I think I’m starting to change my mind about half marathons.
For years, I didn’t like them and maintained that they’re too long to run fast and too short to do as a run-walk. But, the past six months has taught me that maybe I was looking at it all wrong.
I set PRs back in 2010 and 2011 at literally every distance I raced – 5K, 10K, 1/2 Marathon, Marathon, 1/2 Ironman Duathlon, Sprint Triathlon and Sprint Duathlon. The only PRs I’ve set since then have been distance-related, meaning that I’ve just run longer (50K and 50 mile).
But those short-distance PRs? I haven’t come within spitting distance of any of them since then.
I am enjoying a little speed renaissance right now, hitting three PRs in a row at my last three races, including yesterday’s half marathon! (Yeah, oops! Spoiler alert!)
I am totally looking forward to getting back on the trails and running the Cool Moon 100K in August, but there’s a part of my heart that isn’t quite ready to let go of all my road speed just yet, so I took my racing shoes out of the closet for one last (very quick!) spin.
Why did I run a speedy half so soon after the Modesto Marathon? Well, let’s call it a victory lap, shall we?
A few months ago, I was considering running the Davis Stampede Half Marathon, but scheduling-wise, it just didn’t work out. So, it’s been in the back of my mind that I might do the RotE for some time, but I wanted to keep my eyes on the prize: the Modesto Marathon was this spring’s “A” race. Once that went well, though, I was free to consider other races, so the RotE popped onto the schedule.
I love this race. I’ve spectated every year for clients and once for UltraIronHubs and then finally ran it myself last year as the 2:45 pacer, but this was the first year I’ve been on course running for myself. Pretty sure it won’t be the last.
I tried to pretend like I was all casual about this race, but I’ll be honest, I was nervous. I had it in my head that maybe I could PR, but there was that voice of doubt, reminding me that all my training recently was geared toward a fast marathon (9 min/miles), not a half marathon (8:30 min/miles). That 30 seconds per mile is a big freakin’ deal.
One of the main reasons I love this race so much is that the course literally goes right past my house three times, and is close enough that it was a perfect warm-up to run to the starting line. Sweet. So I did my first batch of warm-ups at home, used my own indoor flushing toilet, then ran to the starting line with mere minutes to spare before the gun went off, which I spent chatting happily with several running friends.
I lined up near the mid to back, as I do, but might have erred a little too much on the side of caution. I was still at a meandering pace with a super thick crowd going over the first timing mats. No bueno. I mean, I wanted to go out cautiously, but not walking! I was a good quarter mile in before I had any room to breathe and start picking up the pace.
And pick up the pace I did. Holy crap, I felt great! I saw my oldest son a little before the mile marker – sweet boy, he rolled out of bed at 7:30 on a Sunday morning to walk outside and cheer for his mom. No time to chat, though, I was flying!
I steamrolled past… well, everybody. This is the real magic of starting near the back for me. I love to pass people. It makes the time go by quickly and I really enjoy having small micro-goals during a race. Skirt Girl, I’m coming for you. Knee Brace, you’re easy pickings. Young Thing? Ha! You’re getting passed by an old lady.
I was somewhere around Mile Three when I tucked in behind the 2-hour pace group. That seemed way too early. I had a brief moment of doubt. I mean, last year it took every single ounce of everything I had in me to run a 1:59. Was I really cocky enough to speed past the 2-hour group less than a quarter of the way into this race?
Yes. Yes I was.
I chatted for a moment with a friend of mine in the group (who ran a kick-ass race herself!), but it was time to go, so I went.
There’s a nice portion of out-and-back in these early miles, so I cheered for the many speedy people I know – my son’s friend who WON the 10K (by a lot!), my son’s other friend who won her age (by a lot!), and my friend who finished second female in the half (just nine seconds ahead of the third girl, such an awesome finish!) – and before I knew it, I was at the turnaround myself.
Six-ish miles in, there I was near my house again, and this time both kiddos were outside cheering! I hollered that I’d see them again at Mile 12 and went on my way. I had another pace group to catch.
I had been eyeing the 1:55 pace group for a while and I could tell I was getting closer, but it was also getting a little bit harder to keep my pace. I knew I was far enough off the gun time that passing that group would mean a very likely PR for me (set in 2010, when I was a mere child at age 40 – 1:53:05), so I obviously wanted to get in front of them, but kept having flashbacks to the MoMary when hitting my goal so early in the race left me wiped out.
I hemmed and hawed for a bit, but finally decided that if I was going to crash and burn that it was going to be spectacular, so off I went.
And much like the MoMary, suddenly there was nobody in front of me. The 10K runners had split off and the half marathon field had spread out so far at this point (the race is pretty small, just 400 runners) that there was a good stretch of nothing between me and the runners ahead of me. Yikes!
So I put on my competitive big girl panties and set out to catch them.
One by one, I put them in my rear view mirror. The speedy guys who complimented me on negative splitting the course, the girl who was probably my age, the young guy.
I saw my kids’ track teammate volunteering at one of the intersections and he cheered for me, which was so sweet. I think I smiled the first time I saw him, but when I looped back around, I’m pretty sure all I had left in me was a grunt. This was getting tough and I still had several miles to go.
Somewhere around Mile 8 or 9, a woman passed me. I mention it because she was literally the only person to pass me all morning long. She was flying! I have a thing I tell my kids (and myself) about passing people in a race: you need to do it decisively, with a burst of speed, so they don’t feel like they can catch back up. I actually use the phrase “you need to crush their spirit and grind them under your feet,” which sounds kind of bad now that I’m putting it in writing, but, you know what? I’m going to keep it here. It’s true. That’s how you win races.
Anyway, that’s how this woman passed me. She was the windshield, I was the bug. I vowed not to let it bother me, but she was probably my age, so it was a little bothersome. I was just about deciding to let her go because there was no way I could catch up when she absolutely gave up. Like, slowed to a complete crawl. It was weird. Apparently passing me was all she had.
But I had more.
The effort was becoming much more of an effort at this point (maybe Mile 10?). My stomach was starting to knot up and complain, my legs were telling me that they had seen happier days and my mind was starting to drift out of focus a little. It was time for loud, angry rap music to save the day. I cranked up the volume and pushed harder. I sang out loud. I passed one more guy and set my sights on the two men in race shirts who seemed impossibly far ahead of me. I really didn’t think I would catch them, but it gave me something to shoot for.
I’ll be honest, I was struggling. I thought I was pushing harder, but my splits will tell you otherwise. Miles 11 and 12 were slow. I really didn’t want to be running this fast anymore, thank you very much.
I caught the first race shirt guy when he stopped at the final aid station – too easy – and decided that if I did nothing else that day, I was going to catch the second race shirt guy. I looked at my watch for the first time all morning and my heart caught at the sight. I was running faster than I had dared to hope, so maybe I had a little more in the tank.
A little past Mile 12, I looked around wildly for my kids, but they weren’t there. No time to worry about it, I had less than a mile to the finish line. Just as I was crossing the street, they came hustling around the corner, hollering for me – I was earlier than they had expected. Yeah, I was! “PR today!” I shouted at them.
It took me until Mile 12.9, but I caught that second race shirt guy, and as a fine, fine little bonus, I passed a woman who was almost certainly my age right after him. BOOM!
I was so excited to turn that final corner and see that wonderful clock! You know, even though I was totally feeling the work and even though my Garmin was telling me that I had hit a great pace, there was just something so magical about seeing those looming red numbers, confirming that I had just run my fastest half marathon in over SIX YEARS.
I shouted and smiled and waved at my mom (thanks for coming out to cheer for me, mom!). I saw my speedy friend and gave her the thumbs up (thanks for the photo, Keather!!), and I’m pretty sure I remembered to smile for the finish line camera before I burst into happy tears. What a day, what a triumph!
Finish time 1:51:16
This is it for road racing for the time being. It’s been a grand winter and spring, and I’m so happy with where my training has taken me these last speedy months, so now it’s time to see what the trails have in store for me. Is it too much to hope that some of what I’ve been doing lately will translate onto the dirt?? We’ll see.