Throwback Thursday: St. Michaels Running Festival Half Marathon (2016)

(This post was originally written on May 22, 2016, following my participation in the St. Michaels half marathon. On May 1, 2016, I attempted to break 2:00 in the half marathon at the New Jersey half marathon.)

Yesterday, I ran the St. Michaels half marathon for the second time.  This was kind of a big deal for me, since my first half marathon ever was at last year’s St. Michaels Running Festival, and I was excited to see how far I’d come following a year’s worth of training (even though I ran my best half marathon ever three weeks ago in New Jersey, and sort of already knew the answer to this).  However, with the forecast calling for a substantial amount of rain (an inch or more) expected to hit during the race, I wasn’t looking forward to the race as much as I had hoped.  Having just run a half marathon in the cold, windy rain in New Jersey, I was really hoping for a beautiful, sunny race day – or at least a dry one – in St. Michaels.  No such luck, though.

And, if I’m being completely honest, I was also gunning for a bit of redemption in St. Michaels.  My goal this spring season has been to break 2:00 in the half marathon.  I almost did this in New Jersey – according to my Garmin, I ran 13.1 miles in 1:58:59 – but I was still a solid 0.1-0.15 miles from the finish line at that point, and my official chip time ended up being 2:00:03.  I wanted an “official” sub-2:00 PR, and St. Michaels was my last chance this season.

Unfortunately, my head was not in the right place yesterday.  I was totally bummed about having to run in the rain again, especially since this is the last race I’ll likely run until the Fall.  And St. Michaels ended up being much worse than the rain I dealt with in New Jersey – while the rain in New Jersey started off as a light drizzle and only really began to downpour during the last few miles, St. Michaels had a steady rain at the start line that morphed into a solid downpour less than halfway through that only got worse as the race went on.  It was miserable.

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Because I was so bummed about having to run in such bad weather, I hadn’t thought much about how I was going to run the race.  I figured I would just go out and run like I had in New Jersey: aim for 9:10-9:15 for miles 1-3, then settle in to steady 9:00-9:05 miles through mile 11, and then give it all I had for the last 1-1.5 miles.  I had been practicing this strategy all Spring, and my body KNOWS what sub-9:00, 9:00, 9:05, 9:10, and 9:15 paces feel like.  In fact, nearly all of my mile splits in New Jersey were between 9:00-9:05, which was exactly where I wanted to be, and definitely where my legs and my head can settle in and hold on for a half marathon right now.

So what happened yesterday?  I let my sadness about running in the rain get the best of me, and lost control of my focus.

Lining up at the start of the race, I found myself in the vicinity of the 2:00 pacer.  I have never run with a pace group before, mainly because I tend to run by feel, and I would rather stay attuned to how I’m feeling in order to judge whether or not to push harder or pull back than feel like I have to keep up with someone else’s pace.  But yesterday, with most of my emotions focused on being sad about the rain rather than my race strategy, I decided I would just stick with the 2:00 pace group for the majority of the race and then speed up toward the end to get myself across the finish line by 1:59:59.  In other words, I would let someone else do the thinking for me so that I could just be done with the race and the rain and still get my PR.

Racing doesn’t work that way, though.  I knew this already, but had to learn it again the hard way yesterday.  You have to run YOUR race.  You can’t rely on someone else to do it for you.  The 2:00 pacer ran her race.  But her race was far different than mine should’ve been.

Running with the 2:00 pace group, I clocked my first mile at 8:59.  This was way faster than I wanted to be going in the first three miles, and I could feel my body getting a bit frantic, wondering why I was pushing it that hard so soon.  Fortunately, the group eased up over the next few miles, inching up to 9:10 by mile 5.  At this point, I was feeling really comfortable, even though the rain was picking up.  9:05-9:09 was exactly where I wanted to be, and I was totally in the zone – so much so that I had actually moved just in front of the 2:00 pace group about halfway through mile 4.  However, around mile 6, the pace group caught up to me, even though I was clocking steady paces in the low 9’s.  Then, they zipped past me.  Now, instead of staying confident in myself and my own knowledge of how I run races, I let myself get freaked out that I wasn’t running fast enough to break 2:00 because the pace group passed me.  And so I sped up to catch up to them.  And that’s when everything fell apart.

By mile 7, the rain was coming down hard, and I could feel myself starting to come apart mentally and physically.  Trying to keep up with the 2:00 pace group, I had pushed too hard too soon in the first few miles, and I was way more tired than I wanted to be at that point in the race.  Somehow, I stuck with the pace group through mile 10 and it still looked like I might still be able to get my PR.  And then the bottom completely dropped out.  Right around 10.5 miles, it felt like someone instantaneously sucked all the energy and drive right out of my body.  I immediately went into survival mode – “just try to finish the race” mode.  The 2:00 pace group pulled ahead, and eventually out of sight, and I knew my chance at a PR was gone.  I hobbled through miles 11, 12, and 13, and finished with a time of 2:03:05.  Considering the shape I was in by mile 11, I’m surprised I did that well.

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If anything, St. Michaels was a learning experience.  I’m still really disappointed that I didn’t get an “official” sub-2:00 half marathon PR this season (and don’t think I’m not considering one last redemption effort…I see you Zooma Half Marathon in Annapolis in June…).  But, I’ve learned to trust myself, trust my training, and to run my race, regardless of what anyone else is doing, or how fast they’re going.  Desi Linden embodies this ability, in my mind, and I love how she describes trusting your race plan and letting cooler heads prevail in this article in Runners World.  I’ll definitely be taking these lessons learned with me as I begin training for the Wineglass Marathon this Fall.  But for now, I’m looking forward to a few weeks of maintenance running and a bit of relaxing…assuming I don’t make one last-ditch effort at my sub-2:00 goal this season…

Have you tried running with a pace group? What are your thoughts?

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