Friday, November 16, 2018

Race Report: 2018 Richmond Half Marathon

At the beginning of the season I write down my goals. They are always full of dreamy ambition based on the hope of training and life going absolutely flawlessly. Then training begins…. and reality sets in. Workouts don’t go perfectly. Early season races are ridiculously warm and humid. So are midseason races. Slowly over the course of the season, I realign my goals with what might be more possible. This season my pie-in-the-sky A+ goal for the Richmond half marathon was to break 1:17 (5:52 pace). I haven’t raced any distance at that pace ever, so yea, it was a little crazy. And given my September and October performances, it seemed near impossible. An adjustment was necessary.

But I was stubbornly reluctant to back off too much. Despite my race performances, I was running workouts faster than ever. Based solely on one tempo run that went surprisingly well, I thought I could run 5:55 pace, which would put me at about 1:17:30. Race day was going to be perfect weather, so I had no excuses. It would be my last big effort before CIM, my last chance to prove to myself that I truly am in the best shape of my life, and time to finally get that first official PR post baby.

But in typical Teal fashion, after I made this more realistic goal, I thought about how I could twist it into meeting my original goal: I’ll go out conservatively (e.g. 5:55 pace), and maybe I can pick it up in the second half? But going out at 5:55 isn’t exactly conservative. I have only run that pace for a 5K (and not recently). Running that pace would mean I’d run 10K and 10 mile PRs in the middle of a half marathon. I ignored that logic, except to remind myself that I should certainly not go out faster than 5:55.  

Race morning was a bit windy but otherwise perfect as promised. The first two miles were a hair over 5:55, perfect. We were running into the wind and I tried to visualize the course and how this meant we’d have the wind at our backs at the end. Look at me, staying positive! I found myself in a little pack of four or so women and tried to quiet my over analytical mind (Is this too fast? Is this too slow?) by latching onto them. But the third mile was a little fast (5:50) and as we headed towards an out and back, I got dropped. That’s okay, the pace was a little fast for this early. Just keep them in sight.

Photo credit: Cheryl Young
On the out and back, I tried to count the women ahead. The top five would win money and in recent years, 1:17:30 would get fifth. As always, it seemed like a whole mess of women had flown by me at the start, I felt like I must be in twentieth place. But the sun was in my eyes, so it was hard to see who was coming back; I guessed I might be in eleventh. The women who had just dropped me had joined a larger group ahead. Keep that pack in sight and try to reel it in.

While the elevation chart for this race looks flat, it doesn’t seem so flat when you’re running it. The worst of the hills are in a park from mile 5.5-7.5. In Deena Kastor’s book, she wrote that she would mouth, “Charge!” to herself on each uphill. So I tried that and passed two women on the hill at the park entrance. Oh yea, I’m good on hills.

I knew the 10K split would be a PR, but was pleasantly surprised it wasn’t by just a second or two but by over twenty. 10K PR: check. One PR down, two to go.

I tried not to be intimidated by the pace, but to take it one mile at a time. Just get through the park, through these last rolls. I can do it, I am doing it. When I looked at my watch between miles and saw the pace hovering over 6 minutes, I created a new goal: don’t let any mile be over 6. Mile 8 was close with a 5:59, but I was more relieved I had managed another sub-6 than worried my time was inching higher. I caught another woman around mile 9 and then had my sights set on Esther Atkins. Can I catch her?? I thought I could. I’m going to really press from 10 on and catch her. Just get to 10 miles.

Photo credit: Cheryl Young
10 miles was another PR (unofficially, since there was no timing mat) but for some dumb reason I did the math wrong (10 miles is one of the easiest places to calculate splits! C’mon mid-race Teal!) and thought I was over 5:55 pace by 11 seconds. (Actually, at 59:11, I was just one second over.) I needed to press these last few miles, which was my plan all along. Here we go.

Soon after 10, I saw my family. I was still feeling good so tried to give them a big wave to let them know. But as soon as I put my arm up, a flood of exhaustion hit me, like holding up my arm was more than I could handle. Huh, I guess I am more tired than I think. Continuing to put one foot in front of the other seemed easier than waving, so I stuck with that.

But I wasn’t picking it up as much as I needed and I think I finally I accepted that sub-1:17 wasn’t going to happen. Esther had taken off around mile 11 and so my plan to catch her was also failing. But around mile 12 I could see her catching a group of two or three women ahead. I hadn’t seen anyone around me besides Esther for miles, but now they were in my sights. Can I catch them?? I had no idea what place I was in but I guessed one of those women was in fifth. If I could catch the pack I could maybe snag a spot in the money. But I wasn’t going any faster and I was quickly running out of room.

As we made the final turn and hit the steep downhill to the finish, I knew I didn’t have enough space but I tried to finish as strong as I could. (I actually hate this race’s sharp drop at the end: the pounding is magnified on your already aching legs and it’s hard to resist the urge to brake.) I figured I was still running well enough to break 1:18 but wasn’t really sure and had lost track of splits (plus I was thrown off by my erroneous math at mile 10). So when I saw the clock flashing low 1:17s it was a relief.

I finished in 1:17:26, for the third PR of the day. I was psyched I had finally pulled off a big (90 second) PR and had to be satisfied that I wasn’t *that* far off my early season goal. I also ran perfectly even splits, 5:54 pace at 10K and the finish. But the last two miles left a bad taste in my mouth; I didn’t compete well and I feel like there was more left that I didn’t tap into. I wished I had pressed harder to try to catch those women. I wished I had gone when Esther went and dug a little deeper. I finished in eighth, which was disappointing since I really thought top 5 was possible.

But the string of PRs is an obvious sign that I am in the best shape of my life, for the first time in nearly three years. I’ve finally come fully back from having a baby and am running better than ever. The season started badly, with embarrassingly slow races, but I kept my head down, kept plugging away, and trusted things would turn around. It took longer than expected, but it’s clear they have.

Oh yea, and one more (incredibly unofficial) PR while we’re at it. My last 5K (from 10 to 13.1) is a 5K PR by two seconds. So I guess the summer of speed is more like the fall of fast. That’s fine by me.

One more PR to go.

All smiles on a day full of PRs.
Dream big,