Friday, March 16, 2018

Race Report - RnR DC Half

Going into the Rock-n-Roll DC Half Marathon I was nervous about all the logistics with Baby (as is the reality these days) but also excited to be racing for real again. It isn’t that last season wasn’t for real or that I wasn’t doing the best I could at the time, but it seemed impossibly far from where I used to be. I’m still not quite there, but I know I’m closer, back in the general vicinity of my old paces and times.

My early season goal (written back in January) was to break 1:20, which is what I did in the half marathon before I qualified the last time. But my early season goals often get shifted a bit as the reality of training sets in; my updated/hopefully more realistic goal was to run 6:10 pace. (Sub-1:20 is 6:06 pace.) I planned to run as close to 6:10s as possible until about mile 10 and then to press from there to the finish. (I really wanted to practice digging deeper and pressing earlier than I have been in workouts lately.) Maybe things will go amazingly and I’ll hit 10 miles ahead of pace and could possibly push to finish in 1:20 after all. I’ll certainly lose time on the hill at mile 6, but maybe I’ll make up more time than expected on the downhill...?? This is where my pre-race (lack of) logic always goes; I think of a seemingly realistic goal and then somehow twist it into a (not very sound) plan that can get me my crazier goal. But it’s not rational; I couldn’t make up all that time in the latter stages of the race unless I was really holding back in the beginning. And I didn’t think 6:10s would be holding back. In fact, in my normal pre-race pendulum swing of ambition and doubts, I worried 6:10s might also be a reach goal.

As we lined up at the start, I found myself near three women I knew were super speedy and assumed they would take the top spots. Maybe I can get fourth; I’ve been third here before and am hoping to run faster today. Then the gun went off and it seemed like twenty women passed me. Where did all these ladies come from?!? I took a break to have a baby and now I’m old and washed up and getting my butt kicked. (For the record, I don’t actually feel old—and many of the women who beat me are around my age—but you know what I mean.) I told myself I was being smart and running my own race, but I didn’t have much hope they were all going to come back to me. (Spoiler alert, they didn’t.) Whatever, my focus is on time anyway.

On pace at Mile 4.
I tried to relax and run my 6:10s, but the first split was still a little fast and the next a little slow. I focused on seeing my family at miles 2.5 and 4 and by mile 4 I was exactly on pace. We headed up Rock Creek Parkway, my old stomping ground. I remembered how good I felt running on this same road in my first race back last fall; it's my territory/my place to shine (even though I moved a year and a half ago and suffered many totally awful runs there when I lived in DC). I felt in control and optimistic, despite losing a couple seconds here and there. My focus switched to getting up and over the hill at mile 6 without doing too much damage physically or mentally. Like all hills, it started out tolerable (oh this isn’t so bad, I can do this) then got terrible (OMG, I am basically walking, when does this thing end?) and then, thankfully, it was over. I tried to regain my composure and pace so the 7th mile split wasn’t too abysmal. I was about 30 seconds over 6:10 pace at that point but I knew I’d successfully made up that much time on this course before.

Rock Creek Parkway
Photo credit: RunWashington
The next section rolls a bit, but I reminded myself: There’s more down than up. I felt good; I’ve always liked this section of the course. A few friends were out cheering and my watch seemed to say I had picked it up. But the 8th mile split (at the bottom of a big hill) was only a few seconds fast and the 9th mile split was somehow slower than 6:10. This wasn’t the plan.

But mile 10 got me back on track; I made up nearly 20 seconds (and later realized mile 10 has the most significant downhill) and knew my 6:10 was in reach. I had told myself I’d start to really push here, but I was mentally hesitating. Fortunately, just as I was talking myself out of attempting to sustain a sub-6 pace, a girl caught me. She had been one of the very few women I assumed I had successfully vanquished around mile 3, but here she was again. (All those other women were still ahead of me, though there turned out to be ten of them, not twenty-plus.) I knew it would be helpful to stick with her, so I tried to hang on and surprised myself that she didn’t immediately drop me.

We stayed together for maybe a mile, with me getting back in front of her a bit. We dropped another sub-6 mile and I was so grateful she was helping me stick to my original plan, but at mile 12 she finally gapped me. My split was slower (though that mile is slightly uphill) and this is the part of the race that’s plaguing me now: Did I give up too early? Could I have pushed harder to stick with her? At the moment I didn’t think so, but I still wonder. I tried counting in my head, which is a strategy that often keeps me focused and helps me pick it up at the end of hard workouts, but it didn’t seem to be working. But the pace for the last 1.1 mile (~5:55) was the second fastest of the day, so maybe it wasn’t as bad as it seemed.

Mile 12ish, getting dropped.
I finished in 1:20:27, which is a postpartum PR (not too hard since my only other half was 6 months postpartum) and a course PR (a way more significant stat, since I’ve run this race six times, in various degrees of shape). It's also my third fastest half ever. My final pace (6:08) was exactly halfway between my two goals of 6:10 pace and sub-1:20 (6:06 pace). 
Last push to the finish.
Photo credit: Cheryl Young
Still, I don’t entirely know what to make of it. There were many pre-race moments I didn’t think 6:10 was possible, yet I managed even better that that. Of course my season isn’t exactly matching my crazy pre-season hopes, but I’m not too far off.

The problem is I worry that I am "off" because I keep comparing everything in this season to my buildup to CIM, where I qualified for the 2016 Trials. Having the stats of what has been successful before can be a helpful gage, but I have to keep reminding myself that this season is different and the buildup can’t possibly be exactly the same. For starters, the tune-up races are different; this half was three weeks earlier in the season than Raleigh, the pre-CIM half where I broke 1:20. Back then I felt like I was putting the finishing touches on the buildup, right now I’m smack in the middle. Also, the time I now need for the marathon is two minutes slower than what I needed back then. (And I ran almost exactly a minute slower for half the distance, so the math works out. And yes, I'll look for just about any stat to help my ambitions seem mathematically sound.) But every time I think about how the standard is easier, I remember how much harder the course I’m trying to run it on is and how quickly those two minutes will disappear on those hills.

For now though, all I can do is get back to the grind.

Dream big,


  1. Everything looks good here except your anxiety about it. I'd say you're well on track for a full comeback.

    1. Thanks for the support and confidence, Dave! :)