A Swing and a Big Miss

Wow. I haven’t whiffed like that in a long time and it doesn’t feel good. I was feeling mostly ok about how things transpired yesterday afternoon at the half marathon but come evening time the sadness hit me like a ton of bricks. I truly don’t think it would’ve been a banner day for me with the conditions and my asthma/general issues with super cold weather, but it could’ve been a little less bad.

I knew going into the race that it was going to be cold; the forecast continued to drop as the week went on and by Friday it was pretty locked in that we’d be starting in a windchill of 8 degrees Sunday morning. I had concerns with how my body has reacted in the past to super cold conditions; my asthma often flares up when it’s super cold and makes breathing difficult and overall my body has a hard time staying warm. If I had to pick an extreme, I’d always choose warm because my body seems to handle heat a lot better than cold; I’ve set PRs in Boston when it hit 70 degrees and CIM when it was in the 60s. My half marathon PR is actually from Indy when it was 28 feels like 22 at the start, so I’m no stranger to cold (especially living in the Midwest) but a 22 degree windchill is much different than an 8 degree windchill. My coach was confident that I was in shape to run some fast paces and it excited me to go and try for it, especially since she’s usually right about the type of fitness level I’m in, but in hindsight I think I should’ve been a lot more conservative given my personal history with these type of conditions and that’s on me for thinking my body would handle this day any differently than the past (but hindsight is always 20/20).

Prior to race day, I did a 1-day carb load using Featherstone Nutrition’s carb calculator. I worked one-on-one with Meghann for 6 months last year and really got dialed in on pre-race fueling but I appreciate she has this tool up for free. Carb loading went perfectly and I woke up race day morning and topped things off with coffee and carbs. I made the drive out to the race and met up with Karly to do a warm-up and strides. I was pretty cold only a few minutes into the warm-up and when we made the turn back into the cold headwind, I had a pretty good feeling this wasn’t a “PR” kind of day, but tried to brush the feelings aside. After our strides, I hung out in the high school lobby which was open to runners to stay warm in for about 20 minutes and took down my Maurten caffeinated gel (I had read from Meghann that it takes 1 hour for caffeine to peak in our bloodstream so I wanted to time it out to hit at the right point in the race).

It felt cold on the starting line, but at least the sun was shining and we had the wind at our backs. The race started and I eased into the effort, wanting to run no faster than a 6:35 first mile but close to 6:40-6:45. I moved my way up through the sea of runners in front of me and my first mile came in at 6:38, and it felt pretty good. I felt good on the uphill climbs and took advantage of the first significant downhill in mile 2, hitting 6:30 for the mile. The plan had been to run this mile a little faster with the downhill knowing what was to come. When we turned the corner onto a new road, I could feel the crosswind but continued to push knowing that another big descent was ahead. I felt like I was slowing on this mile but was pleasantly surprised when my watch clicked 6:35 despite having a side-stich come on during this mile. Shortly after, we turned onto another road for over a mile straight into the nasty headwind. I felt myself slowing down here and couldn’t get my body to move any faster. 7:06. Oof. I knew the headwind and gradual uphill was partially to blame here but something just seemed so off with my body and sure enough, I looked down to see my HR was already in the high 180s/low 190s. Not good for so early in the race. I took a Maurten on course around mile 4.5 and it was tough to get down with how cold it was out, but I managed to eat it all shortly before mile 5 which hit at 7:08. Ok, at least we were consistent, but it was at this moment I knew that this was going to be a rough road back to the finish line as paces weren’t exactly getting faster. Mile 5-6 contains the first significant climb of the race and it felt significant effort-wise; the last time I ran this race, I was able to pick up my pace once I got over the hill and into the descent on the other side, but this time I felt like I was just coasting down the hill trying to catch my breath again. 7:42. Wow. What the heck is going on and how embarrassing is this to start having all the people I passed in the early miles come catch up to me again and blow by me.

Despite slowing down so significantly, my heart rate stayed in the 180s here (and the rest of the race) even as I was running paces that I can usually hit in an easy long run. I stayed consistently slow for a few miles and when I was around 7 miles in, I heavily considered dropping out because this appeared to just be a slower and slower push to the finish with not a whole lot of added value in fitness, but thought about how we don’t just quit things when they’re not going our way and more pressing that I’d still have to walk back to my car so it was faster to just run. The feeling of frustration that my body wasn’t cooperating was more masked by the feeling of embarrassment. At just the right moment, my friend Marie who had told me her pacing plan Saturday came up next to me encouraging me to go with her. I shared several strides with her and tried to keep up, but she looked so strong and continued pulling ahead. Her encouragement, however, helped bring my pace down to a 6:56 mile for mile 9, my first sub-7 since mile 3. I tried to keep the momentum going by taking a second gel, only to rip it open and it still to be sealed. I yanked on it with my teeth and still couldn’t get it open, so I never got my extra fuel. That was a note to self to bring extras to Boston in case this happens again; I nearly laughed out loud with the cluster that was this race day.

I knew having run it before that the most challenging part of the course would be miles 10-12 as they are pretty uphill and on this day, into the headwind. At this point I was just clawing my way back to the finish line to be done but my pace slowed to low 8s for the last 4 miles; physically, I didn’t have much more to give, and mentally, after such a terrible race, I didn’t want to give a whole lot more. I do like having a finish line kick, however, so I pushed my pace down to 6:30 to close it in. 1:38:05. My worst half marathon finish in 5 years (in a race I was trying to race myself, not pace others) but in the moment I didn’t care a whole lot about that and was mostly just happy to be done. I downed lots of Gatorade at the finish and waited knowing Karly wouldn’t be too far behind. I was excited to see how happy she was about her race and that really lightened the mood. She invited me out to brunch with her sister and husband and it was so nice to chat with them and share some laughs over coffee and skillets!

When I got home, Ross was gone for the day with some of his own plans, so I had some time to be by myself and decompress. I felt like I had made my peace with the day, but in the early evening the sadness found me and I sat with those feelings the rest of the night. No tears, nothing like that, just a feeling of being pretty bummed out by the whole situation. Looking back on it now, I know it was too ambitious to try to go run my fastest time in conditions that have never worked well from my body, and I regret not listening to the voice inside my head more in the week leading up to the race telling me that I should adjust my strategy for this race. I told myself it was me being nervous about racing again trying to give myself an out, but I don’t think that’s the case anymore. I know my body, the same body that ended up in a med-tent after the NYC Marathon in 2021 because of blue lips and a low body temperature from having had to sit out on Staten Island for 3 hours in the 30 degree weather the morning of the race and never recovering from that during the race. That same exact feeling I felt at that race after about 8 miles is what I experienced yesterday when my heart rate was sky high even as my pace got slower and slower. If I could go back and do things differently, I think I would’ve started off at marathon pace and worked my way down from there, with the secondary goal just being to average marathon pace across the whole course. Instead, I think I burned my body out way too early in the cold and it was just never able to recover from my heart rate spiking so quickly which ultimately led to running the majority of the race at a pace I usually do easy long runs at but at a much higher effort level.

As I type this today, I feel tired, but not sore even despite all the hills (700 feet of gain and loss in this course). It tells me that one hand I did give it a hard effort yesterday, but that I’m stronger than that performance after all the hill training I’ve been doing and workouts I’ve been hitting. My confidence is still in tact and bad days happen because we can’t control all of the variables that race day brings. I’m hoping to put this experience aside for the rest of the cycle and use it more as data for future runs and races; it could mean deciding not to line up when the windchill is in the single digits in the future, or if I do throwing any sort of fitness expectation out the window and running off of effort. On the plus side, running the distance did remind me just how much I love the half marathon so I hope to put some more of those on the calendar in the future!

I have four more weeks to sharpen up and hopefully get a couple more confidence-building long runs in. The journey back to 26.2 hasn’t been easy and I don’t love sharing about all the lows, but I know I appreciate when people share the whole journey and not just the highs so I hope that by doing so it helps paint a more realistic picture of what a whole training cycle looks like. Hopefully there are more highs to share in the weeks to come!