Monday, September 22, 2014

A race I am proud of

Yesterday morning, I ran the Rock 'N Roll Philadelphia half marathon. My primary focus of the race was as follows:

  • Practice staying mentally tough and pushing through the hard parts- no negative thoughts!
  • Running by feel, and not letting the Garmin control my pace
  • Gaging my fitness level for my upcoming marathon next month
About 10 days out from the race, I started thinking about what my time range goal was, and I realized that I wasn't sure what I capable of, given my training has been much more intense than any previous cycle. 

In fact, I ran one workout as follows: 2 x 3 miles at half marathon pace, with a 4:00 recovery jog in that middle. The half marathon pace miles averaged 7:19, and I felt like I could have even gone faster. Based on this workout, my coach and I determined I should run the half marathon based on feel, not looking at the watch, because I could end up seeing much faster paces than ever before in a half marathon. And this made me giddy with excitement. The thought of finally breaking 1:40 and then some!

As the race approached, and the weather forecast solidified, I felt less confident about running a PR, but I didn't rule it out and decided I would still run based on feel. The weather forecast was for seasonably warm, humid weather, which was ironic after such a seasonably cool week. I did find myself looking at the forecast every morning, wondering what this meant for me, but by the Friday before the race, I had fully accepted it and was determined to run my best no matter what the weather was.

I felt very well rested and relaxed going into this race. I had slept an average of 8 hours per night for
I wore this same outfit during my fast tempo run!
the entire week leading up to the race, if not more. With my increased training volume, I have found myself exhausted and needing lots and lots of sleep. Thankfully, I've been able to get this sleep by going to bed early and managing my stress levels. 

Greg and I woke up on race morning, had our bagels, got dressed, pinned our bibs on and were off. I was happy that the race had a D-tag instead of a B-tag, which meant I could make the bib small enough to fit on my sports bra without bending any sensors. 

As we walked to the race, we were thankful that the sky was overcast, and hoping that it would stay that way. It didn't feel overly hot, maybe about room temperature. But as Greg later said-- it was deceiving. You don't feel "hot" but you sweat buckets and your body has to work extra hard to keep you cool. So far, everything was going according to plan. Sleep, check. Hydration, check. Low anxiety levels, check. Acceptance of weather, check. Race strategy, check. Injury free, check. Went to the bathroom, check.

Miles 1-3
My plan was to not look at my Garmin but to run by feel. Unfortunately, I ended up looking because my watched beeped on auto-lap well before the mile marker, so I looked at it. And then I hit the lap button again when I got to the mile marker so I would have an accurate split for this race report! I noticed I was running just under a 8:00 pace, which was very conservative. It felt like the race pace for a half marathon and after having running 25+ half marathons, I know what half marathon pace should feel like. 

I basically just stayed relaxed during these miles, making sure to drink water regularly and ease into things. Everything seemed to be going pretty well, and I wasn't worried about the slowish splits on my watch because I knew I still had a long way to go.

Mile 1: 7:55
Mile 2: 7:53
Mile 3: 7:43

Miles 4-6
I was looking forward to getting out of the city and running down by the water. I ran through a very
large cheering station at mile 5 (where the start line was) and realized that some runners hadn't even begun the race yet! I did not like the large crowd cheering at me. I've noticed this in past big-city marathons that the really loud crowds are jarring for me and I would much prefer to run in peace and quiet. I also didn't like the loud bands. I guess anything "loud" during a race annoys me!

I still felt good at this point and was confident in my ability to speed up and to execute as planned. I was definitely exerting a hard effort, but I felt like I had a lot of gas in the tank still. Mile 6 was a lengthy downhill and that felt great. I remember last year running down that hill and having it energize me for the next few miles.

Mile 4: 7:39
Mile 5: 7:45
Mile 6: 7:41

Miles 7-9
I ran through the 10K marker feeling confident and pumped for the rest of the race. I kept strong, putting out a hard effort and glanced down at my Garmin, and noticed I was in the 8's. Hmmm. I told myself to push more and try to get back down into the 7's. So I pushed harder. And harder. And no matter how hard I pushed, I didn't feel like I was going any faster.  Greg later told me that he thought this part of the course was uphill, but to me it didn't seem to be uphill, it seemed flat.

When I hit the 8-mile marker, I looked down at the split and it was well into the 8's. I was surprised. I didn't feel like I had slowed down that much and I was exerting a greater level of effort that I had been at the beginning of the race. I asked myself if I was truly giving 100% and the answer was yes. I told myself that my goal was to run a race that I would be proud of. I needed to make sure that I was always giving 100% at all times and never giving up. I didn't think I was particularly mentally tough during the last half marathon I ran and I wanted to make up for that here. No matter how bad I felt, no mater what the watch said, I was going to give 100%. I was truly going to leave it all out there.

I think my previous self would have gotten discouraged by the paces and given up mentally, perhaps taking walk breaks and not pushing as hard. But I vowed not to do that. I wanted so badly to feel good about this race! So I told myself, "run a race to be proud of".  After the race, Greg and I would be taking some vacation, and I didn't want to spend that vacation depressed or miserable because of a shitty race. So I kept reminding myself of how I wanted to feel about my performance afterwards, and that really kept me strong.

Mile 7: 7:50
Mile 8: 8:16
Mile 9: 8:44

Miles 10-13
Toward the end of the race
Mile 9 is an uphill mile, and once it was complete, I started to feel a bit better. I told myself that I could still try to get back in the 7's. With only 4 miles to go I told myself that it should be easy for me to run 4 miles at a sub-8:00 pace. I energized myself, I motivated myself, and I told myself I could do it. Unfortunately, reality kicked in after the first of those miles and I found myself really struggling. At that point, I was doing everything in my power to maintain my effort and not just quit. 

Physically, I just couldn't go any faster. 

I gave it all I had until the very end, and there was no final kick. I almost always have a very strong final kick, but this time I couldn't muster one extra ounce of energy. It took all I had to just maintain my pace during that last 0.1 mile. 

Mile 10: 8:08
Mile 11: 8:56
Mile 12: 8:28
Mile 13: 8:57

The Finish Line, and Beyond
I crossed the finish line and I saw Greg. At first, I was not able to talk to him. I tried to get words out, but they just wouldn't come. Then, I started to feel disoriented. I started having strange thoughts, like the thoughts you have just as you are starting to fall asleep and dream. I panicked because I thought I was going to pass out, which made things worse. But ultimately, I was okay. I just needed awhile to recover. And actually, I couldn't believe I was actually running just a few minutes prior, knowing how horrible it felt to be stopped. If I had stopped before crossing the finish line, there is a good chance I just wouldn't have crossed it. 

To pour salt in the wound, as Greg and I were walking back from the hotel, I tripped on the sidewalk, and nearly fell flat on my face. 

My official time was 1:47:14, and I had no idea what it was going to be until I finished and looked at my watch. 

Key Takeaways
Although this is one of my slowest half marathons in the past five years, I feel good about my performance. I didn't really have a time goal to begin with-- I was more focused on executing well and keeping mentally tough. 

While I know I'm not supposed to compare myself to others, I think this race confirms what I have suspected for years-- the heat and humidity affect me more than the average runner. I think that most runners probably ran a good 2-4 minutes slower than they would have in cooler, less humid weather. For me, that delta is more like 6-8 minutes. I trained all summer in the humid weather. And I actually ran pretty well in the humidity during training. But when I am putting out 100% effort (which I don't do in training) my body doesn't respond well. I remember when I was a teenager in dance class. When the class was over, my face would be beet red. Nobody else's would be and I was often asked if I was okay because of how red my face got. 

So, it's nothing to be upset about, but rather something to simply accept. Training in the heat and humidity will help me acclimate, but it will only go so far. The good thing about this race was that I didn't go into it "expecting" to bonk. I went into it with confidence and I ran it by feel. Unfortunately, my body just wasn't able to sustain a fast pace in those conditions.

So, what are the key takeaways from this race?
  • I've come a long way in terms of reducing my race anxiety and being able to sleep in the days leading up to the race.
  • Although I initially got upset about the weather, I ultimately let it go and was very determined to run my best no matter what.
  • I executed my strategy as planned, starting out at a conservative 7:50's pace and then speeding up. 
  • I used positive self-talk to get myself through the tough parts, and I made sure that I was always running my best, no matter how crappy I felt, or how slow the pace
  • I know I ran my best yesterday
  • I know that the heat/humidity is not "all in my head" and that I truly am affected by these conditions to a greater extent than most people-- even if I train in these conditions and am well acclimated.
  • I know I have the mental toughness I need to get me through the marathon in a few weeks.
  • I'm still confident about my fitness, although I didn't get the gauge/confirmation I was hoping for.
All in all, this was not the race I hoped for, but it is a race I am proud of.


  1. Knowing your ran your best...a great takeaway. I remember a 5k once and I absolutely left nothing out there. It wasn't my best time for a 5k by a long shot, but it was the best I have ever done.....if that makes sense.

  2. You can train to run at specific paces and distances, eat all the right foods, and get great sleep... but you cannot control the weather. It sounds like you did a great job of training and working hard, running your best, and staying strong. Fortunately it will cool down soon and hopefully you will really be able to fly then. Completing a half marathon in hot weather is definitely an accomplishment even if it's not a PR.