long-awaited race report

Tuesday, June 01, 2010


Turns out I did even better at the Windsor Green Half Marathon than I thought. Official time was 2:00:19 – a new PR by eight minutes and 44 seconds.

This kind of makes me feel like a champion, especially since I’ve always thought of myself as the opposite of athletic. Also, it makes me want to go for a sub-2 in the fall, once the big 26.2 is done. That’s the thing about running: It’s completely addictive, and no matter how fast you get, you always want to go faster.

PR was my goal for Windsor. I had viewed Avenue of the Giants as a “practice” half, with Windsor as the true test.

The week leading up to race day was tough. My body was tired and ready to finish the training cycle. (Why do random pains always seem to magically appear during taper?) And this was my fourth race weekend in a row (yes, I am crazy), so I was worried I might not have any juice left. Also, my longest run since Avenue of the Giants, which was three weeks prior to Windsor, was only eight miles. I wasn’t sure what to expect.

My nerves got worse at packet pick-up. The wind was gusting -- almost Wizard of Oz style. I can deal with rain and cold temperatures, but running into a headwind is like running in place, and it’s far from fun.

Because of the weather, I couldn’t figure out what to wear. Normally, I lay everything out the night before. But this time around, I just randomly chose an outfit. And I went with something I’ve never worn before in a race (by the way, you should never do this – it’s like asking for horrible things to happen, such as chafing or blisters – this was very stupid of me): Long sleeves and a running skirt. I also painted my nails black because I thought this would somehow make me tougher. (Don’t laugh.)

On race morning, I went to my friend Nick’s house so I could use real plumbing instead of a port-a-potty. He was running the 10K, so we walked to the start together. I found Dana and Ciara and lined up with them. They are much faster than I am – finished Avenue of the Giants in 2:01 without much sleep or training – and they were planning to go for a sub-2 this time around. I figured I’d start with them, hang for a bit and then drop off when they got to be too much for me.

We took off. And I mean took off. We hit the three-mile mark in 26 minutes – about an 8:40 pace. The whole time I was thinking, Who knew I had it in me? But I also started to worry about burning out, so I slowed down around the four-mile mark and let the girls go ahead. I kept them in my line of sight until we got to a major climb right before the six-mile mark. I saw Ciara again at the aid station at the top of the hill, paused briefly for water and started running again. For some reason, I thought Dana was ahead of me, but it turned out later that I had passed them at the station and somehow managed to stay ahead. (Again: Who knew I had it in me?)

The race soon became a mental game. I tend to slow down at Mile 8, and a feeling of despair (for lack of a better word) will creep in. This is the moment I start to doubt myself – question my legs, my speed, even whether I really like running in the first place. This is also where I start to pay attention to the people passing me (thus feeding that feeling of despair). And during this race, at this very moment, that included my ultimate nemesis: The Guy Who Runs in Orange Crocs. (I used to see this guy during my Fleet Feet training runs all the time last summer. He would fly past me in his hideous shoes, and it drove me insane, but he was always faster.)

To re-focus, I began talking to myself, saying things like “I don’t have to run, I get to” and “I am like light in the trees” (don’t ask – it worked and that’s what matters). I also started conversations with other runners and met a very nice woman named Julie who shares my love for Lunarglides. We ran together for a bit and cheered each other on.

Mile 10 was the toughest part of the race. I really was slowing down (not just mentally). At one point, I looked at my Garmin, and it said I was running an 11:20 pace. Totally unacceptable! So I focused on what I learned in my ChiRunning class, leaned into the run and took smaller, quicker steps to pick up speed while still conserving energy. This course was full of rolling hills, and I wanted to finish strong. The plan worked.

When I turned onto Old Redwood Highway and saw the 11-mile mark, I knew I was in the home stretch. I realized I had a lot of energy left, so I upped the pace and started to pick people off. I’d choose someone in front of me, pass them and then choose someone else. A woman on a bike rode up next to me and told me I was on track to finish in under two hours, and that made me really start pushing.

That’s when I saw him: The Guy Who Runs in Orange Crocs. He had definitely slowed down, and his big, bright, plastic-clad feet were missing some pep. (That is what you get for running in Crocs, hippie man. Just saying.) I picked him off, no problem. And I cannot even begin to tell you how happy this made me. Seriously, folks: Sheer joy.

I didn’t end up hitting the sub-2 mark after all, but the feeling I had as I sprinted down the finish chute and saw the double zeroes was nothing short of elation. A two-hour half. Who would’ve thought?

(P.S. Doesn’t it look like I'm either doing the hula or offering myself as a sacrifice to the gods as I cross the finish line? Yikes!)

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