Thursday, January 7, 2016

Race Report: Jacksonville Bank Half Marathon

It’s been a while since I updated. Here’s a quick recap of my holiday season:

I PRed (officially, this time) in the 5k.

I only run 5K PRs while wearing holiday socks.
I baked (and ate) approximately 8 million Christmas cookies.

And I ran.

Did some running drills.  

(Ate some more Christmas treats.)

And ran some more.

(Such is training through the holidays.)

At the end of the holidays, full of chocolate and miles, I flew to Jacksonville for a half marathon.

The Jacksonville Bank Half Marathon is a generally low-key affair; without much prize money, it doesn’t tend to attract elite athletes. But this year, Richard Fannin (the elite coordinator for the Gate River Run) transformed it into THE place to go for a final chance at a Trials qualifier. (You can qualify for the marathon trials with a sub-1:15 half marathon.) He recruited around 100 elite and sub-elite athletes, a combination of athletes going for the standard and those that had previously qualified. (On the women’s side, twenty women were going for the standard and twenty others, like me, had already qualified and were using the race as a tune-up/hard workout.) For those going for it, he put together pacers to take advantage of a pancake flat course and took care of every detail to make the experience seamless. Each athlete (even the stars that were volunteering their pacing duties) paid their airfare, but Fannin hooked us all up with hotel rooms, coordinated rides to and from the airport, and rented out an entire restaurant for a massive pre-race pasta dinner.

Photo by Salty Running.
Check out their site for their awesome coverage of the race! 
I was thankful to be blessed enough to not have to attempt to run 1:15—the pressure was off for me—but I did want a big PR to give justification to the goals I’m shooting for in LA. I feel like I’ve had a half PR coming for a while; last season’s didn’t go so well. While my recent workouts have not hit my out-of-this-world ambitions, they are faster than they were in the fall of 2014 (when I set my current half PR). Doing some math based on comparing this season’s workouts to that season, I thought I was in shape to break 1:18. An ambitious, 90 second PR, but I’d take advantage of the elite treatment, the speedy field, and the pancake course.

Race morning was dark and rainy, but that was better than heat by everyone’s accounts. My stomach was off from the minute I woke up, but I attributed it to nerves. When has my stomach ever been right on race morning? I hadn’t slept well, but when do I ever sleep well before races? These are normal race morning stresses, whatever.

My race plan mainly consisted of NOT. STARTING. TOO. FAST. A large pack was going out at 1:15 pace (aka I-would-need-to-drop-out-by-mile-2 pace) so there was no way I could get sucked into that. I held back as people zipped by and it seemed quite a few other women had my plan, to relax and not go too crazy.

After a mile or so, I found myself behind a group of three or four women, staying exactly the same distance behind them. Even though I wasn’t really with them, they helped keep me on pace. Remaining the same distance behind them seemed to be perfect. Through 5K and 10K, I was right on. There were moments of doubt (I can’t do this! I can’t keep up! I’m slowing!) but I kept reminding myself to be positive; I was doing exactly what I planned and I wasn’t slowing.

Around mile 6, though, I caught the women, thereby losing my pacers. They must be slowing, but I’m feeling good! But when I saw the next split, I realized we were all slowing, and I only caught up because I was slowing slightly less. One woman came with me and encouraged me, “Let’s keep picking them off!” I was relieved to have someone to run with and kept working to stay with her.

I was starting to struggle though. Our pace continued to slow, even though I felt like I was working to get it back and to stay with Encouraging Chick. Around mile 8, she gapped me. Looking back, I wish I had tried harder to stay with her, but that’s too easy to say after the fact. Why didn’t I just try harder?? Easier said than done.

From then on, I was alone. My splits seemed more and more discouraging, but they actually remained about the same pace since the mile 6 slow down. I was just more and more discouraged that I couldn’t get back on my planned pace. And my math (and my thoughts) were becoming more and demoralizing… well I won’t get my A goal… or my B goal…

I told myself I could pick it up at mile 10. (Just 3 measly miles left!) I reminded myself I had successfully picked it up at the end of Raleigh. But not this time… my 11th and 12th miles were the slowest of the day.

Somewhere in the 11th mile, all at once, I started hating the rain, realizing how much it sucked and how completely drenched I was. My shoes were soaked—I was carrying around my own little puddles to splash in every time I stepped down. With one mile left, I tried again to talk myself back into it: Pick it UP!! Almost done! I started counting to myself (a strategy I often rely on during speedy track workouts). If I count to sixty six times, I’ll be done. (Not really, but close enough.) It at least worked to distract me, but my legs weren’t moving any faster.

At last, I made the turn onto a grass field towards the finish on the track. Still I couldn’t find a sprint. As I finally made it around the bend of the track and saw the time on the clock, I realized how close I was to sneaking under 1:19. I pressed, but it didn’t seem enough.

Afterwards, I went to the end of the track and let out some of my emotions. I wasn't sure of my official time but I knew that, while a PR (I know, I know! I’m the most ungrateful brat), it was at least a minute slower than I wanted to run. And that makes me seriously question my goal for the marathon.

But I quickly felt stupid for being upset—there were people that had gone for the qualifier and missed it. My silly little goal and frustration (Just a PR? Who cares, no big deal, I want more!!) was nothing compared to their disappointment.

Happily, seven women and twenty men did get their qualifier. Which is a HUGE amount when you think about how low-key this race was and is entirely due to Richard Fannin’s efforts. Thanks to him, and some seriously on-point pacers, a whole new flock of runners had their dreams come true. The whole weekend was full of a spirit of camaraderie—about people working together to go after a singular goal. It was awesome to be around that and the entire trip was unforgettable.

But as I left the excitement of Jacksonville and headed home, my post-race grumpiness resumed. I wondered if I could blame the rain or my stomach (which was off for the entire day)… but there was no obvious scapegoat. I just didn’t have it. I still didn’t know my official time (there were some timing glitches due to the rain) but I lost any hope that I had broken 1:19.

Monday afternoon, I finally found out I had officially run sub-1:19 (1:18:55 by chip time) which eased my disappointment a bit. It’s still not the PR I hoped for, and the race caused some new doubts to sneak in, but it was a PR, so I’m trying to remind myself that I am running better than ever. (It seems obvious, but somehow I need to keep repeating this to myself.) Hopefully a few more weeks of hard work will bring my (as always) ambitious goals back into my grasp.

Dream big,


  1. You are faster than you were last year. Embrace the progress and don't stop dreaming.

  2. Woo! A PR! A new milestone! Big dreams! Fire in the belly! You're a MARATHONER. Go for it in LA :)

    1. It's so true, I am a marathoner! (And certainly not a 5K-er, haha.) Thanks for the reminder and the positivity! :)

  3. can see the raindrops in that last photo.. some folks like to run in the rain, I don't, will always be a tad slower than in good conditions..

    PR in a non-target race is perfectly acceptable ;-)
    Well done, I am looking forward to the Trials races..

    1. Yea, I liked that photo because it shows the rain and reminds me of the conditions. Thanks for the encouragement!

  4. Thank you for the inspiration. Your insights and breakthroughs apply to all areas of life. And thanks for the blast from the past featuring Ariel dreaming about going "up where they run." I'm so psyched to cheer at the Trials. It's a dream come true for me, too!

    1. I'm psyched to hear your cheering!! I bet it will be loud enough people on the East Coast will hear it :)

  5. Congrats on your PR! Yes, I know what you mean when you say: "I know it's a PR, but it's not what I wanted." In the past two years, every time I tried to go for it during a tune-up half marathon, I would PR by a little, but I'd never get the time I really wanted. I'd get so frustrated and think: "How can I even phantom to run a marathon at x:xx min/mile next month if I just finished a half marathon at only x:xx min/mile??" But, somehow, I always did. SaltyRunning Snail is right: you are a MARATHONER! The marathon is your thing and LA is what really counts. You still have some time ahead of you to improve even more and you'll feel like a million bucks after tapering. You got this!

    1. Martina, Thanks for this! It's really helpful to hear that the marathon is a different story. (Even if I *know* that, it always helps to hear someone else's experience!) Thanks for sharing :)

  6. To parrot everyone else, you did great! And you know where you stand, and that's the right place to be a month out. You've got it for LA. Hopefully I'll see you there!

    1. Thanks, Kyle! And thanks for all the awesome coverage :) Hoping to see you in LA, too!