Sunday, March 3, 2024

My First Sub 90 Minute Half Marathon

The title of this blog post gave away the ending! Now let’s start at the beginning.

This morning I ran the Newport News One City Half Marathon. This was my goal race for the spring, and I trained specifically for it. Even though I am running the Boston Marathon in April, I oriented all of my training towards a half marathon.

In my training I focused primarily on half marathon pace and 10K pace. My goal was to work on improving my lactate threshold. My longest run was 15.5 miles, which included 2 x 3 miles at half marathon pace.

Coming off of a 40:31 PR in the 10K four weeks ago (on a hilly course), I knew I was ready to go for a sub 1:30:00 half marathon; I just had to solidify my endurance and continue to push on my lactate threshold pace. Lactate threshold is the point that your body can no longer clear lactic acid from your muscles, and you can run at that pace for approximately one hour. So it’s between 10K pace and half marathon pace.

I did my final workout 10 days out from the race: 3 x 1600m repeats on the track. They clocked in at 6:25, 6:24, 6:24. And I felt like I could have pushed harder. This workout was the final confidence booster I needed to go for that sub 1:30:00.

I had run this race once before, back in 2020. It was the last race I ran before the world shut down. I had attempted to go sub-90 there, but my fitness wasn’t where it needed to be. I had injured my foot during CIM in December of 2019, so I had to take the first three weeks of January off. My time from 2020 was 1:31:56. I should also mention, that since I ran this race 4 years ago, I have not run any faster in the half marathon. A combination of bad weather, not being fit enough, and simply not running a lot of half marathons contributed to this. So it was really time to run a strong one.

Also, my PR for the half was from November 2019 in Indianapolis. My time there was 1:30:58.

Race week
I woke up on Monday morning and checked the forecast. My heart sank. 50 degrees at the start with a dew point of 50. And of course getting warmer throughout the race. This is still technically winter (despite what the groundhog says) and I was really looking forward to racing in the 30s. All of a sudden it felt like my goal would no longer be possible at this race. My body just melts in the humidity. I decided that if the conditions were unfavorable I would adjust my goal accordingly, and then run another half marathon two weeks later and hope for better weather at that point.

Thankfully, the forecast started to improve slightly as the week went on with starting temps at 46 degrees, rising to 51. If the weather had been in the 30s, I would have been absolutely 100% confident in my ability to break 90. But this weather was a little iffy. I figured I might not get sub 90, but a PR (sub 1:30:58) would still be well within my reach.

Two nights before the race (Friday night) I slept for an incredible 9 hours. I NEVER sleep that much. I had tapered all week long and I could tell my body was really getting into recovery mode. And four nights before the race, I had slept for 8.5 hours! My usual is 7 - 7.5 hours during training. Greg and I drove down to Newport News, VA on Saturday morning. It took us just under three hours. We ate lunch at a really good sandwich shop. I had a turkey sandwich on multigrain bread with lettuce and tomatoes. I also made sure to drink plenty of water and electrolytes all day long.

We arrived at the race expo and I retrieved my bib from the Elite counter. I had qualified for their elite program through my previous times and I was excited to have a bib where my name was larger than the number! I’ve had elite bibs in the past, but never with my last name so prominent. I handed them my water bottle, which I wrapped in zebra duct tape. That bottle would be waiting for me at the elite aid station during mile 8. I filled it with water + Skratch Labs electrolyte mix.

Later that day we headed out to Target to get sunscreen for my face. I almost always put sunscreen on my face when I run, but I didn’t think to bring it because it was supposed to be totally overcast. But the forecast changed at the last minute to be about 75% sunny! We then had dinner with my friend Meredith and a few of her friends. I had my standard chicken parm with no cheese. Cheese can upset my stomach. Meredith would be running the full marathon and her friends in the half.

Before the Race
I woke up feeling pretty good after about 6 hours of sleep. I would have liked to have gotten more sleep, but I wasn’t at all worried, given my epic sleep in the week leading up to the race. I woke up at 4:00 and my alarm went off shortly before 5:00. I had a banana and some almond butter pretzels, which is my new favorite pre-race breakfast. I continued to hydrate with water and electrolytes.

I got dressed: shorts and a crop top. I tried not to think about the fact that all of my other PRs had been set in 30-degree weather wearing capri tights. I could defy the odds! I was confident! We left the hotel at 6:00 and it was a quick 10-minute drive to the start line. Greg stuck around for another 10 minutes and then he left to go to his first spectating point.

There was an elite tent at the start line which had bottled water and gatorade, but I had my own bottle with me. There was a porta potty there which I used, and it was nice not to have a long line. 25 minutes before race start, I had a UCAN gel. I typically drink the powder before races but lately I have found that the gel sits better. I still use the powder before long runs in training.

I warmed up for one mile, including some faster strides. It was 46 degrees, mostly sunny, and humid. I told myself I would be okay. Even if it got into the 50s at the end, I am usually fine if I can stay cool for the bulk of the race. On my personal race weather scale, I give these conditions a 7 out of 10. I might have rated them an 8 if it was spring, summer, or fall. But it’s winter and it should be in the 30s in the morning! A 7 out of 10 on my scale means that conditions are somewhat favorable, but not ideal. The weather will likely pose some challenges, but nothing too major. My plan was to go for the sub-90, but to still be happy with a PR of any kind.

I lined up close to the front, but not right at the front. I was friends with a few of the other elite runners so we chatted a bit. A few of the women asked me about my goal and I told them it was sub 1:30. Others were trying for that same goal.

I was happy to see that there was no 1:30 pace group. I do not like running with pace groups because they tend to start too fast for me. And then it gets in my head if they pass me or I can’t keep up.

Pacing & Fueling Strategy
My plan was to run a pace of 6:50-6:55 for the first three miles, and then run the rest of the race between 6:45-6:50. The course was mostly flat, so even pacing was the way to go. In order to run 1:29:59 for 13.1 miles, you need to run an average pace of 6:52. But since I would be using my Garmin to pace this race (and it measured 13.21 back in 2020) I knew I needed to pace for 6:48 or better. For fueling, the plan was to carry my own fluids for the first 15 minutes and then grab my bottle at mile 8. I would take a Maurten caffeinated gel at 15:00 and a Mauten regular gel at 55:00. There was also the UCAN gel 25 minutes pre-race.

Miles 1-4
The first 2 miles were all about finding my stride and my rhythm. I monitored my Garmin pace closely. It’s easy to go out way too fast in a half marathon if you just run by feel. Thankfully there wasn’t much crowding and after the first 10 minutes I was able to settle in without leap frogging people.

Mile 3
I saw Greg during the third mile. I was very happy to see him and hear him cheering for me.

My mindset during these miles was to stay relaxed and keep the effort controlled. It wasn’t time to push super hard yet. I reminded myself that this could be my PR half marathon, so I should savor the experience.

Mile 1: 6:54
Mile 2: 6:50
Mile 3: 6:47
Mile 4: 6:43

Miles 5-8
I had read my 2020 race report the day before and I knew to expect a lot of twists and turns during the 5th mile. Nothing too horrible, but just annoying and mentally exhausting. This race doesn’t have that many turns, but 50% of them are all squeezed into mile 5. Then we ran through a park which was nicely shaded. I was very thankful for the shade because I had begun to feel the sun beating down on me. It was also during this point in the race when I starting pouring water over my head. Yes, I over heat when it’s in the upper 40s!

I once again remembered the Richmond Marathon from last fall and how there was a similar section. I handled that section by focusing on the serenity of my surroundings and being super zen-like. It was during this time (around mile 7) where I was able to pass a guy. I hadn’t passed anyone since mile 4 and nobody had passed me.

I had no idea what place I was in the field among women. There was one woman about 20 seconds ahead of me for the entire race. I think we ran about the same pace throughout, although she must have run the first two miles a little quicker to be that much ahead of me.

I noted that I hit the 45 minute mark at around 6.6 miles That was a good sign, I was right on pace! But I didn’t have much wiggle room. All I had to do was to repeat what I had just done.

When we came out of the park during the 8th mile I knew the race would start getting hard. This is where I fell apart in 2020. At 55 minutes, I took my second Maurten gel (non caffeinated) which thankfully corresponded to when I picked up my zebra water bottle. I inhaled the gel in one gulp and chased it with my water + Skratch Labs mix. I continued to take water from the water stations and pour it over my head to keep cool. The sun was out in full force now.

Mile 5: 6:47
Mile 6: 6:50
Mile 7: 6:47
Mile 8: 6:50

Miles 9-12
I knew I would have to dig really deep here, and I was mentally prepared. But oh wow, did this hurt. I knew that my sub 1:30 was just 30 minutes away and all I had to do was work SUPER HARD for 30 minutes and my goal would be attained!

I knew that there would be a hill during the 10th mile. It was the only real hill during the race and once I climbed it, there would be no more hills. I knew it would be one of my slowest miles, so when my watch beeped at 6:55, i didn’t let it impact my confidence.

Even though there were no more hills, the race still felt impossibly hard. I tried every mental trick in the book. I oozed positivity. I looked at any sign I could find, read it and then kept repeating the words as a distraction. I told myself “keep giving, keep giving”. I did not want to go soft at this point. I had to fight for it.

The song I had going through my head was "Song To Say Goodbye" by Placebo, which has a driving beat. I imagined it was about saying goodbye to negative thoughts. Saying goodbye to not making my goal. Saying goodbye to the 1:30s. It really helped.

I don’t think it would have been this hard if it were 5-10 degrees cooler, but my energy was getting zapped, my legs were super tired and it was an all-out mental battle. I told myself to embrace the hurt, not to give in, and to fight super hard. I knew that if my pace started to slip above 6:50 then I would miss my goal. I didn’t look at my watch, for fear that it would demoralize me. I just pushed.

I did, however, quickly glance down to see that my elapsed time was 1:17:xx. Only 13 minutes to go. An important 13 minutes. I can do anything for 13 minutes!

Mile 9: 6:46
Mile 10: 6:55
Mile 11: 6:48
Mile 12: 6:52

Mile 13 and the Finish
By this point, I knew I had to hold it together for just one more mile. But I didn’t want to just “hold it together” I wanted to really push with everything I had. No more watch check-ins. Just grit and guts and grunts. There was a huge American flag at the end of a very long straight stretch and I just kept my eyes on that flag.

My last mile clocked in at 6:44 (second fastest mile of the race) and I ran a pace of 6:19 for the final 0.22.

As I approached the finish line I saw 1:29:xx on the clock and I vowed not to let it reach 1:30. I crossed, knowing that my clock time was under 1:30. I had finally broken 90 minutes! I did it!

I crossed the finish line and I felt like I was on death’s doorstep. I walked a little bit through the finish line chute, got my medal, and then pulled over to the side to vomit. I almost always vomit after half marathons, and today was no exception. But I felt worlds better after I did.

Greg found me and showed me that my official time was 1:29:51. Just barely made it! It took me a few minutes to recover before I could get moving again. Once I did, we made our way to the Elite finish area, where we had our own food and amenities. Once there, I changed clothing and created my Instagram video while waiting for the marathoners to start pouring in. Once the video was posted, we went back out to the course to cheer for Meredith. It was such an amazing morning!

I placed 12th out of 405 women and 2nd out of 45 women in my age group. We didn't stay for the awards because we were anxious to get lunch and get going. When the final official results came out, my time was listed as 1:29:50.

Final Thoughts and Key Takeaways
What a race! This was basically a case of me knowing what I was capable of and just having the sheer will to get it done. Weather be dammed! I definitely think the weather made those last four miles extra challenging and the ideal conditions would have yielded an even faster time but I am in no way complaining.

This was a PR by 1:07, finally bettering my 1:30:58 from Indianapolis back in 2019.

Per the McMilan calculator, my finish time correlates to a 10K of 40:18 and a marathon of 3:09:06. So at the age of 45, there could be even more PRs ahead of me.

To get to this point, I ran low-for-me mileage. I only had three weeks that were above 50 miles, and those weeks were 52, 56, and 51.5. My longest run was 15.5 miles. I relied on my natural endurance and focused on my lactate threshold.

I attribute my recent fitness gains to self-coaching and resolving my once-chronic Achilles tendinitis. Having been racing/training for nearly 20 years, I am super in tune with my body. I believe that following how my body feels on a daily basis is the best guide for my training schedule. I am constantly modifying my plan based on how my body is feeling and responding to workouts. And with my Achilles pain having disappeared, I have more ankle mobility, which allows for a longer stride, which contributes to a faster pace at the same effort. 

Probably the biggest takeaway is how mentally strong I was during the final miles. Things got really hard and it would have been so easy to back off of my sub-90 goal and still walk away with a small PR of 1:30:xx. I really had to fight for it and I am glad I did.

\\his feels amazing. PR cake and champagne tonight. Boston training starts tomorrow!


  1. Wow. CONGRATS! This is so well written! I was surprised to get a bit emotional reading the '13 miles to the finish' section. So good. You're an inspiration!

  2. I'm just so impressed by your consistency--those splits! You ran a perfect race. Congrats Elisabeth!! Yes, there are more PRs in your future.


  3. way to go Zebra sticking to the plan and staying positive thru the difficult points! Yah focusing on lactate threshold training is the most important factor if you want to run half or full marathon as fast as possible! Recover smartly, then segue into training for Boston.

  4. Yes yes yes yes yes on the sub 90! That cake had to be the sweetest ever.

    I would bet money that your PR days are just starting. You've already achieved so much, but I feel like it's just a warm up for what is to come.

  5. WooHoo! Congratulations, Elizabeth! I'm sure you have plenty more PRs in you yet! AV