The main headline going into this race, and frankly all through the race, was the weather. It was miserable. Temperatures in the high 30s/low 40s, but it felt colder because (a) it rained the whole time; and (b) the wind was gusting up to 40 mph.
I had planned my outfit pretty carefully and overall I think I did a good job. When I’m not running, I can’t stand the cold. But as soon as I start moving I heat up pretty quickly. And then when I stop it’s back to misery. So I wore capris, a tank, arm warmers and gloves. Over that I put a fleece zip-up jacket that I had bought at Goodwill. Over that I put a big green poncho to keep everything dry. I also wore my pink “Run Happy” hat. I opted not to carry water, so I just wore my spibelt, and put in it three salted caramel Gu (I only used two but wanted an extra) and my phone, which I put in a plastic bag. I also brought a drop bag with a full set of warm clothes in it.
I stayed at a hotel that was about a mile and a half from the start, so I walked there. The good thing about where I was is that I didn’t have to worry about finding parking or waiting in line for portapotties. But it also meant that by the time I got to the starting line, my shoes and socks were soaked through. I tried to shrug it off and tell myself it was going to happen regardless so it might as well be now, but I did worry about doing a full 13.1 in soggy shoes.
I didn’t come up with a solid race plan until the night before the race. This is what I came up with.
For my workouts I usually use specific HR zones. I wanted to give myself a little more flexibility for the race, but still use the HR to keep myself from going out too fast, as I have done in most of the half marathons I’ve run.
For the first 1.5 miles, I chose 130-150, which is between Zones 2 and 3. I knew I wanted to start easy, but I also know that my HR tends to spike during the first mile or so and then settle in, so I wanted to leave some room for that to happen without having to slow down TOO much.
This mostly worked. My HR alert still went off a lot during that first mile and a half, but when I saw the numbers they were only in the low 150s. And I was running into one heck of a headwind, plus the excitement of starting the race, so it makes sense that my HR was a little high. I stayed about where I wanted to start pace-wise. About a mile in, I ditched my $2.63 Goodwill jacket. Mile 1 was 10:22.
For the next 8.5 miles I used 140-160, which is the top of Zone 2 to the bottom of Zone 4. Again, I wanted some flexibility based on how I was feeling, while still keeping loose boundaries. I realized while running this section that because of how it was programmed, my watch wasn’t showing me my splits. That was not a bad thing. In the past, I let my splits affect my mental game too much. If I saw a “fast” split I would worry that I wasn’t leaving enough in the tank for the rest of the race. If I saw a “slow” split I would fret about not meeting my goal. Without my splits and with no pace screen on my watch (also intentional), most of the time I had no idea how fast I was running, although I could see in general that I was averaging about 10 minute miles.
Around mile 3-4, my friend Liz (“other Liz”) started to drop back a bit. She said I had picked up the pace to mid-9s, and I now see that although mile 2 was 10:18, mile 3 was 9:56 and mile 4 was 9:29. So I definitely had picked it up, probably a smidge too much. We lost the crazy headwind about this time, which I’m sure is the main reason I had gotten faster. She told me to go on, but I did back off a bit, because I knew if I was outrunning her comfortable pace then I was definitely running too fast.
Shortly after mile 4 I stopped to take my first Gu. Because everything was wet and cold this was harder than it should have been. I dropped one of my gloves (which was soaking wet by then anyway) and although someone was nice enough to pick it up and give it to me, by then it was REALLY wet. I couldn’t face putting it back on my hand, so I carried it until I dropped it for good at my next Gu stop. Mile 4 was 10:11, probably because of the time lost dealing with the Gu. Mile 6 was 9:50. Right on track.
Around mile 6 I started to be aware that this was pretty hard. I crossed the 10K mat in 1:02 something, which I knew was about where I wanted to be. I was working hard but not dying. I tried to simply focus on the mile I was in and not to think about all the miles I still had to go, but it was a lot of work not to let my mind go there.
And then something amazing happened. I heard a guy talking about how he had run more than 400 half marathons. And then other Liz pointed out that the guy was BART FREAKING YASSO, and he was right next to me. So I ran next to him for a minute and told him I had heard him on about 10 different podcasts. I told him how helpful the “run the mile you’re in” mantra that I got from the Runner’s World podcast he was in was, and thanked him. He didn’t seem to be terribly chatty and I was vaguely aware that I was making an ass of myself, so I kept going past him and didn’t see him again. But still, AMAZING. I got a burst of energy. I didn’t want to do poorly in a race where I got to talk to Bart Yasso.
I’m not sure exactly what mile it was, but at one point while we were running through Ft. Story we hit a sandy area. And the sand was flying at us sideways. People were stopping to take pictures of it. I turned my head away from it, braced against the wind and miraculously managed not to get any in my eyes. But it was crazy.
I don’t remember a lot of miles 7-10, honestly. I know it was starting to hurt. I still had no idea how fast we were going but it felt like a good clip and Liz said we were doing okay. Like a good pacer she was starting to run a step in front of me and I just tried to chase her. I kept repeating to myself, “get comfortable with the uncomfortable,” and it helped a bit. I stopped around mile 8.4 at the water stop to take my second Gu. Miles 7 and 8 were both 9:43 (partially due to the lift from seeing Bart, no doubt), mile 9 was 10:07 (the Gu probably slowed me down again) and mile 10 was 9:59.
My race plan involved picking up the pace for the last 5K. I had programmed my watch for a 150-175 bpm HR, which is all out for me. But when I got there I didn’t have an all out effort in me. Liz said we didn’t need to pick it up until mile 11 and I was relieved. My HR alert kept going off telling me my HR was under 150, which seemed impossible because I felt exhausted and like I was working my butt off. Mile 11 was 9:50.
Mile 12 was where it REALLY started to hurt. I started to feel a bit nauseous and whined that I was going to throw up (I didn’t). I knew we were close and my goal was in sight but it still felt so far. Despite my plan I did slow up a bit this mile, it was 10:02.
By mile 13 I knew that I was stupid close to a big PR, so I put my head down and worked. It hurt like hell. But it was my second fastest mile of the day at 9:40. By the end of mile 13 we had turned onto the boardwalk.
Veteran Shamrockers know this, so I had been warned, and other Liz reminded me. But when you turn onto the boardwalk, it looks like the finish line is right there. It’s not. It’s actually more than a quarter mile away, which is a lot for a final kick. I definitely sped up here, but I didn’t feel like I had any speed left in me. I think I hit 13.1 miles on my watch right at 2:10, but of course I weaved and didn’t run tangents perfectly (or really try to run them at all, I was just surviving), so my total distance was 13.2. Official time was 2:10:54.
I had hoped to run under 2:10, although I’d backed away from that goal the last couple of weeks because I didn’t feel like I was quite there yet. On a perfect day when I wasn’t running in soggy shoes, wearing a poncho and getting constantly beat up by a headwind, I might have done it. But I truly could not be more thrilled with my race.
This is the best part.
I truly stuck with my plan and I negative split the race. I have never come close to doing that with a half before.
Things that went well about this race:
- Came up with a good plan and stuck to it.
- Fueling: Gu at miles 4 and 8 seemed to be just right. None of the nausea-inducing (for me) Gatorade/Powerade, but water at almost every water stop (I think I skipped the mile 12.5 stop).
- Wardrobe: For the conditions, I think I dressed about as well as I could have. It was going to suck no matter what I wore but I don’t think my clothing held me back.
- I generally stayed in a good headspace. When I felt my brain going negative, I tried to interrupt it with more positive thoughts.
- I kept fighting. There were times when I felt like the wheels were coming off and I wanted to stop. I did back off the pace a little to get myself together a few times, but I didn’t stop and walk like I have in the past.
Things that went not so well about this race:
- The weather, obviously. Although other than the headwinds, it wasn’t bad racing weather.
- If I’m being nitpicky, I might have sped up a little bit too much in miles 3 and 4. But given that I stayed within the HR range I wanted to be in and I couldn’t see my actual pace, I don’t feel too badly about that.
Coming up: final thoughts on how the 80/20 running plan worked for me for this cycle.