So, if you’ve been a longtime reader of the blog (and I do mean long-time), you may remember that in 2011, we walked the Pittsburgh Half-Marathon. And that was the day that, as my trainer says, I “caught the running bug.” I decided I wanted to try to be a runner.
Since that day, I’ve run a handful of 5Ks, and in 2013 & 2014 I ran the Just A Short Run 8.1 mile race in North Park. But this year, I decided I wanted to try something bigger. It was time to break out of the 5Ks and move on to something longer. Something 10 miles longer. I wanted to go the distance we’d walked in 2011, but I wanted to run the whole way. And since I’d had such a good time at the 2013 & 2014 Just A Short Runs, I decided that would be the day.
My trainer from the gym (Trainer Mike, who is a very serious marathoner) and I sat down at the local tea shop one afternoon and worked on a plan. We talked about goals and a schedule. Trainer Mike’s goals for me were: ‘become familiar with holding a steady, comfortable pace’ and ‘start to develop some power’ and ‘get used to the mindset,’ and finally, run the 13.1 miles in 2 hours 20 minutes or less (a 10:42 pace). Trainer Mike’s portion of the bet was that if I beat his goal time, he would have to come to Zumba class with me and my friend Lisa.
From there, things got colder. A LOT colder.
It’s hard to choose a most memorable run for me this winter. As my fellow Pittsburghers surely remember, this was a cold one. We had so many stretches of single-degree days that I finally couldn’t wait any longer and forced myself to go out and run in it. (That photo was taken post-3.56 miles in 5 degree temperatures.)
And then there was, of course, my ill-fated run on Valentine’s Day afternoon. A comfortable 27 degree start to the run quickly morphed into a snow squall that dropped over a half an inch of snow across a tenth-mile stretch. (That one was honestly kind of scary because there was zero visibility once the snow started, and I was still a full mile and a half away from my car. Resulted in my fastest 4.5-mile run to that point, though!)
At the end of that snowy run, I texted Trainer Mike from my car (once my fingers had warmed up enough to type on a phone) and told him I was done and I wasn’t cut out to be a runner and I quit. His response? “Who else BUT a runner would have been out in that snow?”
From there, I hit a lot of ups and downs. Long runs where I felt great. Long runs where I felt like I was going to die in the final miles. Short runs that I had to squeeze in around my work schedule that made me worry I would never make it the full 13.1 miles on race day.
Finally, race day arrived. I had prepared the night before by setting out all my gear (and enjoying every minute of carb loading with pasta from Lombardozzi’s). I’d gone for a deep tissue massage, foam rolled my heart out, and meditated with my favorite relaxing music and candles the night before the race. I was ready.
It turned out to be a blessing in disguise that I had trained outside in those terrible temperatures all winter. The final Saturday of March was a bitter 16 degrees. It was so cold that I walked around the Rose Barn of North Park in my penguin slippers to keep my feet warm before the start of the race. (That’s me & TM before the start. My memories are a bit of a blur from this time, but I remember asking him if I was going to be okay, and him reassuring me, “Obviously. It’s obvious you’re going to be okay.”)
My starting song for races is “Can’t Hold Us” by Macklemore. I queued it up and got ready. Then we were off. I tried to remember all the things I’d learned in training: go out easy. Breathe. Relax. Find a comfortable rhythm.
TM and I had talked about running with a pace group. He is a pacer for Marathonpacing.com, so obviously he was in favor of this idea, but I always run by myself, so I wasn’t so sure. But as we rounded the first turn of the race, I realized I had ended up behind none other than the 2:20 pacer. And if that’s not fate, I don’t know what is.
I lurked in the back. I didn’t want to introduce myself and have the pressure of having to keep up. If I could comfortably keep up with them, then it would be great. But I figured that if I didn’t introduce myself and couldn’t keep up, it was no harm to drop back. So I wound up following behind Pacer Suzanne for the better part of five miles.
The first 5K went by SO fast, and by mile 5, I was still feeling terrific. My feet felt light, my body felt good. I actually had to check my watch a couple of times to make sure we weren’t running way under pace, because my body was feeling THAT good.
Suzanne finally forced me to stop lurking just around mile 5. “You keeping up with us for the whole race?” she asked, and I told her about the bet with Trainer Mike. I am pretty sure that’s all she needed to hear, because she immediately reassured me, “We’re going to get you there. We’re going to get you to your goal, and you’re going to beat your time.”
The JASR race loops through the same area multiple times. You pass the ‘finish’ at 5K, 8.1 miles, 13.1 miles (and 30K if you’re running that far). The laps after the 5K are 5-mile loops around the lake.
I wish I could say the rest of the race went that flawlessly, but the last five miles were a real challenge. It was windy, in addition to being cold. There were times where we were running so hard against the wind that it felt like we were being pushed backward. But no matter how rough it got, Pacer Suzanne kept on me. “You’re going to do this. Breathe. Keep breathing, keep running, stay with or ahead of me and I’ll get you there.”
Mile 11 was the roughest, the one moment I felt like I wasn’t going to get there. And then… mile 12. There was only one mile to go. I knew in that moment that I was going to make it. When I hit the final half mile, I felt a new energy take over. I was really going to do it. I could see from the time on my watch that I was going to beat my time.
And I did. I not only beat Trainer Mike’s goal of a 2:20 finish (final chip time: 2:18:20), but I beat his secondary goal of running my final mile the fastest. Not only did I finish the half marathon, I negative-split the course, with a final mile of 9:59.
I could not have done this without the amazing pacer skills of Suzanne (that’s her in the middle, and Miriam on the end, who was running this race the day after her birthday as practice for the Flying Pig marathon in May).
Trainer Mike was pacing the 8:30 group for the 30K, which meant I had a little bit of time between finishing and waiting for him to finish.
“How’d you do, how’d you do?”
“WHAT! WHAT THAT’S TERRIFIC!!!!! YOU DID IT!”
“And now you have to come to dance class!!!”
That last part explains the look of sheer disbelief on his face, clearly. (We haven’t been able to work out scheduling for this dance class yet, but rest assured that I will update the world when we do!)
Just a Short Run 2015 (and my first *real* half marathon) was a success. I had a great time, made new friends, and pushed myself to achieve goals I didn’t know I would be able to. Plus, I got this really sweet medal and this custom-made t-shirt, hand-crafted on the internet by my #1 fan and half-marathon-training support system Michael (and yes, that’s a Hedwig quote, as “Tear Me Down” was one of my training theme songs).