good at this. It made me smile.
I sailed into the half-marathon point vowing not to look at the clock. I knew I was having a good day, and I didn’t want to fuck it up by getting all up in my head about it. So I totally looked at the clock. 2:08:xx. Holy crap, I wasn’t having a good day, I was having a great day! I knew I was at least a minute and possibly as many as three minutes off the gun time, based on where I had started, so this was possibly my strongest first half EVER. (It wasn’t. I looked it up just now, and I ran a 2:02 first half back in 2010.) More smiling, more happy thoughts, more picking up my speed.
I saw some friends cheering and it lifted my already cheerful spirits. What a fun day! Since I was past the halfway, it was time to see what my legs had in them. I felt amazing. I knew I was heading into the tough part of the race (miles 17 – 22 are just hard. You’ve come a long way, but you still have so damn far to go. And the spectators here are usually quieter for some reason), so I wanted to get as much out of my legs as they would give me for as long as I could.
Somewhere between Mile 16 and Mile 17 there appeared in the distance a sight so magnificent I wasn’t even sure if it was real: the 4:10 pace group. My PR. If I could catch up to them, I could run a race as good as any I’d ever run before. I kept my eyes in front of me and tried not to dwell on that thought. I felt good, so I would keep running what I had. Don’t psych yourself out, P.
And then? I caught that pace group and passed them in the blink of an eye. Like, I seriously sailed past them! What the fuck? Did they slow down that much or did I really speed up? No time to linger on that thought, I had happier things to think. Today was my day! I started smiling when I passed the pace group and I don’t think I stopped… well, I haven’t stopped smiling yet! Every step I took after passing them, the thought was pounding through my brain, “I’m running a PR today!”
I flew through the final relay exchange point and The Wall at Mile 20! I smiled for the cameras! I saw a friend of mine somewhere past Mile 20 and I gave her a big hug! Best! Day! Ever! I can’t think of another time in my life where I have felt so strong and so confident during a race.
And then. Wellllllllllll, then came Mile 23. Lawd ha’ mercy, Mile 23 was nearly the end of me. I went to take a drink and my hydration pack was empty. Shit. My legs were starting to complain. Loudly. People around me were dropping to a walk like flies. I still had three long ass fucking miles to run and I didn’t really know how I was going to do it. But then, there was that thought again, “I’m good at this.” I held onto that thought like a baby with his blanket. I thought about that woman I had seen back around Mile 20 with her sign, “This is hard. You can do hard things.” I could do this. I could finish strong and have the day I deserved. I ran on. The next mile was 24, and 24 was way closer to the finish than 23. I ran through the last aid station and choked back happy tears. If I didn’t walk through this one, I wasn’t going to walk at all. I was going to run all 26.2 miles!
I got to Mile 25 and took out my headphones. The crowd was crazy awesome. I could already hear the finish line, I swear! I focused on the thought that I would see my cheering friends again at Mile 26. They’re always at Mile 26 and all I had to do was get there. And if I could get to Mile 26, then I just had two left turns and the finish line was mine!
My face actually hurt from how hard I was smiling! Strangers were calling my name – thank you personalized bibs! – and commenting on how happy I looked. Because I was!
I high-fived my friends – right where I knew they would be at Mile 26! – and hollered, “PR today!” I made my second favorite left turn and then my favorite left turn, and there was the finishing chute, there was the clock that confirmed that I had run the very best marathon I had ever run in my life:
a nearly 6 minute PR. Damn.
Let me do a little post-race math (which is way easier for me than running math) here: my first half was 2:06:20 and I finished at 4:04:33, so that means I ran a 1:58:13 second half. My second fastest half ever. EVER! Far and away the fastest half I’ve run during a marathon! And I negative split the course by eight minutes! If I had to pick the one thing I’m most proud of about my performance, there it is. Because that’s insane!
I feel like I finally ran to my potential, after all these years of mediocre efforts and failed attempts! I feel vindicated!
Also? I feel sore. OMG, the soreness this morning is unreal. I can barely walk. My goals for the week include sitting down and getting up from the toilet without muttering, “sonofabitchmutherfucker.” Today, I might take my dog for a walk and I hope to get down on the ground to spend some quality time with my foam roller. Lofty goals, I know.
Speaking of goals, remember this one from the beginning of 2015?