Weeks before the Seattle Half Marathon was on the horizon, I knew that it wasn't going to be the power-through PR race that it's been for me the past couple years. It was two years ago in this race that I gave it my all on a rainy morning and finally clocked in under the 2 hour mark. Then last year, with the ego booster of a PR at the Nike Women's Half Marathon just a month and a half before, I rocked through the hills, leaving everything I had in me out on the race course and clocking a time almost 7 minutes faster than the 1:59 I had eked out the year before.
This year was nothing like those last two races. When I woke up Monday morning, a week before the race, I looked at the challenges put before me (some I set before myself, others unavoidable):
1) A month and a half of very little running. When my knee started giving me troubles in mid-October about a week or so after the Portland Half, I decided to stop running for a while. I was mentally, and obviously physically burnt out. I took up hot yoga for a bit and ignored my running shoes for longer than I have in quite a while. When I started coaching Spring season for TNT, I got back on my feet a bit, but not much. I had few runs outside of coaching runs, and when I did they were less than 2 miles and very slow.
2) A bum knee. Things with the knee have been touch and go lately. The pain is barely noticeable some days, bearable on other days, and somewhat debilitating on others. I've been choosing whether or not to run/how far to run based on how it's feeling throughout the day. I've seen two PTs, and neither have suggested a complete break from running, so I'm still trying. I've been doing my butt exercises and strengthening my hips according to the PT's orders, but things are progressing at a snail's pace.
3) Tired muscles. Here's the self-inflicted challenge. Sunday morning, a week before the race, I decided to go on my first trail run (a birthday run for a fellow TNT coach). Keep in mind items 1 and 2 above, then imagine me on an 8.5 mile trail run with a ridiculous amount of elevation gain (we summitted 3 mountain peaks), and then just as much elevation loss. The downhills killed the knee, and my muscles worked harder than they had since my half-Iron. I woke up Monday morning feeling pain on a level with post-first marathon pain. Then Tuesday hurt even more. I hobbled through the week and could still feel soreness when I ran with my elementary school running club kiddos in the Seattle Kids Marathon Saturday morning before the half.
|Look at that gorgeous group of trail runners. The pain was worth it. And,|
according to Darren, this picture was taken by the lead singer of Death
Cab for Cutie, who also happened to be out on a trail run that day.
I thought about this advice long and hard as I ate Thanksgiving dinner on Thursday, watched the Apple Cup on Friday, and ran the Kid's Marathon (just 1.2 miles, not as daunting as it sounds) on Saturday. Then Saturday afternoon, as I was volunteering in the TNT booth at the race expo, I told Erica that I had decided to do the race at a 5:1 run/walk. Somewhat surprisingly, she agreed to do it with me (she was also coming off a few weeks of very little running and wasn't expecting any big PRs this race). While Erica is a wonderful running buddy and supportive friend, she is also one of the more competitive people I've ever known, so I knew this walk/run thing might not go over well. But she graciously swallowed her desire to run as best she could and committed to tagging along with me. What an awesome friend.
While this was not ideally how I wanted to be running this race, it was what life had dealt me. So, instead of being upset or disappointed, I decided to look at it as a new opportunity. I've heard lots of good things about the run/walk method, and I'm coaching people who are using it. Why not give it a try myself?
After eating a delicious pasta dinner Saturday night with Erica after volunteering, I headed home and straight to bed. I didn't prep my race belt. I didn't take out my race outfit or pin my numbers to my race shirt. I didn't "dress the chair." In every aspect possible, I was more unprepared for this race than I had ever been for any other race.
Sunday morning, I woke up, feeling as though this could be just any other long run. I layered up (it was supposed to be very cold and very rainy), found all my race items, pinned my race bib, and headed to the start line with Erica and Ana. We broke the 5:1 news to Ana, who had only decided to do the race that Friday. She also graciously gulped down the news and said she'd give it a try.
We went to the TNT tent to meet up with some other Teammates and hide out inside before braving the cold.
|Me, Ana, and Erica, bundled up and "ready" to race. I wore my sparkle|
skirt, because I needed some sparkle strength (sparkle strength
is derived from this amazingly strong sparkly lady--the "therapy" she refers
to in her race recap is in fact chemotherapy.)
|Ironman Jason started with us. Yes, he is wearing a tutu and got a|
lot of amazing shout outs from runners and spectators alike for it.
The first few miles went quickly. I had set my watch to vibrate at me for my run/walk intervals, so I kept everyone hard and fast to them. While running down 5th Ave toward I90, we were hit with some pretty strong sideways gusts of wind (one so strong that Erica lost her hat), but that was the worst of the weather we saw through the entire race. The impending storm never showed up.
Once on 90, as we made our way toward the tunnel, Ana sped ahead of us. The walk breaks were hurting her hips, so we shooed her ahead of us. Some luckily timed walk breaks got Erica and I through the tunnel (and the TNT cheer/water stop) and down the steep, slippery hill off 90 onto Lake Washington. Taking the left onto Lake Washington, I knew that we had the biggest hills looming up ahead of us.
My knee had started hurting a few miles in. It wasn't too bad, just a dull ache, but it was certainly there. Also, we had really upped the pace on some of our run intervals and my legs were feeling like lead. My initial instinct, as we ran through Leschi, was to get mad at myself for being tired and hurting. But it wasn't my fault. Not being tired and not hurting was never a part of the plan for this race.
So instead of turning to frustration, I slowed down and looked around. The Seattle half is a beautiful race. Although it's hilly, it's a great course. And the energy of the other runners on race day cannot be beat. I decided to absorbed it all. I was out there running--doing one of my favorite things on one of my favorite race courses. I pushed the negativity deep inside and ignored it. This day was a good day.
We hit the start of the big hills, taking a left up Galer (super steep 2 block hill) and then a left onto Madison. A walk break hit at the bottom of the Galer hill, which I sincerely appreciated. Erica, who likes powering up hills to get through them, sped up ahead of me and waited for me at the top. We ran the Madison hill together (which seemed easier than it ever has before even though I didn't get any walk breaks on it) and continued down through the Arboretum.
When we hit the big hill to go up Interlaken, Erica powered up it again to wait for me at the top. I told her I'd probably walk most of it because my knee was hurting, so she knew I'd take a little longer. I made it to the top, physically feeling surprisingly ok (except for the knee) and looked around for Erica. When I didn't see her, I figured she'd run ahead to the TNT mission mile, which we knew wasn't too far ahead.
When I got to the mission mile, I slowed down a little to look at all the remembered angels we were running for.
|Heather, Erica's sister, was one of the first signs I saw. The butterfly I wore|
on my shoe that day was for her.
For the rest of the race, I waffled back and forth between enjoying the beauty and expecting Erica to catch back up to me at any moment. When we finally saw each other again at the finish line, I found out that she had waited for me for 10 minutes at the top of the hill before she decided to keep going. And then she felt guilty the rest of the race, worrying that she had possibly left me behind injured on the hill. Again: best running buddy ever.
In the final miles of the race, I settled into paces that felt comfortable. I saw Ironman Joe, who ran with me for a bit, reminding me to take it easy, especially on the downhills. For once, it was advice I had already been following and took easily.
I cruised through the final couple miles, sticking to my 5:1 interval and feeling pretty great (other than the knee pain, which had dulled a bit since the middle miles). I crossed the finish line in the stadium at Seattle Center in 2:09. The last two times I had crossed that finish line, I was exhausted, drained of all energy, and dizzy. Not this race. That's not what this race had been about.
Obviously, finishing 21 minutes slower than my PR, this was not my best race. And as Erica reminded me later, nor was it my "worst." But when I thought about those 2 halves I had run that were worse, "worse" wasn't really the adjective that fit. In 2008, I ran my first half marathon in a 2:16. This was in no sense of the word a bad race. I was more proud of myself than I had ever been. Then the Goofy half, Erica and I strolled through in a 2:30. This was fully on purpose and in preparation for the marathon we were running the next day. And it was in no way my "worst" race. In fact, to this date, it was the most fun I have ever had in any race.
In terms of time, no this was not a great race. It was not a soul-testing, will-pushing race. But I hadn't expected it to be, and I was not disappointed in myself in the least. I ran smart. I was taking care of my body, my knee, and being realistic about what I could handle endurance-wise. I didn't finish with that wonderful "I gave everything I had" feeling, because giving my all that day wasn't what was healthy for me.
I'm patting myself on the back. Look at me making smart choices about my addictive running habits.
Sunday was a great race. It was a race unlike any other. A race that I ran/walked, that I tried hard not to push myself in, that I didn't hit a wall in, and that I enjoyed every minute of. All in all, I'd call that a success.
The desire to run is officially back in full force. It's about time.