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November 1, 2010

2010 Halloween Half Marathon

Bib Number: 98
Overall Placement: 69 / 393 (17.6%)
Age Group Placement: 7 / 64 (10.9%)
Gender Placement: 23 / 258 (8.9%)
Chip Time: 1:52:47

This race was on our calendar from a long way out. As Little G and I planned our training toward the Space Coast Marathon on Thanksgiving weekend, this race, exactly four weeks before, seemed to fall perfectly on the calendar. It would test our fitness and race-readiness, and still give us plenty of time to recover before the real race.

Little G aims to re-qualify for Boston.* Having run my first 26.2 in a somewhat-disappointing 4:30:04, my goal is to run close to a 9-minute pace and get closer to the elusive 4-hour marathon. So the goal for the Halloween race was, simply, not to hurt myself.

Gun time for runners was 6:30. It was dark at the start–the race started at a beach park, and since it’s turtle nesting season no lights were allowed there. Therefore, only a few generator-powered lights lit up the parking lot; the bathrooms, pavilions, and chip-distribution areas were generally pitch-black.

Little G and I arrived at the race site around 5:30, just in time to see the walkers take off. It was like night, and we cheered for those gritty enough to take on 13 miles that they knew would likely take them over 3 hours to conquer. We collected our chips and hit the restrooms, then returned to the car for a catnap. With about twenty minutes to the gun, we got in line for the porta-potties and ingested a last-minute gel, but the line extended twenty deep, as did the line for the concrete park bathrooms; needless to say, the men’s room line did not even go past the door. We waited anxiously, watching the minutes tick by as we turned off our Garmins’ mile alerts.

A few minutes into our wait, we heard a cry of alarm from the bathrooms, and women scattered, crying in fear. A well-played Halloween trick, perhaps? Alas, no; it was a real, honest-to-goodness rodent: a rat, come crawling out of the toilet on some unsuspecting runner who, admittedly, had a better shot of adrenaline than any Hammer gel could ever give me.

In the end, I didn’t get to visit the porta-potty, deciding that it just wasn’t worth it to have a repeat of my experience at the 13.1 Fort Lauderdale, where I basically ran from the bathroom straight into mile 1. Besides, I told myself, I’d read the race director’s email and there was a porta-potty somewhere on the course, either mile 5 or mile 8, and this wasn’t a PR race anyway, so I’d just have to duck in and use it when I passed it.

We lined up close to the front, and when the gun went off, we did our best not to get run down–the start was very, very dark. But as soon as we got onto the road there were streetlights, and we were okay–mile 1 came in at 8:45.

I lost Little G in the opening crowd, but found her again as we climbed the first bridge at mile 2, pushing for an 8:43. I kept telling myself as we climbed that all that hillwork we did would pay off now, and felt my legs climbing that bridge–smooth on the uphill, easy on the downhill–as I told myself that I could celebrate once I crested and began to sail down the other side. But coming off the downhill, it was too early to begin to let that downhill carry me into a fast pace, and I held my pace to 8:41 for mile 3. I tried to find my happy pace and settle into it, remembering that my breathing during a race should feel hard, but not ragged, and that my thoughts and my core alike should remain focused, but not tight. Little G had started to pull ahead, and I tried to close in on her without pushing as mile 4 came in at 8:36.

I admired the intracoastal, the beauty of the sun as it came up and illuminated all that God has made, even as I was reminded that the roads had not been closed for this race and that every time I tried to make a pass I was quite literally making a decision that could put my life in my own hands. It forced me to choose my timing, to sometimes stay behind someone longer than I might have otherwise and to choose a moment when the lane widened or a spot of grass gave me room to move around.

At mile 5 (8:37) we started coming up on the walkers and run-walkers who had started early. I was beginning to feel the heat, and was thankful for the Hammer gels pinned to the undershorts of my skirt. I unpinned the first as I approached the mile 6 water station and promptly dropped it. But I was running in a tight pack and stopping to pick it up would have meant dropping another runner, too, so I had to ignore it and be thankful that I’d also packed an extra. I took that gel as we entered a neighborhood I usually race a Memorial Day 5k in, and I placed myself mentally on the race map: one loop around this beautiful (but hilly) neighborhood, then once over the bridge, then a straight shot into the finish. Having the visual image was a mental lift, and I knew once mile 6 was behind me I was halfway in. Mile 6 came in at 8:36. Having passed the halfway mark, I knew now that every step was erasing the distance to the finish line, and I was propelled to an 8:24 mile 7. I was feeling pretty strong at this point, feeling my legs but not losing them, and thinking that I’d be strong enough to push at mile 10.

I found two women running an easy, relaxed pace, and settled in with them. I was tempted to start pushing the pace, but I knew it was too early to, and having someone to talk to, I thought, would distract me. It seemed to work for mile 8, which came in at 8:31, but the work was starting to pile up, and as we passed the mile 9 sign, I knew I was in trouble. In the miles since the mile-6 sign, my legs felt like they’d taken on about five miles’ worth of work; I was starting to drag, and I knew it–and we were just beginning the climb up the Ernest Lyons bridge. It looked imposing and forbidding, yet I knew victory lay on the other side, and I’d been promised three “fast, flat” miles to the finish. I tried to corral my pace, my form, and my thoughts. I stayed with my easy-running pacers, and attacked the hill. My mile 9 pace came in steady at 8:36, but my race would fall apart soon after this.

It started out with an innocent-looking mile 10. Little G was wearing a bright-pink hat; my pacers and I were referring to her as “the beacon” and noting that, true to form, she was picking up her pace as the distance to the finish decreased. But with the miles ticking off, I could begin to push the pace too, and mile 10 came in at 8:17, my fastest mile so far, and the only one that I would run at close to my PR pace of 8:19.

I don’t usually take any water that late in a race, knowing my body can’t absorb any hydration within thirty minutes, but at the 10-mile water station, I stopped and took both a gel and water, hoping to infuse energy into my sapped limbs. I managed only to staunch the flow of speed out of my legs. I was passing a few people who were similarly struggling in the heat, but my pace was slowing to 8:22. I told myself that at the 11-mile sign I had only two miles to go, and that I still wouldn’t push myself but would only sustain my current pace–and this I did, notching exactly another 8:22 mile for number 12.

And then, for the first time ever in a race that I can remember, my right foot and my right calf started to cramp in the last mile and a half. They were vicious, gripping, numbing cramps, which I think would have been visible; they certainly altered my stride as I hit the ground on that side. I cried out loud as I ran, tears threatening, especially as I watched my form fall apart and my pace plummet. I’m generally a negative-split runner, and I pride myself on picking people off mercilessly at the end of races; I’m the runner who celebrates and revels in the joy of the exhaustion of the last 10% of the race. But yesterday I was in agony, powerless to stop my own slowdown. I didn’t get passed, because no one else was speeding up either, but somehow this didn’t comfort me–to know that my last mile was run at 8:45 pace just crushes me, though I know that the way my calf was seizing it was nothing but determination that kept me running at all, when I wanted to stop and quit.

I’m tempted to come up with excuses and explanations. It was unseasonably warm yesterday: 78 as Little G and I waited for the start in her car, half an hour before the race started and well before the sun came up. I didn’t hydrate as I should have the day before, and I didn’t take Endurolytes, which certainly would have helped. When Little G offered me a banana before the race, I turned it down, because it’s not part of my normal race day routine.

On the other hand, I’m not sure excuses and explanations are required. Sometimes, races don’t go your way, and you can’t set a personal best every time you run. While it’s true that Little G and I meant to run this race as a test of our fitness, we also didn’t mean to use this one to prove ourselves as individuals, but to prove we’re on the right track toward the marathon. And according to every race predictor out there, a 1:52 half still puts me on track to a 4-hour marathon.

I’m not necessarily proud of my time at this race, but I’m proud of how I ran it, especially in that last slow mile. Sometimes it’s not how fast or how far you run, but that you run at all, that makes you an athlete. Today, I’m moving a little more slowly, but my heart is happy. I’m running a marathon in 27 days, and I’m ready.

*It’s a good thing she wasn’t hoping to run Boston in 2011, huh? As many of you probably know, next April’s race sold out in a record 8 hours! Fortunately for Little G, she meant to run in 2012 all along. Whew!

About the porta-pottys on the course: never saw ’em. Didn’t end up needing them, either, which is good, of course. I’m not sure if they were hidden, or what, but I didn’t ever see a bathroom on the course. The fact that I could have tinkled at the start, and didn’t have to by mile 4–does that mean I was already dehydrated by then? I did end up having to take migraine meds later that day, which didn’t stop me from enjoying the company of friends and neighbors on a very happy Hallowe’en.

One Comment leave one →
  1. November 1, 2010 7:19 pm

    ooh now i am going to be leary of using the toilet! gross! congrats on your half! i’m glad you are proud of your efforts because you should be – you ran strong and didn’t give up. and let’s not forget this was a training run, not your A race.

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