Whidbey Island Half Marathon: Chasing Down My Goal

By Tanya

I finally ran my first half marathon in almost two years and it felt great! I signed up for the Whidbey half marathon in October 2013 with the hope that I would be able to run it in 2014. As you know, I started out my running career way too fast and furious. As a result I have been plagued with on-going injuries for which I had to take all of 2013 off to recover.

When the new year came around I committed to training differently. I started seeing a new Physical Therapist.  Per her advice I worked to change up my stride to a faster cadence and foot turnover rate. I also focused on using my upper core muscles by pulling up and tightening my "inner corset" while I ran. This type of running certainly added a new cardio challenge, but overall it lessened my pain. I also was advised that although my hamstrings may feel tight, they actually are not, so stretching them would only further my problems. Therefore I should stretch my hamstrings as little and as gently as possible.

I eased back into running slow and steady and made sure I could maintain the correct form and stride for the entire run. I also kept up with my cross-training routine of swimming, core exercises, and Zumba. This meant that I only gave myself two running days per week.

I started by running three miles at a ten minute pace and incrementally increased my mileage by one mile each week. By the time I reached five miles I began to use one day as a speed work day. My speed work was done on the track with the routine of one mile warm up, followed by 400 speed and 400 walk X2, then 800 speed, 800 slow-down and a one mile cool down.

I do not have a Garmin or any timing device other than the Map My Run app on my cell phone to calculate my distance, speed and pace. The GPS on my phone is not very reliable, making the readings slightly inaccurate on my long runs and no good at all while running on a track, so I mostly ran by feel.

My running was going really well. Unfortunately as my running routine increased I started to have lower back pain after doing Zumba. My physical therapist confirmed my suspicions that my running muscles and dancing muscles seemed to be working in opposition. Zumba was making my lower back too flexible and my core was still not strong enough to stabilize it when I would go pound the pavement the next day. I was able to avert a major lock up by having my PT release my back muscles once a week as well as apply ASTYM treatments, by scraping my sore, "crunchy" spots on my back, hips and knees with a special tool to break up the knotted, stuck fascia.

As my training progressed I was pleasantly surprised to find that I was gaining speed even with the increased distance. Thank you speed work! I found that my comfortable settle-in pace was an 8:30 pace which I was averaging on my long runs. With a little giddy-up in my legs I was finally able to go on a few runs with my speedster Sole Sisters Carissa and Jodi. I even celebrated my birthday by joining up again with the Oregon Road Runners Club for their weekly workout. It felt great to finally be back in the running community!

The last two weeks of my training before the half marathon I switched out my Zumba day with an additional easy run. Everything was going great until my last easy four miler the Friday before Whidbey. For some reason my left knee stared to tighten up after my run. Fortunately I had scheduled one last session with my PT and she gave my knee a good work over.

Since I knew I was most likely not going to PR in this race I decided to try a new racing strategy this time. In the past I've allowed my starting line adrenaline rush to get the best of me. I would start off fast and pay for it by hitting a wall around mile ten and end up feeling like I was dragging my butt along the last few miles. This time I wanted to allow myself a gradual warm up (ten to nine minute pace) for the first two miles which contained the longest and most steep climb of the whole race. After that my goal was to maintain a good pace for the duration of the race, taking advantage of the down hills. I especially wanted to keep some fuel in my tank because I knew there would be some rolling hills at miles ten through twelve.

My initial goal was to finish the race in under two hours. Since I knew my phone was not very reliable I decided I was going to try and keep my sights on a pacer. At the race expo I learned there would be a pacer for finishing time goals of 1:45, 1:50, and 2:00. I decided my goal would be after my two mile warm up that I would try to catch the 1:50 pacer.

On race morning I felt rested and ready to race. The weather was perfect with a forecast of sunny with a high around 65 degrees. Because of the 8:30 am race start it was already starting to warm up. The race was a good size with about 1700 people running in the half marathon but there were no starting corrals. As we packed into the starting line, I ended up pretty close to the front but I could not see any of the pacers.

Once the race began I focused on relaxing, staying slow, and trying not to pay attention to the many people who were passing me.

After the first mile my phone told me I had run an 8:58 minute mile. A little fast, but pretty good.

The next mile was a steady climb up a long hill so by the end of mile two my phone chimed 8:57. Still a little fast, but I'll take it.

By this time I was warm and feeling really good.  To my pleasure mile three was cresting the hill and starting down. I hesitated to let myself coast free but then decided I couldn't waste this opportunity so I sailed through the next mile and a half.

Mile five had a few small hills. It was at this time that I really started to take notice of the beauty all around me. I started playing an imagination game where I would pretend I would slide down the multi-colored tunnel slide on the playground, then jump into river and swim past the runners as we turned toward the bay. I was enjoying my little game when up in the distance I got my first glance of a pacer. I couldn't see what time the pacer was so I decided to speed up.

By mile six I got close enough to read the pacer's sign...1:50. BINGO!! There was a group of about six people running with the pacer chatting it up. I wondered if I should hang out with them for a while but my answer came in the next mile.

At mile seven we hit a surprise hill. It actually seemed pretty steep and the pacer did a good job of holding tight to his pace because he did not let that hill slow him down at all! I stayed close on his tracks but one by one his entourage started falling away. At the top of the hill it was just me and the pacer!

As we headed down the hill through mile eight that pacer stayed locked on his pace. I took advantage of the decline, letting my legs spin out, and waved goodbye as I breezed past the pacer.

Miles nine through twelve I played cat-and-mouse with the pacer through the rolling hills. He would pass me up the hills and I would pass him down the hills. We had a little game going of calling out to each other as we passed by. My overall pace slowed down at this point but I still felt strong. I was wondering how accurate my phone was on my pace but I knew as long as I could pass the pacer I'd have met my goal.

As I crested the final hill and went into the last mile of the race I turned on the after burners and let that pacer eat my dust!

In the last half mile of the final stretch I pushed to sprint to the finish. I knew I gave it all I had as I crossed the finish and a wave of nausea hit me. Yes! The well timed sign of a well executed race.

My final time was 1:48:49 with a pace of  8:18. 

This may have been my slowest half marathon to date, but I have enjoyed each and every race for the unique experience and lessons I have learned from them, regardless of my times. Whidbey was great because it was my come back race and I executed it exactly as I had planned and felt strong the whole way through.

I praise God for giving me the patience and perseverance to keep actively working towards running again. I pray that you too, Sole Sisters, will keep on finding the courage, strength and perseverance to keep chasing down your goals!

Here are my Whidbey splits:
1 mi08:58 min/mi00:08:56
2 mi08:57 min/mi00:08:56
3 mi07:51 min/mi00:07:50
4 mi07:26 min/mi00:07:25
5 mi08:02 min/mi00:08:01
6 mi07:43 min/mi00:07:42
7 mi08:13 min/mi00:08:12
8 mi08:08 min/mi00:08:08
9 mi07:52 min/mi00:07:51
10 mi07:40 min/mi00:07:40
11 mi08:24 min/mi00:08:22
12 mi08:10 min/mi00:08:08
13 mi07:21 min/mi00:07:12
(The course was actually 13.38 miles)


  1. Way to go! Was encouraging to read how you trained correctly!

    1. Thanks :) Yes, it really makes all the difference when you listen to your body and only compete against yourself to do your personal best!

  2. Tanya, this is so encouraging to read. I'm rejoicing with you!! Girly, that is TALENT and God's goodness pouring out of you to be out of running an entire year and run like that. You are such a blessing!

    1. Thanks Devin! You have a pretty amazing comeback story too! I am continually inspired by you in so many ways. Love you Sole Sister!