How Fatigue Made Me a Smarter Runner

by Carissa

On Sunday I ran Vernonia Half Marathon, my first race of 2016.  I signed up for the race on Monday of race week. My intention was to use it as a training run for Hippie Chick Half Marathon in May.  I wanted to get some miles in for the weekend and be at the race to cheer on friends running the marathon including my sole sisters Jodi and Tanya.  My good friend Devon was running the half marathon too.  I knew from her the first half of the course would be downhill (fast but tough on the quads) then flat to the finish.

Going into the race I was only three weeks into increasing my mileage base for a half marathon.  Monday I ran my first double digit run since fall.  Feeling ambitious on Wednesday I did a track workout, my first since September.  This is clearly how NOT to train for a half marathon!  I was not ready to race on Sunday which means I showed up laid back with no expectations.  At worst, I would slog through 13.1 miles.  At best, I would run comfortable/hard treating it as a tune up race.

A couple of years ago I was really good at making 13.1 miles miserable.  I would go into a race with an ambitious time goal and run my legs to misery.  I started fast and hoped to hold on.  And guess what?  My second half was always slower than my first and always painful as the wheels fell off maintaining an overly ambitious pace.

My story changed because my body did.  For about two years now I've struggled with fatigue.  It comes and goes without rhyme or reason.  As a result, I've both lost interest in training/racing and entered races with low expectations.  With minimal training and a body I can't trust my expectations on Sunday were very low.

When the race started my goal was to stay calm and settle into a comfortable pace.  I knew I wanted the first half of the race to feel comfortable.  With the exception of the first mile the course runs downhill for the first seven miles.  Old Carissa would have wanted to take advantage of that and bank time in the first half.  New Carissa settled into an even effort pace.  Every time someone passed me during that first half I had to check my attitude.  One voice in my head said, Look at all those people passing you.  This isn't good.  New Carissa reminded me of all the races where I bonked in the second half.  I would tell myself, this person is going to do the same thing.

Elevation profile: This course promises to be fast if you don't shred your quads on the downhill

The race course is a bike path hemmed in by lush Oregon green.  The field spread out over the first few miles and I settled into my pace.  I checked my watch every mile and was surprised by what I saw.  Old Carissa would have started running pace calculations.  New Carissa kept a cool head and stayed focused on effort.  As I entered into the second half of the race my strategy changed.  I focused on the next female runner in front of me and I purposed to pass her.  I would say to myself, You are faster than her.  You are stronger than her.  You can pass her.  Granted, that wasn't necessarily true but it didn't hurt to give my brain some self love.  I passed runner after runner.

As I passed runners I also started to pass the marathon mile markers.  Markers 20-26 I tried to picture how my friends running the marathon would feel.  I prayed for strength in their bodies and minds as I passed each marker and I prayed that they would feel my prayers as they passed those signs and know that I had prayed for them.

Around mile marker nine I was starting to get concerned about fuel.  Old Carissa would Gu at miles five and ten hoping to avoid hitting the inevitable wall.  This race I had nothing on me and was waiting to hit an aid station offering fuel.  I had to ask myself if I thought I could get through the whole race on water and Gatorade alone.  It seemed like that was going to be my only choice.  At the next aid station there wasn't a volunteer available to hand off a cup of Gatorade so I slowed to grab one off the table.  That's when I saw the Gu and other snacks laid out.  I back tracked slightly to grab a Gu and was off again.  It turns out there had been fuel at every aid station I had passed I just wasn't paying close enough attention to notice.  Whoops.

Fuel in hand, I passed a few more ladies and continued to feel surprisingly strong.  There was one woman who parted ways with a friend around mile 11 and I just couldn't chase her down as she picked up her pace.  I kept my focus on catching her and grew excited as I approached Banks High School.  After a lap around the track I came into the finish in 1:33:39 (7:09 pace.)  This wasn't a PR for me but it was several minutes faster than I've run in years.

I've had a few days for this to sink in and I'm still in utter shock.  I've never been more surprised by a finish time than I am by this one.  Old Carissa would be calculating pace goals for her next race.  New Carissa takes this finish time as a gift and keeps moving forward.
Devon and I after finishing 
Mile Splits
Garmin time: 1:33:44 Garmin distance 13.03
Mile 1: 7:46 Mile 6: 7:11 Mile 11: 7:06
Mile 2: 7:00 Mile 7: 7:00 Mile 12: 7:13
Mile 3: 7:19 Mile 8: 7:05 Mile 13: 7:00
Mile 4: 7:11 Mile 9: 7:25 (aid station!) 176 ft: 6:41
Mile 5: 7:07 Mile 10: 7:08

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