This weekend was the USATF Half Marathon National Championships in Houston, TX. Let’s start by saying that I was stoked and simply honored to even BE at this race, among this field of ladies. I inquired about racing this in mid-December, and much to my surprise (my PR was about 1.5 min under the qualifying time) I was accepted. I really wanted to be smart about my ‘off-season break’, so I proceeded to take some good down time through early January; doing about one quality run a week, and then upon returning from our 3-week holiday excursion, I gave myself 3 weeks to focus on this event.
I went into it with a BIG goal. I wanted to run a 1:15-something. I felt incredible during the couple of weeks training for it, hit some of the best workouts I ever have, then this past week, my 2 runs felt flat out awful! Heavy legs, high perceived effort. I chalked it up to ‘resting’ and tried to roll with it; seems it is not uncommon to feel lousy the week of a race, I have learned through the years. As the event drew closer, I began doing what we should never do as athletes; looking at the start list and finding out how fast these chicks were. Almost everyone I searched had a best time of 1:13 or faster. Then I pulled myself away, realizing that my goal pace is 5:43 to 5:48. Period. Just run that, and don’t worry about what anyone is doing. I knew that in this race, nobody there knew me nor I them, and this was entirely a race for myself; not for placing, but to aim to fulfill my own personal expectations.
I headed to Houston solo on Friday morning, as I had sent Derick off skiing this weekend. I figured if I shouldn’t be skiing right now, he shouldn’t be deprived of any fun. The race kicked off right at 8 AM sharp. I settled into a few 5:45 miles, which put me near the back of the women’s race. It did not feel hard, but it did not feel easy either. Conditions were a bit muggy, definitely much warmer than it had been in Austin the past few weeks. (But that is the last excuse I can use, seeing that the winner Jen Rhines ran a best time by 45-seconds!) I felt great through 6 miles, coming through just around 5:48 pace. I was slowly taking women off. When I did so, I tried to keep my breathing very relaxed. I think it helps so as to make you realize you are maintaining your pace, not pushing too hard. We hit an interesting stretch from miles 7-10 whereby we went across two separate bridges; just a short out and back, which I found odd; just made for a few extra turns. Something happened in or around mile 9, and it suddenly got much harder. I am not sure if it was the heat or simply the pounding of 9 hard miles of racing, but by mile 10, I already felt like I was hitting survival mode. Not a good place to be with 5K to go. By this point, I had my own space, and I felt like my overall position was at least the top half. I came through the “1/2 mile to go” sign (what a treat!) and saw 1:13.59. I realized ALL I had to do was run an 800 in under 3 minutes. I had done this numerous times the past few weeks. Turns out that was tougher than it sounded, but somehow I managed it, getting passed by two women the last 100 meters (story of my life) but sneaking in with a 1:16.59. (I guess my gun time was 1:17 flat, but my chip time was 1:16.58 or 59 so I’m going to go with a 16 for obvious reasons!)
This put me overall 19th place (unfortunately 3 seconds separated 17/18/19th) which was in the top half of finishers. I was pleased with the end result in terms of placing, however, I will be honest that my goal time was significantly faster. Despite only about 3 weeks of focused training, I really wanted to do a 1:15 in some facet, and I have no doubt that I am capable of this. However, the time was not in the cards today, and I have to be realistic about the little buildup to this race as well as lack of mileage. I realized post race during a short cool down jog with my legs feeling beat to a pulp, that with a 1-2 mile warmup and the race, 15 miles was more almost 1/2 of my weekly volume the past few weeks. Probably not the best set up for a 2 minute PR!
Nonetheless, we have to take each experience in context and in that sense, this was a good day and a race which I think I can take away some good fitness; and, a PR. It was a true honor to get to run among some of the best female distance runners in the US, and given that my focus is triathlon, I put into this all that I could given the time frame I had to prepare. In hindsight, I think that my very low run volume was what did me in, and therefore I will aim to increase things a bit the next few months as I prepare for Ironman Texas. The next few weeks will entail a bit of a cycling focus, recovery for the running legs and slowly bringing the volume up in preparation for more focused Ironman training. I want to give a big thanks to my sponsors for this season: Zoot Sports, PowerBar, Quintana Roo, Recovery Pump, Katalyst Multisport, Road ID, Xcis Software, ISM Saddles, Reynolds Wheels, Jack & Adams, Advanced Rehabilitation, Go with the Flo, Hill Country Running, Oakley and 3 Cosas Massage. Without all of you this journey would not be possible.
One final note I found interesting. I recall in the long stretch from miles 10-13 how much pain I was in, realizing that my pace had slipped, knowing my ideal goal time was now out of reach. Everything hurt and I of course wanted to quit. I then realized “I don’t quit” and it brought me to why I love triathlon. In triathlons, especially longer distance, you always have high and low points; one minute you feel stellar, the next minute you feel like crap. Given the nature of the sport and three disciplines (and everyone’s different strengths and weaknesses), the minute you think you are finished, you are. I firmly believe 90% of racing is in your head. In running, if your pace slips, you are probably in trouble; it is your only lifeline, so to speak. In triathlon, you may be back in the swim; you cannot give up, it is only 1/3 over. You may be behind coming off the bike; you have to have faith in you run. Even once ON the run, so much can still change (and often does). While a part of me would love to focus purely on running one day, I realize that not only do I love the sport of triathlon, but it makes us so incredibly tough and really instills the ‘never give up’ attitude. Every race is an opportunity to become stronger, and though it may not always show in our times, I think we gain so much mental strength for future races. After all, no one said it was easy.
Thanks for reading. Train safe out there, and see you on the race course!