Today was without question the most successful race of my road race career. And I didn’t expect it to be.
Ok, first off, the last two days was spent with the WCHS Cross Country team up in Drayton Valley, Alberta, for Provincials. Don’t know where Drayton Valley is? Don’t worry—-bet most people don’t. It’s 6 hours north west of Lethbridge. And it’s small. Anyway, we took our six qualified athletes up Friday, they competed Saturday, drove them back last night, and got in at 11 pm. The kids had a great weekend, and us coaches were so proud of how they conducted themselves and how they ran.
But, I was worried about how the mixture of standing/running back and forth at the meet, plus the sitting in a bus for 6 hours each way, plus my still having a cold (and the fact I ate poutine from Wendy’s for dinner on Saturday) would effect my race on Sunday. When I got home at 11:30 pm, I was still wide awake, so I sort of unpacked and laid my race clothes out for the morning. Then I was still hungry and ate Brie cheese with Triscuits. And then I had a beer at midnight, because I always have beer the night before a race. OK, now you just know all my dirty secrets. But, please know I am not saying that drinking beer makes you run well. I just know how my system works and I have it set in my mind that I run better the next day if I drink beer the night before.
My 7 am alarm came fast. I ate my oatmeal, drank my coffee, taped up my quads with KT tape, got my hydration belt set, and off to Softball Valley I went. My husband dropped me off with about 20 minutes before race start of the Bare Bones Half Marathon. This is a small race benefitting the local humane society, and all race distances are canine friendly. The most popular is the 5km, then the 9km, and lastly the half marathon. Over 300 total participants in all three events, but only just above 60 in the half.
The 9 am start came and off we went. The morning was absolutely gorgeous, and I got wrapped up right away with keeping a quick pace. I was passing people who had 9km bibs, and men with half marathon bibs were getting in their spots. At about half a mile, a very petite Asian woman passed me. And by petite, I mean 5 foot, about 95 pounds, but intimidating. Back to her later. My first mile was at 7:19. Crap. That’s way too fast. Mile two clocked in at 7:36. Then mile three was 7:32. Holy shit, what am I doing? I was going way too fast. But in my head I kept telling myself that since I actually felt great, to keep this up, because I knew that ridiculous hill up to Scenic Drive would slow me later.
At the mile 4 turnaround, I slowed to 7:44. This is a mentally tough location, as you are in the river bottom and the trails turn every 20 feet. They wind so much that you can’t see anyone in front of you. I had no clue really how far the woman was in front of me, because before we looped back we had gone around a circular part….and when I came out of that loop she never ran towards me. I knew she was close.
I hit the hill, which I have now ran a few times during training and races, and knew I could not start walking. As I climbed the hill, I saw my competition walking. She was quite a bit ahead of me but she was speed walking up the hill. This gave me that extra push to keep going. I now have officially entered a competition between me and the 95 pound woman.
After getting onto Scenic Drive, what I am still amazed by is how I actually got my pace back on track. And I’m not saying this in a bragging way—-I honestly have no f’n clue how I did it. I have never ran this fast before in my life…but I was in a zone.
At a little past mile 7, we turned around and headed back north on Scenic Drive. I kept telling myself to stay on the inside curve when possible and that the downhill at just past mile 9 would feel fantastic. Mile 7, 8, and 9 were 7:58, 7:53 and 7:41, respectively. As I descended into the river bottom, I could still clearly see my competition, and I knew that getting a personal best was possible….just didn’t know by how much. The first thing I kept thinking about was dropping some time off my 1:46:42 best time solely so I had a better shot at getting Corral A at Dopey Challenge. As I thought this when I was going down the hill, I then immediately pictured my dad standing there telling me “You Got This!” I honestly kept replaying that as I rolled out onto the trail and into the last 5km.
The last 5km is an area I know all too well, and have written about before. This is the part that slowed me down my last mile at the Police Half Marathon in September. The reason why I slowed down then was partly because 1) I was chatting with another runner and 2) after he passed me, I never cared enough to try to catch up.
Today I had a pace bunny ahead to get, and I saw her clear as day around every turn.
As we headed into our last mile and a half, one of the event organizers said this to a volunteer as we passed “lead female and number 2 right here.” That was honestly the most amazing thing I have ever heard while running. I was number 2, and mentioned in the same utterance as the lead. I all of a sudden felt like one of the high school athletes from the day before as they were in the Nordic ski trails running the race of their life. I wanted to make the podium.
Sorry to say, but this isn’t the fairy tale ending you may be hoping for. No, I did not hover past my competition with ease, nor did she do something dramatic that caused me to win in the end. And no, as I crossed the finish line there were not people there to lift me up on their shoulders and pour champagne on me. But as her and I turned into Softball Valley and the finish line was straight ahead, I heard Erin from Runner’s Soul on her microphone say “Looks like we have our first female half marathon finisher coming on in…….and number 2 is right behind her!” They had binoculars to look up our bib number and name and as I heard her saying my name as I came in to finish, I didn’t care that I didn’t get 1st overall. I just didn’t have a care in the world—-I was so overcome with excitement that nothing else mattered.
My time was 1:41:07. 1:41:07!!!!!!!!. My last personal best was in September with a 1:46:42. I dropped basically 5 and a half minutes in five weeks. And last year when I did this same race, I ran a 1:57:32. I improved a whole 16 minutes since last year. I was just in reflective happiness mode and complete disbelief. How the hell did I manage to do this? This shouldn’t have happened today….my weekend was out of whack…this course had a terrible hill for 3/4 of a mile….how…was….this…possible?
Later, my cousin Erin told me simply “It’s called training! Turns out it works!” And she’s right. Now, what I did or didn’t do the past 5 weeks didn’t magically allow me to run this time. It’s what I have been doing the past 10 years and more importantly how I have been busting my butt during 2013 with my runs. I have done so many races and also have been intrinsically motivated by my fundraising in memory of my dad and my pinnacle race of the Dopey Challenge. The distances and effort I have put in during my runs have paid off, and I am now seeing the results—-results I am not used to seeing. And I can’t believe are mine. But they are.
Running still is, in my mind, as much about physical ability as it is about mental strength. If someone is just a beginner runner, yes, they need the base and the mileage to get them going and ready for a race. But they also have to be mentally ready to handle any challenges they might face. I was in a mental rut for the last few years with my running and was doing it without any motivation or goal…it was just getting done. So I had to kick up both my physical, and mental game. Trust me…as much as I would like to say that this race was all about my athletic ability, it wasn’t that. It was about my mental ability to let myself go and push myself to my full potential.
I am still in a “can’t believe this happened” mode, and I’m going to be smiling for days now. And you better believe that after I showered, I sent my updated race info in to Disney for my new and improved proof of time for Dopey Challenge. Now let’s see if that 1:41:07 can get me Corral A in January!