When Friendship Trumps the Watch

by Jodi

Saturday was race day for Devon, Carissa and me.  I, unlike Carissa and Devon, was in great health but still uncertain about how my race would play out.  With three smooth and fast training runs in a row I was due for a hard run soon.  Would I make it through race day unscathed?

Pre-race smiles
The weather was gorgeous with deep blue skies, bright sunshine and crisp cool temps.  It was a perfect day to race.  Ironically, none of us raced well. Every time I run a half marathon I have a renewed respect for the distance - it's a long way to run fast without the wheels falling off the bus.
Devon and I trying to intimidate the competition.  Too bad the girl behind us beat us.
There were several small factors that led to me feeling discombobulated when I was racing.

1.  Fueling - The race started at 9:30.  I ate breakfast at 6:30 so by the time I reached the starting line I was already hungry.  I had to eat at mile four and then again at mile ten.  This is not something I do when I'm training and it really threw me off mentally, not to mention slowed my time on those two miles.

2.  Race Attire - All three of us overdressed.  The temperature was in the high 30's but the sunshine made it feel much warmer.  The majority of the course was fully exposed and I shed my hat within the first mile.  Gloves came off at mile six.  I wanted to take my outer layer off but my bib was pinned to the front per the pre-race instructions from the race director.  Since the event wasn't chip timed, our bib number had to be clearly visible, eliminating an easy layer shed.  BOO!

3.  Mental Chaos - Having a race strategy is a great idea but implementing it was tough.  My mind was a cacophony of random thoughts ping ponging around in my brain.  I was so set on running negative splits that I found myself thinking about my pace way too much and checked my watch more frequently than I usually do.  This resulted in a lot of variety in my pace: speed up, slow down.  Repeat.  It was hard to pray, focus on my music, or enjoy the scenery around me.  I never found a good space mentally the entire 13.1 miles.

4.  Competitive Guy - At mile five I started gaining on a guy who did not want to be passed even though he was slowing down.  For the next two miles he kept speeding up and blocking the road so I wouldn't pass, then slowing down dramatically.  His erratic pace ultimately slowed me down for those two miles and prevented me from settling into a consistent pace.  Devon reported that he did this to her too.

5.  Not Quitting Mentally - I knew within the first mile or two that getting a PR (1:36) would be next to impossible, but I still thought I could hit my training goal of 1:38.  In the end it was not my day to break any records.  My legs felt sluggish and heavy and my breathing more labored than it should have been.  On every level this run felt hard - the antithesis of my previous three long runs.  It was hard to not quit mentally deep into the race as my time goals slipped away.

Mile Ten was the turning point for me.  My watch beeped a 7:56 mile - almost thirty seconds off the pace - and the final nail in the coffin for a PR.  I adjusted my goal from 1:36 to just staying under 1:40.  I also spotted Devon in the distance and started gaining on her.  I decided if I could catch up to her I'd propose that we throw pace out the window and finish the race together.

By mile 11.5 Devon and I were running side by side, commiserating through our quick conversation bursts.  We agreed to push hard to the end but to finish together.  It was comforting for both of us to not be alone for the final miles of a race that challenged both our bodies and our mind.  The last half mile was a slow climb before a short downhill to the finish.  I think I would have slowed down if Devon wasn't there, huffing and puffing her way up the hill with me.  Misery loves company right?

The little downhill to the finish was perfect and we had a huge cheering section: my Mom and her husband Terry, my husband Curt and our four awesome kids, Carissa, Tanya, and some long-time friends of mine Johnny and Sherry (they used to hire me as a kid to work on their farm).  When Devon and I came into sight our fans started cheering.  We love an audience so we hammed it up.  We grabbed hands, made exhausted faces and fist bumped the air as we ran across the finish together.  It really was loads of fun to come into the finish like that. (The pictures of our shenanigans didn't turn out).
Sherry, my Mom, Me, Johnny and Terry - all these people are so dear to me!

Sole Sisters - Tanya, Carissa, Jodi, and Devon
Devon and I tied for third place overall although they technically gave me the title and added a second to her time to give her fourth.  We even got fancy ribbons at the award ceremony.  This was my first top three overall placement at a half marathon.
Carissa got second place in her race, but she's still learning her numbers and wanted to be third like me.

We got ribbons
It takes me a while to process a race.  My Garmin recorded a distance of 13.09 miles and a time of 1:39:10, but my official race time was 1:39:22*.  (I can't believe this, but this finish time is the EXACT finish time of the Wheatfield Half Marathon that I ran in The Dalles last spring.  What are the odds of that happening?)  It wasn't the time I trained for and initially I was disappointed in my performance.  It was not easy to watch mile after mile clock in slower than I hoped.

I've had a few days to think about it and I'm feeling much better about it now than I was earlier this week.  Run Less Run Faster (the book I based my training on) devotes an entire chapter to setting realistic goals.  The authors point out that many a runner fails to celebrate a really great race because their goal wasn't realistic for their current fitness level.  It begs the question, "Was my goal realistic?"  Even if it was, I didn't miss it by that much.  I realized I was focusing on what didn't happen and not what DID.
The post-race is always such a relief
I am really proud of the fact that I didn't quit on this race and chose to run hard all the way through, even when my speed was waning.  I'm proud to have finished so well in the standings, even though it was a small race.  But most of all, I'm so glad that friendship trumped the watch.  I wouldn't trade a PR and a perfect race for the time Devon and I shared together on the course.  It was a beautiful way to cement a new but already deep friendship.

Here's the cliff notes version of my race via my splits:

Mile 1: 7:19 (Too fast, but there was some downhill.)
Mile 8: 7:28 (Two in a row – yippee!)
Mile 2: 7:17 (Still too fast.)
Mile 9: 7:33 (Uh oh! Same effort but a slower mile.  Not a good sign.)
Mile 3: 7:22 (Short, but somewhat steep hill to climb, too hot, but finally the right pace.) 
Mile 10: 7:56 (Nail in the coffin.  Eating for a second time.  Readjusted goal to stay under 1:40).  
Mile 4: 7:31 (Too slow.  First time eating.  Passed two girls and moved myself closer to the front of the pack.)
Mile 11: 7:42 (Caught up to Devon and got a little energy burst.) 
Mile 5: 7:30 (Came upon Erratic Speed Guy who wouldn’t let me pass – too slow.)
Mile 12: 7:55 (Threw a little party that we stayed in the seven minute mile range.)
Mile 6: 7:36 (Competitive Guy keeping me slow.  Saw my family cheering on the side of the road.  How I love them!)
Mile 13: 7:57 (Pretty covered bridge that we ran through.  Darn uphill climb too close to the finish.)
Mile 7: 7:26 (FINALLY found the pace I was shooting for.)
Mile .1 – 6:17 (Blessed downhill to the finish and my family).

Sole Sisters will you tell us about a race that didn't go the way you expected?  What did you do to stay mentally engaged?

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