Sometimes it’s the sweet suffering that get’s you through the race. Sometimes you have to dig just a little bit deeper to get to the finish. Sometimes it hurts so much that you have to grit your teeth and swear to yourself that you’ll stop pushing once you catch “that person up there.” Sometimes you have to keep yelling in your head “shut up legs!” Sometimes everything comes together and your formula comes out in balance.
Happiness = Reality – Expectations.
It’s no secret that I have been training like a mad man this season. After a decent reintroduction to endurance racing last season, I wanted this year to be about pushing through barriers. Sure I had some PRs last year, but they were times I thought were reasonable for me to hit. This year was meant to be about getting to levels I didn’t think were possible. All the more poignant since this is the first year that I have to start entering as, gasp, a 40 year old (this is where having a late-in-the-year birthday is awesome). I am training harder, and racing faster, now than I ever have. And I’m almost 40. I love that.
First, I want to thank 4thDimension Racing. They ran this race, as well as the awesome NWEpicSeries mountain bike races I love so much. The course this year was improved to remove much of the Mickey Mouse back and forth at the south end of the run, and that was appreciated. I think there was more water on course this year, but even if there wasn’t, it felt like there was.
Second, I want to thank the VO2MultiSport team. We’ll get to Coach Ben later, but the team showed up in full force. I will admit that I was so focused during the run (and I had my music going) that I didn’t even realize I was at mile 8.5 where they had their water station until I saw Coach Ben jumping up and down at the exit of the chute, wildly gesticulating with his arms at me. I still don’t know what he was on about.
Last I want to thank my family. They are enduring my training as much as I am. The odd hours. The long hours. The constant exhaustion and hunger. The sacrifices are felt by kids and wife alike. They are incredibly supportive, and there’s no way I do this without them. This level of effort requires full buy-in from the family.
Back to that formula. One of my biggest problems with racing is that I get too much in my head, and I set unrealistic goals. It’s good to be competitive and have a high bar, but if the goals are unrealistic, the only thing you are doing is setting yourself up for bitter disappointment. That was the case with each race last year except this race.
At this time last year, I had been training with Coach Ben for all of 3.5 months, and my previous PR in the half marathon was a high 1:48:42 run in Houston in 2007. I had bested that with a 1:48:12 in the Seattle Half Marathon in 2012 just prior to starting with Ben. Given the similarity in results, I figured I was destined to be a slow distance runner. That’s when Coach Ben happened. In just 3.5 months of training, he dropped my PR to 1:40:47. Never mind that I had pace over distance under 8 minutes per mile; something I never thought I could do. I finished 174th in the men, 72/244 in the 30-39 age bracket. I was stocked! Sad I didn’t come under 1:40, but my expectations were not high.
Fast forward to Honu Half Iron…well, I don’t need to re-live that. Let’s just say that my expectations were too high for that race. Coming off that low, I had lower expectations for the Seattle Rock n’ Roll Half Marathon, where I did manage to improve my PR to 1:38:49, finishing 38/716 in my division, and 246/4429 men. I believed I could run a 1:40, and ran just a little bit harder of the last mile, and came in pretty close to my PR, but 2 minutes is 2 minutes, and I was excited.
Coming into this race, I had a couple of simple expectations. To improve, and to have fun. I had done the work, and have seen my times improve over distance. My weight has also come down, making things a bit easier, bettering my target weight of 164 for race morning by .5 lbs. It was a calm, cool morning, and the rain was holding off. The conditions could not have been much better.
My race plan was very prescriptive. I was supposed to run the first 1.5 miles at 7:40 pace, the next 1.5 miles at 155 BPM HR, and the let the dog loose and run the final 10 miles by building in BPM. That plan went out the window with the gun. The first mile was at 7:20 pace, but it felt so slow. I kept thinking that I was feeling great because I was actually rested. Adrenaline is funny that way. By the time I switched over to HR, I was at 170BPM. I had two options: 1) stick to my original plan and slow the hell down, or 2) stick to my nutrition plan and let it fly. I seldom choose the rev limiter. Be that as it may, I really do need to work on racing the plan.
In the end, it’s entirely possible that I would have run faster if I had stuck to the plan. That’s something for me to work on. I was on point with my hydration and nutrition. I was treating this like a 13.1 mile run off the bike in a Half Ironman. GU every 20 minutes, water every 10-15. I probably could have done with one less GU, but all was fine. Miles 11 and 12 were painful, and I started giving back time in larger chunks than with which I felt comfortable. I knew, though, when I turned into the park that I was close, and that I had to gut it out.
Remarkably, I had no idea what my time was as I neared the finish chute. I decided to run this race with only distance and HR on my display of my Garmin. I didn’t want the stress of seeing the time go in the wrong direction if it started to. I just wanted to run, and run on feel. Of course, being in the back and forth of the parking lot, I could see who was in front of me, and how far, and it provided just the right amount of read meat for the red mist to descend, and for my pace to increase. I wanted to finish strong.
The end result was pretty remarkable for a guy who really doesn’t consider himself a distance runner. I finished 24/182 in my division, and 112 out of 1785 racers with a time of 1:34:01. The worst part about that :01? I dropped a GU on course. Remember when I said I probably could have done without that one extra GU? If I had left it on the ground, instead of stopping and turning around to grab it I would have finished with a 1:33…oh well.
I really never thought I could run this fast. That’s a dangerous place to be…believing. Once you start believing things, who knows what kind of cray things you might start believing? Regardless, I really want to carry this success forward, and use it to fuel my coming triathlons. My goal for Honu 70.3 this year is to run a 1:45 half marathon off the bike. I believe I can do that. The real crux move for that race will be bike pacing, and I don’t know enough this early in the season to know where I am with my cycling.
I love racing because of the sense of accomplishment. I love it because it demonstrates that your brain will quit many times before your body will. I love it because everyone is out there for different reasons, but we’re all out there together . I love it because of all of the internal dialog with yourself. I love it because you can see so many emotions in such a short window of time – like in this photo. The best part about this photo (sequentially, within a few seconds of the first one in this post) are the faces. One racer knows he’s on camera. One racer obviously didn’t. And one racer didn’t know that someone was there to pass them and they are just sneaking a peek. It was a great day.