So I’ve run two half-marathons this fall. Add ’em up, and that equals … a marathon! So I should be satisfied, right?
Actually, yes, I am pretty happy. The Lewis & Clark Half Marathon on October 3 was my first road half-marathon in several years, and it was also something of a learning experience. Long story short, I was overdressed, having underestimated my ability to cope with the first real dip in temperatures this fall. There’s that, and a bevy of other excuses I won’t bore you with here. I rolled into the finish in just under one hour and 44 minutes, a little slower than I’d hoped, going in. Still, it was under eight minutes a mile, and hey, it was an over-50 PR for me, so there was something to celebrate.
Five weeks later, November 7, was the St. Louis Track Club’s annual half-marathon. I’d run this one three or four times in the past, and it’s a fun course — starting in Clayton, running east on Forsyth to Forest Park, winding around in the park a bit, and then heading back the same way to the finish back in Clayton. There are some significant hills, particularly in Clayton and near the halfway point. But hills are what make races interesting.
This time, I told myself there would be no excuses. I trained well in the five weeks between races, got lots of sleep the last week, and paid close attention to nutrition and hydration in the last couple of days. Race day brought a beautiful morning, and even though the temperature was about the same as the day of Lewis & Clark, this time I ditched the running pants and just run in shorts, which felt much better.
At the start, I had two goals: to beat my time from Lewis & Clark, and — less likely, but still a goal — to go under 1:40. As I wrote here previously, 1:40 has some significance. For my ancient age group, a half-marathon under 1:40 is good enough to qualify for entry into the New York City Marathon (the 2010 version of which, coincidentally, was being run the same day).
As the race unfolded, I made the decision not to look at my watch for splits and pace cues. I figured I was just going to run as fast as I felt I could anyway, and I didn’t need to know what the splits were. Don’t get me wrong; I still reveled in the mile markers, each one bringing me closer to the finish, but I wasn’t going to say to myself, “that was just a 7:45, I need to go faster in the next mile.” This was kind of a new experience for me, because I’m usually pretty anal about my splits in races (with my GPS watch, all of that data is automatically stored for later download anyway, so I knew I’d still have it for later
obsessing over analyzing.) At about Mile 10, though, I did glance at the watch, and found that I was, in fact, keeping up a pretty good pace. At 10.1 miles, I was at about 1:14, which I was thinking was faster than the pace I needed for my 1:40. There ensued, for at least the next mile, a series of calculations wherein I tried to figure out if I needed to pick up the pace. After running 10 miles, my brain was skipping a few cylinders at this point, and I was literally thinking things like, “OK, three miles to go, 1:40 minus 1:15 is 35 minutes, and I can easily go a 10-minute pace for three miles. Wait! 1:40 minus 1:15 is 25 minutes! Or is it? And what about that extra tenth of a mile at the end? Can I finish in 25 minutes?” Even while I was running, I knew how silly this all was, but it actually did keep my mind occupied during that long slog up Forsyth from Forest Park. I don’t think I ever did really figure it out, but it didn’t matter anyway, because I couldn’t have picked up the pace much more even if I wanted to.
I made it into the hills of Clayton … which turned out to be not as severe as I had imagined in my pre-race planning. I was actually feeling pretty decent now, knowing there was just a mile or so to go. The last half-mile of the race was a big sweeping curve around toward Clayton High School, followed by a sharp left turn and a downhill sprint to the finish line. I knew by now that I was going to make it under 1:40, but I was surprised to see the finish-line clock still ticking through the 1:35s when it came into view. I had a little bit of sprint left in me, and I pushed across the line and stopped my watch; it read 1:36:00.
So I beat my goal, in spades. It wasn’t the fastest half-marathon I’ve ever run, but I did smoke my time from Lewis & Clark, and beat the New York Marathon qualifying time by four minutes. And now I have a decision to make: do I go ahead and aim for NYC? Or do I set aside my marathon dreams and instead focus on shorter races? Fortunately I have a few weeks to think about this; I won’t be able to register for New York until the beginning of the year.
For the rest of 2010, I just have one more race scheduled, the Pere Marquette Trail Endurance Run on December 11. The 2009 version of that race was one of my worst outings ever, so I’m looking forward to redeeming myself this time around. After that I’ll scale it back for a couple of weeks, and plan on kicking up the training again at the beginning of 2011.