Hot. That seems to be the theme of my races so far this year. After nearly dying in Boston, I thought I was done with heat-filled races for the year. That was until about 9:27 AM on Sunday morning, standing in my corral waiting for the Army Run to start, feeling the hot morning sun start to burn away at my fare skin. "This is going to suck" I said to my buddy Scott who was lined up next to me. "Oh yeah" he responded. We both knew what we were in for.
Let's take things back a few weeks.
Katie and I had signed up to to run the Army Run way back in April. For once, it was her idea. She wanted to challenge herself to train throughout the summer and run a PB (about a 2:05). Training went pretty well, for the most part. We got some really solid runs in over the last few months, but not unlike me, Katie does not do well in the heat. We did a lot of our runs in the late evenings or early mornings. And, unfortunately, we ended up doing a lot of runs in the summer heat, which were total momentum killers. But I have to hand it to her - she trained hard through all that heat and a nagging sore hip. But about two weeks before race day Katie came down with a wicked cold. It turned out to be a sinus infection which lingered for about a week when it eventually turned into strep throat. Needless to say, she was done. The combination of no energy or training the last two weeks and all the antibiotics she was on (and is still on) finally lead her to the decision on Thursday that she wasn't going to run. We were both pretty bummed out. She felt like she had let herself (and me) down. Both aren't true. I was looking forward to pacing her on the run and helping her get that PB she was looking for. But, as is so often true with running, it just wasn't in the cards this time around.
I suddenly found myself three days out from a half marathon with no one to pace. So what was I going to do? Well, those of you that know me know how competitive I am when it comes to running. So I started to think about what was possible given the shape I was in. Sure, I had been running this summer, training with Katie, playing volleyball, and even doing a bit of strength training, but I had been training for a 2:05 half marathon, not a 1:25 half marathon. But I figured I would just giver and see what I could do. So, as always, I set my A, B and C goals for the race:
A Goal: Sub 1:25 - this would be a personal best.
B Goal: Sub 1:27:30 - this would be a secondary personal best.
C Goal: Sub 1:30 - I've run two half marathons under 1:30, but it's still a great barrier to break.
Katie had full confidence in me. "You're strong and fast, Jay" she told me with encouragement. "Go out there and run hard." She never doubts me and always believes that I can reach my full potential. I love her for that.
Back to the start line
Standing there in that sun, Scott and I were both nervous and excited. He was looking for a sub 1:30 day, but this race is just a stepping stone for him in his training for the Portland Marathon in October. And me? Well, I wasn't quite sure what to expect. Part of me thought I could PB, but another part of me wasn't sure exactly where my legs would be at given my recent training. And that sun. That devil of a sun. It was just getting brighter and hotter as the race approached.
As the gun went off, I decided to go hard and see how I felt. My first two kilometres were fast and strong, holding a 3:55 pace - a pace that I knew was too fast. I began to scale back into a steady and manageable pace and tried to find a group to run with. As we headed out along the Sir John A. MacDonald Parkway, I settled into a nice 4:07 pace. While this felt pretty good, it was much slower than the 4:01 pace I would need to PB. By kilometre 4, I had already changed my race strategy. It was just too damn hot, and deep down I knew that I hadn't trained enough.
New plan: run a a good, strong race. Don't feel sorry for yourself. Don't stop. Give it everything you have. No matter what your time is, be proud of how you raced.
As I reached the War Museum, we made a left hand turn to go over the bridge into Hull. Only a third of the way into the race, I was on struggle street. That fast pace I went out with was coming back to bite me in the ass. After two consecutive 4:15 kilometres, I felt like I was hanging on by a thread. That's when Scott pulled up beside me. "Hey dude" he said effortlessly, "why don't I pace you for a bit." What a guy. He could tell I was having a rough go and he wanted to help me out. We ran together for about a kilometre or two, and it made a world of difference. It got me back into a groove and helped clear my head of those stupid negative thoughts. As I found my legs again, I slowly pulled away from Scott and got back into those 4:03 kilometres. Thanks, buddy.
Well, that didn't last long. Even though I was feeling a bit better, by the time I crossed back into Ottawa and started down Sussex Drive, I was hit with a 4:25 kilometre, which was way off my target. As we crossed the 15 mark near Rideau Hall, I knew that I needed something extra to get me to that finish line. I was hurting pretty bad at this point, drenched in sweat, and battling off the negative thoughts. I was running alone at this point, which is never good. There was a small pack of three guys about 50 metres ahead of me and I decided that I had to join them. If I could catch up, they would help pull me through.
Finding a group
By kilometre 16 I had reached that group. While they had all looked strong from afar, once I joined them I could tell that they were all struggling as much as I was. We ran together for another kilometre or so until I decided to pull away to go after the next group. I passed another 4 or 5 runners and realized that everyone was struggling. It wasn't just me and my lack of training. It had to be that sun. Despite my pain and agony, no one had passed me since kilometre 12 - I had been doing all the passing. That definitely helps the mental game. There's nothing worse than when you feel like you're falling apart during a race and runner after runner pass you by effortlessly. That just deflates you.
The Longest 2 Kilometres
The longest 2 kilometres you will ever run are those at the end of a long race. It never fails to baffle me how difficult and long they feel. But that is where you have to dig deep and give it everything you've got. I heard a great podcast lately with marathon legend Meb Keflezighi who talked about how sometimes during a race it is 90% mental and 10% physical. Sure, you have to be in shape. But you can never underestimate the sheer power that the mental game has. If you can ignite it to take over your body when the going gets tough, you can outrun those who are unable to tap into theirs.
By the time I reached kilometre 20 I was running purely on my mental game. My legs and body had nothing left. The final few kilometres of this race felt like a marathon, it was crazy. I found myself in a tight group with two other guys, both of whom looked like they wanted to cry. "Come on fellas" I shouted "Let's bleeping do this! Strong to the finish, let's go!" The both nodded without saying anything. I think those words of encouragement were more for myself than they were for them. As we came around the final bend I had pulled ahead of them both and found Katie and our friend Laura on the left side of the course, cheering me on as always. Nothing gives you a boost like seeing the people you love cheering you on. That truly helped push me hard to the finish. My final kilometre was a 4:10 and it hurt like hell. I clapped my hands and pumped my fists in the air as I crossed the finish line in 1:29:34. My god was I happy to finish this race. And, even better, I came in under 1 hour and 30 minutes, reaching my C goal for the day.
When it was all said and done I finished in a time of 1:29:34, 60th overall out of 7119 runners, and 12th in my category out of 353 men aged 25-29. Not my best half marathon, but I am definitely proud of it given the circumstances. Interestingly enough, despite it not being my best time, it was my best placement in a large scale half marathon.
As it turns out, the whole field struggled on Sunday, The winner, who came in at an unbelievable time of 1:12, was a full 6 minutes slower than his winning time last year. The average finishing time was also much slower than last year.
All in all, I'm pretty happy with this race. Despite the sun and my less than stellar training, I was able to go out and run hard. And when I hit that wall, I used my experience from my marathons to push through to a strong finish.
With that said, there are still some things I want to work on. I still want to go sub 1:25 and I know I have it in me. I just need to train a bit harder and focus in on my areas of weakness. I've also been wanting to run a negative split race for a long time now, and I just can't manage to pull it off. This race in particular was one of my worst attempts. My first half pace was a 4:05 and my second half was a 4:22. Just brutal.
My next race is the Vancouver Rock N' Roll Half Marathon in about one month. Between now and then I'm going to focus on some hills and intervals to tune myself up to give my personal best of 1:25:45 a run for it's money. Here we go.