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The One Where I Change My Mind–Then Change It Again

November 14, 2013

2013 Fort Lauderdale 13.1

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November 10, 2013
Bib Number: 1453
Overall Placement: 459 / 2087 (22%)
Age Group Placement: 43 / 238 (18.1%)
Gender Placement: 142 / 1151 (12.3%)
Chip Time: 2:00:04

Little G and I had been training for this race for months. Last year, when we first started working with Coach You Can and You Will (I’ll just call her Coach Will from now on), she erased our racing calendar for the entire 2012 fall season. She wanted us to do well at the marathon, she said, and that meant running–and especially racing–a whole lot less. Though Little G and I love to race, we agreed that we could give Coach Will’s one honest year of testing. We resigned all our racing for that year and turned our attention to the marathon.

However, after our success at the Tallahassee Marathon, both we and Coach Will felt we could endure the training for both a half marathon in the fall and a marathon in the spring. We were warned that the training would be more intense, both because we’d be racing twice and because the half marathon logically would require much more intense speedwork to prepare us for the rigors of running thirteen miles at nearly eight-minute pace. Though appropriately sobered by the amount of work that would be required of us over the coming months, both Little G and I were prepared to put in the training. We circled the 2013 Fort Lauderdale 13.1 and the 2014 Tallahassee Marathon as our goal races for this season.

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the note from the Boss I found on my bib on race morning

I mention all that to point out that my goal, ever since we started training in the late summer, was to run a seriously fast half. Though my stated goal was to simply score a new personal best by going sub-1:48, Coach Will thought I had the potential to run 1:45, and all her workouts have been geared to preparing my legs to run the pace necessary to accomplish that. It’s been a long, hard-hitting four months. Though I was never super-confident in my ability to run the requisite 8:01 pace to get that 1:45, I sure didn’t want to miss it because I hadn’t done the work, so I stuck to Coach Will’s schedule and put in her grueling speed sessions, knowing they would be the key to my race-day speed. I was nervous because we didn’t do as much distance work as Little G and I are used to doing when we train for half marathons on our own. In the past, she and I have run at least two eighteen-milers in preparation for a half marathon, but Coach W asked us to do just one sixteen-miler, and I missed that one due to overseas travel. In the end, I had just one fourteen-miler under my belt by the time I stepped up to the line, but I reminded myself that in training for the marathon, I’d also missed a long run (the last of three scheduled 20-milers), and I’d still managed to run faster than my goal.

But as the days got closer to the race, I knew it wasn’t undertraining in speed or distance that would do me in, but heat and humidity. Fall just wasn’t going to make it to South Florida in time. Each time I’ve scored a PR at the half (1:50, then 1:49, then 1:48), it’s been while racing in the 50s under clear skies. I was not going to get that this year–not by a long shot.

And so I made a decision, in the days before the race, not to race this one very hard. I just didn’t want to leave my heart on the course just to watch the clock come in at 1:54 or so. It wasn’t worth it to me. Maybe that makes me a little less of a runner, but I’m okay with that. If I’d been gunning for a place in my age group, I might have fought harder, knowing every other woman aged 35 to 39 was fighting the wind and heat too, but I knew, even under the best conditions, I didn’t have any chance of cracking the top ten in that group. My only opponent was the clock, and the clock isn’t slowed by heat or wind–just me.

Things began to go south almost from the time we arrived at the race site. I’d been sipping coffee from the time Little G picked me up at 4am, and my only thought as we parked was FIND. A. BATHROOM. It was about an hour till gun time, so I didn’t have to wait for one of the many port-a-potties. Feeling much relieved (ha ha), Little G and I then dropped off our gear bags, walked around a bit, and about thirty minutes later I had to go again. The lines for the bank of port-a-potties were now infernal. I knew if we tried them we’d be doing one of those run-from-the-potty-straight-through-the-start things, and I didn’t want to do that. Besides, did I mention? I had already decided I wasn’t going to race this one. I told Little G I’d hit the first bank of potties on the course. So what if it cost me thirty seconds? Time, shtime. We walked around a bit, got in the chute, and got ready.

Miles 1-3: I lose Little G right away with my typical jackrabbit start. Thankfully, this part of the course is a little loopy, for which I am thankful: the turns force me to pay attention and, maybe, slow down. In spite of my decision not to race, I note my pace is faster than I’d planned in my head, but I’m determined to run relaxed. I stay with the crowd, enjoying the sound of their footfalls and the many musical acts along this part of the course. We hit my favorite part of this race, the tunnel, and I soar on the downhill with every runner’s step echoing on the tiles around me. Little G is just off my shoulder as we work around the other runners, and I’m halfway up the back side of the tunnel before I even realize I’m running uphill. Having finished the hard work of the hill, Little G and I start chatting times and mileage, and resolve to run this one in three parts: the city miles, the first section northward, and the last push for home. We feel re-energized by this new resolve and by spotting the port-o-lets, and we stop. I’m in there for what seems like forever, and when I get out, she’s long gone. 8:48, 8:41, 10:09 (I told you I had to go!).

Miles 4-6: I’m running with an entirely new pack of runners, but I tell myself not to sprint to catch my old pack or my training partner. Around me is a woman who is already moaning with every stride, and I use her pain as motivation. We are only in mile 4; it’s way too early for a hard push. Better to keep the pace just under nine-minute miles to find my old pack, then settle into 9 or 9:10 pace. I am reminding myself we’re still in the city; when we hit the waterfront, I’ll have to rethink my pace as I lose the wind protection of the buildings around me. It’ll be a new race, then. I see the two-hour pace group ahead of me, like a giant amoeba. Because two hours is a bit of a holy grail for many half marathon runners, it is a BIG group. I tell myself to catch up to them slowly, then run their pace for as long as possible–after all, they must be running about 9 or 9:10. Besides, I can see the Las Olas bridge up ahead, and can feel the wind picking up. Having run up plenty of windy bridges in my lifetime, I know I’ll do better if I stay tucked into the group for the uphill portion. I can’t see Little G, so she’s somewhere ahead of the group. I resolve to drift  slowly toward the group and run with them. Instead, I find that the closer I get to them, the faster my pace gets; I muse to myself that they’re like a giant black hole, sucking me in. Sure enough, as soon as I get into the group, I can’t wait to get out. There’s elbows and feet everywhere, and I can’t find a comfortable place to run. I immediately abandon my earlier decision, and pick up my pace to move through the group as quickly as possible, now realizing I’d rather face the windy bridge than a multi-legged, elbows-akimbo amoeba running up the hill. I succeed in leaving the group behind and am thankful, since I’m still picking up people who are struggling up the incline of the bridge. I inwardly thank Coach Will for countless bridge reps, but resolve not to mention it, lest she make me do more of them next training season. As we leave the bridge we come to my favorite part of this course: we’re shot off the bridge toward waterfront Atlantic Boulevard. There’s a ton of people on the road here, cheering us on with signs, cowbells, and happy (if sleepy) smiles. But after a couple blocks we turn onto Atlantic and I feel it–that wind. It’s like a giant hand pushing against my chest. I look down at Garmie and my pace has dropped by about thirty seconds, just like that. (I’d find out later winds were gusting out of the ENE at 25mph as we were running.) But at least running on the straightaway means I can see Little G again. I make a conscious decision to back off my effort because of the wind. I know the pace showing up on Garmie’s screen is never going to match my effort level in this gale, and I don’t see any reason to get overexhausted, so I relax. Immediately I feel better; my effort and pace seem to be more in line. The two hour pace group comes up from behind me, much smaller now, but still long-legged and with elbows flailing. I see Little G ahead of them, and wonder if she’ll run with the group. But, to my surprise, at the next aid station, the group runs on without a pause, and Little G and I both stop for water. Leaving that aid station, we’re happy to be together again, and able to chat. We know we’re going to be turning back into the city again soon, and hoping to get some shelter from the wind. 8:52, 9:08, 9:16.

Miles 7-9: So much for shelter from the wind . . . as we turn west into the city, we find that the buildings are creating a wind tunnel instead. We’re thankful for the cloud cover, because on top of the wind, we also know it’s brutally, miserably hot, and humid. We’re pouring as much of the water over our heads as we’re taking into our bodies, and though we’re not taking as much sodium replacement as we would be on a sunny day, we’re watching ourselves. I took my first gel at mile 6. I’m not tired yet, but I’m also very consciously not making a move yet, either. It feels like there’s a long way to go in this one, and in the back of my mind, I know I still have to go back to Atlantic and that wind. Before I commit to any kind of closing speed, I want to see how bad that wind is on the homeward miles. It’s also beginning to dawn on me that I could go again. This is unusual for me in a half marathon, and I’m glad I’m not racing. On a hot day, having the urge to go can make you forego hydration and put you at risk. I resolve to drink every time Little G does, and make another stop if I have to. I’d prefer to finish a little slower but IV-free, thank you very much. 9:16, 9:13, 9:13.

Miles 10-12: We’ve made the turn around and are seeing the rest of the pack now. I see the second bank of porta-potties after the tenth mile marker and tell Little G I’m ducking in. To my surprise, not only does she stop too, she actually waits for me. As we start running again, we share a gel–the second for each of us–and turn our minds to the challenge of finishing this out. We’re running better than we thought. In spite of our return to the waterfront, the wind doesn’t feel nearly as brutal now, maybe because the wind is bearing from the north and we’re now headed south–and probably also because our legs know we’re on the way home. We pass the mile-11 marker and its clock. Little G says to me, “You can still get in under two hours. Go.” It doesn’t take much for my closer’s legs to take over, and I don’t stop to do the math. I tell Little G I’ll see her at the finish–yes, the same woman who just faithfully waited for me outside a stinky portolet–and take off. My legs instantly find a sub-9 pace of their own accord, and I do all the smart-racing things I haven’t been doing this entire race. I know it’s the end of the race, so I make a concerted effort to move through the field rather than staying with anyone. I’m pushing, but I know two miles at the end of a half are still a long way to go. And I know the end of this course like the back of my hand, and that last mile feels leagues long. 10:16, 9:07, 8:43.

Mile 13-finish. Sure enough, this last mile is a killer. Around me, people are slowing down and walking, and I commiserate, remembering how I looked and sounded at the end of Tally. But I don’t speak to them, refusing to expend the energy. (Does that make me a horrible person?) I concentrate on moving forward. My shoulders hurt; I remember, finally, stupidly, that I had the same problem during the Gasparilla Marathon in ’09, which I also ran in a gale; running against wind, even when you don’t think about it, makes you use your arms more and uses astoundingly more upper-body muscles. I shake my arms out as I run and try to focus on my form. “Head, heart, lungs,” I tell myself. According to the last two mile markers I am painfully close to the two-hour mark. I will either just make it, or just miss it. I enter the s-curve where this race sets up the finish, and I can see the clock. It is ticking up, painfully, rolling over two hours as I enter the park. I break into a dead sprint, and I know what other runners and spectators are thinking, because I’ve thought it before. “Honey, if you have a 7:15 push at the end of 13 miles, there’s no way you ran this hard enough.” Hey, they’re right. I just changed my mind at the last minute and decided to race the last two miles. What can I say? 8:24, 1:27-ish for the last .2.

I was right, after all–I just missed it. Checking the results later, we’d find out that I officially finished four seconds over two hours. It’s time on the bridge going around people, time in the bathroom, half a second too slow in half the miles in the race. It’s okay. I said I wasn’t going to race this one, and I didn’t–much.

Having finished the race, Little G and I stopped for breakfast at Panera, shopped a little at Ikea, and came home, a little heart- and quad-sore, but knowing the day just hadn’t gone our way. There’ll be other races, other days to prove our speed and mettle, days when everything lines up and we can let our legs go. For this race, this was enough, and my heart is happy.

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