This weekend I ran the Shamrock Half Marathon in Virginia Beach, my fifth half marathon. Previous to this race I ran a half in the spring of 2014 back home in upstate New York, weeks after recovering from pneumonia (it wasn’t pretty), and the Rock and Roll D.C. half the next 3 springs after that. The first two races were rough and didn’t yield great times, but the third and fourth we more fun, faster, and fueled a desire to find out what I can do at the distance. Rock and Roll D.C. is a pretty tough course, featuring a brutal hill around mile 7. My PR was run on this course, so I knew I wanted to race something flat. According to Google, the Shamrock Half Marathon was exactly what I wanted.
Over the past few months I’ve been preparing for the half, as well as the upcoming Boston Marathon and my workouts told me I was ready to run a PR, but I wasn’t sure by how much. Having run so few half marathons in a 5 year span, I have a hard time predicting what I can do. I decided my goal was to run happy, smart, and try to run under a 1:27, which would give me at least a 90 second PR.
Leading up to the race I had a rough week. Teaching is hard and parent relationships are even harder. After taking an extra rest day on Wednesday to sit on my couch and cry (#transparency), I couldn’t wait to get away for the weekend and leave the stress behind. Friday and Saturday I fought an upset stomach, but I was determined not to let anything stand in the way of a fun race and a fast time.
Race morning was the type of weather distance runners dream of-something I hadn’t experienced in my previous 4 half marathons or any of the 7 full marathons I’d run. It was around 40 degrees, overcast, and no wind. I knew it was going to be a good day.
As the start time approached and we headed to our corrals, I felt excited and confident. I knew I was capable of running faster than I ever have before and I was ready to go out and prove that to myself. Before the race, my coach wrote to me, “the race is a celebration, not a test”. This became my mantra for the weekend. I didn’t realize until later that with this in mind I hardly felt a single nerve before the gun went off. I was simply ready to celebrate.
After a chilly wait, the countdown began and before I knew it, we were off. The night before, I wrote down my race plan, in short, it was: have fun, start conservative, make the last three miles the fastest. When I passed the first mile marker, I worried I was going to be in trouble. Instead of the 6:45 I’d planned on, I went out in a 6:33–a pace that would result in big PR, IF I maintained it. For the next mile, I tried to back off, ease the pace a little and just feel good. I ran a 6:39 and tucked in behind a couple I overheard saying they wanted to stick with 6:40’s for a while (they didn’t run a single 6:40, they ran much faster). The miles passed and I continued to tick off miles between 6:30 and 6:36 consistently. I felt good, but since I was already running faster than anticipated, I was hesitant to try speeding up.
The race is relatively large, but around mile 6-7 I found myself isolated. There was a pack up ahead, but I wasn’t in a position to make up the 15 or so seconds and try to hang on. For a while it started to feel like a time trial as I passing less than one person a mile. Miles 8 and 9 were quiet and lonely and they felt long as my body started to feel fatigued, but as I looked at my watch, my pace remained consistent. I knew if I could make it to mile 10 on pace without too much pain, I’d be in a great place.
Finally, there were 3 miles to go and as I got closer to the end of the race the number of spectators began to increase, a relief after the miles of silence. At mile 10 I began to push the pace a little and managed to run 10, 11, and 12 under 6:30. Finally, for mile 13 I tried to give it my all and dipped below 6:20 for the first time. I was happy to achieve my goal of running the last few miles the fastest but was a little frustrated I didn’t run them faster. Every time I pushed a little too hard, I felt like I was going to throw up. After throwing up with 200 meters to go at the Chicago marathon I wasn’t going to risk that, so I pumped the brakes a little each time and let the feeling pass. Finally, when I crossed the finish line, I was greeted with a 3 minute PR.
I am thrilled with the race I had and am so happy I ran a smart, consistent race the whole way but I also have a lot to take away from the experience. It wasn’t perfect and I finished with way too much left in the tank. My biggest takeaway from the race is I want to run more half marathons. Although I’m pleased with my time and my race, it felt a bit like a long tempo workout. I ran consistent and I felt uncomfortable in the last few miles but I never truly challenged myself. I was so scared to fall apart in the last few miles that I didn’t have the guts to push the middle miles. I put pressure on myself to run a smart race this time around, but I’ll need to experiment and take chances in future races if I want to see what I’m truly capable of. I need to practice the distance more to figure out how much I can make it hurt without falling apart.
For the next few weeks I’ll turn my focus solely to prepping for the Boston Marathon, but after that, I look forward to racing more and taking some risks.