I ran my 7th half marathon this past weekend. And it was the smallest half marathon I’ve competed in so far. Being based in Chicago has its advantages and disadvantages as a runner. Runners in Chicago are lucky enough to have a city that has developed urban spaces that cater to exercise fiends—the lakefront trail is every runner’s haven because it can be difficult to run long distances without being stopped at regular intervals at stoplights. On the other hand, we take a huge hit by suffering through the Chicago winter (luckily, that wasn’t the case this past year).
I’m originally from Zionsville, a suburb of Indianapolis. And nearby is a city named Carmel (no, I did not go to Cali for this race, although that sounds splendid right about now). Last year was the inaugural Carmel Half Marathon and Marathon and it took place in the summer. Race day was a gross, sweaty, humid mess and runners suffered through the heat. Luckily, for the 2nd annual event, they decided to move it to late April in order to avoid the heat.
I registered for the race back in early November when I planned out my spring half marathon schedule. I always like to have a race on the horizon, no matter the distance, because I find that it keeps me motivated and energized on days when I completely and utterly do not want to go running. That’s just the way I work. I felt prepared for this race, probably more so than any other race before. After running a solid PR at RnRUSA last month, I knew I had more life in my legs. I gave that race probably 75 or 80% of what I was capable.
My goal for the Carmel Half was a total run time of 1:36, which is a full 2 minutes 24 seconds faster than my time in DC. (A lofty goal, but one in which I was confident.) As I’ve mentioned before, I try to split half marathons into 5k sections and focus on the mentality of a progressive tempo (in other words, I gradually increase the pace every 3 miles until I max out and kick from mile 12-ish to the finish). It’s worked really well for me in the past and a negative split isn’t as difficult as it sounds once you do it.
I was lucky enough to have two friends come along with me for the race. Chanthana, Tim, and I rented a car for the weekend and drove down on Friday afternoon with plenty of time before the Saturday morning race. We went to the expo (tiny by our Chicago standards), gorged on delicious Italian food at Bravo’s (delicious by anyone’s standards), and returned to the hotel to rest (on comfy Hilton beds, which are comfy by everyone’s standards).
We woke up at 4:30 AM local time to eat, get dressed, and head to the start line. I ate a small bowl (errr…coffee mug?) of oatmeal, drank some coffee, and stressed about my race outfit. The weather was chilly, especially when compared with Chicago temperatures the past few weeks. It was 35 degrees and 13mph winds breezed by in the parking lot as we looked out from our hotel room. I didn’t even decided on my race top until 5 minutes before the race start! With 3 minutes to go ‘til the gun, I still hadn’t pinned my bib on my shirt—which has got to be the latest possible moment I’ve ever done that. (Note to self: don’t do that again).
I decided on Under Armour short compression shorts and a Nike light long sleeve shirt I got at the Chicago Marathon Expo (it probably had some good juju considering the wonderful memories I created that day). I took off at a 7:40 pace and tried to settle my heart rate into a comfortable zone. –Side note: this race had added pressure for me because it’s a ‘hometown race’. Now, this was completely mental for me, because at the end of the day, no one would be disappointed in me if I had a bad finish. But I felt like I needed to live up to some sort of “expectation” because it was on home turf.
At mile 3, I focused on a consistent 7:30 pace. At this point, I was running a bit too fast. My legs wanted to go faster, but I knew I’d regret pushing the pace once I reached mile 10 or 11. My hands were pink from the cold and I had to shake them several times just to feel them. I settled into a pace with a cluster of runners from mile 4-8. And I was frustrated. I despise running behind the same people for an entire race. It’s my competitive nature—I figure, if I can hold a pace for several miles, there’s no reason why I can’t surge a bit to pass them. And I think it gives me a mental ‘clean slate’ to attack the next 5k of the half. At one point, one of these runners in the cluster started to have a conversation with me. He asked me if I had a goal time to finish and I told him “1:36:00”. He looked down at his own watch and tried to assess whether or not I’d meet that goal, which I had no time for. Then, I turned on my music, shut my mouth, and let the legs go for a few. No time for a friendly conversation, buddy! I have nothing against peer support, but I wasn’t running fast enough if this guy thought I had the energy to carry on a conversation with him.
By mile 6, I was comfortable and pushing to a 7:20 pace. I had settled into a 7:20-7:20 pace from miles 3-6 anyway, so I had to hold it there. The rolling hills made me feel the burn throughout the middle section. I haven’t had any hill training in the past few months but I focused on short strides and consistent cadence to get through them without expending too much energy. At mile 8, I saw my family cheering for me. I didn’t even know they were planning on spectating there and I felt special knowing that they’d taken the time to head out to the course as opposed to waiting at the finish line.
Mile 9—ok, Jenny—7:10 pace or faster. You can do this. At this point, I was focusing on passing as many people as I could through consistent surges. I knew that there weren’t too many females ahead of me and I thought about how cool it would be to get a top 10 female finish. (Again, small ‘hometown’ races are great—if nothing else, for the ego boost!) A dude told me around mile 10 that I was the 5th female runner and that I should catch the girl about 20 yards ahead of me. I had been watching her for over a mile and a half and knew that I could pass her.
And, all of a sudden, I cross the Mile 12 marker. Ok, only 1 mile to go! My goal pace for this section? ….HAUL ASS! (I know, I’m pretty darn specific when it comes to this kind of stuff). And to be honest, I didn’t have much left but I felt like I could hold a 6:55-7:00 through to the finish. The pack had thinned out around mile 5 or 6, so at this point, I felt like I was pretty much running by myself in ‘no man’s land’. I remember looking at my watch and telling myself that I only have 800 yards left. I told myself that I’ve run 800 m repeats so many times in the past few months that it should be a cake walk. I saw the corner up ahead that led to the final 50 yards to the finish line and tried to surge a bit.
I remember looking forward at the finish banner and hearing Coach screaming at me to ‘kick it, Jenny, kick it!’. (Apparently I made absolutely no eye contact with him because I was totally in the zone. I was all business).
Then I saw the clock tick by 1:36:06 and pushed as hard as I could. And I hoped that I had a finish under 1:36:00, as planned. It turns out I actually ran a 1:36:08 and finished in a competitive standing as 2nd in my division and as the 8th female finisher (per updated results on the website, of course).
Even though this was a small race with only about 1,000 finishers in the half marathon, I feel like I’m getting to the point where I can be pretty competitive. I’ve crossed a threshold this spring in my speed training and I’ve become so much faster by focusing on one workout at a time. At the same time, my distance training hasn’t suffered and I’m actually running nearly as many miles as I did before the Chicago Marathon. I’m stronger and learning more about how I can compete with each race that I participate in.
Can’t wait to run the Bayshore Half on Memorial Day weekend and see how much faster I can get!