The 3M half marathon has come and gone, and with it, my most serious (and productive!) training block to date.
I set out to accomplish a relatively large goal of not just hitting a PR, but attempting to crush it into oblivion. For a variety of reasons, this didn't exactly prove to be so easy. I set out with a large and (for me) scary goal of fast paces on a seemingly great downhill course. 3M has always been historically good to me as a race, netting me two separate 5-minute half-marathon PRs (1:45 in 2012 and a 1:40 in 2014), when they had otherwise seemed illusive. In fact, this random fact is probably what led me to set an aggressive goal to start. If history were to follow through, a 1:35 should be my goal in this race.
However, my brain couldn't QUITE wrap around the idea of going that fast (a half marathon average pace faster than my 10k PR), so I settled on 1:37 as an attainable, but aggressive, goal for 3M. History, and a chummy, buddy-buddy feeling about this race, also likely notoriously led me to believe that this was going to be "easy." One thing that I didn't factor in is that on both my prior 3M attempts, the weather was pretty much ideal, especially in 2014. Sunday, not so much.
For those having kept up with the weekly workout recaps, I had as good of a training block as I have ever had. I averaged 50 mile weeks, most of my long runs were over 14 miles, and I had zero injuries. I go back to the last one frequently because it's been a long string of races that I've missed due to injury, most notably the Chicago marathon in 2014, which would have been my first serious attempt at a BQ. Also, invariably the reason I've stayed as far from the marathon as possible since then. I've also got a stubborn enough (stupid enough) head that I've run through races injured for the sake of completing them, further injuring myself and making any kind of real training almost impossible. (Case in point my long-standing half marathon PR - I finished and collapsed on my leg at the finish line, a prisoner to 12-weeks of non-running due to a stress fracture.)
So, January 21, 2018, I was more than prepared to run my little heart out, on legs that I was convinced weren't going to betray me. Fully functioning, no-pain-to-ignore, two-legs-at-the-start, ready.
I had already set my mind to the fact that I was going to push regardless of the weather and regardless of what my brain told me. I knew that an aggressive race strategy could mean one of two things: PR or ER. Okay, maybe not so dramatic, but you get the idea. It had been a long time since I had raced and mentally, I wasn't sure I felt as sharp as I had in the past. I used to pretend to be a shark, with blood in the water, closing as hard as possible and being tunnel-vision focused in my pursuit. Somewhere along the way, and in the course of a myriad of injuries, I felt as though I had lost my way.
For me, the weather on race day was an unavoidable, non-factor. I have always claimed (and will still continue to claim!) that the swampy humidity is one of my favorite things - made even better by a race morning filled with a bit of dew, fog, and mist. However, 65 and humid at the start of the race is far from ideal, and even for my wet-loving self, the temperature was not something that I eager for. Ideally, I had been eagerly watching the weather leading up to the race, hoping for a race in the mid-50s. Oh well.
There's definitely a mindset that comes to racing that lends itself to failing before you even begin. Worrying about the weather, focusing on others' goals, or even overthinking if you had enough breakfast, can derail even the best-laid plans. All of this, along with my rusty racing experience, I was determined to avoid.
Race morning went as well as possible. I woke up with plenty of time to down my UCAN, eat a banana, braid my hair (battle braids are an essential part of racing!), and make sure everything was in its proper place. Nutrition, check. Salt tabs, check. Watch, mantras, anti-chafe precautions taken. Check, check, check.
I arrived to the start of the race at my planned time, approximately 30 minutes before the race start. Considering that the temperature was so warm, I didn't feel a need to sit in the car until the last possible moment and we headed over to the start line. The only issue with this otherwise immaculately planned scenario, was the ridiculousness of the port-a-potty line. For once (and that's a rarity!) the issue wasn't the amount of port-a-potties, but rather there was absolutely no organization to who uses which one, resulting in, to be politically correct, an absolute shitshow. For what it's worth - race organizers, listen up! - all it would have taken was a few orderly roped lines (a la your rollercoaster theme park lines) to prevent the disorder that ensued.
Regardless, the bathroom issue caused another issue, which was the inability to get to the correct starting spot. I started back by the 2:20 pacer, about 2:00 off the starting gun time, something that I was not thrilled with in the least. Partially an issue with my own inattentiveness to the race starting time, but mostly another organizational issue, which could have easily been avoided by having some entry gates along the fencing for entry.
Starting 2 minutes off the gun meant that I was way far back from everyone I had planned to pace with, which immediately threw a wrench in my plans. Racing feels so much easier when you've got a solid lady-pack around you and I had planned to use several friends as pace partners for the early parts of the race. Regardless, I hung back, determined not to swerve and expend extra energy (and distance!) to get around people.
My race plan looked like this: Very conservative start (7:30) for the first 5k, picking it up to race pace (7:25) through the 10k, and from there, either maintaining or attempting to press on the favorable parts of the course. Allowing for a 10-15 second slowdown on Mile 10 (ew 45th!), before picking it up for whatever I had left for a close. Ideally, even with a conservative start, a 7:30 average would put me well under my previous PR time of 1:40 (7:37).
The first 5k was perfect, considering where I started and I didn't feel as though I had exerted any effort. The pack was thick, but I was able to maneuver through the throngs of people without losing my stride or going far out of my way. I was eager to get out of the industrial park portion of the course - the one part that I was not all too familiar with. Once we hit Shoal Creek, I was ready to start pushing down to race pace. Until, I just wasn't. Around mile 5, as I was getting frustrated at my inability to speed up to my race pace, I started to notice a tightness in my hip. The more desperately I tried to lengthen my stride, and therefore increase my speed, the more I felt a nagging pinching and tightness.
However annoyingly, my hip didn't hurt expressly, but did severely limit my ability to keep moving. As I was rounding the 10k, I checked my splits and was, at least for the moment, still well within PR striking range. I decided if I wasn't going to get my desired time, I sure as hell was going to get the PR and I was going to keep pushing. Just like I tell my athletes, if something hurts, if something doesn't feel right, or if you feel like you're in a slump, change it up! I tried a few butt kicks, changing positions in the roadway, but nothing seemed to be letting go of the tightness in my hip. Annoying, but I was still maintaining a decent pace, averaging race pace from the prior PR, and holding on.
45th is quite easily my least favorite part of the course, and on this specific day, it became even moreso. The first hill as you turn off Shoal Creek (which is such a beautiful net downhill) feels like it hits you like a ton of bricks. We train on hills in Austin, and even though this one is tiny, after so many consecutive miles of straight down, it just feels so cruel.
I knew I would lose time here and that's why Becky was strategically placed to keep me moving. It was also one of the main things that kept me going into the turn and up the hill. I just lost too much time here, plain and simple. Even with the tightness, I had done a fairly good job of maintaining my pace over the first 8 miles of the course. My breathing was labored (yes, everyone loves my asthma wheeze), and I was fighting pretty hard up the hills, but mentally miles 9-10 have always been tough for me, regardless of the race. Knowing you are going to lose time, plus just being worn out into the finish, all contributed. Post-race of course, it's easy to look back and be frustrated. If I could have shaved X-time off these miles, then I could have finished with this! But, however, easy it is to say afterwards, I know that I was still fighting my way through.
As we rounded the corner onto Duval from 45th (the last big climb of the race), I was eager to see Paul and close this thing down. Duval is one of my favorite routes in Austin, a road I run incredibly frequently on my runs from Dane's Body Shop, so I was eager to get up the hill and downhill to the finish. That hill just sucks so much. At that point in the race, that hill might almost be worse than the initial one on 45th, but regardless, it was my lowest point in the race and I was SO MAD.
As we hit 45th, I was furious and trying to channel my rage into a close. I had set my mantra from Chris and Steve's podcast regarding 3M strategy - and that was to close like a motherfucker. In my dream race plan, that had been a solid low-7s type of close, unabashedly flying down Duval and passing as many people as possible. In turn, it was most of the latter, and definitely none of the former.
I closed as hard as I possibly could. Which, to my credit, was pretty damn hard. Whatever had been tensing up in my hip into mile 8 seemed to have somewhat shaken loose on the hills (see: sometimes you just need a change of pace) and had seemingly somewhat released itself. At least, it felt better than it had coming down Shoal Creek. But that didn't mean that it felt great and on tired legs, I was pushing as hard as I possibly could.
I kept repeating to myself "You're a shark. Shark. Shark.," potentially in my head, but I think more likely, out loud, as a crazy woman running all out. I was determined not to quit and to suffer in possibly the best way that I could, all the way down to the finish. Besides, I was just SO ANGRY.
I rallied - albeit not the close that I had envisioned on paper - into the finish. I was passing people left and right, even if it felt like I was wading through mud, and nearing campus.
Mentally, 3M has 5 main milestones for me, the last of which is: Campus. You just have to get through campus. In a spacial sense, it seems so small. Just on the other side of campus is the finish line. However, campus represents about a mile to the finish. I pushed hard through campus, focusing on the mantra that the finish line was on the other side and made the final turn on San Jacinto.
This finish line was a new thing this year - traditionally the finish line had been a quick turn on MLK Jr. Drive and then another one by the Bob Bullock museum and the finish was right there. This time, it avoided the MLK hill (yay) but was so far down San Jacinto. In my over zealous remembrance of the course, I started to close hard as soon as I crossed the street. In some sort of weird, Twilight zone, cartoon-esque hallway, the finish line felt as though it kept stretching farther and farther away, no matter how fast you ran towards it.
I felt like I was going SO FAST (Strava confirmed that I was, in fact), but making no headway. I had also slightly miscalculated the final distance to the finish, so my hard close was slightly lost in my inability to maintain it for so long. But, I kept telling myself if I give up now, and I don't absolutely sprint to the finish, I'll be mad at myself later if I miss my goal.
So, I finished in 1:41:06, just about a minute off my half marathon PR, but a full minute quicker than anything I had ran in previous years. Looking back over my Garmin data, gives me a 1:42 half at Houston, in which I really did give up when the going got tough (but also another year with perfect weather). So, overall, I'm happy with my performance, even if it wasn't what I wanted. I saw a number of teammates have poor races or drop out. I heard stories of some who got overwhelmed by the heat and humidity. So, considering that the conditions were less than ideal, I think I can be happy with where my fitness is at.
For those asking what my next race is...I don't have one. I want to dedicate my spring to getting a ton of miles under my belt, continuing the strength training and self-care that has kept me healthy, and build a large volume base. Hopefully all of this will lend to my fitness and from there, I can target something. But for now, it's just lots of long, slow steady miles.
I can't wait!