Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Iron Horse Half Marathon Recap

(Secondary title: The Ridiculous Thoughts That Go Through My Mind - Before, During and After 13.1 Miles.)

(Warning #1: My blog isn't strictly dedicated to running, so I'm sure this post won't be of much interest to all two of my regular readers. Feel free to press the "mark all as read" button in your Google Reader. I promise not to be offended.)

(Warning #2: I have no pictures from this race, and I can guarantee that when the official race photos come out, they will not be blog-worthy. Apologies for the text-heavy post.)

All Spring, I've been training with the Iron Horse Half Marathon in mind. I was determined that it would be my fastest half marathon ever. And then I ran the Providence Half Marathon, at which I surprised myself by taking a solid 10 minutes off my PR.

That day in Providence, I felt absolutely fantastic. I was well rested, had just the right amount of nerves, felt hydrated, was running with a friend, the weather was gorgeous - it was just the perfect race state of being. That feeling continued throughout the entire race, and at the end, I was just elated.

Knowing that the Iron Horse Half was next on the docket, I began to rethink some goals. I analyzed past race results, and being that the Iron Horse Half was a semi-small local race (if 1,076 participants can count as a "semi-small" race), I felt that if I could just knock off another couple minutes from my time, I could potentially place within my age group.

Mind you, at one point in my life, I didn't care about achieving such status. I merely wanted to not come in last! But eventually, the competitiveness in me took over, I had a few good months of training under my belt, and somehow I began thinking I was the Nutmeg State's answer to Lauren Fleshman.

But then this past month happened.

While my first couple of weeks after Providence were great training weeks, at some point one of my calves began hurting. It didn't impact my running, and after a few days, the pain subsided. But then a heat wave hit the Northeast. And for some reason, I skipped my beloved early morning runs in favor of some humid, sweat-inducing evening jaunts. And I spent the last week before the Iron Horse actually tapering, the entire time questioning whether I really needed to taper.

The day before the Half, I hydrated like it was no one's business. I consumed bottle upon bottle of Strawberry Lemonade Nuun, glass upon glass of water, and I ate pretty healthy meals all day, including pasta at night. The morning of the race, I woke up extra early so I could fit in my usual pre-race routine (coffee, rice cake with peanut butter, banana, and even a shower!). While the day's temps were predicted to hit 77 (with full sun), throughout the race, they were to get no higher than low 60s. On paper, everything looked good.

But even with all my careful preparation, I just knew that something was a bit off. I wasn't feeling that same sense of excitement as I was for Providence. I was anxious, nervous, and just didn't know what to think. I certainly wasn't feeling my most confident....

Miles 1-3: 
7:39, 7:17, 7:12

After downing a Gu (which I never normally do before beginning a long run), I anxiously waited in the starting corral for only a couple minutes before the race began. For this particular race, the 10k race apparently started 15 minutes before the Half (though I am pretty sure this time was delayed), and the 5k race was to start a minute after the Half. All three races began at different points along the road. It only took me a few seconds to get past the start, but as soon as I did, it seemed like we immediately converged with the many 10k participants. It was super annoying, and I felt like it took longer than usual to break free from the masses.

Around mile 1, I finally had sufficient space to move around. I still didn't feel great, and through the next two miles, kept waiting to get into my groove. Also during this time, I ran next to a girl who had on almost the exact same fluorescent yellow top as me. Finally after three miles of running together, I asked her what time she was expecting to finish in, and she told me that 1:40 was her goal time. "Mine, too!" I said.

After another minute of chit chat ... she ditched me. But I was fine with that as at the time, I knew we were running too fast. "Just run your own race," I kept telling myself. (It didn't hurt that she was prettier than me, and I was not looking for anyone to do any side-by-side comparisons of the two chicks in fluorescent yellow tops.)

Miles 4-7:
7:26, 7:22, 7:38, 7:40

Throughout the entire race, I was really good about only looking at my Garmin at the end of each mile - for the most part. I knew I had run the first three miles a bit faster than I wanted to, so I felt better about slowing down a little, knowing that I had a bit of a cushion.

I finally fell into a bit of a groove, and was excited as around mile 4 (I think), the half marathoners passed some of the 10k-ers who were rounding out their run. The Iron Horse's course is pretty flat and travels through some country-like roads. Needless to say, spectatorship is pretty slim. While at the beginning of the race I was slightly annoyed by seeing other racers, at this point, I was excited for the distraction. And imagine my excitement when I passed my running partner, Sara - not too far behind the lead packs!! (Of course I didn't realize it was her until it was too late, and couldn't properly cheer her on.)

But then mile 7 hit. I began to feel a bit of a side stitch. I also became desperate to hit mile 8 (exact mileage could be off, as I'm writing this a few days after the race and have erased most of it from my mind), as I knew I'd see James, Sammy and my sister. I was all of a sudden in need of a little extra motivation.

Miles 8-10:
7:43, 7:57, 7:57

After mile 7, I consumed a Gu and what felt like my umpteenth sip of now-ridiculously-warm Nuun from my handheld water bottle and nearly gagged. I love Nuun, but at this point, I was so over it. Also, my side stitch developed into a full-on cramp (or what I thought was a cramp) on the right side of my abdomen.

I finally passed the crowds and felt a bit of a lift from seeing my cheering squad, but honestly, the pain was so bad at that point that I couldn't even stop and high-five them - I just had to keep shuffling along. And shuffle I did for the next two miles. I kept telling myself, "just keep moving." It was super frustrating though as my legs felt fine! It was my stomach that was slowing me done.

Miles 11-12:
8:03, 7:52

Prior to this particular race, I read somewhere that half marathons should be treated as two separate races. The first being a 10-miler, and the second being a 5k. Try as I might, and as happy as I was that the first 10 miles were complete, that eleventh mile was a bit of a struggle. At various points throughout the race, I edited my goals. One goal I had hoped to keep was to maintain a sub-8:00 pace for each mile. I'm not sure what exactly happened during mile 11, but as we retraced a couple miles from earlier in the course, I know the motivation was starting to wane. When I saw the 8:03 on my watch, I didn't feel too bad - but yet another goal was thrown out the window.

And then at mile 12, it hit me that I only had two more miles to go. My cramp had lessened a bit, I grabbed water at every available stop, and I allowed every teenage boy race volunteer with a water gun to spray me. (This was a lifesaver to me, but I'm sure they were less than thrilled to spray yet another flat-chested old[ish] lady.) Near the end of the mile, some random woman decked out in all pink cheered me on (granted, as she passed me) and complimented my outfit, and that really picked my spirits up.

Miles 13, 13.1:
7:34, 5:02

At the beginning of my final full mile, I began to panic. So all my previous race goals were dumped, but there was one I was determined to keep - hell or high-water, I was going to beat my Providence time of 1:41.

It's a wonder I did not trip as my eyes were glued to my Garmin throughout the entire mile. I knew I could make it, but I also worried as my Garmin had shown the course to be about a tenth of a mile longer than it should have been. I summoned every bit of strength, or for the entire 7 minutes and 34 seconds, I just kept repeating to myself over and over - "you can do it, you can do it!" I thought about all the training runs I've done, I thought about how a year ago at this time, I was just over a month away from Sammy's birth, and I thought about how much stronger I've become since.

Soon after the 13 mile mark, I spotted my little cheering squad, as well as some other friends, and though it hurt like crazy, they were the motivation I needed. I literally sprinted to that finish line, passing at least two people.

Final time - 1:40 (and a few seconds - a 7:40 average pace) - a minute faster than my Providence finish time. I ended up coming in 6th in my age group (out of 76 women) and was the 32nd female (out of 609).

Final Thoughts
Prior to Providence, I would have been ecstatic with this time. And of course I was glad to grab a new half marathon PR.

But still.

I can't help but feel a little disappointed. Had I not gotten that stupid cramp, I know I could have perhaps cut at least another minute or two off my overall time. I'm also disappointed that I never felt that runner's high I had all throughout the Providence race. Saucony's latest ad campaign slogan is "Find your strong," and I just felt like I never found it.

I also felt like absolute death the afternoon after the race. I could barely eat anything and was exhausted. I thought I had hydrated and eaten perfectly leading up to the race, but who knows. And now, two days later, I am convinced that I pulled an ab muscle (if such a thing exists in my post-baby body). How does that happen - while running?

At this point, I'm not registered for any more races. If I feel up to it, I will likely compete in another 5k or 10k this summer, and perhaps this half marathon, as it's literally in the same neighborhood as my parents' beach house. I will definitely keep running throughout the week, but would also like to ride my bike a bit more. And perhaps it's time for me to finally reacquaint with my old arch-nemesis - the pool.

But for now - in honor of National Running Day tomorrow, I'm simply going to lace up my sneakers, ditch my Garmin, take a slow jog around my neighborhood, and enjoy not having a single goal.


  1. You put too much pressure on yourself but I guess that's the nature of the 'beast'??? Regardless.... amazing is right!

  2. Didn't you just send me an email about a 5k next week? lol :) I really enjoyed reading your entry. I wish I had seen you because I needed a pick me up right around that time too. You ran amazingly and should feel proud. Every race will feel different...Sounds like it's time to experiment with some other fuel types during your practice runs. Or maybe it was just a fluke?

  3. If I hadn't read anything else about the race, just looking at your mile times was enough to make me want to try harder tonight! Seriously. That's awesome!

    You're competitive side reminds me of me. I know I can't race like you but I know in my mind I'm always trying.