I’m not really sure when the idea entered my head. Perhaps sometime in November when I ran my first four sub-11 minute miles around the block in my neighborhood. Or that one time I missed a group long run and did eight miles on my own…in under 12 minute miles and feeling strong. Certainly when I realized I could do a 10k without walk intervals and shattered that PR.
My “A” goal for the Houston Half Marathon became 2 hours and 30 minutes.
As an endurance running coach I advise my trainees to choose an A, B, and C goal time for their main race. The C goal for a first time half or full marathoner is just to finish. Hopefully uninjured. The B goal is somewhat based on the pace you kept during training. The A goal is a stretch, possibly attainable if everything comes together right and you really push yourself.
Two years ago I set my half marathon PR (personal record) at the Houston Half in 2 hours 39 minutes. That was using 5:1 walk/run intervals and following a strong pacer. That was pretty unexpected at the time.
I’ve run a few half and a full marathon since then but all were slower. This year I was coaching a 5:1 interval group with a few first time half marathoners, so we take it “easy” on long training runs. It’s about distance, not speed. But I changed my diet this fall and lost about twenty pounds. And I did more hill training, more yoga, some high impact aerobics and faster mid-week runs. I watched my pace drop and started to believe.
Setting my sights on this 2:30 goal made me nervous for weeks. I’m not gonna lie, I frequently thought about forgetting it, using some injury or illness as self-justification for not going all in. Because I knew deep down it was probably achievable but I knew it would take everything from me and I knew it would likely hurt. It would be less “fun” than the social half marathons I have run before.
But I also know the incredible fulfillment of aiming high, working hard, and reaching a big goal. I know it means more if I go all in, hold nothing back.
I quietly told a few people about my goal. Saying it out loud makes it more real.
I started to strategize. I could probably run 7:1 intervals, even though I never had before. That would mean averaging about 11:05 running, with quick walks. My friend Manny said he thought a 2:30 half would be a good goal for him, so I asked if he’d want to run with me. He usually talks my ear off, a very pleasant distraction. He agreed to try and hang with me at 7:1s. I picked up my 2:30 pace band tattoo at the race expo and got serious.
Mike kept asking why I was so anxious the days before. He knew I’d been training hard and had run this race many times before. I kept telling myself that anything better than 2:39 would be a new PR and a great race. But 2:30 was my goal and I wanted it.
A couple of my friends noticed how quiet and serious I was on race morning. My running group were all conferring with me but I kept telling them to run their own race, do not try to stay with me. I had no doubt they could finish strong without me.
I lined up with all my friends around the 12 minute mile pace signs. That turned out to be probably not the best idea, because I ended up continuously weaving around crowds of much slower runners and walkers for the. entire. race. I swear I have never passed so many people in my life.
Manny stayed right with me as we sailed down Washington Avenue enjoying the gorgeous blue skies and crisp cool air. He sounded like he was breathing hard and maybe having trouble but he kept assuring me he felt good. We had an agreement if one of us fell behind it didn’t matter and the other would just go. I ditched my sweatshirt around mile three and checked my pace band at each mile marker. We were right on pace.
Neither of us talked much at all the whole race. A few words here or there, the occasional burst of energy to wave to excited spectators. I tried to stay between 10:40 and 11:05 as much as I could, and the first 6 miles sailed by. I took some Gu around mile 6 and then somewhere around mile 8 I got my first hint of discomfort. I was just starting to tire a little and breathing harder when a wave of nausea crept up. It became much more of a mental game once we turned onto Montrose Blvd. We were falling very slightly behind pace now, about a minute, but I thought there was still time to make it up. The crowds which I enjoyed so much in the past became just a distraction.
Somewhere around mile 10, Manny said he needed to stop for water. I was becoming really fatigued, my eyes were watering so I couldn’t see as clearly and I wanted to walk. So I stopped with him for a sip of gatorade and then refilled one of my bottles with water. I started up again before he did but I knew he’d catch up and he did. Then a few hundred feet later he suddenly tripped and fell down hard. I stopped and asked if he was ok as he slowly got back up. He said he hand mostly was hurt but he started walking again. He looked like he was in pain but could continue on, so I decided I needed to go. I turned and ran off, realizing I was now on my own. I put my other earbud in, and looked forward, letting gravity carry me downhill slightly to the turn onto Allen Parkway. I saw my friend Leo cheering on the side and ran over to high five him. He is truly an inspiration to me and was a big pick-me-up.
Allen Parkway really is a bit like a death march. You can see the downtown skyline but it feels so far away. LOADS of people are walking at that point, very few are still running. Spectators line the sides of the road screaming at you, which can be good but also can be annoying. A guy called my name and offered me a can of beer. I smiled and waved him off. This was the point where more and more people started cheering for me by name (which was on my bib). I slowed down a bit, realizing I probably wasn’t going to make 2:30 but I was going to be way ahead of my PR. But my watch and my Runkeeper didn’t seem to agree on my average pace so I hoped one of them was wrong and determined not to give up. I knew I could suffer through two more miles of running, even if it had to be 30 seconds a mile slower. The last two miles or so really was hard. I dug deep. My left foot felt a blister forming. My legs were ok but my breathing was much harder. I just wanted to be done. The loud cheering as I came into the finish gave me anxiety, isn’t that weird? I usually love the encouragement but this time I could have done without it.
2:32:32. That’s my official time, however my GPS says I ran well over 13.1, so really my pace was pretty much right on. But I fell just short of my goal. I blew my PR away by 7 minutes, which is a huge accomplishment itself. It feels really good.
And so I will leave you with this quote from Theodore Roosevelt, which served as my inspiration to go all in. Till next year.