Alright, 2018 Training and Racing, let’s go.
This training cycle that started in December wasn’t to optimize for a half PR; it was a tuneup for Boston in April. I figured that two months out would be a great time to test my fitness at the half marathon distance, and get a sense of where I need some work in my marathon training. In December, I upped my typical 30-40 miles per week to 40-45 miles per week, and started speed workouts in earnest this past month to get a sense of what “should” (my head being stubborn) or, more optimistically, “could” be my new paces.
I had a few great workouts. I’ve decided that I really like 400m repeats, whether it’s on the treadmill or track, because it’s a distance that’s just short enough to take big risks on. For my kind of a headcase runner, and my husband and I joke that all runners are some kind of headcase, seeing my paces on the 400m repeats is more helpful as a confidence booster in a training cycle than the paces for the longer sustained intervals. I was telling my friend and teammate Katie just last week that if I feel intimidated by mile repeats at 6:35 pace, I’ll fixate on the 5:25 pace number that I hit in 400m repeats to get me through the workout. It doesn’t always work for every one, but I like having a scarier number that I’ve hit, regardless of interval, so that I can relax and not be intimidated about what could otherwise be a scary number.
Going into Sunday’s Kaiser Half Marathon, I was not yet sure about what I wanted my overall time to be. In January, my Oakland chapter had a dinner that was focused on personal, professional, and running goals, and I revealed that I’d really like to run a 1:24-1:26 half marathon this year. I felt more than confident that the goal was reasonable for this year. The fitness felt there, and I had data to back up the fact that I could do it – I ran a 1:27 in the first half of SRM, and also a 1:27 pacing Mary and Becky through the halfway point at CIM.
However, the week leading up to this Sunday’s race was just shit. My son and husband caught nasty colds exactly the Sunday before and spent the week racked with fevers and coughing. My husband alternated between horrible vomit-inducing coughing fits, and the loudest snoring I’ve ever heard from him. My son couldn’t sleep very well with his coughing fits and fevers, and on one particular night, suffered from night terrors every hour in the first half of the night. As I coaxed soup and udon noodles into my son and then my husband during dinner the night before, I wavered on whether or not I should even race in the morning. In the end, my husband told me that I should just run and that he’d survive the first half of the day without me. I made him swear to call my mom in case of any emergency.
While I laid out my stuff for the next morning, I came to the conclusion that I would be happy if I could hit 1:27 again for an official half marathon race. I was tired to the point that I knew that a 1:24 would be a miracle. Even though I felt pretty confident in my training, my body just did not have enough rest the week leading up to feel fresh and ready to tackle the course.
The next morning, I fully woke at about 4, after a night of Dean tossing and turning on me. I had slept about 3 or so hours total because Dean likes sleeping with his head and shoulders elevated on my stomach when he’s congested and coughing like he had been. Unfortunately that means he slips off sometimes and whimpers awake in the middle of the night, and I have to help adjust him and assure him that I’m still there.
I ate breakfast, hydrated lots, and headed over to Meg’s around 6, since she so graciously offered to drive us both. By 6:30, Meg had parked in a lot alongside the Great Highway and we were shuttled to the start, where we were very relieved to see/use the portapotties and scoped out the gear check area. We started warming up around 7:30, which was perfect for Meg, who headed to the start right after her last set of strides. The 5k starts 10 minutes before the half, and so after one warm and sweaty hug, she was off!
As for me, I didn’t want to go out too fast – an old fear from high school racing – and wanted a literal sign to remind me not to bolt out of the start too fast. So when I stepped into the starting area a few minutes later, I put myself a row or two of people ahead of the 7:00/mile sign.
After the start bell rang, I got out in front anyway, because I another old fear from high school xc and track is getting tripped (and spiked, in track), and the crowd was big enough for the 13.1 distance that I felt decently afraid of all the long limbs I could run into. Since I’m not tall, I also worry more than I probably should about people even seeing me coming up behind or alongside them. The first mile went a little fast at 6:24.
My first few miles stayed below 6:40. In the first mile, a teammate from Sacramento in the race spotted me and yelled, “Arete!” Erin and I introduced ourselves to each other, and she asked what I was aiming for. We were looking at similar paces, and so she suggested running together. I was all for it, and so we spent the first 2-3 miles getting to know each other and settling into our paces.
We lost touch right around mile 5, however, when I started pulling ahead. In hindsight, I was getting carried away with the rolling up and mostly downhill part of the course, and was too out of it (tired!!!!) to really check in with where my body and head were at. I don’t really remember noticing anything of how I was feeling. Mile 6 got away from me because of the downhill and I saw that I ran it in 6:13, and way too fast. It was therefore unsurprising, then, that as we headed out of Golden Gate Park and onto the Great Highway portion of the course, I felt like I hit a wall. At mile freaking 7.
The night before CIM, my friends Erin and Meredith and I all joked about when and where we thought “the wall” was when we first started marathoning years ago. I believe it was Meredith that talked about thinking she hit a wall at mile 4 of her training runs in those early days. But on this Sunday, I really found a wall at mile 7. I was so tired. I remember thinking that the day didn’t make sense and that the time didn’t make sense. Actually, I couldn’t remember what day it was or what time of day it was for a bit.
Thankfully, as I felt my head come apart all foggy-like, I saw Meg on the right side of the course, jumping up and down and yelling in her pink shorts. I veered right to grab a high five from her because I really wanted her energy. I must have looked pretty dead on my feet because she yelled, “I broke 20 today, so you can do this!” for inspiration. It definitely perked me up. As I headed back towards the left side of the path, I spotted my friend Danh and screamed his name for his attention and stuck my hand in front of him for a passing high five. It’s like our thing.
I saw Paul, who I met at SRM, for the third time on the course (he and a group of November Project people had been on the Panhandle part of the course) and then it got really lonely in my head. That stretch of the Great Highway is kind of boring without huge changes in scenery, and felt endless. I’ve run along it many times when I used to live in SF, and I always loved that stretch of quiet away from people and the Muni. However, during the race, I really wanted to meander over to the sidewalk and sleep. I kept telling myself to make it to another aid station for water and nuun, or to another mile marker, but the feeling of wanting to sleep kept getting worse. Around mile 10, I saw Sarah, who I also met at SRM (she won it), a few minutes ahead of me on the return stretch of the Highway. I cheered for her and plodded to and around the turnaround point, feeling as though I was slogging through molasses.
Miles 10-12 were pretty god-awful as I felt myself slowing down. Because of the turn around and speeding up for some water, I rallied a little bit to keep the pace sub 6:40 for mile 10, but I felt so beyond over the race. I calculated that I could run 7:00/mile and still get my 1:27. Then mile 11 happened and I felt like I really didn’t want to fight for sub 6:40s. I saw Paul again and grabbed a high five from him, because I just wanted all the energy transfer or whatever the hell I was thinking, which was probably mostly definitely “MMEEEEHHHHHHHH”. By mile 12, I was like, “Yea, I could just run the 8:00 mile and I’d have my 1:27.”
I didn’t actually slow down that much per mile, but the final hill a quarter of a mile from the finish going from the Great Highway back into Golden Gate felt like such a mean trick. Meg was about 0.1 from the finish, yelling her head off, but I had no kick. I was kind of locked into what I felt was my living-on-a-prayer pace through the finish, squeaking in a sub 1:26 with an official time of 1:25:53.
Of course, about a minute after finishing, the elation of completing a hard thing hit, and I waited for Erin to come through for sweaty hugs and congratulations. Meg found us near some kids dressed as Clif Bars. I wish I had pictures, but alas, I clearly must not have wanted them badly enough to take pictures then, so there no silly pictures to post here. Meg and I told Erin to hit us up any time she would be in the Bay Area again before we parted ways.
Meg and I moseyed on back to the car, with me complaining about how sore my butt felt, and Meg jangling her medals from her 5k. She placed 3rd for her age group, and had a sweet medal to prove it. She not only broke 20 minutes, but destroyed her old PR by 20 or so seconds, which is HUGE in a 5k. The race was a great one to cap off a full 50-mile training week, and glimpse into what I think will be a fast, fun, and strong year for her. I’m so happy and so proud.
As for me, I’m decently happy with my time. It’s technically a PR for the books. On a normal week of rest, I’d probably be beating myself up over not going faster. Since it wasn’t a normal week of rest (and it was still a 50 mile week for me) and because this wasn’t the bigger goal race that I’m prepping for, I’m pretty content. I honestly can’t complain with what my body was willing to give me.
All in all, it was a great opportunity to re-familiarize myself with the half distance as a race distance, and to find myself in a different pace place than the last time I ran one. My next one will be the Mountains to Beach, and I’ll probably be gunning for a “real” PR then.
Next up, She Is Beautiful 10k in Santa Cruz on St. Paddy’s Day!