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Finally, it all came together!
Backing up a little, I first attempted sub 2 for a HM last January and again in June. While I missed the mark both times, I did have successful training cycles where I lowered my PR from 2:11 to 2:01:5x. I also transitioned from 3 days to 5 days per week running. I spent the summer maintaining my base and then began training for my first full marathon at the end of August (race is in 4 weeks!). Initially, I was aiming to break 2 at a race in mid November but things fell apart 4-5 weeks prior. All workouts that had any intensity were a huge struggle. My coach and I decided to postpone the HM goal and focus on MP workouts and long runs instead. I ran that November HM as a workout which definitely was the right move. After backing off of speed a little in October, I’ve hit the track a few times in the past few weeks and I’ve been back to running well.
The San Diego Holiday Half is a local favorite where this is maybe the 5th year it’s been running: it's a point-to-point course with the start line at 731 ft and the finish at 13ish ft. It contains a bunch of rolling hills and is supposed to be an overall enjoyable course (I have not run it before). I ran my first 20 miler the previous Saturday and then did lower mileage and intensity this past week plus I skipped my normal leg strength workout on Wed. I didn't feel completely fresh going into the race but I was ready to go for it!
Race morning was a cold 53 degrees for San Diego as I parked around 6am. I had woken up at 5:20am which is my normal time--very nice to not get up earlier than usual! Parking was super easy as there's a giant shopping center 0.5 miles away from the start area. I could have arrived at 7am and had plenty of time. I stayed warm in my car until about 6:45am then went into Starbucks which was a nice alternative to POPs. I felt a little bad for not buying anything but I'm not a coffee drinker. There were maybe a dozen runners in there but no bathroom line, sweet!
I slow jogged it to the start line and had about 20 min to spare. For the first time ever, I decided to use bag check so I could hold onto my long sleeve for a few more minutes. After my warm up, it was not cold at all which had me slightly worried that it would warm too quickly. For the past few weeks, it's been 60 at sunrise then 70-something by 8am in full sun. Thankfully, race morning was the first overcast day in forever and it would remain cool and cloudy for the entire race. Plus the dry, windy, fire-provoking nonsense that we've had a lot of lately was absent. I would actually feel a few sprinkles during the race! We haven’t had rain in months so this had everyone looking around like wtf?
There are 4 corrals and somehow my guesstimate finish time of 1:59:55 puts me in Corral 1. Ummm, no. Plus the 2:00 pacers are in Corral 2 so that is where I line up. We start 3 minutes after Corral 1 and we're off! My goals for the race are A) sub 2, B) beat PR (2:01:5x) and C) have fun and don't mess up marathon training. The course has it's biggest hill at Mile 1 then is net downhill with rolling hills until Mile 10, then flat-ish to the finish. Coach told me not to kill myself on the hill then for Miles 1.5-10 to "Go, Go, Go"; to take advantage of the elevation decline. I am usually terribly conservative during races, afraid of burnout at the end. This time I planned to stay with the pacers as long as I could. I talked to them in the corral and they planned on even pacing throughout (9:09 pace).
I try to keep the pacers nearby for the first mile, slipping a little going up the biggest hill but always within maybe 20-50 ft. Around the first mile split, I hear a jingle and see a lady on the far right side drop her car keys on the ground while getting something out of her pocket. I yell out and point over (I'm almost on the far left side of the 3-ish lanes we're running on) but no one grabs her keys. I turn, and run over and backwards to get them but then see her continuing on ahead, too far for me to sprint with ease. Runners around me yell Good Job! as they realize what I did and I figure I'll catch up to her at some point or worse case, give them to the RD at the end. Another mile goes past and I see the lady ahead has just realized she doesn't have her keys and is looking frantically in every pocket of her shorts and flip belt. I feel a little bad but I'm still too far back to catch her…at least, without potentially sabotaging my race. This is a PR attempt, folks! Luckily, at the water stop she pulls off to the side and almost stops so I'm able to tap her shoulder and thrust the keys at her. She's yelling OMG THANK YOUUUUU!!!! as I continue past and I don't see her again. I'm glad to help her not have a very terrible morning plus it has kept my mind off the fact that the pacers are running sub 9 minute miles. I see a timing mat up ahead and look at my watch: 2.8 miles. Weird, I swear the race emails mentioned splits at 5K, 10K and 10 miles for the live tracking. I note the time at the mat and picture my coach having a heart attack when she sees I've hit the "5K" split at a 40 second 5K PR time, hahaha
Miles 1-3 8:59 / 8:54 / 9:06
Around this time, the course goes from a wide road to a narrow bike path. The area around the 2:00 pacers has gotten super congested and I debate what to do for a few minutes. Do I stay with the pacers who are running a tad fast and risk getting run over? Or move ahead and try to avoid getting passed by them later? I feel really good and am running comfortably hard but it's also early in the race. Typically, I look at my watch a million times during a race and run by the numbers. I fear crashing and burning with miles to go so usually if I see a pace that seems too fast for me, I'll slow down rather than just listening to my body. Making the decision to pass the pacers was a key point in the race for me. I even thought about Gonzo Runner (though I’ve never met him!) since I had just read his most recent race report about racing aggressively. Even though I was seeing paces starting with an 8, I felt good and decided to trust my training. This probably only worked because I have been running so much lately! For the majority of the race, I ran the downhills harder and the uphills a little slower, looking at my watch here or there but never focusing on it. If I saw a too-fast-for-me pace on my watch, I simply assessed my breathing and my body. Things kept feeling good so I continued on.
Miles 4-6 8:36 / 8:54 / 8:44
Holy crap! I just ran faster than my 10K PR by 30ish seconds!!
And....hit the 10K mat around 6.5 miles. Coach will think I'm dying a slow death based on my uneven splits, which she'll expect was inevitable based on the seemingly way too fast first 5K, haha
Miles 7-9 8:57 / 8:58 / 8:52
Still cruising and the miles are flying by. I’m really going to do this!
Hit an aid station where I had to wait a few seconds for a cup of water. Lots of water jugs but only one volunteer pouring them out. Blech
Mile 10 timing mat is at 9.5 miles. What the heck, Timing Company?!?
The course has a bunch of small rollers and it’s definitely getting harder to maintain pace. I just think about staying with the folks around me. Next water stop has no water in cups. The single volunteer cannot keep up. Race Fail #1. I’m not dying and it isn’t hot but I could really have used some water. I keep going, slightly disgruntled.
Mile 12 finally has some water. I grab a cup and walk twice as long as I normally do to get every last drop, leading to the slowest mile of the race. I am way ahead of sub 2 pace so I don’t freak out.
Miles 10-12 9:02 / 9:02 / 9:19
We’re heading toward the coast and it’s mostly flat. There’s a random side road for a little out and back and then we’re heading to the coast again. I focus on moving my arms to take my mind off the fact that my legs feel like they’re numb. We get closer to the beach and with about 0.3 miles to go, I start to speed up for the final push….yet, at the same time wonder how there’s still 0.3 miles to go when we’re almost to the beach. Maybe we run all around the parking lot before the finish? We turn the corner into the lot and BAM! Right there is the finish. Race Fail #2 My watch says 12.89 miles as I cross the finish and I debate for a moment continuing to run to get to 13.1 miles. The finisher chute is pretty congested so I just stop, THRILLED with my splits and PISSED at the short course.
Mile almost 13 7:57 (8:55 pace)
I finish in 1:55:22 with 8:57 pace for 12.9 miles. My previous PR was 9:13 pace back in June so quite the jump! I figure I could have squeaked under 1:57 if the course was the correct distance since I was just starting to speed things up for the final sprint. Granted there’s a pretty good net downhill for this course but still, I can’t believe I was able to run that fast, for that far! Another success was feeling like I could listen more to my body and ignore (somewhat) the numbers on my watch. Of course, that worked because I actually have the training to back it up right now.
Part of me is ecstatic with the race and part of me feels like it doesn’t really count. The course is USATF-certified but I bet the small out and back near the end had a misplaced cone for the turnaround. I have mixed feelings about doing this race again because failing at the course length and inadequate water on the course are 2 big failures. Anyways, I am so happy with myself and everything that was in my control. Two days later and I'm feeling great, nothing blistered, chafed or sore. 4 weeks until RNR Arizona!
Spotting DS just before the finish and running over for a high-five...
I swear my form is usually better than this
DH tried not to get the "no swimming, high bacteria levels" sign in the photo, haha
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