I've come to believe that every race comes with a lesson. I guess today's lesson is to not pin too many expectations before you toe the starting line!
Back in November, I signed up for a Black Friday special offered by Team Ortho for its four local half-marathons in 2012. Three were races I'd probably run regardless of the discount. The fourth was this one! I just resumed doing sporadic speedwork about a month ago, but nothing was geared toward half-marathon training in the slightest. I was also horrified by the course, which was not one out-and-back but two out-and-backs - on the notorious river road, no less. I decided to run it 90 percent for fun and 10 percent as an opportunity to push the pace if I was feeling good. I set a goal of two hours, but only so Josh would know roughly when to station himself at the finish line.
The weekend weather started out super on Saturday - something like 45 degrees - and then conditions plummeted on Saturday night, when a quick little storm swept through and left two or three inches of snow and a lot of wind behind. I got up this morning, took a moment to appreciate the 10 a.m. start time (so not an option in a Minnesota summer race!) and started tackling the major problem of what to wear on a course that was going to involve the wind in my face for half of it and at my back for the other half.
Josh dropped me off at the start line just in time, and the race got underway. I saw a man pull off the course in the first mile to take a picture of the river - a dude after my own heart! The first three miles felt so easy with the tailwind, and I was torn between using the wind to bank some time or slowing down to start out gently. (My indecision left me somewhere between the two.) The 25 degrees felt nice and warm without the wind, that much was certain! By the second time I saw Josh, my gloves were already off. I waved them at him enthusiastically and the policeman next to him waved back at me half-heartedly, not realizing that my spectator was indeed nearby!
I love how everyone else looks totally cool and dialed in while I am waving my gloves around.
Right away, I noticed how happy I felt to be racing - not ugh, this is going to get hard but wow, this is so fun! Instead of feeling monotonous, the route was comforting in how well I knew it, and the out-and-backs actually broke the race up into manageable segments. I reached the first turnaround (just after three miles) and the wind in my face was noticeable but not unbearable, and it didn't slow me as much as I had feared. (See? Those pesky expectations!) My mile paces kept staying under the 9:10 pace required to break the two hour mark, and I kept feeling good and strong and - at risk of losing all readers because of excessive cheese - joyful.
Because of the nature of the course, Josh was all over the route, and every time I saw him, I felt like my eyes were telling him "WOO HOO!"
By mile eight, I realized that barring enormous bad surprises, I'd finish under two hours. I tried to do some math in my head to calculate pace - this is always dicey midrace - and figured out if I got down to business, I had a chance at 1:50. I got so excited by this prospect that I sped up a little too much and paid the price a little bit later on during the last stretch into the wind. The last mile was definitely the toughest and windiest, but I got within sight of the finish line, saw Josh right by it and pulled my tired legs along as fast as I could. Per the race results, I crossed the line in 1:48:21, an 8:17/mile pace.
It's not a PR, but it's a heck of a lot closer to it than I expected to run today. Even sweeter, I never would've believed you if you would've told me that today would feel just like the race where I set my half-marathon PR, a day I'll never forget because of how much stronger and happier I felt as the course progressed. It's not the first time I've learned to let go of prerace expectations. Sometimes runners have good days, and sometimes they have tough days. It's just how it goes. You always learn from both. In 2011, I had a streak of tough races with second halves that got into trudgefest-sludgefest category. I learned a lot from those races, and I'll never forget them, either. But believe me, it was thrilling to break that streak on the first day of 2012. I had forgotten how much fun the good days can be.