Two Weeks, Two Very Different Races! Middle Half vs. Go Commando Half

The Middle Half:  Losing the mental and physical battle

Last Saturday, I ran the Murfreesboro Middle Half, my goal half marathon of the year.  I'd been planning it for months.  I had a goal of sub-two, I hired a coach, and I trained harder than I'd ever trained before.  I basically poured everything into this one race. 

A week before the race, I had a HORRIBLE run (see earlier post).  I just felt "off."  The rest of the weekend and early that week, I felt unwell.  I had a headache for two days and no energy.  I assumed it was a cold and tried to sleep and rest as much as possible, eat healthy foods, and recover ASAP.  On the Wednesday before the race, during my final speed workout, my right shin started hurting.  For the first time since July 1st, I cut a workout short.  I had been following my training plan to the letter until that moment.  Confidence killer.

I iced and skipped Thursday's miles.  I lived in compression sleeves for two days.  I ran two gentle miles on Friday.  It felt better.  My stomach was in knots, however.  Something I ate?  Nerves?  I don't know.  That afternoon, my friends and I got a late start leaving town.  Then we hit traffic in Nashville.  It took us 40 minutes to get through downtown, usually a 10-minute drive, if that.  We literally arrived at packet pick up at 5:58 p.m.  It closed at 6:00.  It was close, but we made it (with some fabulous driving on my friend's part!).  Then it was time to find somewhere to eat and go to the hotel. 

We wound up at the Red Lobster across from our hotel.  Since I'm allergic to gluten, there were not a lot of choices.  I wound up with shrimp cocktail and a small baked potato.  I honestly didn't have much of an appetite. My stomach didn't feel well.  After dinner, we checked in to the hotel, and I began the pre-race ritual of figuring out which outfit to wear and getting Gu's, bib, fuel belt, etc. ready.  My stomach was bothering me more than earlier.  I was concerned.  We got to bed at a decent hour.   I slept some, but noticed that the right side of my back ached throughout the night.  The next morning, we got up and had breakfast.  My back still hurt, so I did some stretches, and  we were off.  I noticed on the way to the race that I felt strangely sleepy.  Usually on race morning, I'm either nervous or excited, but definitely energetic.  I just felt tired. 

We made it to the start and ran a warm up mile or so.  It was the perfect temperature, about 58 degrees and sunny.  Unfortunately, my sunglasses were in the car!  The coach had told me to start at a 9:00 minute mile, then drop to 8:55 or 8:50.   I needed to stay at 9:08 or better to be sub-two.  I wanted to allow a little wiggle room since 13.1 almost always winds up as 13.2 or more (it's impossible to run every tangent).   I knew it wasn't going to be a walk in the park.   Pre-race:  (me on right)

My friend Michelle and I started and the first mile was 9:00 minutes on the money!   It felt ok.  Not easy, not great, but ok.  I was trying to be optimistic.  The second mile was 8:58.   Then 9:04.  I was hitting my goal pace, but it was literally a battle each mile.  By mile 5, Michelle asked me how I was feeling, and I told her, "Not great."  I didn't want to whine, but I didn't want to lie.  Michelle was cruising, but I was struggling.  I held on through 7 miles.  Then the fight just became too much.  Michelle pulled ahead further and further.  (I wanted her to get her first sub-two even if I couldn't!)   It was heating up to the mid-60's.   I felt like I was SPRINTING in mile 8, but I only ran a 9:27 mile.  My breathing was ragged.  My form wasn't smooth.  I felt panicked.  Then mile 9 was a 9:27 pace as well, and I had to really fight for that.  I realized sub-two was gone.

I negotiated with myself.  I said, "Well, at least keep every mile under 9:30.  It'll still be a PR."  Mile 10 was 9:30 exactly, but mile 11 was a 9:33.  So I told myself, "I'll just keep every mile under my old PR pace, which was 9:34."  Then mile 12 was a 9:44 mile.  After that one, I told myself, "Crap, I don't even care anymore."  The FUNNY (or sad?) thing was, that all throughout mile 12, I could see the 2:00 hour pacer, and I was GAINING on her.   But I knew my Garmin wouldn't lie.  Then I passed her.   Apparently sub-two would elude us both.  I felt bad for her.  And she had to continue to carry that sign.  Finally, after the longest 13th mile ever (9:42 pace), I could see the finish.  My sprinting .1 was a 9:20 pace.  Not that sprinty at all. 

I finished 13.1 in 2:01:44 by my Garmin.  Official finish was 2:02:26, I think, for 13.21, a PR either way.  My old PR was 2:05.  All three of us actually PR'd on this flat, fast course.    

So, was it a VICTORY?  A PR should be a good day!  Right?  However, it felt much more like defeat, from about mile 3 on.  I don't know what was going on with my body and my mind, but neither felt very strong.  I didn't enjoy one second of this race.  I looked at my Garmin approximately 39 times--- at least 3 times per mile IF NOT MORE.  I didn't actually see any of Murfreesboro.  was the course pretty?  I. Don't. Know.  I was too busy staring down at pavement, looking at my watch, and feeling defeated.  When I got home, all the defeat apparently settled into my back because after a brief nap, the whole right side of my back became tight and painful every time I moved.  I spent the evening in bed with a heating pad and a bad attitude.  Can emotions settle into a muscle group?? 

Go Commando Half Marathon:  Good spirits, a new friend, bad weather, celebrating others, and redemption

My coach is a bit relentless with the marathon coming up.  You'd think I'd get to rest all week with another half the following Saturday.  But, he reminded me we can't taper right before the taper.  So I ran 2.5 on a trail the day after the Middle Half, rested Monday, ran 2 on Tuesday, 5.8 (speedwork!) on Wednesday, and 6 on Thursday.  By Wednesday, I'd made peace with running.  I even ran in the rain on both Wednesday and Thursday.  It was the cleansing my mind and spirit needed. 

This is my hometown race.  This is the biggest running event of the year.  Over the past four years, I've trained approximately 50-60 people for this race.  One of my funny FB friends posted to me "they should call it the Friends of Donna Pittman Half Marathon because you trained like half the people running it."  :-) 

All week I'd kept in contact with the 13 athletes in this training group.  On Thursday night, we all went to dinner.  They were in great spirits, and it was contagious.  They were ready and excited.  They gave me these sweet gifts for coaching: 

Coach Justin at first wanted me to try for sub-two again, but then I sent him the elevation profile.  Lots and lots of hills---long ones, steep ones.   He then adjusted that goal to 2:05-2:07.  That was so freeing.   I had no anxiety about making this goal.  I just planned to run HARD and see where the time fell.
After a great forecast all week, on Friday, suddenly there was a 30% chance of rain at the start.  I made sure my athletes were aware and prepared myself.  I was glad I'd already run in the rain twice this week.  

Race day dawned cloudy and cool.  I met up with several of my athletes for some group pics and high fives and felt happy, optimistic, and stress-free.   Don't we look happy? 

I started the race with one of my athletes, Matt,  and the first three miles went by quickly.  We were around a 9:20 pace.  My legs didn't feel fresh, but it wasn't a battle, either.   Around mile 2.5, we started chatting with an out-of-towner named Justin.  I'd met him right before the race when I commented on his Run365 race shirt.  We are members of the same Facebook group and had actually conversed once or twice on that page.  He had also run the Middle Half the week before, getting a PR of 2:13.

Matt soon left us, and Justin and I settled in to about a 9:30 pace, chatting about the FB group and races we'd done.  Around mile 5, we picked up Kelsen, another from my training group.  He is only 15 years old.  He was running strong.   It started to sprinkle around mile 3, but by miles 5 and 6, we had a downpour.  The temperature dropped into the upper 40's and the wind picked up.  Yet, despite the terrible weather, I was still having FUN.  My spirit was happy.  Miles would go by, and I wouldn't even look at my watch.  I kept saying hi to friends on the course and at water stops, and our little group--Justin, Kelsen, and I-- were the perfect pace buddies.   We chatted some, but mostly, we just ran.  We were on track for about a 2:05-2:06 finish, a big PR for Justin and way better than my 2:14 finish last year.  It was Kelsen's first, so automatic PR!  Here are Kelson and I around mile 7:

My little rule is that if I haven't walked through a water stop or up a hill by mile 8, I'm not allowed to.  The most BRUTAL hills of this course were in miles 9-12, but I stuck to that.  I used the mantra, "I'm a mountain goat" (Thanks, Joel Vallejo, for starting that one!) to get up them.   Last year, those hills reduced me to a walk.  Not this year.   Kelsen and Justin were strong on the relentless hills as well. 

That hilly back section was also the most scenic of the course.  At mile 9, the wind began to blow harder, and wet, golden leaves fell all around us like snow.  It was beautiful--one of those memorable running moments. 

Our group hung together until almost the end.  In that last mile, I gave it all I had left.  Mile 13 was a 9:20 pace.  I was happy my legs had something left.  I finished 13.1 at 2:06:26 Garmin time.   Chip time was 2:07:40.  (Again, I ran about 13.21.)   That was 8 minutes better than the year before and on tired legs following a PR effort!   A post-race pic with Justin celebrating his PR: 

Afterwards, I was happy, but FROZEN.  I couldn't stop shivering.  I eventually made it back home and ran a few more miles for 18 for the day.  I checked in with my athletes, and every single one finished!   I was so happy for them. 

It was a GOOD DAY. 

Hell-o, Taper!!   Thank goodness.  Bowling Green 26.2 is in 2 weeks.