Tuesday, December 17, 2013

The race I wasn't supposed to race

Many, many months ago I had it in my head that I could run a sub 1:50 half marathon at BCS (Bryan/College Station) this year. Had my heart truly been in it, I suppose that yes, I could've. That's about an 8:22 pace, and I ran about an 8:30 at 3M at the beginning of the year.

The summer didn't really go as I had planned. My pace suffered as I just wasn't able to tough it out through the heat and humidity quite like I had in 2012. The night trail race I did in August really took it out of me and forced me to refocus a bit. I needed to concentrate on my upcoming marathon and not a new PR. So BCS would then become a "training run"....a fast training run, as I still planned to break 2 hours, but not anything near 8:22 pace.

I traveled to College Station with several of my triathlon group friends and they all assured me that yes, I would be racing this. It was more than a training run and I needed to give it my all. I told them that my best would be breaking 9 min overall pace. I think it appeased them at the time.

The weather leading up to the race was a bit brutal. The morning before was in the mid-20s with winds, bringing the windchill down into the low teens. Thankfully the icy weather was supposed to move out by race morning, with temps right around freezing, but no wind forecasted. Brutal to stand around in while waiting for the race to start, but great for the actual running. I fretted several times about what to wear, but ultimately decided capris and my long sleeve Team Luke's shirt with gloves and a hat would be just fine. I was kind of curious about how my body would respond to the cold and if I'd run faster subconsciously.

I started the race with my training buddies Tony and Paul, but I knew both would jump ahead of me and I'd likely not see them again until the finish. Tony would run under 1:50 and Paul was shooting for sub 2 hours, but I knew he'd be well under that. I thought a 1:57 would be just fine for me. Sure enough, they were gone after about the first half mile. The first 2 miles were exactly as I'd hoped at 9:40 and 9:15. I was running by feel and not checking my pace on my Garmin, but rather just glancing at my mile splits in case I needed to adjust. If they were coming in faster than I thought, but I felt good I wasn't going to intentionally slow down.

Me and Tony at the start. Yes, I made fun of his tights.
There's a little glimpse of Paul behind us, too.

Mile 3 came and went with a little drama. One bridge that we needed to cross hadn't been sanded the night before after we got some unexpected freezing rain, and it was iced over. I had to walk across it so I wouldn't slip. Thankfully I didn't see anyone fall, but it was a little worrisome. I hoped the remaining overpasses would have sand on them, as I knew the temps would never get above freezing during the race and the ice wouldn't have a chance to melt. Surprisingly, that mile still came in at 9:00 even. I thought for sure I'd lost more time by walking, but I must have been running much faster than it felt. This gave me a huge mental boost. I honestly felt great.

The first 5k came in at just under 29 minutes I think. I was trying to pay a little attention to splits, so I could be sure I was increasing my pace enough throughout to hit a 1:57. I was right where I wanted to be. My best racing comes when I start slow and run progressively faster, with my last mile my fastest.

It was after 4 miles that I decided this would be a race after all. I felt great, really great. Already 4 miles in, running 8:45 pace and it felt much slower, knowing I could continually increase my pace as the miles ticked off. Why not race it? It wouldn't be a PR, but I could certainly make it my second fastest half marathon by a long shot.

The middle miles were pretty uneventful. I had warmed up, the spectators were a lot of fun, I chatted here and there with other runners (it was a good feeling to still be able to talk during the race!), and I was amazed anyone was out volunteering for the race in that cold weather.

10k came through in the 55 minute range and I had dropped to under 9 minute overall pace. I just needed to hold onto this for the second half and I'd have my second fastest time. But I really thought I could keep going faster. I concentrated a lot on just making it to the mile markers, by realizing that it was less than an hour of running left, that the A&M campus was pretty fabulous to run through, and there were a lot of college boys hanging around. Hey, whatever gets you through, right?

During mile 8 I started chatting with a few college girls as we ran through campus. At one point, I said "only 5 miles until the beer". They got silent. I realized that they weren't old enough to drink yet. So then I told them only 5 miles until I got to drink their beer.

We went across a timing mat at just under 9 miles and my watch said 1:19. I was definitely having a good race. I hoped to run about 8:20 pace for the remainder of the race. For some reason my poor math skills told me that would give me a 1:56.

During mile 11 I saw Christine come out of the porto-potty and I yelled to her. She and Joe had started ahead of us, and I knew she must have been having a fantastic race to be running sub-9 WITH a potty stop. It took me about a half mile to catch her and as I was passing her, she says to me "What took you so long?" Aw, I love that lady. I also knew that she was not about to let me beat her and I expected that she'd be breathing down my neck for the last couple miles.

I could also see Paul up ahead of me. I honestly tried to speed up just a bit to tuck in right behind him for the rest of the race so we could finish close together, but that man was on a mission. I was afraid of speeding up too much and blowing up at the end as a result, so I played it conservative. I was gaining on him slowly, but we were running out of miles very quickly. He was certainly a really awesome rabbit for me to go after those last couple miles, however. It kept my focus off the fact that I had been running for over 90 minutes and was now running about 8:10 pace.

As we were nearing the last quarter mile I got within about 2 seconds of him and yelled to him, but with his earphones in he couldn't hear me at all. As soon as we passed the 13 mile marker and could see the finish line, that man seriously turned on the afterburners. I tried hard to keep pace but there was absolutely no way I was catching him. This whole time I expected Christine to come cruising by me, but I didn't see her yet.

I glanced at the finish clock and it read 1:56. I was pretty shocked. I hadn't paid much attention to my watch the last couple miles and had no idea I was running a 1:54 race (we started 2 minutes after the gun).

As I crossed the line, I saw my teammates....Tony (1:48), Joe (1:49), and Paul (1:54). Less than 3 minutes after my finish, Christine crossed the line at 1:57. We had all had amazing races. We left it all out there on the course and had run better than expected. Tony tried to complain that he didn't run 1:46 like he really wanted to but I told him to shut up. Joe blew away last year's BCS time by almost 30 minutes. I got a hug from race director Chris Field and the kids from the Down Syndrome Association of Brazos Valley gave us our medals. Perfect finish!

I had no idea I had a 1:54 in me that day, but I was beyond thrilled. And this came 8 days after a strong 20-mile training run.

I need to give myself a little more credit. With my official 1:54:47 I placed 19th in my age group of 180 people, 102 out of 1348 women, 302 out of 2051 overall, and I was 3rd overall and the fastest female out of all 39 year olds. I just didn't expect this at all, and I am still (9 days later) so damn excited. This was my last race in this age group.

I think there's a sub 1:50 in me after all!!

(FYI....I'm already signed up for 2014....THIS IS THE BEST RACE I'VE EVER RUN IN TEXAS!!!)