This fall, I was pretty wishy-washy about signing up for races. I signed up for the half at Milford because I told my friend I’d do it with her. I signed up for the New Haven 20k because it’d be a fun training run, and it’s not every day that there are such big races close to home. And that was the extent of my racing “schedule.” I decided not to sign up for another marathon because…well…I just didn’t feel like doing the long runs.
Let me just preface the rest of this post by explaining that I am NOT a half marathon runner. I hate the distance. It’s one of those distances where you’re uncomfortable for an hour, and then you feel REALLY uncomfortable for the last thirty minutes. And then you finish and you want to die. And if you bonk…well, you’re pretty much fucked. It’s not like a marathon, where there’s a sliver of hope (and time) for you to regain momentum after a bonk. No. The half marathon distance is just short enough so that if you bonk, you better just hold on tight until you’re done. Or DNF.
While training for Milford, I really didn’t think I’d break 1:30; so throughout the entire training cycle, I kept the idea of running the half at the Philly Marathon in my back pocket. I didn’t sign up for Philly until after Milford, and I projected a 1:26 as my finish time.
Maybe I got too greedy. But here’s the thing: after Milford, my running changed dramatically. My long run pace went from the 7:40s to the 7:20s. My tempos were constantly in the 6:40s. My track workouts were fast and zippy. Hell…I’d go out there and do short runs at 7:00 flat. I felt like I was on fire.
The other thing to consider is that my 1:29 in Milford was actually not difficult. I felt strong and powerful the entire time, and I truly think I might have been able to run a 1:28 if it wasn’t for the final .1 of the race being through sand.
So when Josh told me I’d run a 1:26:30, I believed him—not only because he’s ALWAYS RIGHT and always accurately predicts my times…but because I had finally started believing in myself and my ability to run that speed on race day, just like I had done for Milford.
Well, I failed. I didn’t do it, and I crashed and burned. I bonked. It sucked. I cried. And the race hurt—badly. I gave up at certain points along the course, when I normally take great pride on my mental ferociousness. When I finished, I was disappointed in myself and how I attacked the run. Sure, I had PRed by 30 seconds…but that was bullshit in comparison to how much faster I had trained to be. It’s difficult to pinpoint one specific reason as to what happened, so I haven’t tried to do that. I can only recount what happened leading up to and during the run.
Before Sunday’s race, I had a work trip to Chicago from Tuesday-Thursday. I tried my best to recoup, and I thought I was well rested going into the weekend. On Saturday night, Gabe and I spent the night at a friend of a friend’s apartment, so it was a nice change from a “normal” hotel stay. Being around other runners helped keep my nerves down, too, which were extremely high, especially after a slight debacle over my starting corral. (Long story short: I was terrified of the crowds and of starting among other marathoners, and Josh had told me to try to get into the first corral. After a small temper tantrum…followed by a sincere apology…I did get to start in the first [elite] corral. In the end, the entire ordeal was totally unnecessary. I was completely out of my league and didn’t need to be up there. But it was just another example of how hyper and psyched out I was prior to the run.)
I should’ve taken the hint from my manic attitude that the race wasn’t going to be perfect. And most worrisome was the fact that I just wanted the run to be over. I wasn’t craving the speed…I wasn’t craving the run…and I wasn’t really ready to throw down the hammer.
Mile 1 – 6:37
Woah. That was fast. Too fast. Calm down, Mary. You still need 12 miles where that came from.
Mile 2 – 6:42
Mile 3 – 6:43
These miles clumped together for me. Running in the low 6:40s felt fast but uncomfortable. It felt like a pace I wouldn’t be able to sustain. But the plan was to hit low-6:40s until 10k, so I had to go with it. My mind was still clear and optimistic: I trusted myself and I trusted my training—even though my legs were begging to differ.
These miles are also on a quiet straightaway past the Delaware River, which was nice. I’ve learned that I’m the kind of runner who just enjoys to zone out—and this straightaway allowed me to do this.
Mile 4 – 6:45
It’s funny: when I did the entire Philly Marathon in the past, I was always SO JEALOUS of the half marathoners and how little they had to run. This time, however, I envied the marathoners and found myself hating running amongst them. I hated that I was in so much pain (already) and the marathoners were casually chatting with each other. They were enjoying the run and the atmosphere—something I wasn’t able to do. I overheard two guys discussing how they just wanted to run 6:45s until mile 18 or 20. Ugh.
Mile 5 – 6:45
Mile 6 – 6:38
One of the largest cheering sections in Philly is during miles 5 and 6, so I was looking forward to this bit. Gabe was also there, and managed to capture this gem:
You obviously can’t tell, but I’m internally freaking out in this video. Gable told me after the race that he knew I wasn’t feeling great because I didn’t act like myself when I saw him. Honestly, the only thing getting me through those couple of miles was the fact that I’d see Gabe and…the sacred 10k mark.
Mile 6.3 was the commencement of my demise. I had been telling myself to just hold on until the first 10k—and I did—but then I totally fell flat until the end of the run.HAY GABE, NICE TO SEE YOU, BUT I’M ABOUT TO SELF-DESTRUCT.
Mile 7 – 6:50
I was toast. Cooked. Done. But I still had 6 more miles to run!! And I was supposed to increase my pace 5-10 seconds faster than what I had been running (negative splitting = my main squeeze…normally.) FUCK. Did I think I’d magically grow a pair of wings and fly into 1:26 PR la la land?!?! Like wtf, Mary. This PR isn’t going to happen.
Mile 7 is also where the first uphill is introduced, as we ran through University City and encountered a sea of drunken Drexel frat boys. True life: I didn’t high-five one of the guys, and he smacked me HARD on my upper arm in rage (cue the expletives…)
When I looked at my watch and saw that my pace for this mile was a 6:50, I was actually okay with it, considering the incline. But I think it must’ve been a syncing issue because then I ran…
Mile 8 – 7:03
My legs were absolutely shot at this point. And even though I had been monitoring my pace, I don’t think I realized how far behind my goal I was (which I guess is a good thing, because I’m sure I would’ve freaked out.)
Mile 9 – 6:39
Well…mile 9 was an improvement at least. I tried to get my shit together for the small downhill portion past the zoo, because I knew I had one more hill to climb on the way to the Touch Museum.
Mile 10 – 7:10
I hit my all-time low during mile 10. I gave up. I didn’t care about the run anymore. I actually started having flashbacks to Fairfield, where I just felt miserable. I wanted the race to be over.
As I bear-crawled up the hill to the museum, I was passed by a couple of sub-elite marathoners. Since I was already feeling emotional, I teared up when one girl ran alongside with me for a few strides, and gave me some words of encouragement: talk about a humble moment.
Mile 11 – 6:34
Only 5k left, but I still didn’t realize how far off my goal I was, so I pushed on. I was so exhausted; I didn’t really care about anything else but finishing. I tried to take advantage of the downhill here at mile 11, but my legs had nothing left. I also put in my iPod, which is a terrible habit, but I do enjoy music for the final few miles of a race. –Never again.
Somewhere in between miles 11 and 12, there was a water station SMACK DAB in the middle of the road (or at least that’s what my distorted mind remembers.) And to ensure that people didn’t run into the water station, there was a man SMACK DAB in the middle of the road directing runners to either side of the table. Thinking that the man was saying something important, I quickly ripped my left ear bud out of my ear so I could hear him.
But something didn’t feel right when I ripped the ear bud out. –And then I realized. THE RUBBER PART OF MY EAR BUD WAS STILL LODGED IN MY EAR.
Seriously. Is this real life?!
I honestly wouldn’t have been surprised if I started bleeding from the ear, because I did EVERYTHING to try to get that thing out. But no matter what I did, the damn ear bud would not come out.
Mile 12 – 6:47
I wonder if there’s a world record mile time for simultaneously running whilst digging for treasures in your ear?
Mile 13 – 6:42
Right there, my friends, is a face of misery.^
I tried to hone it in for as much as I could here with an ear bud stuck in my ear. We traversed up another hill and I nearly had a Pukeapalooza Fest in front of 30-40 people. I stumbled sideways in the street as I dry heaved/ran. The marathoners looked at me like I was insane.
.17 in :59, or 5:49 pace
FINAL HALF MARATHON – 1:28:51
Lucky for me, I didn’t have enough food or water to barf up, so I finished as fast as I could and totally missed high-fiving the mayor of Philadelphia at the finish line. Whoops.
Yep. About to reach for my watch in angst and pain. Sounds about right.
Before the run, Josh had told me that he wanted me to run so hard that I’d have absolutely nothing left. He approved the concept of collapsing at the finish…having the medics cart me away…going to the med tent…etc. Well. I didn’t collapse, nor did anyone have to dramatically peel my limp body from the pavement. I did, however, finish…catch my breath…and quickly found someone who could direct me to the med tent so someone could dislodge the ear bud from my skull.
Everyone in the med tent looked at me like I had 6 heads when I told them I had an ear bud in my ear. Then they told me that I’d need to go to the hospital to get it removed because they didn’t have anything in the tent that could get it out. Uh…no. I said, “I’m pretty sure I can walk to CVS right now and buy a tweezers to remove it…I am not going to the hospital,” and as I stood up to leave, they magically found a pair of clampers to insert into my ear and extract the rubber ear bud.
As I walked out of the tent, they said, “Have a nice run!”
As I hobbled out of the tent, I remembered my crappy run. I asked someone for a medal and a space blanket as I whimpered to myself and grabbed a banana and my checked bag. It wasn’t until I saw Gabe that the floodgates were unleashed, and I burst into tears.
I had an unbelievable 6-week training cycle, and I only had a 30-second PR to show for it. I knew I was capable of so much more. And above all, I was mad at myself for how I ran. I was stupid. I didn’t keep tabs on my time. I totally gave up in a few spots. I went out way too aggressively. I GOT MY FUCKING EAR BUD STUCK IN MY EAR. Like. Come on. How much dumber can you get?????
I changed my clothes and cried more to Josh, who was happy with my performance, and reminded me that it was just a bad day. He also reminded me of the overall progress that’s been made, and I later realized that I had shaved 10-minutes off my half marathon time from March—November. Cool.
A race is just another run—I need to always remember that. I had amped myself up too much about this particular run, and it lead to a crappy day. While I’m disappointed that I didn’t hit my marks, I know I’ll get there in the spring. And above all: I recognize the absurdity (and amazingness) of my ability to finish every race this year with a PR. Onward and upwards!