Yesterday, it was grey and somewhat misty/foggy on my drive from northern Baltimore City to the Maple Lawn Community in Southern Howard County where I ran the Maryland Half Marathon. I had raised over $1500 for the Maryland Cancer Center. I had done all the preparation by the book (except for an occasional run faster than called for on the track or at a long distance and an occasional run a bit slower than called for when it came to longer tempo runs). I had enjoyed working with the Charm City Run coach. I had enjoyed the company of many other runners—while stretching, while preparing for long runs on Saturdays, while jogging to and from the track on Tuesdays, and while being cheered on or cheering them on during the track runs. I had gotten more sleep in two nights than in any other two nights in a long time. I had tried to eat well but not overeat. Everything was good to go.
I started the race just a few rows in front of the 1:40 pace group. I had made a fundamental decision to go it on my own. There were about 10 minutes of pre-race activities; then the race began at around 8:07.
My first mile was run in just about 7:20. The Garmin beeped at 7:05 but the official mile marker came at 7:20. I hit the lap button again there just to get a clear time. I could not have asked for any better timing—although apparently I could have asked for a bit straighter running.
My second mile was a speedier 7:08. There were some good downhills that I tried to use but not take too fast. There was only a slight distance between where my Garmin beeped and where I passed the two-mile marker. It was there that I made a mistake that rattled me a bit as I went along. I tried to hit the lap button again but I hit the start/stop button instead. I knew I had run the first two miles in just about 14:30 (it was at 14:28 or so when I hit the stop button inadvertently and it was a few more strides to the mile 2 marker). I was trying not to look at my watch much and when I did at the end of mile 3, I realized it had stopped. So, I had no idea what I ran mile 3 in and, I then decided to wait until the end of mile 4 to restart it. So, for two miles, I really had no idea what time I ran. I can figure it out now thanks to the precision of the Garmin’s telling me when it started and stopped. It turns out that I ran those two miles in 15:01. I’m not sure if I would have kept up any better if I’d had the chance to stare at my time every second, but it did throw me for a bit of a loop. It was near the end of mile 4 that I left a couple of runners I’d been leapfrogging with behind for good.
Restarting my watch at the end of mile 4, I ran the mile that everyone talked about before the race as it had the steepest hill on the elevation chart in about a 7:30 pace. Not too shabby there. The next mile I ran at a 7:43 pace. Apparently keeping up the pace going up the hill, I didn’t recover right away. Getting my legs back a little, mile 7 came and went in 7:22ish. I was feeling stronger again at that point. Mile 8 came and went in 7:20—right on schedule. So, I was done my first 8 in under an hour even though I was worried about overall pacing at that point. I knew that I’d see my group coach somewhere in the next mile or two. I had one question in my mind at that point—what was my total time? Much to my surprise as I evaluate yesterday’s run, for at least a couple miles I was what my coach had called “the pacing machine” as mile 9 also was run in 7:20.
Mile 10, I really started feeling it. I had taken my Gu both before the race and between mile 8 and mile 9. I had taken water and/or Gatorade at each stop. In the end, I’m wondering if I should have slowed down a bit more to actually ingest more water each time. That might have helped me at the end. Who knows? In any case, I saw the coach as I was near the finish of mile 10. I started pointing at my watch. He couldn’t understand why I was doing that so I eventually yelled out “What’s the cull time”. I was running a 1:13 something. Not too far off track for my hoped for 1:36, and I could have had my 1:36:something if I had been able to keep it up at that point. John told me to keep it up. I wasn’t sure if I had it in me. The doubt (that had sort of begun when my watch issue came up) began to creep in a little more. As I left my coach behind, I finished mile 10 in 7:26 (still not bad) and at a total of 1:14:07. It looks like I might want to consider adjusting my projected finish time for the Baltimore 10 Miler in mid-June (I listed 1:15).
As I passed my coach and he ran back to encourage others from the Charm City Run training group, I ran even with the last person I passed for the entire race. As I went up the hill closing out mile 10 and starting mile 11, I left her behind. For the entire rest of the race, one person passed me. He ended up being more than a minute ahead of me, and the nearest person behind me was a good 20 seconds or more back. I never would have guessed that in a race with 1600+ finishers, I’d be alone for most of the last 5K. I hope that doesn’t happen again.
Miles 11 through 13.1 were not pretty. Mile 11 was run in 7:33. I tried visualizing my teammate who had challenged me time and again for the second half of the training season. That didn’t help much. I remembered hearing a gospel song about making the journey with you on the way to the race. I knew God was there by my side, but that didn’t help my tired legs.
Mile 12 took 7:42. Mile 13 took 7:46. I didn’t even find it in me to sprint out the end and I forgot to hit my stop button when I crossed the finish line. As far as I can tell from the full output of my Garmin, I probably crossed the line in 1:38. My unofficial time posted on the website is 1:38:02. I only wonder about my time because the gun time and the chip time are the same and I did not start in the front. Will I quibble over 2 seconds? Of course not. Would I love to have gotten under 1:38? Of course. Still, with a PR by three and a half minutes on a much tougher course than my previous PR was and no miles at 8+, I can’t complain.
But I have learned a few lessons:
First, unless I am absolutely sure I am going to hit the right buttons on my watch, I should stay away from trying to use the lap button. Alternatively, I could get away from relying on my watch so much. One way or the other—letting myself get rattled was not a good thing. There are much more important things to get rattled about on the course.
Second, I have to learn to deal with being alone. It is funny because for years, I just loved running alone. However, I now really draw on the energy of running with others. Apparently when I am nearer the front (which I am lucky enough to be for right now and was 50th of 1600+ overall and 13th of 222 in the male 40-49 age group), I may be more alone than not in some races. I’m really going to have to figure out whether picturing a teammate running along with me, picturing my old high school coach encouraging me, or drawing on God’s pleasure with my running to make myself a better person is going to help. But I need something to help keep myself going when other runners are not there.
Third, drink more. I took something at each water stop. But taking something and getting more down are two different things. Next time, I will make it a point to slow down a couple seconds. If, by keeping better hydrated, I could have hit those last two miles in 7:30’s rather than 7:40+ that would have more than made up for the slow downs.
Fourth, I still need some humility at these distances. I have to discuss with my spring coach and the fall coach what time I should aim for in Baltimore this fall. I’m thinking 3:30 rather than 3:20. Even 3:20 would only have been enough to qualify me for Boston under the old rules and not the new ones, but that was what I hoped for at the end of last year. I think that 3:30 would be achievable. And, on the bright side, it would be nearly 10 minutes better in one year, and that would be a joy to achieve. Marathon running is not all about Boston qualifying times. Marathon running is about using running to better myself and give to others.
There will always be another race and for the time being, I am lucky enough to be at a point in my life where my family tolerates my running, it fits with the schedule, and my fitness is not on the decline. That bodes well for a few more good half marathons and full marathons.
A little better record keeping may also help me find some patterns to the days of better runs that will help me to improve even more—is it what I eat, how much I sleep, or something else?
And finally, I loved meeting and greeting my fellow runners. Sharing stories and sharing times. As I commented to one—once the race has begun, some are faster than others but we all have to get from the start to the finish on our own. Anyone who does is an inspiration to me. Just seeing the efforts it takes and so many people’s willingness to do it. As I commented to all my fellow Charm City Run trainees—remember the motto of the store—“live. give. run.”