It's like ra-eee-aaaaain on your half marathon day. I think it's so ironic that a training cycle full of happy, joyful miles ended with a race that was miserable practically start to finish. Never before yesterday had I gotten to a starting line and thought "What am I doing here?" while imagining my escape. I felt puddles in my shoes before I even dropped off my dry gear bag. I had already ditched my gloves because they had gotten completely soaked just from walking from the car to the start. I underestimated how long I'd be waiting in the corral before starting and took off my poncho and extra layer too early. All I could think about was how much the next 100+ minutes were going to suck. I made my way to the back of corral 1 and wondered how this would all go down.
Then I saw a familiar face holding a sign that would turn out to be my beacon for the entire race. Total bad ass and fellow mother runner Krista and her husband were standing at the front of corral 2 holding 1:45 signs, a huge pack of runners behind them. All week long I thought my game plan would be to run near the 1:45 pace group and see what happens. When I realized these two tough people were leading the charge through the wind and rain, it was a no brainer to let corral 1 go and stick with this group. I could tuck in behind them and let them block the wind, and I knew Krista would be a tremendous source of encouragement for us all.
The pacers' plan was to run a steady 8 min/mile pace for 13.1 miles. I knew in my head that starting at an 8 minute pace was a bit fast for me, especially going straight into the wind, but it felt so good to just be moving that I hung with the group. After crossing mile 1 at exactly 8 minutes, I thought it would be best for me to ease up a little, even if it meant letting the pace group get away from me a bit. My next few miles were just over an 8 minute mile, and I felt like I was starting to settle into the run as we made the glorious turn onto Shore Drive. Shore Drive's 3 mile stretch was a nice reprieve from the wind, and the trees even blocked a bit of the rain. But with every passing mile, I knew I was coming up on the toughest part of the course, so I picked up my pace slightly in hopes of putting a little time in the bank.
Once we turned into Fort Story, I took a deep breath and mentally prepared myself for the stiff headwind I knew was waiting for me ahead. I ripped open my GU with my teeth because my hands were numb and completely useless, and slowly sipped on it for most of Fort Story's miles. The 1:45 pace group was pretty far ahead of me by the time we left the Fort, but I could still see their little signs bobbing up and down. I tried to keep a steady effort so they wouldn't get too much farther ahead, but the stiff winds coming off the bay had taken some time off my pace.
The gates at the end of Fort Story may as well have been the pearly gates of heaven...that's how amazing it felt to finish those miles and get on my way to the home stretch. Once I hit 80th Street, the roar of the spectators lining both sides of the street got me really amped up and actually excited about the miles ahead for the first time all morning. I got a high five from Kristy's husband, Christian, and grabbed a dixie cup of beer from a friendly spectator. Carbs are carbs, right?
The last three miles of Shamrock are always interesting. I start counting down the blocks to the finish and get really excited, but often times runners who've been with you for the last 10 miles start dropping to the side of the road to stretch their cramping hamstrings and calves. People who were looking strong through the brutal miles of Fort Story now had the look and posture of defeat as they slowed to a walk. I think this is exactly where the hometown advantage kicked in for me...I train on those streets. I train in that wind. And I was able to withstand the battering we received from the winds on base and have enough left in me to finish strong because of it. It's the same reason quite a few elite runners dropped out of the race while our local speedsters cruised to great finishes.
The last mile was a bit of a blur. The weather kept a lot of spectators at home, and their voices and cowbells were certainly missed as we turned onto Atlantic by the Cavalier. The stretch from the Cavalier to the turn onto the boardwalk seemed to last an eternity, and we were greeted by a gust of wind off the ocean that had me holding onto my hat. I took a quick glance at my watch and thought if I could kick hard enough, I might just end up with a 1:45:xx. The 1:45 pacers were as close as they had been since that first mile, and I focused on catching them before the finish. The pack behind them had completely thinned out, and I couldn't tell if they had all finished faster or fell behind. Krista kept looking back for her little ducklings, and I could hear her cheering us on to the finish. I had little left, as evidenced by this stunning race photo:
That guy behind me feels my pain!
But the finish line is always a welcome sight and I smiled for that one last photographer.
I crossed the finish in 1:45:02, soaked, shivering, exhausted, and elated. A week ago, I believed I was capable of a 1:45 if all the stars aligned. With the weather being what it was at the start, I all but gave up on that time and went into survival mode, with the plan being to just gut this one out. Some of the best runners in the country were too chicken to even show up for this race. And the ones that did brave the elements had finish times that were 4 and 5 minutes off their best as well. The purpose of this race for me this year was never to PR, but instead to see what my baseline is. It was always meant to be a starting point, not and end goal. Knowing I can run a 1:45 in those conditions with no speed work in my weekly miles has me so excited about what's to come with some hard work this spring. After a little rest, of course.
Pacer (and cheerleader) Krista
The post race party is always the best part of these races. Whether your race was good, bad, or ugly, you know there's good food, cold beer, live music, and good (albeit smelly) friends waiting for you in the tent.
Me and my Breath of Sunshine
Post race photo with a giant pink monkey in a Mark Messier jersey, as is tradition.
Look up bad ass in the dictionary and you'll find a picture of this girl. So thankful for her advice and guidance on this running journey of mine.