I Ran My Slowest Half Yet & Had A Blast

Fair warning: half recap & half general thoughts ahead.

Last weekend I ran the San Jose Rock’N’Roll Half Marathon.

It was my slowest half marathon yet at 2:13, yet it’s probably near the top as most fun I’ve had during a race. Normally, I’m a hyper-competitive racer & while that is fun in itself, there’s always a little extra stress involved in chasing a good time.

I signed up for San Jose several months ago, when I still had plenty of time to train and the intention of doing so (it’s a flat course, so could be a good one to try for a PR). Unfortunately, life got in the way between then & now. No training happened and running by itself barely did.

To make competition even less likely, I caught a cold the weekend before that I’d been fighting to shake all week just to do the race. Before Friday, I wasn’t sure I could make it to my car without passing out. So my participation was up in the air. Luckily, I managed to fight the cold off enough to at least take part but I knew I wasn’t going to be really competitive.

At the start, I had decided I would just aim to stay under 2 hours. Pacing for the first few miles had me comfortably around a 1:55 finish time. But this is the Rock’N’Roll race series, what’s a good race without some good music?

Somewhere around mile 5 or 6, I passed one of the bands & they were playing a song I love: Flirting with Disaster by Molly Hatchet (thanks dad!). And I decided: why struggle to get a “good time” when I know I wasn’t in shape for it, when I could take it easy, enjoy the music & just have fun making it to the finish line?

So that’s what I did! Took short breaks near the bands to dance & enjoy the music, walked through water stations while I chatted with the volunteers, and just appreciated a beautiful day in San Jose. I did have to make use of my trusty inhaler once during mile 12. It worked out though, as I was joined by a few mobile paramedics checking on me while I walked and got to chat. They can definitely appreciate not pushing too hard to make it to the finish line.

I remember always telling myself that if I was injured or not feeling well or not trained up or any other excuse, that I’d simply bask in running a race and having fun. Yet I’ve always been too competitive to do so. This is the first time and I had a blast!

Sure, I’d love to come back & run RnR San Jose again when I’m trained because it really is a flat course. It could be great to chase a PR on it. Yet when it was all said & done, I feel just as accomplished finishing this half marathon slower than any other I’ve run and rocking out during it.

The moral of this story: it doesn’t always have to be about competition or chasing a PR. It is entirely possible to just have fun at a race.

Race Recap: Gasparilla Distance Classic Day 2 (Half Marathon & 8K)

I finished! Day 2 did not go quite as well as day 1 did. That said, I completed all 4 races so I’m happy. Though day 2 is definitely when I questioned my sanity for agreeing to do this.

Another early start to carpool out for the races. Met up with Jason, my running buddy, for day 2 and this time he remember his Garmin so we could technically say he was pacing me.

Almost donneeee!!

Almost donneeee!!

The Half Marathon

This year the half marathon had a modified start from previous years. So grateful for that! The previous start featured a 180 degree sharp u-turn a quarter mile in that cut the course from a 3 lane road to a one lane on ramp/bridge over to David Island. The new start location featured us taking a different bridge/ramp across to the island that had two lanes and was a straight shot with no sharp turns and funneling.

But the start! Once again our shiny yellow challenge bibs got us entrance into the front start area for seeded runners and teams. And again, it was warm and humid out. Ugh, not exactly ideal race conditions. Still, I decided to be crazy (against Jason’s advice) and chase after the 1:35 pace group. As a mini-reminder, my current half marathon PR is 1:36.

Our position so close to the start and my determination not to lose space getting shoved around helped us get moving without being crowded back in the field. So we pretty much got going for a lovely jaunt in the dark around Davis Island (my favorite part of the course besides the finish). The 1:35 pace group got up to speed and passed us, but we decided to hook in onto the end of the group and try to stay with.

Davis Island is about the first 5 miles of the course. I like it because it’s still dark out (so generally the coolest portion of the race), the roads are wide, there’s often entertainment in places (a guy juggling flaming batons!), and the random people on their front lawns drinking spiked coffee while cheering on runners. As Jason had never raced the half marathon at Gasparilla before, it was fun hearing his thoughts on the course as we went along.

We would yo-yo off the end of the pace group, usually after water stations, as we’d lose distance on them and then trek it a bit to catch back up. Then you cross a ramp back off Davis Island and it’s Bayshore all the way to the finish. By mile 6 I had started to lose steam and we began falling off the pace group a bit. But I kept going along, though after mile 3 it was only because I kept telling myself “mind over matter.” So true in running, most of the time.

By mile 8 I was done with attempting (and by that point, failing) to stick with the 1:35 pace group and told Jason so. He pretty much already knew it, but humored me anyways. From there, we had another mile on the water side of Bayshore before we swung onto the back side of the road to head back to the finish.

I lost a lot of speed and I knew it. Mad thanks for Jason running with me because he was constantly positive encouragement to keep going towards the finish. ‘Only 3 miles to go,’ etc. If it wasn’t for him, I would have been going a lot slower than the 8 minute miles we had been doing.

There was some positivity seeing members of the running group as we went along. Near the end we were passed by the 1:40 group and Jason pushed me to stay with them. I had admitted at the start that chasing a 1:35 was stupid (not that it stopped me) and realistically I wanted to get in under 1:40. Well, there was my chance for that.

Most of the pacer’s group went on ahead to break the time so there weren’t a lot of people surrounding us as we came into the last quarter mile. However, Matt (you sandbagger!!) looped past us within the last 0.2 miles and I was yelling at him. Stuff along the lines of “darn you!!!” and “come back here!” Pretty sure the spectators were definitely laughing at me.

Still, we finished solidly (not sure I’d say strongly) and I managed to make it exactly 1:40:00 on the half marathon. Huzzah! Of course, like the day before the heat had gone up and the humidity lessened only a little as the race went on (so happy we had cloud cover). So Jason and I had a fun trip to the med tent where I got to use my inhaler and relax for a bit with some cold water. I do like that the Gasparilla team had brought out mini hand towels that were kept in ice cold water and handed out to runners as they finished. Helped to throw that around your neck and let it cool you off.

So med tent trip completed, we headed off to grab our medals and change out our gear before the 8K. No PR this time around, but a solid enough time considering the challenge.

Distance-13.21 miles

Time-1:40:00

Pace-7:37

Place-234 overall, 2nd in my age group

Between Races

This time we headed back to the car (no tent today) and made use of the nearby CVS to change clothes and shoes. So glad I did this because the humidity was just killing me. We also found that I had two blisters that totally explained by it hurt so much to walk around. Of course, they were in strange places on my foot, to it was quite interesting to switch my socks and shoes. By this point, I just wanted the last race to be done.

The 8K

To sum the 8K up in just a few words, CRASH AND BUUUUURRRRRRNNNNNN! All caps, bold, and extended length intended.

Besides actually training for this challenge, I probably should have taken another gel or snack and more than just water between these two races. Jason had this illusion of grandeur that we’d be running 7:30s. In my mind, I knew we’d be lucky with 8:00 miles. By the time we lined up for the 8K start, I just wanted to finish.

We started out pretty solidly, even though the clouds had started to disappear and the sun coming out meant higher temps on top of the humidity. The first 3 miles actually went relatively well.

And then I hit the wall.

This one was significantly worse than when it happened during the Miami Marathon. (And in my blogging failure, I never actually recapped that race for you guys. Suffice to say, hitting the wall sucked.) I didn’t just slow down, my body full on said ‘stop.’ As shamed as I was to do it, especially with Jason being an awesome sport and staying with me, I had to walk.

This is something we struggle with at times (as athletes with a competitive spirit). I had to be realistic though. As much as I would have rather kept running, even if it was slowly, my level of hydration (or rather, dehydration) combined with the sun, heat, and humidity made it a possibility that I would pass out if I kept going like that. So I let go of my pride and move to the side to walk.

Jason, amazing running buddy, pacer, and friend that he is, stayed with me even though he could have easily kept going.

20140223_113347So we rotated between walking and very slow jogging. At the next water station, I walked through it and grabbed several cups of gatorate and water. I needed the calories and electrolytes just as much as the hydration from them. That was enough to give me a little boost and we ended up jogging the last 0.4 miles or so in.

Ironically, I was able to lengthen my stride a bit for a tiny bit of speed to finish. And what happened but one of my calves seized up and I nearly face planted. Once again, Jason to the rescue as he grabbed my arm before I could go down and pretty much dragged me to the finish. Okay, we more like hobbled since I did contribute to the movement, but still. Course, he let me go a few feet away and told me I had to finish on my own. Haha, you Jason, are a fun and terrible friend 😛

I finished! I made it across the line for 4 out of 4 races and claimed my 5th medal for completing the Gasparilla Ultra Challenge.

Distance-5.02 miles

Time-53:47

Pace-10:43

Place-1858 overall, 71st in my age group

Closing Day Two

Woohoo!! Even if I failed miserably in that last race, I finished! Completing these last two races to round out all four makes me feel so accomplished. The fact that I made myself finish that 8K even though I was fully prepared to collapse on the side of the road is not diminished at all by my less than stellar time.

I didn’t voice it (don’t want to be negative and all that) but I fully expected my body to decide enough was enough during the half marathon. Would I have liked to complete all 4 races competitively? Of course! Yet realism had to rule out and the facts were simple; I had not trained for this event.

Even being dead tired and with horribly sore feet (and muscles!) I enjoyed chatting with everyone post race. When all was said and done, I am super pleased with what I accomplished over this race weekend and I plan to do it again. Except this time, I’ll actually train for it and maybe I’ll be able to place for the women overall. I can dream at least!

So my totals for day two – 18.23 miles in 2:33:47.

100_4395Which rounds me out for the entire weekend to about 30.4 miles in 4:06:07. That puts my overall, average pace under 8:10 and let me place 65th out of 631 Ultra Challenge participants (and #8 of the women—I missed 3rd place for the ladies by about 13 minutes, which could be made up if I ran a good 8K). Definitely thinking I’ll be trying again next year.

So I close up my recap with the fact that I had a blast racing and seeing all my friends across the weekend. Major thanks to Jason for being my partner in crime for all 4 races, even when I wasn’t doing so great. You can pace for me any time! (I’d offer to pace for you, but you are mad faster than me.) Also, mug #3!!

20140223_160255

All In: Gasparilla Ultra Challenge

Once again I seem to have committed myself to a crazy event. Deciding to not focus solely on distance PRs this year, it only seemed appropriate to follow up a Ragnar Relay with something equally questionable in the sanity department.

Gasparilla is a local flavor event and one I’ve done several times between high school and now. The past few years I’ve just tackled the half marathon as I was generally chasing a PR. With the Gasparilla race weekend happening just two weeks after Ragnar, I wasn’t quite sure what I wanted to do. Thinking it over since I’ll be trying training methods centered around running several times in a 24 hour period, the decision seemed kind of obvious.

If I’m doing that training anyways, why not do a challenge? Gasparilla offers several “ultra” challenges for tackling different sets of races. Since I’m doing it, I’m going all in for the main one, the Michelob Ultra Challenge.

Mich-Ultra-ChallengeI’ll run the 15K and 5K on Saturday. Then follow it up with the half marathon and 8K on Sunday. For a total of 30.4 miles over two days.

Let’s be realistic. I just have to complete the races within the time limits; it doesn’t necessarily mean I need to race them all. That said, my plan is to attempt to race the two longer distances, the 15K and the half marathon, due to them being my stronger events. I’m more likely to place in my age group with those two than the shorter 5K and 8K. (And as such, get more bling.)

Being straightforward: the chance to collect 4 shirts, a jacket, and 5 medals was a big incentive. It’s almost like doing an ultra, but spreading out the running and getting more stuff out of it.

Though as I read that, it does seem like sort of skewed logic. Just means the next 6 weeks are going to be an adventure.

A Running Year in Review: 2013

be happyWhen I started this year off still bouncing back from 6 months off and physical therapy, there’s no way I could have imagined how it would go. The first half of the year took some time to gain steam and was my hardest struggle across 2013. Nothing seems more difficult than having to start from the beginning all over again.

Luckily I forced myself out of complacency by joining The Little Things for Cancer charity team to tackle the Marine Corps Marathon. Now there was a goal to work towards and no excuses.

That effort allowed me to stay strong as I worked back into shape and I celebrated it by taking part in I ❤ to Run‘s March challenge to run every day. That was definitely hard even if “easy” days were just one mile. March was topped off with my first 15K (race at least) ever in the Hot Chocolate San Diego 15K that went much better than I was expecting at the time. I got to set my first PR for it and did better than my training had predicted.

Coming off the positive vibes of the 15K saw me through the next few months as I worked to have a solid base in preparation for marathon training. Without a race near on the calender, hitting those 40 mile weeks consistently was difficult. Eventually I returned to Florida in June so that I could train with the group and coach who had been with me through the past 2 years.

The end of June saw the start of marathon training and the height of the Sunshine State’s summer. With a 3:40 time goal at MCM there could be no slacking just because of warm weather. Summer made me a bit wary of chasing a faster finish time since I trained through fall and winter for Miami, but being Type A and very competitive meant going for it anyways.

Proof that experience helps showed in the fact that handling the mileage load was easier this time around. It culminated with my highest week ever at 64 miles! That was kind of crazy for me as I always remember being the underachiever when I was younger. Marathon training went much better than the first time and I had a solid 18 weeks of running to prepare me for MCM.

I’m pleased (read: mad excited!) with all my running accomplishments this year, but nothing was more amazing than running the Marine Corps Marathon. From all the Marines on course to having a 26.2 mile sight seeing run, I was in awe of the entire experience. Only for it to get even better with a great race where I didn’t hit the wall. There was the thought that one day I would aim for a Boston qualifier, but I truthfully did not believe it would happen at this race.

What made it even sweeter was being able to share that accomplishment with running friends and my family. I’m not sure many other races will compare to having my mother travel up to D.C. just to see me run this race. Or to find out my father was constantly following the updates and posting to Facebook as I progressed through the race. The sheer amount of support from all of my family and friends leaves me without words to properly express my thanks.

Then I got to follow it up a month later with a PR and age group win at the Women’s Half Marathon running 3 minutes faster than my last PR. Huzzah! And of course, a week later letting the rest of my running friends race a half while I tackled the shorter 5K for another PR.

There may not have been a lot of races on my calender in 2013 but they were of such a high quality that I cannot complain. Without any doubt, I am happy with the path I’ve traveled this year.

happinessIf 2013 has taught me nothing else, it’s that there is always a little bit further you can go, a little more you can give, and what you are possible of may just surprise yourself. I wish you all great running and fun races in 2014. On to the new year!

Race Recap: 2013 Brandon 5K

Woot woot! That’s another PR under the belt for my 5K.

Official Time – 21:46

PhotoGrid_1386205949457Now I admit that 5Ks are a bit easier for me to PR because I run them so rarely. The last 5K I actually raced was over a year and a half ago. If I didn’t PR now, I’d be slightly worried (not really). But I managed by more than 45 seconds and took the top of my age group (not hard since most of them sleep in hehe).

Now I really like this particular race first because my running group puts it on. Second because it’s a small and local race. So there’s no crowded course and getting boxed in at a slower pace. Plus they do a half marathon as well and it’s the main draw. The 5K is more for slackers such as myself. I didn’t want to race halfs two weekends in a row and really did want to complete a 5K just so I could grab that faster PR.

The weather ended up being on our side with it overcast, foggy, and cool. There was even a bit of misting, though I couldn’t tell if that was from not quite rain or the fog. But it made the start and races pretty mild compared to some others. I placed myself near the front and ended up probably around 15 or 20 once we got out of the start rush.

Then I sort of settled in around a 7:00 pace and kept my eyes on the one girl ahead of me. I sort of know who she is and she’s fast – runs for her college and all – so I decided to settle a bit backwards of her and see what happens. Well she ended up taking it easier today and I could have entirely paced with her instead.

About the halfway point (this reminds me that 5Ks seem so short after aiming at halfs and full marathons), they had a water stop set up and some girls from the group were egging me on to catch her. I figured it was worth a try and so picked it up a bit to just start closing the gap. I managed to get closer and was probably only a few feet behind her when we passed the 3 mile point and the last push where she left me behind.

After chasing her for 1.5 miles I just didn’t have the staying power to match her kick in the last 0.1 mile or so. Still, I finished 2 seconds back from her to take 2nd place overall for the ladies in the 5K. That also gave me the age group win. Super pleased to have managed all that with a PR on the distance. I may not race them often now, but 5Ks give a bit of self-confidence since I run them so much faster now than I did in high school.

Race Recap: 2013 Women’s Running Half Marathon

Another PR!! So stoked!

Official Time – 1:36:02

That’s a new half marathon PR. And I broke it by more than 3 minutes! So super happy. Now onto the actual recap.

I'm in there. Somewhere.

I’m in there. Somewhere.

This is an awesome event that I love. It’s newer (only 5 years old here I think) and really targeted at the ladies (obviously) even though they definitely don’t discourage guys from taking part. It’s still sort of local and a little smaller even though it has picked up bigger sponsors. I ran it for the first time two years ago and set my then PR at the 2011 race. Last year I did the 5K instead since I had less than 2 months to train after physical therapy ended and I was cleared to run.

It’s a lovely course through St. Petersberg, going along the water and past Tropicana field. There aren’t really much in hills though there are quite a few turns, so it feels like a fast course to me (though it might not actually be one…). Only thing that throws me off on this course is you run on some sections of cobblestones, but they’re relatively short. The long one has a nice wide sidewalk you can jump onto.

Now I hadn’t run a half marathon since Gasparilla in March of 2012, before I was out for 6 months, and so I didn’t have a real gauge going into this race. What could I do? Sure, I’d run a 15K in March but I was in different shape then. And the Marine Corps Marathon went fantastic – but I know more about guessing your marathon finish time from a half, not a half time from a marathon. Can that even translate right? Since you can push harder on a half due to it being shorter.

Coming in with a PR that was 1:39 and knowing my physical condition was way better off MCM than it was off Miami last year, I decided to shoot high for a 1:35. That’s a 7:15 pace and I admit, I wasn’t sure if that was gonna be doable for me over 13.1 miles. But I was going to try.

Luckily there was a 1:35 pace group for this race. Even better is that members of my running group, the Brandon Running Association, were dragged into being the pacers. So it was someone I know! Josh, who is ridiculously fast, got stuck with a group of us and it was quite amusing. The temps were a little cooler, so that was perfect. It was even overcast so no hot sun beating down. However, it seems to make up for that the weather threw some crazy winds at us – some gusts made it feel like you had to tuck in behind someone to keep going.

The first mile was a bit slower than pace, but then we settled in and had an amusing time for the next few miles. I actually felt quite solid and like I could stay on that 7:15 pace. But then I started to feel the pace further along near mile 7. We’d been fighting the wind even more the last few miles and 8 ended up being slow. Not sure if it was the best choice, but I decided to try pushing ahead closer to a 7:00 pace in an attempt to still make 1:35.

Unfortunately, I just couldn’t do 7:00s. I kept it close to the 7:15 but from about mile 9 on you run on a wide open road. There’s nothing to slow the wind and so this is the area that I struggled the most. The threat of rain, though it ended up just being clouds, meant there weren’t as many spectators along this stretch until you get closer to the finish. Also, the size and targeting of the race means it’s generally not a super fast field. So I knew the runners were spread out this far in the front. The next girl ahead was probably a good 250 feet and the immediate runners behind me were from the pace group.

Not having runners to either pull me along or push me forward was unusual for me. I’ve done well, but I’ve never really been “fast.” Additionally, most races have a good mix of girls and guys running it, so even if I end up being faster of the females there’s plenty of guys to pace off of. The WHM is different and this is the first time my struggle had to happen knowing I was near the front of the race. It was weird, but I definitely think I came out better experienced from it.

So while I couldn’t do the 7:00s, I could do the 7:15s and brought myself into the finish. I couldn’t close the gap to the girl ahead, but did manage to put enough space that no one caught me. Finished strong with the last mile being my fastest at 7:02 (obviously I still had a little gas in the tank) and woohooo for a PR!! Even if I did need a little help walking away from the finish while I fished out my inhaler.

So the final tally. A new PR at 1:36:02. Placed 16th overall and 13th of the women. Took first in my age group by 4 minutes. We’re still waiting on the team results, but according to one of our spectator friends, the first 5 runners on our team came in under 1:39, so I’m pretty sure the team will take the win for the 3rd year in a row.

I am mad excited! While I didn’t hit the 1:35, I got damn close. Still set a sweet PR and now I can chase that 1:35 in the future. I couldn’t dream of a better half considering the shape I’m in and the great race I had at MCM. Now I had another! Me = happy.

The Post-Race Void

It’s interesting that we spend all those months of training looking forward to THE Race (caps intended). Especially as the mileage ramps up and the event itself is so close, yet still not quite there, where we want it to happen only so we can spend less time training. Finally, the weekend arrives and all the excitement is focused on having a good time and a great race.

Then suddenly, it’s done. The training is over. No more rearranging our days to get all the miles in. No more planning weekends around long runs. No more intensive mental preparations to make this race the one we’ll always remember (though truthfully, we’ll remember every single one).

You take the few days after off. Instead of running, they’re spent recapping with friends, responding to posts of congratulations, putting up pictures of our triumph, and basking in the glow of achievement. Then it’s time to reverse taper back into a semi-regular schedule. Training no longer, simply running because it’s what we enjoy.

End_of_the_Road_Wallpaper_y3v85Yet even then, it feels like there’s a hole. A gap in our existence. Without another big race on the horizon, we lack the purpose of the past many months. An empty void in our lives. A beautiful void (we’ve been waiting for this moment, for the training and the race to be done), but a void nonetheless. And it feels weird. I think “shouldn’t I be training for something? and “shouldn’t my days be consumed with my workouts and the end goal of a race?” It’s hard to re-adjust to the mentality where my life isn’t all consumed by this event somewhere in the near future that’s steadily getting closer, while never being quite close enough.

It seems weird, but I especially feel bereft after completing the Marine Corps Marathon. I met my goal! Not only did I break the time I set for myself of 3:40 so long ago, I went a step further and ran a Boston Qualifier time. While I did not believe I would never run one, I also didn’t really expect it to happen so soon. I sort of expected more years building up my race experience and improving my training before it happened. Now, I simply have to wait until next fall when registration for 2015 opens.

Luckily, not all is an empty void in my future. I’ve plans for a half marathon just before Thanksgiving. There’s high hopes in my mind coming off this marathon that I can go on to PR my half marathon time as well. Plus, somewhere in the next 2 months I hope to run a 5K as well in the hopes of another PR. (All that success going to my head.)

While that void has been in my mind, it’s been good to get back out and just run. Plus having smaller events and goals to run towards is helping me keep from becoming completely distracted.