My original plan going into the Bryan College Station Half on 12/14 was to full out race it and see what I could do. The Houston Marathon qualifying mark is a 1:52:55 half, which would be a difficult time to achieve, but not out of the question (my personal best is 1:51:36). But I had lost some speed over the course of the year and wasn't quite sure I could pull it off. When Houston announced they were doing away with the lottery and would instead open registration up to everyone I realized that a qualifying mark wasn't really necessary anymore for the 2016 race. I decided then that I wouldn't go over the top in pushing myself for that 8:37 pace and would instead try to break 9:00 overall pace, with my "B" goal of under 2 hours.
As race day approached, the weather looked less than ideal. Low 60s and very high humidity - near 100%. Just trying to break 9:00 min pace was going to be an all out effort for me after all, but I would give it a shot.
I took it easy as usual leading up to race day so I'd be rested and ready for the distance. It was a cloudy morning and a touch warm. Not having the sun on us would be a very good thing!
I started off conservative but still a bit faster than my usual starting pace and my first mile came in at 9:28. Probably a bit fast but it didn't feel like that fast so I went with it. I sped up just slightly during Mile 2 and was actually quite surprised when my pace clocked in at 8:56 for that mile. I told myself if I could just stick right around that pace for the entire race I'd be fine, and I did think that I could. Within about 3 miles I realized that my Garmin was running a little fast and that it was probably a bit off on it's distance calculation. I know that I pick up a bit of extra distance during long races, but this was a little more than usual. I did a quick calculation and realized that the Garmin was probably about 5 seconds off per mile, although sticking to just-under-9-minute miles according to my Garmin was probably going to be just fine.
I also realized within these first 3 miles that this race was going to HURT.
I had some heaviness in my legs and my lungs were working hard to breathe through the 100% humidity. My miles came through consistently between 8:48 and 9:00, however, but it was not at all easy for me to maintain it. I wasn't particularly speedy, but this absolutely was "racing" for me.
At the halfway mark I was at 59:43, under the 1 hour mark that I wanted to see. Typically in a half marathon I can speed up quite a bit in the last 4 miles or so and have a sizable negative split. This time, however, I knew that if I could simply even-split this race I was doing well. It would still give me my B goal and I'd be thrilled. But I did have a shot at that A goal still. I merely needed about a 58 minute second half, not that much faster than the first half. I concentrated on just trying to not slow down at all.
The miles continued to click by in that same high-8's range, not dropping closer to 8:30 like I had hoped they would, but I was very fearful of speeding up too much and aggravating my asthma. As we entered A&M campus my spirits were certainly raised, however. It's such a great campus and the students are the best spectators. I was not a smiling happy runner at all, but I really did appreciate them cheering me on as I passed. We even had a Santa and Mrs. Claus! The wind was picking up at this point, however, and the headwinds kept the pace a little slower than I would have liked, but I was expecting the wind so I didn't let it bother me too much. I was glad I was getting a bit cooled off from it.
Every mile that I banked got me closer to my goal and I kept doing the calculations in my head knowing that as long as I just kept running I would be fine...10 miles, 11 miles, and 12 miles completed under 1:50. But with 1.1 miles to go I'd have to do a pretty solid pace to squeak under that 9 minute pace. I decided right then that meeting my B goal was definitely good enough and I just kept running.
That last mile actually flew by very quickly and we finally were making the final turn to the finish. I took the time to actually enjoy that stretch. The beneficiary of the race is Mercy Project, which helps get kids out of slavery in Africa, and there were pictures up of many of the rescued children. It brought a smile to my face. I didn't speed up on this stretch like I usually do and I was getting passed right and left but it didn't matter. I could hear the race director on the PA system telling us we only had a minute or two left, and I could see the clock at the finish just ahead of me.
As I crossed the finish line, I was so relieved. It was not the usual progressive pace half marathon I typically race. My official time was 1:58:27, for a 9:02 overall pace. My second half was about 1 minute faster than the first half, and my splits were very consistent, staying around 8:45-9:05 pace from miles 2 to 13. I didn't bonk, I didn't slow down, and I was successful!
I found my friend Tony in the finish area and he had raced just under 1:54. He typically is about 5-6 minutes faster than me in a half marathon, so this made me feel better about my race. I knew I left it all out there and ran a smart race. If I had pushed myself anymore in those last miles I probably would have ended up in medical with an asthma attack, and that would have sucked. And I broke that 2 hour mark, which is always a great feeling.
We hung out in the finish area for the next 2 hours, eating and drinking and greeting our friends as they finished. It was a tough day for everyone with the weather and the wind, but a great race regardless.
Half marathon #10 is in the books. 5 weeks from Marathon #11 and I feel pretty good about it. Will it be a PR race? I don't know, but I do know that I'll give it my best shot and just try to enjoy Houston like I always do.