Every race has its lessons. Some are learned the hard way, some the easy way – though the lessons that come the easy way are often also easy to miss if you aren’t looking for them. Fortunately, the vast majority of the lessons I got from this race came about the easy way.
It had been over 2 years since I had actually raced a half marathon and I didn’t really know how to make a race plan anymore. Race plans in the marathon are pretty simple: find a pace that feels good, then slow down; try not to fade in the second half. But in the half marathon, you can afford to take a few risks. So I took my new 10K PB of 59:49 and put it into the McMillan Running Calculator. It said that I should be able to run a half marathon in 2:13:06 for an average pace of 6:19/km; I said “Yeah, right!” So I asked some friends of mine who are experienced runners and have been following my training. One said, “You can totally do 2:13. Why not start with the 2:15 pace group and see how you feel?” Another said “Why not try for goal pace on the downhill, then hang on for dear life?” The third said, “Race hard and enjoy. Turn off your brain and just run.”
So then I thought, “hmm. These guys know what they’re talking about.” I knew I could sustain a pace of 6 minutes per kilometre for an hour; but only 20 seconds slower for more than double the time? I still wasn’t convinced, but I was more sceptical of my scepticism than I had originally been.
November 6 arrived, and thanks to the time change, leaving at 5:15 am didn’t seem so bad. When the sun finally came up, it was clear, cool and beautiful; I really could not have asked for better weather (for those of you who are wondering, I decided to wear capris, short sleeves, arm warmers and a vest). The pace bunnies were not yet positioned when I found a spot in the crowd – after they filtered in it was too crunched to work your way over to one, so I stayed where I was, just ahead of the 2:15 bunny.
We got underway and I ran by feel as planned. The course undulates a little as it makes its way to the Red Hill Valley Parkway, but I felt great. Apparently I ran right past Vicky (of Vicky and Grant fame) as we turned towards the parkway, but I didn’t see her (sorry, Vicky! Thanks for coming out!!). Then we got onto the parkway, which is downhill for approximately 7K – the trick here is to take advantage of gravity to conserve energy without tiring out your quads too much. I focussed on my form and I felt great.
At 11K we took the Barton St., E. Exit off the parkway, which, of course, involved running up an off ramp; later analysis showed that I slowed here, but I felt great. We made our way through town on part of the Around the Bay course; I sped up to ensure I missed the train, and I felt great. We went under the QEW at 14K, where I saw my husband and two friends ringing cowbells and taking pictures.
With 5K to go, I was getting tired, so I started targeting people ahead of me to either hang on to or pass. I passed some people. Some people passed me; I passed many of them back. In the final kilometre, I could hear the finish line announcer, as you run past the finish and turn around to approach from the other direction. He said, “Would whoever ordered the wind please come and pick it up at the finish line?” This gave me a laugh, but also a boost because I knew I was almost there.
I rounded the corner and booted it for the finish – right past my cheering squad without seeing them (apparently it’s a pattern for me).
I finished the race in 2:11:16. A PB by 11 minutes, 41 seconds. Almost 9 minutes faster than my C-goal, almost 4 minutes faster than my B-goal, and almost 2 minutes faster than my A-goal.
I apologize if it sounds like I am gloating – I’m really not. It’s just that the lesson here was don’t let your brain box you in. I didn’t think I could do 2:13 because 6:19/km did not look sustainable. Why? For no other reason than 6:19 was so much faster than I’d ever done it before. So if you do the training, you’re lucky enough to be feeling well and get a great day, race hard and enjoy. Just shut off your brain and run. You just might surprise yourself!