There is that moment, shortly after crossing the finish line, where you "can't wait to do it again." Sometimes this moment comes after you physically recover from the race, sometimes when you mentally recover. But, if you are a race addict, after finishing one, you are likely looking for another to put on your calendar.
This was the case for me.
So, I talked with my husband and debated on a couple of semi-local races that were drivable distances. With the usual peer pressure from my local running group, I chose to run the Country Music Highway Half in Paintsville, Kentucky, on December 3rd. I had never run this race before, but I heard it was a decent course, and well-run by the race director. The lower cost was another benefit.
It might have been because I was so busy with my family, traveling, my business, or the holidays, but I just did not talk about this upcoming half marathon. I had spent SO much time talking about my Marshall goal, and when I fell short, I guess I didn't want to hype up another event, in case it didn't go my way. Friday night, I talked to a few close running friends about my mindset and how I should go into this race. I didn't want to psych myself out, put too much pressure on, or have a lot of expectations. I decided to keep it off of social media until after the race. My friends encouraged me to see how I felt, and run for the fun of it and to enjoy.
If I had a great day and PRed, awesome. If I didn't, no worries. New course, no expectations.
Race day came, and I barely slept. There was a race where I OVERslept and barely got to the starting line on time, so I am constantly paranoid about missing my alarm, and therefore, missing the gun. So, on less than 5 hours of sleep, and having woken up probably 6-7 times, I got up and headed out to Paintsville by 6 a.m.
When I arrived, I saw that the start/finish lines were the same point, there was a clock set up and a few guys running some cords. The line was right in front of the Ramada Inn, which I'm sure is the biggest hotel in that little town. A small table was set up next to a trailer and that is where I got my packet and goody bag. The bag was loaded with some pretty cool stuff, including two hats, a shirt, a flashlight, pens, and a phone holder for your car! I was impressed! The volunteers were very friendly, and I could tell that the people putting on this race really cared about their runners and wanted to make it a great time.
I was looking for my friend, Jennifer, knowing she had stayed in the hotel, and only minutes before the gun, I found her among the 65 other half marathoners. I don't know if I have ever run a smaller half marathon than this one, but there was no time to think about it. Off we went!
There were very few water stops on this course. One about .60 miles from the start/finish (which was an interesting option), and another at the "T" interchange, which was approximately at Miles 2, 5, 7, 10, and 12. I did not carry water or fuel, thinking I would take advantage of the stops.
I could hear my friend, Brea, tell me "don't go out too fast...use mile 1-2 as warm-up." Well, when you take off with Jennifer, that doesn't happen! I wasn't sure how long I would hang with my fast friend, but when we hit Mile 1 and my watch said 8:02, I just yelled out for her to go on because there was no way I was keeping THAT pace! As it turned out, the first 3 miles of this race were similar to Marshall's because in both of them, I ran with a friend for those miles and kept my pace around 8:30 or less. And then in both races, they took off, with my complete blessing. I never want to hold back a friend from running her best, so I was totally fine with having the rest of the race solo. It's MY race, not anyone else's. So, run on, sweet friend, do your race.
The longest part of the "T" was the middle section, especially since I knew we had to run it twice. I am terrible about reading and memorizing elevation charts, so I usually just go with the flow of the hills and not overthink it too much. There were several hills on this course (done several times because of the layout), but I kept telling myself that "what goes up, must come down." I had to look forward to those downhills and keep trudging up. These were not steep, but long elevation changes. My rhythm was to think about two things on the uphill: "Use your arms," and "embrace your core." I learned way back in high school cross country training how your arms can help propel you uphill. Well, since I have been working on upper body strength, I KNEW my arms were stronger than ever. So, I let them help me up each hill. After doing 26/30 days of "Core De Force," I could hear Joel Freeman yelling at me to "USE YOUR CORE!" And so I did. I turned it on and kept going. The downhills were my reward, and I tried to make up time on them as best as I could.
While doing my long run and trying to hit race pace this fall, I would get into the habit of ONLY checking my time/pace when my watch beeped at each mile. I didn't need to stare at it or check it a million times. When it beeped, I checked to see if I was under 9:09. That's it. Simple.
At Marshall, I had banked time in the first 3 miles, and my overall halfway point was on track. It was after Mile 8 that things got slower and I realized my overall time was getting dangerously close to 2 hours.
At CMH Half, my first four miles were way under, averaging 8:24. Miles 5-7 were still under, averaging 8:56. Mile 8 was my first one over goal, with a 9:12, so I guess I got nervous and kicked it up a notch, because Mile 9-10 were at 9:06.5. Brea said something the night before that stuck with me: "At Mile 10 you need to be at 1:30:00 overall time." Ok. I can do that. I think I was pretty close to that at Marshall, too. At Mile 10, I looked at my overall time for the first time during the race: 1:28:00. Golden!
Now, I don't want you to think that I am being cocky, but when you have been practicing for 9:09 pace, and your entire race has been under, some of it WAY under, it FINALLY clicked that I was going to sub-2. Barring any missteps or injury in those last 3 miles, I had it in the bag. All I needed was 10-minute miles for the last 3, and I would make it! Let's just say, it's a good thing I had built that cushion! Miles 11-13 were 9:27, 9:34, and 9:40, respectively. In fact, I stopped at that little water station .60 miles from the finish!
Why is it that the last mile is the LONGEST? Man, it felt like forever. My breathing was tired, my legs were shot. It took everything to keep telling myself to RUN, not walk. You can't WALK the last mile, right? Not after all I had already done. No, I was going to RUN it in, no matter what. And so I did.
I came around the bend to see the hotel and the finish line arch. The time clock came into view and it said 1:57:42. I was going to make it...and UNDER 1:58:00! I could barely believe it! I clicked my watch off on the time pad: 1:57:54.
I did it.
Jennifer came over and it was all I could do to talk. I had to keep walking. Just like Marshall. Keep the legs moving. Celebrate later. She let me go and I grabbed a water bottle and walked up and down the little parking lot, till I could catch my breath. Then, we hugged and celebrated!
For every person who congratulated me (which of course, all runner congratulate each other at the finish, regardless of time), I had to explain my emotions, and every time, my eyes filled with tears.
"I FINALLY hit my sub-2!" Oh, it was SO good to be greeted by people who understand that accomplishment!
In the parking lot, I went back to my car, and a gentleman congratulated me. I recognized him from the course, but I couldn't remember if I was ahead of him or behind him. We talked for a bit and I explained what this meant to me, and there I finally sobbed. This complete stranger just gave me a HUGE sweaty hug and let me cry. Then, he exclaimed what an accomplishment this was, considering this course was MUCH hillier than Marshall, which I honestly hadn't thought about. He was right. Tougher course. Colder weather. But JUST RIGHT for me that day.
Maybe that is why I love this sport. Runners are weird kinds of athletes. Most of the things we do don't make a ton of sense, but WE get it. We understand each other. We cry and we celebrate, always giving a shoulder to another.
I went back to find Jennifer and some of her other running buddies and the group of us talked until all of their friends crossed the finish line. Pictures were taken, race times celebrated. And then, Jennifer handed out beautiful bracelets to each of us.
"She believed she could, so she did."
I couldn't hold the tears back...again. How perfect!
I realized that my biggest obstacle is myself. When I doubt what I can do, or maybe I can go so far as to say, when I doubt what GOD can do THROUGH me, I fall short. When I get out there and simply give it my best, let go, and ignore the mental side of it...when I BELIEVE I CAN...I did!
After a few more pictures, we headed over to where the age group awards were being presented. Because of the "T" course, I could tell throughout the race that I was in at least the first half of the runners, if not the first third. (This in and of itself is pretty amazing, and would only happen in a smaller race!) I had placed second in my age group at Adams County Half Marathon in September with a 2:05 time and a small field, so I thought maybe I might have a chance here, too.
Turns out, 3rd place in my age group! How cool!
What a day!
You know, for all the hype around this sub-2 goal I had, it's a strange feeling when you ACTUALLY hit it! The anticipation and nerves are gone, and you still have the same medal as everyone else, and no one would even know unless you told them. The next day, my friend, Cassie, who has encouraged me through this journey (having hit sub-2 several times), asked me, "So does it feel as amazing in the club as you thought it would?"....Yes!!
So there ends the tale of the chase to sub-2 a half marathon.
What's next? Distance. Lots of it.
Oh, and some trails. Gotta mix it up.
And I'll be happy to stop chasing time goals for a while!...that is, until I see another race!
Wife. Mother. Runner. Coach. Adoption Advocate. I strive to share HOPE through my journey and help others reach their goals.