Monday, November 11, 2019

HiTOPS Princeton Half Marathon, Princeton, NJ. 11/3/19

I have run 3 marathons since Sept 14 of this year. All of those have been races used as "Training Runs." I did well, but they were not 100% race effort from the start. It is a little easier on the anxiety level when you show up at a race knowing it is not supposed to reflect your best effort. Instead, your ability to execute one specific task (negative splitting) as part of practice was the goal.

On 11/3 I raced a half for the first time in a long time. I haven’t run anything fast in a long time and I really wasn’t 100% certain what to expect. But for this race, I knew one thing, I really did want to do well. I wanted to feel like I ran hard and smart at the same time. I still wanted to make sure I negative split the race, but I also could see from the elevation chart that there was a significant hill in M6 and another in M10 but I wasn't sure how long it was. Maybe I was just tired, but I would argue that there was also an uphill in Mile 13 as well. I felt like a mountain but wasn’t even steep enough to appear like a hill on the elevation chart. :)

My plan was to take my pace from the last 12M of Atlantic City Marathon, which bounced around between 7:26 and 8:00 per mile and use that to set a somewhat realistic goal pace for this half. I decided to aim for 7:20-7:40 pace for the first 10.5M (where I thought the hill ended). Once over that last hill, then I wanted to shift gears and see what I could do. I wanted to remain comfortable through 6.55M and not start to do any harder work until the second half.  I wanted to listen to my legs on the uphills since I really have not done a lot of climbing in training.  I did not want to blow up early and see a fade. Finish strong has really been the theme of my return to racing so far and I want to keep it that way. 

There are a few honorable mentions about this race that I would like to make before I carry on about me. :)  First, this was the first race I was able to run with Alanna in a long long time.  That made this special right from the start. 

Next, I also would get to see Gary who I have been coaching for many years now.  Gary just qualified for Boston in October and was running lifetime PRs. I looked forward to seeing him in person and actually getting to run with him today! I rarely run with my clients but everything just worked out for us.

Finally, I found this race the day after my last surgery.  My surgeon has cleared me to run, finding that while under anesthesia, he could see that I only had minor issues to repair. He confirmed that from what he could see the surgery I had in June was actually a success and the infection that would not heal in my GI tract looked like it finally closed.  This was a huge success.  So the next day, I registered for this race.  

I happened to see that there was a fundraising option for those who wanted to do a little more to help the HiTOPS organization, which provides non-judgmental sexual health education to adolescents and young adults over a wide range of topics from cyberbullying, sexual health education, and LBGTQ+ support. 

I decided that if I was going to try to get back to racing and turn my nightmare around, I wanted to try to Create some Momentum along the way and raise funds for this organization. Teenagers have a lot of questions during a confusing time in their life. This organization provides support and education. I started a page and asked Alanna to help share it. With the generosity of so many people who followed my journey, who care about me, who care about Alanna, donations equal to $1700 were made to our team fundraiser page. I am so incredibly grateful to all who were able to generously offer their support. This truly made me want to do my best on race day.
Race day morning was one of the colder mornings of the year. It was about 35 degrees at the start and I wasn't sure how to even dress for a race.  I was initially layered up in tights but with the lack of wind, it didn’t feel so bad.  Then I remember this phrase an elite ultrarunning friend of mine used to say to himself when deciding what to wear: “Shorts are for Racing, Tights are for Pacing” and it made me laugh and then I put on shorts. I was here to race!

I need to work better on my pre-race timing. I am out of practice, clearly. I only had time for 1.5 miles of warm-up and then I headed to the start, where I was lucky to find Gary!

Alanna didn’t plan to race so she moved back. Gary and I went up towards the front behind the faster more ambitious runners but far enough up that our 7:30 pace would be unencumbered.  It was nice to get to catch up with Gary and all my chatter allowed me to not focus so much on my concern that today might be the first day I don’t achieve my negative split task.  I just wasn’t yet confident that I would be able to hold a 7:30 pace for most of the race and then have another gear, but I was going to surely try.  I really wanted to run a 7:20 average pace for the whole thing but I wasn't sure if that was too ambitious for me for right now. 


The first two miles were comfortable and were mostly net descent.  Then we hit a little incline in Mile 3 and I felt it. I felt it more than I wanted to feel it.  My legs noticed the uphill and I knew that I would need to be careful with my pacing. This was so incredibly subtle but I think it is important to listen to your body and use that to guide pacing not try to stick to the time on the watch at all costs. Gary was next to me and he looked fine. Gary just ran a 3:20 marathon. I just ran a 3:35 Marathon. I told Gary I needed slow a little just because I am out of practice on hills. It was too soon in the race for me to feel anything of concern. Gary pulled away. 


I thought about the elevation chart and how I didn’t even hit the real hills yet. “I have a lot of work to do” I thought to myself. “But it is ok. I am happy where I am at right now and I just getting started!”  

The descents felt good. Nothing hurt. I was being patient. For fleeting moments, it felt hard to see ladies ahead of me and not try to catch up to them. But I just reminded myself that my job was to be able to run fast after 10.5M and not fade. Catching ladies in M4 or M5 will do nothing to help me achieve my goal. 


One of the significant climbs took place throughout Mile 6. As per my watch, it took me more than 4:45 seconds to get up the hill. It really wasn’t overwhelmingly steep although there were some people walking around me. At this point, I was still being patient.  A female competitor was right on my heels. I reminded myself that I was not racing her. I was waiting for my mark and then I would go. She passed me just as we crested the hill. I returned the pass on the descent but not because I wanted to get ahead of her.  She just seemed to have worked a little too hard on the up and needed recovery whereas I didn’t work as hard and once over the hill I could open up my pace again. 

As we passed the 6:55 timing mat, I noticed my average pace was 7:32 per mile. I knew that to a negative split, I needed to see that drop by as much as possible in the second half. I felt ready, willing, and able to do that. I was glad I was patient through this point in the race. 


The next mile was lovely. It was a super-fast descent that really allowed me to regroup after that climb. It mentally helped me to see my average pace already dropping but it was still early. I had one more climb to go and I thought it was supposed to be steeper and/or longer than what I just did. 


It was during this mile that I rejoined Gary who looked great but was running his own race.  I was moving well and I was happy he didn’t try to change his race to come with me.   

M-9 7:11

Ok, here we go. The last big climb. I am not even sure how bad this will be. The windy road meant I couldn't see the top of the hill. When I look at my watch data, it shows that the incline was about 18 minutes.  It started at 9.1M and ended at 11.5M but there was a little relief at 10.25 that helped.  

Once I hit 10.25, I was ON. That was my mark to start to pick up my pace and I didn’t care what the course looked like. I would listen to my body to see how fast I could go. I waited for this. I didn’t allow myself to blow up early just so I could do something special at the end and now was my time to try.


Once over the peak of the last hill which was really at 11.5M, I glanced at my pace and was so happy to see sub-7 pace.  The descent was helpful and I was able to recover from the climb while pushing my speed.  But then we turn and start going back up!  It really wasn’t terribly steep but at 6:45 pace it felt like a mountain to me. 

Here is where my form falls apart. 
I am passing people and moving faster than anyone around me. One woman responds and goes with me.  It has been a long time since I felt like someone was able to make a move to go with me when I am negative splitting. This is not because I believe “I am just that good” but rather it is because 99.9% of the runners in recreational races simply do not believe they can negative split so they just go out too hard and have nothing left at the end to respond with. 

For a moment I felt like I was going to be in a footrace to the finish. For a moment I wasn’t sure what would happen. I didn’t have another gear at that time. I used them all up. I was holding a 6:45 pace on an incline and my form was starting to fall apart on me.  Maybe if we hit a decline I could shift again but maybe she could too. The finish line was less than a half-mile away. Could I really race her in for that long? It will be fun to try! 

And then she dropped but I still felt proud of her. I don’t know who she is but she had grit. She didn’t think about what to do when I pulled up next her at 12.5M to go, she just reacted by going with me and fighting back. That is fantastic. I wish I could have shook her hand at the end, but I was having a full blown asthma attach as soon as I stopped moving and was almost ushered into the medical tent. I did not need that. I have my inhaler. Unlike what most people may think, Exercise-induced Asthma attacks are most likely to happen upon stopping the exercise not midway through it. For me as soon I as stop running hard and for several minutes after, I will not be able to get in enough air to breathe properly, but I have my inhaler and I do recover quickly.

A minute or two later, I see Gary finishing strong and later we find our he PR'd again!  Alanna had a great day too running a very solid training run and achieving he goal for the day!

Last .1 (or .17 for me) in 1:10 (6:46 pace)

1:36:37 (7:22 pace) and a 2:10 minute negative split.

1 comment: