Finally. This was the race I've been chasing for a little under two years now. This is how racing is supposed to feel and this is how it used to feel for me. No, it was not a PR but I was not aiming to PR today, I was looking to run smart, get in a great training run, and stay mentally strong throughout the race. I did all three and then some! I finished in 1:46:25, I negative split the race, I didn't go out too fast, I never got in my own head, and I had fun! It was the confidence boost I needed with 6 weeks to go before Cleveland.
I signed up for the Towpath Half Marathon earlier this week when I received my training schedule and saw that I was supposed to do a little over 14 miles this weekend. Once I received the Ok from my coach, I registered and prepared to run half number 15 and my first race of the year! I had a volume week this week so it was mostly about mileage without a lot of killer workouts. My only bigger workout was goal marathon paced hour run on Tuesday and then some easier 5-7 mile runs during the week. On Saturday I did a 4 mile shakeout, something I rarely do pre-race, but my coach scheduled it so I got it done.
The half started at 8am Sunday morning, but between needing to get my bib and get in a 20-30 min warmup, I arrived around 6:40 am and it was a real feel of 18 and lightly snowing with some decen wind. Parking was scarce so I was a solid three tenths of a mile away from the packet pickup and start line and at the base of a hill. My running partner and I walked to the top, grabbed my bib, and then headed back to our cars for about 15 more minutes of warmth. Then we trekked back to the top of the hill, hit up the porta-potties and began our warmup.
I've honestly never warmed up for a race before but I can understand why I should now. We did about 2.2 miles of easy running and it was great because I was comfortable in the cold after the warmup and I felt really loose. With a little under 10 mins to go, we headed over to the start line and got into the pack.
The game plan was to run the first 10k at 8:30ish and then start dropping the pace every 5 minutes for the rest. The first mile was almost all downhill so we worked to hold back but still stay relaxed. We clocked in at 8:10, which wasn't too speedy given the downhill. After that it was pretty flat other than these two suspension bridges, which we crossed twice due to the out an back in the beginning of the race. It's funny though, when I ran these bridges last summer in the ten miler race, I swear they were twice as big. Guess I'm in better shape this time around because they felt like no big deal this time around.
We hit the turn around which was about four miles out and I was feeling amazing. We were a hair over 8:20s and I was just chatting it up with my running partner, telling stories, and mainly just being amazed at how good I felt. After the turn there was a pretty intense head wind because we were out in the open, and the snow was picking up. But for some reason I didn't care. I charged over the bridges again, feeling strong and fighting the urge to pick up the pace too early. Once I came down the second (and final bridge), I noticed my training partner had fallen pretty far behind me. I knew his plan was to hang on to 8:30s as long as he could, and that he intended to stay with me until the 10k, and we were only at about 5.8 miles. So I looked back for him and he waved me on. I said "go?" and he said "yes". So I kept pushing on at 8:20s. Around 6 miles I caught fellow Healthsource of Avon Athlete Ambassador Jesse and we chatted for a bit. Then we hit the 10k and I took off. It was time for my race to really start.
I began dropping the pace (probably too much initially) and was running just over an 8 for 6.2 to the 7 mile mark. I continued dropping the pace and as a result, I was picking off runners like crazy. As a result, just before 8 miles and until about mile 9, I ended up in no man's land -- meaning I was completely alone with no runners with me -- I looked back and saw no one and I could even see runners ahead of me other then the leaders who would come by in the opposite direction every so often. The wind and snow were also just wonderful at that point. Luckily I started catching more people by mile 10 and in trying to catch up to those runners I managed a 7:30. Easily the fastest mile 10 in my running career to date!
At that point we were heading backwards, away from the finish because we needed to complete this extra loop to get the mileage in. That part was mentally tough because we were about 3/4 of a mile from the finish and then had to turn away and run 1.5 miles in the other direction. But I focused in on pace and on trying to catch more runners ahead of me. I caught up to a group of women running my pace around 11 miles and I was hoping to use them for drafting and pacing. But unfortunately, they decided to significantly drop off the pace and so I went ahead with the lone guy in the group. Soon after, he dropped off too and I was in no man's land again.
Fortunately that only lasted until about 11.5 miles when I caught another female runner and she and I worked our way through the back of the pack runners who were on their first loop out. That part was frustrating because we had runners coming towards us and we were trying to pass. Plus the woman I was with wasn't great at passing and would just bounce slowly behind the runners until she could get around. (In her defense, maybe they shouldn't have been running three and fourth abreast.) Finally, it started to thin out at 12 miles. At 12.2 we had a slight hill to climb and at that point, I left my "running partner" behind and never saw her again.
I caught up to a guy and tailed him for a while until there was under a half mile left. There was a nice big hill at that point and I figured I'd kinda take it easy up the hill. But as we started to climb, he looks over at me and goes, "you're running a great pace, go crush this hill." And I just went "ok! Thanks!" and took off. He didn't come with, but for whatever reason, his little pep talk was what I needed. After the hill, there was a flat/slight uphill stretch, and then about a tenth up a hill, with the last probably .05 down into the finish.
I crossed and felt so many emotions. I had just executed the smartest race of my entire running career. I also ran mentally strong for the first time in a couple years and I don't think I ever doubted myself. My goal was to finish the race around 1:46 and I nailed it. The best part is that there was definitely gas left in the tank and I'm not even sore from it. I'm getting so excited for Cleveland and honestly for the next time I actually race a half because I know my PR is about to be broken. Today, the runner that I was in 2016 finally showed back up after a two year hiatus. I have my confidence back. With 6 weeks left, let's do this! (P.S. HKCLE10 still saves you 10%)