Well, the 2014 USATF road racing series has begun! I'm pumped. Let's do this. Unfortunately it started in January with the Half Marathon Championship. Arguably my favorite and best distance, the half marathon was a race I ran well at last year in Duluth in June. However, because of world competition considerations instead of having until June to get in shape, the race took place this past weekend. Hmmm...it's been almost six months since I've raced over 7.5 miles. This was going to be tricky.
The good news is that I have been feeling much better, in general, without gluten in my life. See ya later, gluten! I thought, given the shape I was in, shooting for a 1:15 in Houston (the site of the race) would be realistic. Then somehow I was able to whip out a near personal best of 4:57 in the mile at a recent indoor track meet. Given this development, I felt optimistic that I might be able to drop a 1:12:00 or 1:13:00...no small feat, but within my reach. You see, before my "break-through performance" of last year, 1:18 was my best half, and I felt super human at that! So to be sitting and having a conversation with Coach Ron about realistically running a 72-73 was kind of surreal, but that was the plan.
The race took place in Houston, and let me tell you, it was wonderful. It was January and in this magical place called "the south," winter wasn't miserable! I walked around the streets the day before the race in amazement that there was no snow or ice to deal with, the sun had warmth, and I was comfortable in jeans and a t-shirt! Jeans and t-shirt?! I did a shake out run and I actually broke a sweat that didn't immediately turn into frost on my skin. Glorious! But I digress...
Race day recap:
4:15am - Wake for a quick shake out mile. It is pure fog/mist in the air. The humidity is basically 100%. This magical weather could be problematic...
4:30am - Breakfast and ready myself. Fashion choices for the day include sweet New Balance warm-up and race gear, and a spectacularly neon yellow Twin Cities Track Club jersey.
5:30am - Board the elite bus for the shuttle to the start.
6:00am - Warm up time, which was a bit absurd. Basically the race officials had this great tent area blocked off for elites, but then only allowed us to run about 1/4 mile up and down the start area for warm up. We were not allowed to leave that area. My TCTC teammate, Stephanie Price, and I must have done about 20 "laps" of this ridiculously short and crowded warm-up corral. Everything else about the race and race organization was great, but they totally dropped the ball on this.
6:55am - Go time! The men and women started together, but within about a minute, the dudes were gone. They are so darn fast. Ridic. I settled in with a lead pack of about 10 women and felt like I was jogging. That 4:57 mile on Monday had given me a new perspective on speed and pace. The bad thing about that is that I went out faster than I probably should have. I have been doing decent mileage, but not enough and at a high enough intensity to support the way I started the race. But I don't regret it. This was a great test of my fitness and it was a golden racing/learning opportunity.
Back to the race...by mile 3 I knew I wasn't going to be able to stay with the lead pack. The fact that I threw up in my mouth was a good reminder that this was no regular field of competitors. They were putting me in the hurt locker and my body was letting me know. I backed off a bit and got passed by a handful of solo ladies. Each time one went by, I tested for a few steps to see if I could hang, and it just wasn't happening. I spent miles 3 to 7 convincing myself that I would make it to the finish. It wasn't going to be a day of glory and a PR, but darn it, I was going to give whatever I had.
At mile 7 a group of about 6 ladies came up on me and I forced myself to get pulled along. I knew I was over half-way to the finish, and if I kept letting people pass me by the result could get real ugly, real fast. This was a field of pros. Not many of them were going to fade as the race neared the finish. If anything, they were going to turn on the after-burners. From miles 7-10 I hung on for dear life to my pack which was good, but required a lot of effort. At mile 10, the pack made a little move and I had no response. My legs were dead.
Miles 10-13 were a grind. Saw only one other woman and we had a bit of back and forth, which was good to keep me engaged in the race, but in the final 1/2 mile when she re-passed me, every fiber in my brain was screaming, "GO WITH HER," but every fiber in my body was like, "mehhh...."
I crossed the line in 1:15:05, 21st place. Not bad, but not good. Mediocre. And to be honest, it's a bit of a kick in the pants because 1:15 is a benchmark in the running community. There are more race opportunities and perks if you can say you've run sub 1:15...grrrrrr. I was disappointed, of course, but I'm trying not to beat myself up too much (good luck with that). No excuses, I didn't have the talent this past weekend, but there's a lot of time left in the season and I'm ready to work smarter and harder than ever...