The last time I raced a half was in March of 2014, just prior to my first Boston. It was cold and gritty, but fun and successful, and I ran a PR of 1:28:28. Then I ran Boston a month later, which was awesome for obvious reasons. After that came a year of injuries, self-defeat, and growing–not only with my running, but also with my personal and professional life. I did squeak out another successful marathon at Boston again this past April, but soon thereafter spiraled into another injury.

So, then, that brings us to Hartford. I wasn’t after PRs for Hartford. I was after a strong, solid race. I wanted to regain confidence and finish with nothing left in the tank. Time-wise, I hoped to be somewhere close to where I was pre-injury #1. A PR would be nice, but not expected. I would’ve been disappointed to not be under 90.

The Training
The post-injury buildup this summer has been slow. VERY slow. I didn’t start doing workouts until the last week of July. And then even from there, the workouts were much more conservative than they have been in the past. Instead of 3 brutal workouts a week, I ran only 1 really heavy track workout, then MAYBE a second marathon-paced tempo, and a long run over the weekend. I started light lifting, 1x/week, in late September.

Recovery days were also very VERY different than they have been in the past. There’s this new-fangled concept called listening to your body…and I just started incorporating it into my training. Instead of hammering through recovery runs at a 7:20-40 pace that felt terrible and miserable, I’ve started to run what feels good to my lungs and legs, which is usually between an 8-8:30. Sometimes, if I really feel shitty, I’ll run close to 8:40 and feel just fine about it. Slowing down easy days has actually made me love running even more. I can count the number of days on one hand where I had a hard time motivating myself to get out the door this summer…and it’s mostly because if I’m headed out for an easy run, I know it’s going to be relaxing, slow, and enjoyable.

I’ve never done this before on my blog, but here is a quick snap of my September training leading up to this race:

Workout 1 Workout 2 Long Run WKLY MILEAGE
Week 1 6x1k, 6×200 8x40sec, then 8x40sec hills n/a 40
Week 2 New Haven 20k (which I will need to recap at some point) ladder: 3×600, 400, 300, 200 11.5 52
Week 3 7-mile progression 6x1k, 6×300 12 51
Week 4 10-miles @ 7:00 5×1 mile 15.6 52
Week 5 2×8, 2×4, 2×8, 2×4 n/a 10 57

So, like I said…not a crazy amount of workouts, but the higher mileage and solid long runs kept me pretty confident and helped grow my aerobic base back.

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New Haven 20k. Not the best day, but a decent workout. And, hey, at least I smiled. 🙂

The Race
Hartford is only 40 minutes from my house, so I had the luxury of sleeping in my own bed the night before the race. But, of course, in true me-fashion, I cut it REALLY close in the morning, and there wasn’t much any time for a warmup. I had a quick 2-minute jog before needing to line up. I also peed next to a building in the middle of downtown Hartford. Whoops.

The plan was to run the first 3 miles at 7:00, then the next 5-miles in the low 6:50s. I needed to hit 8 miles around 55 minutes. At that point, I needed to make a decision of what I wanted next: I could either continue to cruise at 6:50, or drop it down to 6:45. For the last 5k, I needed to pick it up, and I was instructed to “go to the well” with the final 2.1.

Miles 1-3: 6:50, 6:58, 6:56
There was lots of watch/pace checking during these early miles to make sure the pace wasn’t too much. These miles felt light and ticked by pretty quickly. The temp was perfect–mid 50s–and wind wasn’t an issue yet. I crossed by the 3-mile marker just around 20:50, which was perfect, and right on plan.

Miles 4-6: 6:53, 7:01, 6:43
As soon as the third mile marker ticked, I pushed the pace just a bit. I felt my legs turn over a little faster, but it felt good. My breathing was very controlled and I wasn’t working very hard, which made me feel really optimistic. I reminded myself of that 10-miler at 7:00 workout I had done a few weeks prior; I was feeling better today than I did then, which was a confidence-booster. I had my first gel at 30-minutes with no digestion issues.

Mile 5 was the first steady incline. I saw a friend, so I briefly pushed ahead to chat with her. I got to the top of the hill and felt a little winded and saw my watch hit 7:01. I said, “shit,” out loud; 7:01 was not part of the plan. I knew we had just had a hill, but I needed to move.

I used the downhill mile 6 to get the time back. When 6:43 clicked on my watch, I said, “chill out, Mary, you still have the whole race to run,” and I settled back into a more conservative pace.

Mile 7: 6:49
The longest mile of this race was mile 7. You’re on this straight stretch on a street called Trout Brook Drive. For some reason, I felt like I had gone from running with tons of people to…no one. The wind picked up and I desperately tried to find someone to draft off of, but there was literally nobody. Wtf!! A couple spectators made positive comments about my form, which really helped keep my spirits up. But, in all honesty, this was a hard mile, both mentally and physically.

Tons of self doubt crept in. Can I do this? Do I have the endurance? It’s been so long since you raced a half…who are you kidding to try to run a time close to your PR? Why is there no one around?!?

Also, for some reason, my achilles was somewhat sore, and here is when it started really bugging me. Then my bad quad started burning a little bit…then my hip…and my whole left side just started feeling like crap. AHhhhhhhh.

The only thing that calmed me down was that I had my “decision” at mile 8–I could either pick it up and drop the hammer OR just keep steady around/just under 6:50, and probably still finish the race in under 90. My training partner, Aimee, and I always tell each other during workouts to “commit to xx reps…then you can bail,” so that’s what I did here. I said, “commit to this race until mile 8…then you can just cruise if you need to.”

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Mile 8: 6:56
I completely forgot to check my watch to see if I had successfully hit mile 8 in 55-min, which was the plan. I had little time to worry, though, because this mile was uphill and difficult. The hill lasted about half a mile BUT my legs actually felt decent and I found myself passing people, which was an instant ego-boost. “Do NOT look at your watch,” I told myself. I knew this was one of the final hills, and I remember my friend Courtney telling me that it’s mostly downhill after mile 8.

“This feels hard because you’re going up. Just get to the top of this hill and recommit.”

I also ran past a $10 bill on the ground just before the hill. I’m still regretting not picking it up. 🙁

Miles 9-11: 6:39, 6:39, 6:39
Game. On.

I got to the top of the hill in Elizabeth Park at mile 9 and said, “OK Mary, let’s go.” I took my second gel and it went down just as successfully as the first one. My legs felt great…the weather was perfect…I was really enjoying the course…my nutrition was on point. Everything was aligning, so it was time to go for it. Even though I’ll be running another half in a month…who knows what conditions or training will be like? Everything at Hartford was perfect and I needed to take advantage of the opportunity. I immediately got excited that I was FINALLY running my own race, something I haven’t done in a really long time.

6:40s felt a little more challenging, so I was thankful to find a group of people to hang with. They were talking about how the 1:30 pacer was way ahead of pace (apparently last year he finished in 1:27?!?!) which made me feel better, but I wasn’t really worried about him. I knew what I needed to do.

As we went through one more incline in the park through the botanical gardens, a shorter woman and I worked together. It reminded me of Aimee and I working together on our workouts, so I pretended the woman was Aimee and we were just doing a workout together. The plan was to hit 6:45s here, but low 6:40s felt really good, so I held on. I would’ve loved to have kept going with the woman, but after about a mile of us working together, she couldn’t hang, so I dropped her.

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My new friend and I

I could feel us getting closer and closer to the city. Mile 10 ticked on my watch, and I refocused and saddled up for the final 5k. There was also another huge hill just around 10.25…I remembered Josh saying something about this hill in the car on the ride up. He mentioned it would probably be the worst hill on the course because of placement and the steep grade. Like always, he was right; the hill sucked. I reminded myself of the hill repeats I had done over the summer, and worked with a couple guys to get up it during the race. Finally, after what seemed like forever, the hill ended and I saw the 1:30 pacer in view.

“Just get over this hill…and go get that pacer.”

Miles 12-13.1: 6:22, 6:24, last .21 @ 5:43
This was it. The last two miles. I’ve worked on speed A LOT since coming back from my femur injury…so I had the confidence to kick it into another gear and hold on. I felt a little tired, but I was pretty shocked at how much turnover I still had in me.

“You still have to finish this thing, Mary…keep it together.”

I flew past the pacer with over two miles to go and didn’t look back. I wasn’t checking my watch, but I felt myself flying and getting faster and faster. I worked with another female up one last hill at mile 12, and put the pedal to the metal.

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I had heard that the course would be a little long, but I wasn’t sure by how much, so I prepared myself for the worse. I saw the final .1 sign MUCH sooner than I had anticipated, so I ramped it up and sprinted through the Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Arch.

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happy happy happy. 🙂

FINAL 13.1: 1:29:00

In the weeks leading up to this race, I had totally romanticized the finish, and imagined myself being emotional and teary-eyed upon crossing the finish line. But there was none of that. I crossed that line, bent over one of the side railings to catch my breath, and said, “FUCK YEAH.”

Because I did it. I ran my own race and stayed strong until the end. This is why I run. To create goals and surpass them…to formulate a plan and execute…to train and get faster and prove my efforts…to finish a well-run race, and genuinely want more.

I said it after that 10k I ran in August and I’ll say it again here: I want more. I’m hungry for new numbers and paces. I’m excited to finally be healthy and actually moving forward instead of needing to nurse a new injury. I’m super excited to give my old PRs a run for their money this fall.

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