Friday, September 27, 2019

Race Report: Rock-n-Roll Philly Half Marathon 2019

My goals for this fall are to improve my half marathon and ten mile PRs. I haven’t dedicated a season to shorter stuff (i.e. not marathons) since 2012 and I ran my half and ten mile PRs off marathon training, not training specific to those distances. (Unofficially, both PRs actually come from the same race.) On the way to my peak races (Twin Cities Ten Miler and Richmond Half), I planned to run Rock-n-Roll Virginia Beach as a hard workout and Rock-n-Roll Philly as my first real race effort. Though Philly was just a stepping stone to the later races, I’d go in tapered and mentally jacked, ready to give my best effort on the day.

The Virginia Beach half workout, two weeks before Philly, went close to expected. The plan was to start slower than marathon pace, gradually pick it up to marathon pace, and race the last few miles if I felt good and the weather cooperated. Though it was humid, I didn’t feel terrible and tried to pick it up at the end, but wasn’t successful. Still, I averaged 6:15 pace so it was a solid workout and the best/longest effort I’d had since Boston. I was excited to see what I could do in Philly, when tapered and given permission to really go for it.

My pace goal for Philly was to run 6:00, which seemed hard but not unreasonable. More than a specific pace, though, I wanted to focus on process goals. (Process goals are within your control, unlike an outcome goal—like a time or place—that depends on weather, other competitors, etc.) Lately I’ve been wondering if my two biggest weaknesses—heat/humidity and any distance shorter than a marathon—are in some part self-fulfilling prophesies. I tell myself I’m bad in that kind of weather and at that kind of distance and so… I run poorly. (Certainly there is truth to both issues: tough conditions will slow times down, the marathon is my strength. But I seem to be so much of an anomaly in both situations that I wonder if part of it is mental.) One of my power words this season is capable, to remind myself that I am capable of running well in poor conditions and I am capable of running faster in shorter stuff. With Philly, I wanted to run strong even if the weather sucked, to be tough when I needed to be, and to finish feeling proud that I gave what I had and didn’t let negativity get the best of me. I was also going up against a course that repeatedly plagued me in the past; I wanted to finally manage a win. All week long I talked myself up, reminding myself that I really wanted to fight when it got hard and not give up, no matter the time.

Race day was humid as always: 71° and 90% humidity. (On paper, it was similar to VA beach, but Philly felt much worse in my opinion.) This race gets a fast field (Desi, Jordan, Becky Wade, Lindsay Flanagan, and others, plus a ton of my speedy friends from DC and Richmond). At the gun, everyone flew by and I tried to reign in the excitement and not go out too fast. I looked at my watch approximately 8 million times to stay in check and remind myself to relax. The first four miles wind through the city, so my watch’s pace was wildly inaccurate, but I managed to twice follow a slightly too fast mile with a slightly too slow one and hit 4 miles right on pace. That seemed promising, although looking back now I may have been working a little too hard/in my head too much for so early in the race. (Though it’s easy to say this now given that I know how it ended up). I was also splashing water on my head as soon as possible. (Literally at the first water stop. Though I missed my head and hit the guy behind me in the face. Whoops, sorry!! Hope it was refreshing!)

Mile 1: Feeling fine. 
Mile 5 was slow (6:15), but I’ve had a slow mile in this section before and let it derail me, so this time I had prepared myself to not let it bug me. My old GRC teammate Catherine caught me and I was excited to run with her and work together. Mile 6 was better though still a little slow (6:04), but my head was spiraling a bit. I was trying to fight it off, to stay with Catherine, to work on digging deep. I knew having Catherine was such a blessing and was helping me keep it together; I didn’t want to let that opportunity go. But I was wondering why I was doing this at all. This sucks. Maybe I should stop racing, I’m not that good.

Mile 7: With Catherine on my right.
I tried to focus on my mantra for the race, but became intimidated by how long I’d need to repeat it. Mile 7 was another 6:15, so was mile 8. I was falling apart and trying not to bargain with myself. Just don’t drop out. There’s nothing wrong with you and no need to drop out. At least finish. …. Uh, that’s bargaining with myself. How did I get from fighting with everything I had to convincing myself to just not quit entirely? I fell back from Catherine at this point and though I tried to tell myself to get back to her, the gap continued to grow.

I thought hitting the bridge at mile 9 and heading back towards the finish would be a mental boost. But mile 9 was my slowest yet (6:30!). Miles 10 and 11 were slightly better (~6:20) but I was desperately just trying to get to the finish. I really wanted to stop and walk. I wanted to cry. Why am I here AGAIN, running so poorly?? Women were passing me, some encouraging me to go with them, but I had no fight, no will do it. I figured I’d be slower than VA Beach and had nothing to fight for. Even as I got closer, I didn’t manage to kick it in. The last 2.1 miles were my slowest (more 6:30s).

Mile 10: Desperate to be done.
When I could finally see the clock, I realized it would be closer to my VA Beach time than I thought, but it was too late to do anything about it. I finished 9 seconds slower, for another 6:15 average. (Though, man oh man, did I come about it a different and more terribly, awful way. I do not recommend it.)

I had to fight back tears at the finish (FYI it’s really difficult to cry when out of breath: it comes out in ragged gasps which feel like choking, though happy tears don’t seem to have this problem), but when I made it to the elite tent and saw some friends I lost it. It wasn’t the time that bothered me as much as the lack of fight. I have a lot of issues with confidence and toughness and the race seemed to confirm my suspicions. Yes, it was humid, but people PRed left and right. Why couldn’t I fight better? Why didn’t I?

Since the race, I’ve started talking to a sports psychologist (which was already in the works before Philly, though the race confirmed the need). I’m realizing that I need to relax a lot more early on (easier said than done!) and respond to negative feedback (a bad split, being passed by a pack, etc.) with less judgement. Even as I try mentally to be positive, my body is probably physically too tensed up, too ready to fight too early (which ironically robs me of the fight when I need it later). There’s lots to explore here and I’m just getting started but I’ll update as I try some tactics (like relaxation techniques, regular body scans, counting slowly) and see what works.

Despite my efforts to win one on this course, the race was a rerun of the 2012 edition. And just like past years, I find myself in the September slump. But in the past that slump has been followed by fast times when the heat and humidity finally lift. This year I ran a totally awful, demoralizing, humid half two minutes faster than last September's totally awful, demoralizing, humid half. So I'm right on track for a two-minute PR in November, right?

Dream big,