Well, the day had FINALLY arrived. I had been training and planning for the Marshall University Half Marathon since the beginning of August.
The first half of the year had been focused on distance and hitting a full marathon personal record (PR), which I accomplished at Xenia, Ohio on April 10, 2016 (a 2-hour PR at that! Read about it here). With our adoption happening in the spring of 2016, I was unsure of how much training time I would be able to have, so a goal half marathon was the best strategy for this time in our family life.
Over the last year, I have learned what training plan works for me, my family, and my body, which had previously been prone to injury. I learned that for me, it works to run speed work on Tuesdays, hill training on Thursdays, and long runs on Saturday mornings. Sunday, I typically rest or do yoga, and Monday through Friday I will do some kind of cross-training programs from the comfort of my own home through Beachbody. During running "off-seasons," I tend to do higher intensity programs and keep that long run each week. During training season, I stick to things that are medium intensity and build strength.
The training plan: Beginning in August, I started and completed the Country Heat program, along with my three runs per week. It was fun, lower intensity, but still worked the core and full body. Then, I worked through some of 21-Day Fix Extreme, and 3-Week Yoga Retreat. By the end of my training, I was ready to dive into the brand new Core De Force program, but I knew the intensity of that would have to wait until post-race (and I am loving it now). I also had a half marathon in Adams County, Ohio at the end of September, which was a course PR, despite the hills. I knew I was improving my time, but this particular course proved that. A couple of weeks later, I jumped in a Bourbon Chase relay team, which was basically three legs of crazy speed work (read about it here).
So, enough about training, let's get to race day!
Anyone who follows me knows that I was a NERVOUS WRECK going into this race. Seeds of doubt crept into my mind as often as those feelings of "I CAN do this!" The mental game is so much bigger than the physical. After a successful 10-mile training run two weeks prior, I came down with a sinus infection, felt a little pain in my knees, and tapered VERY slowly that week.
Race day came and I had laid out all of my clothes the night before. Turned on GPS, even though I have been to Marshall four times now, and THOUGHT I would be early enough.
My friend, Cassie, texted me and warned me about the traffic, so I took a side street and parked at CVS. As I got out, a fellow 5K Crew friend warned me that my car would get towed there, so back in I went, and drove around some more to find another lot, wasting precious warm-up time.
I literally RAN to the stadium and totally missed the obligatory 5K Crew group picture because the line to the bathroom was much more important at that point. I hurried out to the starting area and finally found the 2:00 pacer, Brett. I finally started to calm my nerves and realized I had yet to start my watch.
The gun went off.
Satellites still loading...
Cassie and I ran together for a bit, and I realized that I was 20 seconds off from the gun by the time my watch synced up. I can live with that. She and I got situated with taking outer shirts off, adjusting, etc, and then fell into a groove. Cassie's goal was 8:45 pace (1:55:00 finish), so I knew I wouldn't keep up with her for long. We stayed in the same area for the first 3 miles, with her shouting out the average pace at each mile. (She's the one decked out in all black, and I'm near her with hair waving out of control.)
The night before, I had expressed my nervousness to my good friend, and I asked Cassie what my game plan should be. She said I should do I whatever I practiced. So...go out like a bat out of you-know-where and then die? Yes. Lol. (No, this is not what you really SHOULD do, but I'm still working on my pacing.) I knew I typically run the first half faster than the second, so I needed to build up a bit of a cushion on the front end, and with Cassie's pace, I did. The other strategy was given by my good friend and running mentor, Kara. She said to be strategic with water stops. Every other one, I made myself slow enough to take a drink and then get back to my regular stride.
So, with these two plans in place (go out like crazy and stop every other water stop), I tried to tell Cassie I would be slowing for water after Mile 3, but she didn't hear me. I just yelled, "GO!" as we came up to that riverfront area. And she did.
Since this is my fourth Marshall University Half Marathon, I am very familiar with the course. The first couple of miles goes around the stadium and then heads to the riverfront. Then, it is all semi-closed streets until Mile 6, where you head into Ritter Park, and run on some sidewalk, but mostly crushed gravel. The path around the park goes until a little after Mile 9. Miles 10-13 are back on the streets and the last two miles repeat part of the route we covered in Miles 2-4. By Mile 12, you are on the road back to the stadium, though it seems forever away. Finally, you enter the stadium through a deep decent ramp and onto the field. Running 100 yards on the field, receiving a football to carry, as you turn and run the 100 yards back to the goal/Finish Line.
So, after Cassie and I split, I could see her for a while, but not after Mile 5. Somewhere after that first water stop, my music stopped playing. I ended up running the last 10 miles without music to distract me, and while I REALLY wanted to turn it back on, I couldn't justify the minute or two I would waste in getting it back. So, I didn't. I ran in silence. Just the thoughts in my head to go faster or to tell my legs to shut up.
As we headed into Ritter Park, I felt like I was being passed by SO many people, which was discouraging. With the size of this race, there are no corrals, so it's hard to say the paces of those passing me, but I just told myself that they started later and were naturally faster. All I knew was that I did NOT want to see Brett, the 2-hour pacer. I HAD to stay ahead of him. My half-way point was good. I was under pace, which I knew I needed. At Mile 7, I could feel my pace slipping and I yelled at myself to go faster. (Well, not out loud, but in my head.) Mile 7 ended up being back at 9:02, so I was happy with that.
Miles 8-9 I felt like I was going as fast as I could, and STILL getting passed like crazy. I knew there were still a lot of miles left and I started to wonder if I could keep it up. Then, I thought about my big goal, how I would feel if I saw a "1" on that clock, and how I was running to honor my Dad. It kept me going.
Around this time, the 4:00:00 marathon pacer and his pack came around me. I told myself to stick with them. I HAD to stick with them. I was coming up at Mile 9, which is also where my friends were cheering at the end of Ritter Park. I wish I could have had more fun in that stretch, because they were definitely MAKING it fun with cheering and music, but I lodged myself in the middle of that pack of marathoners and I doubt I even busted a smile. I had to focus.
After the park and getting back on the road, I saw a shadow. Hair bouncing in the wind. It was Brett. Oh man! I could barely breathe, but all I got out was, "I didn't want to see you, today!" He chuckled and said, just keep going. You can do it! I had run with Brett during that 10-miler a couple weeks prior, so I knew I COULD keep up, but for how long?
The last few miles were hard. The whole first half of the race was in thick fog, and now the sun was beating down. I had my sunglasses, put them down on my face, and the steam from my sweat fogged them up and I could barely see. I didn't care. I had to keep running. I wasn't going to stop and try to wipe them off. No time.
I just kept guessing if I could make it on time. I figured I had to keep 9:30s at the end or less to have a chance. I ran through the riverfront again and saw the photographer. I couldn't muster up a smile. I was already starting to lose a little hope. I wanted to be done.
The last mile and a half had a very small incline, but it felt like a mountain. At Mile 12 I found a guy who was going about the same pace and followed him for a good while, and eventually passing him before the stadium. As I approached the crowd on the street before the stadium, I started to no longer feel my body. It was the weirdest thing. Maybe the cold got to me. Maybe I was just exhausted. But, I literally wasn't sure what was going on. I knew I needed to be careful as I headed into that steep decent. I was NOT going to fall. I debated grabbing a football from the volunteer, but decided to get it and ran as hard as I could down that last 100 yards on the turf.
I saw the clock.
For the record, I have set a personal best (PR) in this distance every single year I have raced at Marshall. Two years ago, I had an AWESOME finish line picture with that dang football. This year, I had no energy to smile. I was done.
I missed the mark.
All I had wanted was to see 1:59:59. I wanted that "1" on the clock.
I ran over the finish, I heard Cassie shout my name, and could barely focus on anything. I grabbed a water bottle and gingerly walked down the football field. I couldn't stop. I had to keep walking. Everything hurt. I wanted to cry. Cassie eventually caught up to me, and I barely noticed her hobble. Finally, when I could talk again, I asked how she did, and she had PR-ed as well, and made her 1:55 goal, but injured her hamstring in the process. As she made her way to a med tent, I finally sat down on the sideline and looked at my watch. 2:00:29. Even with my watch being off by 20 seconds, I didn't make it. I looked up my Chronotrack results on Facebook. 2:00:54. Man, I was WAY off, but then I scrolled down to see that my chip time (official time) was 2:00:37.
I missed my goal by 38 seconds.
I was crushed.
Now, to be fair, that was OVER 2 minutes BETTER than my previous half marathon best. So, I had, in fact, set a personal record! But, for some reason, I could only focus on how far I had missed. Since I didn't see Cassie at the field, I asked another friend to take my picture to commemorate the day, even though I felt far from celebrating at that moment....
I made my way back up to Cassie and finally back to my car to decompress. I knew my friends were still at Ritter Park cheering on the marathoners, and I had planned to join them, though I needed a few minutes to gather myself together. I threw off my shoes and threw on some sweats and headed that way.
I am thankful that I spent some time cheering with Sarah, Karen, and Stacy that day. It did my heart good to ring a cow bell and tell many other runners how awesome they are! When you feel down, there is nothing better than to lift others up! It was good to move around, dance to the music, and just have FUN.
After cheering on a marathoner friend, I headed back home for a shower and to meet my kiddos and mother-in-law for lunch at our favorite Mexican restaurant. I love that my kids see a medal and get excited. They don't care how big or small it is, or what time I ran in, they always tell me I did great and they are so happy!
Later that afternoon, I made a video about my experience and what I had been thinking at that point. I shared it live on Facebook and was encouraged by the response. It was another way to process what had just happened and how I could view it.
The next day, I realized, I had just done something INCREDIBLE. I ran a half marathon in 2 hours! My very first half was in May 2013, with a final time of 2:28. My first Marshall half was later that year with 2:27, second was 2:05, third was 2:02, and fourth was now 2:00. Pretty cool to see that improvement. Monday, I was just GRATEFUL.
Well, now, it is time to take a little running break and focus on some core results with Core De Force. I love having these seasons where I can take a small pause and re-evaluate goals. Starting in January, I will begin full marathon training again and set my sights on a 50K that will be in May 2017. So far, I have a half in April, a full in May, and the 50K a few weeks later. I LOVE distance. Endurance is my favorite, so I am looking forward to the next training season already.
After that? Well, I guess I will get back to that sub-2 goal.
There will always be Marshall.
Wife. Mother. Runner. Coach. Adoption Advocate. I strive to share HOPE through my journey and help others reach their goals.