Background: Running for a Cause
I am the Director of Marketing for a software company called InfinityQS. It's a smallish company with a family-like atmosphere, privately held and with no venture capital funding. As such, we have the freedom to donate as much as we would like to charity. A few years ago, the company decided to make St. Jude Children's Research Hospital it's charity partner. The company pledged to donate $1 million.
As the Director of Marketing and an avid runner, I had the idea of sponsoring the marathon. Since we had already committed to donating $1 million, I figured that $10,000 of that could go to the marathon as a way to involve our employees. I assembled a team of co-workers, including the CEO himself. My fiance also ran on the team as well as my running partner who had moved to Atlanta last spring.
As a sponsor of the race, we were able to exhibit at the expo. My fiance and I flew down on Thursday morning and set up the exhibit. We weren't really marketing to the runners, but we figured we should take advantage of the opportunity to get our name out to the community. Surprisingly, two users of InfinityQS software approached the booth and told me how great the software was and how much it was helping their company. There were a few other people who were really interested in learning about the software, which was nice.
On Friday, the other team members arrived. Our team raised over $3,000 in addition to the sponsorship money, so there was a lot to be proud of. This includes $500 from one of my Runner's World friends, who raised this money in less than 24 hours!!!! I personally raised $485. The CEO came with his son, his sister, and his brother-in-law. He was excited to be there and to see that we had the exhibit set up.
The race itself was awesome. The forecast was for low 30's and sunny, so I wore tights, a long-sleeved shirt, gloves and a hat. I probably could have done without the hat, but it turned out to be ideal racing weather. At the start line, my fiance (Greg), my running partner (Lindsay) and I lined up in the coral for the 8:00 pace. The rest of the InfinityQS team was far back as they hadn't really trained and had never run more than a few miles at a time.
Given the fact that I only had 8 weeks to train for this (due to the injury) and that my longest run was only 14 miles, I was not expecting a PR. My 1:44:04 was set after weeks in the 50's and a few 20-milers. Plus, that race was flat and this was hilly. I thought I would be lucky to pull of a 1:46. Lindsay and Greg said that they were going to let me be their pacer and try to keep up as long as possible. I thought that I would probably be the LAST one to finish, given Greg's recent 10K time and Lindsay's training on the hills. But I am good at pacing, so I agreed. My strategy was to start out at 8:05 and try to hold on.
Even though headphones were allowed during this race, I didn't use them. I wanted to be able to communicate with Lindsay and Greg and hear everyone cheering them. This ended up working out great and I think I will continue to race without headphones in races where there is a lot of crowd support.
I knew that the first mile had a net uphill elevation and the second mile would be a major loss in elevation. So I ran accordingly. My plan was to maintain an even level of effort, which meant slower on the uphills and faster on the downhills. I think that Lindsay was more comfortable with the hills, so she did not slow down on the uphills. She maintained an even pace. Every time we reached a hill, she would get ahead of me, and then I would typically catch her on the downhill.
Mile 1: 8:07
Mile 2: 7:51
Mile 3: 8:02
Mile 4: 7:48
At mile 5, I took a "honey stinger" engery gel. This was my first time using the honey in a race, although I had used it in training. I thought it would be easier and quicker than the sports beans. That was true, but some honey might have gone down the wrong pipe, so I was coughing and having a really tough time. Lindsay and Greg went ahead as I drank some water and re-grouped. I caught back up about 30 seconds later.
Everything was feeling surprisingly good and I started to think that maybe I would get a 1:45. There was a 10K timing mat and I crossed it in 49:36. My 10K PR is not too far off from that. I thought how odd it was that I felt so great at that point, but in a 10K race, I would be dying at that pace. I need to figure out why that is. In the results, they "rank" you at the 10K split. I was ranked 16th in my age group at that point. Lindsay crossed it just ahead of me and was ranked 15th. My fiance Greg was somewhere behind me and I wasn't sure how far. He removed his long sleeved shirt at mile 5 and that slowed him down. He later told me that he had me in sight all the way through mile 9. I thought I had lost him at around the 10K mark.
After crossing the 10K, the was a downhill and I sped down it passing Lindsay. I figured she would catch up but I never saw her again. Surprisingly, I was leading the two of them, which I did not think would be the case. My paces continued to surprise me, but everything felt great.
Mile 5: 7:48
Mile 6: 7:58
Mile 7: 7:52
Mile 8: 7:52
At this point, I was starting to feel a bit worn out. I knew that miles 8-10 were a net uphill. I told myself to hang in there and once I hit mile 10, the elevation would start to decrease. I decided to eat my sports beans at mile 8, which was earlier than planned. It was a challenge to eat them because when you are breathing so heavily, trying to chew something hard like that and swallow is difficult. I said to myself "eating these beans is crucial to your performance. You need them to get through the rest of the race. Just focus on chewing them and not choking them." I ended up shoving about 8 of them in my mouth at once and throwing out the rest of the pack. Once I was done, I was able to focus more on the race.
There was a huge hill at mile 10. It took a lot of positive self talk. "Maintain an even effort. Don't worry about pace here. You will be able to make it up on the downhills. Stay confident, don't overdo it here. Just focus on getting to the top of the hill and maintaining the effort level." I did have to push a little bit harder because the hill was long and somewhat steep, but once I made it to the top, I knew that I had the race "in the bag". Mile 10 ended up being the slowest mile of the race, but I made up for it in the last mile. I knew I had run a great race strategy because I was able to maintain my pace but I was definitely feeling it. The last two miles were brutal, but I maintained my focused and stayed positive. The last mile of the race ended up being my fastest mile. I thought I might be able to get a PR so I gave it all I had.
Mile 9: 7:54
Mile 10: 8:14
Mile 11: 7:52
Mile 12: 8:04
Mile 13: 7:44
Last 0.21: (7:15 pace)
I crossed the finish line knowing that I didn't PR, but I was happy at how close I came. I honestly didn't expect to run the race so quickly. Considering how much hillier this course was than Shamrock, I think this is my strongest half marathon. I could have definitely PRed on a flat course.
Greg crossed the finish line soon after me, and I learned that he had me in his sight up until mile 9. Lindsay followed about a minute later.
My finish time was a 1:44:30 which is a pace of 7:59. This is 26 seconds slower than my PR. My Garmin indicated 13.21 miles at an average pace of 7:55, due to all the weaving.
I was ranked as the 16th woman in my age group at the 10K mark, but at the finish, I was ranked 11th. This means that I passed 5 women in my age group after the 10K mark.
I placed 11 of 762 in my age group, beating 98.6% of them.
I placed 82 out of 4278 women, beating 98.1% of them.
I will definitely be doing this race again, and my company will continue to be a sponsor.