I ran the Indy Monumental Half Marathon as a tuneup race for CIM in 4 weeks. I did a small taper the week leading up to the race, but because this was during the marathon buildup, I was really running on tired, un-tapered marathon legs. I talked to my coach on Wednesday before the race to get a race strategy in place. I had come off of a really strong workout on Tuesday and was feeling a lot more confident going into Saturday’s race. We were shooting for a sub-1:30 half, around a 1:29, and the plan was to go out with the 1:30 pace group through 7 miles and then for me to pull away and race the last 6.1. I felt comfortable with the plan, but admitted that running all my mile splits beginning with “6” was still pretty intimidating. I had never done it before in a half marathon and this would be the first attempt. She reassured me that I was ready and capable of running these times and so I trusted in her, in my training, and in myself.
Ross and I took the day off of work on Friday and I ran my shakeout miles prior to hitting the road for Indianapolis. It was a 3.5 hour drive with an hour time change and my original goal had been to get to the expo in time to hear Deena Kastor’s talk. When we reached Indianapolis, it was shortly after 2 p.m. and I was really just in the mood to get my packet and get out of the expo. I don’t like to spend much time at expos the day before a race because it can be a lot of time on your feet plus with so many people around I get nervous that I’m going to catch a cold or some virus so we went in, got the race packet, snapped a photo, and went back to our hotel. Everything was within walking distance since we were staying downtown and it was very convenient. I tried to take a short nap back at the hotel, maybe got 10-15 minutes of intermittent sleep, and then we left for dinner with running friends at Buca di Beppo (thanks for organizing, Chris and Marie!). It was a big group but everyone knew at least one person in the group; I had been messaging with Marrisa Castner, another Team Sugar Runs athlete, and we finally got to meet in person for dinner after many Instagram DMs over the last year or so. Dinner was a great way to calm my nerves and to share some laughs and smiles with other runners. We said our goodbyes around 7 p.m., and then went back to the hotel where Ross and I would watch 2 hours of Animal Planet before going to sleep. I remember telling him that I was scared for the race because it was going to hurt and him reassuring me that I was ready for this and that I’d do great. I’m lucky to have a really supportive husband who while not a runner himself, understands how important this is to me and travels with me to nearly every big race I run.
My alarm went off at 5:30 a.m. Saturday and I got up and did a quick 10 minute shakeout in the hotel gym. I have done a shakeout mile at 10 min pace 2-3 hours before every half marathon I’ve run in the last 18 months and I really like that it gets the blood flowing early in the morning. After the mile, I got a cup of coffee and half a bagel with some peanut butter on it from the hotel breakfast and headed back up to the room to make my bowl of oatmeal. I made sure I was done eating by 6:45 (the race started at 8) to give myself time to digest, but also to not be hungry at the start. The temperature was cold outside, 28 degrees with a real feel of 21, so I stayed inside the hotel as long as possible to avoid standing in the cold outside. There were a few things I did on race day that looking back on really helped me with the race. The first was wearing compression arm sleeves under my long sleeve shirt, which Ross had recommended I do the night before to help stay warm. My arms have the tendency to really tighten up in the cold and I’ve lost time not from my legs being tired but from my arms being so tight and I didn’t want that to happen since it’s not fun to watch your goal slowly creep away because of something silly like tight arms. I made the decision to wear long tights as well knowing that I have suffered from hypothermia in a race before and that my body doesn’t react well to cold weather. I had an old sweatshirt of Ross’ that I wore over everything to warm up in and to stand in the corral with and though I was a bit sweaty by the end of the warm-up, I was toasty. The second thing I did right was putting hand warmers in each of my gloves to keep my hands warm. I suffer from raynaud’s syndrome where the cold makes my fingers go colorless and numb and I typically run in big puffy mittens in the winter, but for the race I wanted to be able to use my fingers to open gels so I was happy to be able to use the hand-warmers in gloves to make it happen.
I had brought a half-full water bottle with me for the warm-up to take my first gel with before starting the race. This was a suggestion by my coach since I would be trying to run a fast time and was going to be using a lot more energy per mile than I had before. It was my first time “pre-geling” and I think it really helped keep my energy levels even throughout the race. I ended up keeping the water bottle with me for the first 6.5 miles of the race, the third thing I did right that day as it allowed me to skip all of the early aid stations and be able to take my gel throughout mile 6 instead of shoving it down in one go with a little cup like I normally do. But more on that later. I was able to enter the corral just after 7:45 which was really nice since I’d never be able to do that at one of the majors like Chicago. I found the 3 hour marathon pacer and shortly after, the 1:30 pacer who was specific to the half marathon. We introduced ourselves to him and I ended up talking with a Notre Dame undergrad student for the first 10 minutes before the race started who was also planning on running with the pace group. The atmosphere was friendly and nerves really weren’t kicking in, and then all of a sudden some air horns went off and everyone started rushing forward to the start.
The 1:30 pacer went out hard and I just let them go initially, keeping his flag in my sights but not wasting energy weaving in and out of people just yet. Mile 1 felt pretty uncomfortable and not really in control but I would catch the group shortly before mile 1 clicked at a 6:39 and it made sense to me why it felt fast – it was 13 seconds faster than it should’ve been! I decided to give the group another mile to see if the pace would settle down hoping that I wouldn’t have to run the whole race solo as I was hoping to just tuck in for awhile and let the pacer do the pacing work so I could just run. Mile 2 was a 6:44. A little more in control but still about 8 seconds fast, but I felt really good so I decided to stick it out with the group. Miles 3 and 4 were quick again at a 6:38 and 6:31 but they didn’t feel that fast, I just hoped that I wasn’t messing up my whole race by hanging with this group. After mile 4 the pacer apologized for the fast pacing and things started clicking a little more consistently. Mile 5 actually felt a little more recovery-like at 6:48, or at least that’s what I told myself in my head. I turned my headphones off for a little bit and listened to the conversation going on around me. I decided not to join in on the talking though as I wanted to save my energy for the race since this was still really early on and I still had 8 miles to go. At mile 6 (6:51), I found myself running side by side with the pacer and began to take my gel. I was grateful to have my water bottle still with me to be able to take small sips of water and small sips of the gel. Just after about 6.5 miles, I tossed the water bottle off to the side of the course with it being empty and started mentally preparing to break away from the pack as my coach had instructed me to do at 7. Seeing the flag for mile 7 I started running in front of the group and reminded myself that this was just like a workout where I have the warm-up portion and then go straight into the speedwork without stopping. I wanted to look strong as I pulled away and knew that now was when the race really began for me.
I felt good pulling away but wanted to keep it under control. I started having fun passing people and got energy from being the one passing and not being the one being passed. When mile 8 clicked at 6:26, though, I realized it was too early to be kicking like this and tried to dial it back. I think it was around mile 8 that I took a cup of water and choked on it, coughing a bunch and thinking to myself, “this is not how this is going down”, and then finding my stride again. I thought I had dialed it back, until 6:23 came up on the watch for mile 9. “What the heck is happening,” I asked myself. At this point my watch was clicking a little before each mile marker so I knew it wasn’t exactly dead on, but something special was happening. It’s also when the race started to get hard, however, as miles 9-13 were all running south towards a direct headwind. I hoped that leaving the pace group behind was the right choice as at this point, there weren’t many people around to block the wind so I was on my own battling the elements. I reminded myself of the runs I had the past weekend and week where I was dealing with 15 mph winds and told myself that I could manage 8 mph winds for the next 4 miles. “The faster you run the faster you’re done!”
Mile 10 came through in 6:30 and I was starting to hurt. The wind was not letting up, but neither was I. It was at this mile that I came to a critical point in the race asking myself, “why not you?” What I was asking myself was why couldn’t I run a faster time than a 1:29. I was feeling a little bit of imposter syndrome running the way I was, as I had never come close to this before, and talked to myself throughout the next mile (in my head, of course!) about why I was questioning if I belonged in this group and why I was scared to make something magical happen. I still can’t find the right words for it, but I think I was scratching the surface of some suppressed thoughts from earlier running days where I had accepted my speed for what it was and that I’d always be a good, but not exceptional runner. So the question “why not me” was giving me some freedom to write my own story and break out of that old mold I had created for myself back in high school running. Mile 10 was full of raw emotion, and I quickly came back to reality when I could no longer control my bladder and yep, I peed myself. I wouldn’t be telling the whole story if I didn’t include that bit but when I’ve gone to the well in a hard workout or race, this typically happens to me. Sorry not sorry.
Mile 11 was slower at a 6:41 but I was still running well below the 6:52 average needed to break 1:30. My coach had told me to give everything I had in those last 2 miles and so I didn’t step off the gas, but it just got harder as the wind gusted in our direction and we were tired having run for so many miles already. When I hit mile 11, however, I saw that I had 16 minutes to run 2.1 miles and still get under 1:30, and I knew in that moment that it was up to me to determine just how far under 1:30 we were going to go. Mile 12 was consistent with mile 11 and came in at a 6:43 and I knew that I only had a little running left to go. I saw a couple women ahead and pushed myself to catch up to them and ultimately pass them in that final stretch. I knew 1:28 was likely, and then I saw my Ross at 12.9ish cheering for me and thought, “you know what? At this point you could keep running this pace and easily get 1:28, but if you push yourself this last bit, you could run a 1:27 half marathon. What’s it going to be?” I used his cheering energy to blast forward past a couple men, hitting mile 13 in 6:36. We turned the corner to run the last 0.10 into the finish and I could see the timing clock in front of me ticking down. It had already reached 1:28 but this was chip timed and I hadn’t started right at the beginning so I had some time left. I didn’t want to waste energy looking at my watch knowing it would be close so I continued to push forward, faster and faster, crossing the line, clicking off my watch, and stumbled to get a heat sheet before getting down on my knees trying to catch my breath.
I finally looked at the watch, 1:27:50. I had not only broken 1:30, I had broken two more minutes and became a 1:27 half marathoner. My official time would come in at 1:27:48 and truthfully, looking at it today still doesn’t feel real (though my sore body would tell you otherwise!). Ross found me at the finish and gave me a big hug and told me that I was going to NYC (the qualifying time to run the NYC Marathon with a half marathon time is 1:32 for my age group and gender) before we started walking back to our hotel. I had forgotten all about it and quite frankly was too tired after the race to really think or feel much emotion; all I wanted was to get out of the cold and wind and to take a hot shower. But don’t worry, on the walk back I started getting pretty excited about what I had just done and started acting less stunned, which probably had something to do with the ups and down I’ve experienced this cycle.
This training cycle for CIM has not been perfect and many runs, especially long runs, have felt much harder than in previous cycles. I have been struggling with some health issues and it’s weighed on me physically as much as it has mentally. I felt really, really lucky that I wasn’t dealing with any of those issues on race week for the first time in weeks; the timing really couldn’t have been any better. I think the biggest lesson I’m walking away with from this race is that you don’t have to have a perfect cycle or perfect build-up to have an A+ day. I was able to 100% execute my race plan from start to finish yesterday, negative splitting, running a 4:31 PR, and I can tell you while I’ve run nearly all the miles I’ve needed to this cycle, the workouts and long runs have been pretty challenging and I can count more long runs that I’ve felt discouraged from than gained confidence from. It was a reminder in continuing to show up even when things get tough because when we show up, we win at least half the battle and sometimes that’s more than enough.