Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Your best race isn't always your fastest

I am still adjusting to waking up in the dark. But on this morning I am up before my alarm goes off, almost hopping out of bed before I realize it is only 5am and I need my sleep. It is Sunday. Race day. So I drift back into dreamland for a while longer, until my alarm shakes me from the quiet and I know I must start getting ready.

Pre-race ritual is usually sunblock all over, then body glide, then getting dressed. I start to make breakfast, and pour myself a glass of half water half Gatorade and at the same time I prep my water bottle for the race. Everything is laid out neatly on my living room table, my bib pinned to my shirt, extra clothes already packed, it's almost too easy. I am excited about this race, even though it is dark, and I am tired and want to crawl back into bed, I have a really good feeling. This really good feeling may be because I have Katie Perry's "Teenage Dream" playing in my ears and I am fashioning my hair into a perky ponytail onto which I will attach my lucky team challenge bow. But it does't matter why I am feeling good, just that I am. Before I know it Boyfriend is outside and ready to go. I throw on a jacket, grab my bag and we are on our way.

I should have known when I walked out the front door and did not feel a chill of fall air that it would be a warmer day than planned, but under my jacket was my Team Challenge singlet, the perfect race top. Parking was a disaster. I chose to park in the Powelton village area, because it's just a short walk across the Spring Garden Bridge to the art museum (which is a really good warm up) and because I used to live in that area in college and I like the familiarity of it all. It took about fifteen minutes to find a spot, after lots of cursing, and and U-turns. Thankfully I had left plenty of time for this.

Poor Boyfriend was not feeling well, and could not sense my urgency of getting to the race area so I could use the bathroom. If there is anything I am afraid of, it is being in the bathroom when the race starts. The bigger the race the more afraid I am. Yes I realize afterwards there is a whole lot of standing around and waiting but I would rather have the bathroom thing out of the way. We found the finish line, picked a meeting place (for after the race), and by some sort of dumb luck found a group of port-a-potties that did not have an insanely long line. Hey I'm not complaining one little bit.

This is when I started to feel nervous. I don't know why, maybe it was that I hadn't spend the day before resting, or that I had gone on a 3 mile walk the day before, or maybe I realized this was a true test of my fitness thus far, and I didn't want to disappointed myself. I had my plan in my head, drink and food in my hand, and I went over the course with Boyfriend. I told him where the race went, how long it would take me to get to each point, and when I expected to cross the finish. I advised him to go down to the start and watch for me to cross the start line so he would know when to expect me to finish. As it turns out that wasn't very helpful.

The corals were crowded and full of conversation. I chose to stay quiet and simply observe everything going on around me. All the first timers, the decorated shirts, discussions about playlists and choice of media player and headphones. Fuel belts, headbands, I watched others stretch and discuss strategy. It is probably one of my favorite things about races, being surrounded by so many others that understand your passion or love for the sport. Of course there are plenty of newbies and people that don't get like you do, but the chances that the ones who understand are right there with you are higher than ever. Slowly but surely we made our way to the start (coral 11) and the race was beginning. This was my race, I owned it, I was in charge of it.

Mile 1 is always the hardest to keep pace. There is always so much excitement, the spectators are out in full force cheering, hollering, ringing cow bells and waving signs. It feels great and you just want to rocket through feeling like a rock star. But I hold myself back because I know this race is a test, this race is a practice for Philly and I want it to be right. I soak up the scenery, the people around me, the music, but a part of me is alone in my head, concentrating on what I need to do. Thankfully it worked, and at mile 1 I am happy with my split time, right on target and I feel great. Mile 2-3 felt great as well but pacing wise, that is where things started getting screwy. I never saw the mile 3 marker, so I didn't check my pace until I got to the 5k marker, which threw me off a bit (the downfalls of not having a Garmin, but I hear they were all screwy in the city anyways). So when I hit mile 4 my pace was also thrown off. I started relying on my breathing to gauge my pace instead of my time. If I was out of breath I was too fast and needed to slow down. Between 4 and 5 I saw Boyfriend on the sidelines (who was finally able to get some coffee) and then caught up with a co-worker who was running the race as well. I stuck with her for about two miles (missed a marked in there somewhere) until I realized I was going a bit fast, but at this point the race was more than half over and the idea of slowing down wasn't sitting well with me.

This was the part of the race where the course gets boring, and it is easy to slow down, but my body refused. All I could remember was the last four miles of the PDR in 2007 and running as everyone around me passed me, my legs just not containing enough energy to keep up the pace from earlier in the race. I kept telling myself "not this time, don't let yourself slack, just keep pushing". As a practice race for Philly I should have slowed down. But there was a part of me, a selfish irresponsible part of me that really wanted to see what I was made of, that really wanted to see how hard I could push myself. I held the pace. Before I knew it we were at Falls bridge, the rest was just a home stretch, and that's when the sun came out. I was still feeling somewhere between good and great, literally singing to myself every now and again to make sure I wasn't pushing it too hard. I can't explain what happened to me in those last few miles, where my energy came from or why, but I pushed forwards in a way I never have before. In the last few miles of that race I tapped into an energy that had laid inside me dormant, just waiting for me to learn to race properly. Start out easy, give it everything you have at the end.

Oh and what an end it was. The sun in your eyes, the crowd cheering louder and louder as you approach the finish, that 13 mile marker looking like heaven to my tired eyes. A mere 0.1 mile stood between me and glory. And as I looked at my watch and realized I was going to have my best half marathon race of the year I was in such disbelief. That race, was amazing.

2:02:47 is my official chip time. And while this is not a PR (1:57:01) I am more proud of this race, than my PR race. When I got my PR I was sloppy and inexperienced. I went out far too fast and paid for in on the second half. I didn't drink or fuel at all during the race, and when I crossed the finish line I wanted to die. Literally die because the second half was so miserable. I think it shows I have come a long way. I am proud and excited in so many ways I cannot even explain. Because I know once I perfect my racing skills of even pacing and even effort, faster times will come as well. I am now more excited than ever to keep training for Philly, knowing that I am only going to get stronger with the right training. I'm ready to fall in love with the marathon again.

What do you value more? Running a smart race, or running a PR no matter how miserable it was to get?

xx Sara


Denise said...

i totally agree...a PR doesn't always make for a great, memorable race. congrats!

Rachel said...

congrats on having such an awesome race! i totally agree with you that a PR is not always everything. so excited for you to conquer your marathon!

That Pink Girl said...

Congratulations on a great race! You're right, having a good race isn't always about the PR. After all, it's unrealistic to think we can ALWAYS PR. But we can still have an amazing race! Sounds like you were really in the zone - glad you were able to own it!!!