Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Race Report: RnR Philadelphia Half

I lost my mojo.

It happened a few weeks ago; after a couple crappy workouts, I just didn’t feel like myself. My confidence was gone, taking my competitive fire with it. I thought the Philadelphia Rock and Roll Half Marathon would rekindle the fire. I love racing, especially big city races with thousands of people, where you feel like the whole city has shut down to welcome the runners. The fans are cheering, the adrenaline is pumping, the excitement from other runners is contagious. 

I ignored my shaky confidence and stuck with my original plan: a big PR. I planned to run with one of my teammates, B; our goal was 6:10 pace. It seemed ambitious, but I hoped that after a few miles I would settle in and the miles would tick off. With someone at my side, it would be infinitely easier.

Most of this post is going to be full of complaining, so let me take a moment to appreciate the best part of the race—I was seeded in the elite corral for the first time in my life. (The perks of having a coach who can vouch for you.) My number started with an F, which stands for Female, or Freaking Fast, I’m not sure which. I’m also pretty sure I didn’t deserve that, but I soaked up the moment anyway. We got to hang out in the elite tent, do strides off the starting line, and were inches from famous runners (Ritz!) It was awesome.

Mile 5. The crazy screaming spectators in the
background are my family. Love them.
Until the gun went off, when things went downhill fast. I stayed with B for as long as possible, trying to settle into a 6:10 rhythm. She got into it much faster, but I was struggling. The pace felt too fast. I was scared of what was to come. I couldn’t keep this up. Honestly, I worried I was going to drop out. Anytime you try to PR or really push your limits, there will be moments of doubt, of panic, of thinking “My God, this hurts, I'll never make it. I'll have to drop out.” You don’t beat your best past self painlessly. Every PR will come with some moments of fear and agony. But usually not so early in the race. I tried again and again to find a rhythm, but it wasn't coming. Around 4.5 miles, B forged on ahead, and I was on my own. Now guilt was added to the many emotions swirling through my head. We had agreed to run together and now I left her on her own too. I tried to stay near her, in reach, but she kept slipping further ahead. The temptation to drop out grew. My inner monologue was not pretty: it warned me the sooner I drop out the better, because once we leave the city the course goes out and back and I didn't want to be stranded miles away. 

As we headed out along the river, I tried to silence the negativity, focusing on maintaining and just not slowing down any more. I pushed and pushed and thought for sure I must not be slowing, but the splits kept telling me the ugly truth. People were cruising past and I was jealous—why couldn't I have their energy, their drive, what was wrong with me? My Freaking Fast seed number seemed completely inappropriate as I kept falling further and further back. I just wanted to make it to the bridge, the turn around point. Maybe heading back towards the city would bolster my spirits. My splits continued to slow; soon I was going at marathon pace. Marathon pace?! In a race half as long! I had given up on a big PR miles ago, but now any PR seemed impossible. I had lost hope for this race, I just wanted it to end.

Mile 12. With L, just trying to finish.
Finally we hit the bridge and headed back. I picked it up slightly, then saw my coach, and another teammate, L, who was having her own terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day and had called it at 11 miles. She decided to run in with me, to carry me to the finish, and it helped enormously. Together we slogged through the final miles. My family cheered their heads off, much to the surprise of L who hadn't yet met my overly enthusiastic support crew. The sun was beating down on us now, and the finish would not come. Finally (finally!) we were there. I was just glad it was over.

In the end, it was a PR, by 24 seconds. I owe all of those seconds to L for dragging me through the final miles. I know you should always be happy with a PR, but I’m not. I know I worked harder than that and expected it to pay off in a much bigger way. I ran my old PR in the middle of marathon training, while holding back for the real race a few weeks later. (And I was even disappointed then.) I intended to destroy that PR. I thought I had more in me, but on this day, I just... didn't.

I took the next few days off, trying to figure out if I (a) was exhausted, overtrained, and burnt out, (b) have some kind of nutrient deficiency (iron, vitamin D?), or (c) was just mentally zonked. I didn't want to go running, but I didn't enjoy not running either. The rest of the season was looming but I couldn't muster any excitement for it. I was in a funk. After a few days of being a non-running grump, I realized I can’t feel sorry for myself forever. And so I went for an easy jog, and then next day a longer one, and then back to track practice, and slowly, slowly I’m coming around. Stay tuned.

In other sad news (that affects far more people), the University of Richmond recently cut their men’s track team (and men’s soccer team) to add men’s lacrosse. (FYI: the men’s track team had no scholarships.) You can read more about the reasoning here, sign a petition here, or vent your anger leave your own opinion in the comments below.

Dream big,

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