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USATF Half Marathon Championships: Incremental Gains

On Saturday I raced the US Half Marathon Championships, held in conjunction with the Cap City Half Marathon in Columbus, Ohio. It seems super weird to write about a race that happened more than 48 hours ago, but I had the extremely rare luxury of not even packing my laptop since I didn’t have any work to do!

It was also a rare luxury to not have to fly to a race. Columbus is only 2.5 hours from Indy, so I drove over with another Indy elite on Thursday afternoon. One perk of driving is that I can pack a ton of food and not waste the time, energy, or effort of finding a grocery store once I reach my destination.

After settling in Thursday night and chatting with my roommate (I have been so lucky to have great roommates on the circuit), I made dinner: two Barilla microwavable pasta bowls. These were surprisingly good, and also surprisingly Anna-friendly. After dinner I relaxed in the hotel and watched way too much Married at First Sight with my roommate.

I woke up around 8 on Friday and headed straight to breakfast. I met up with a few friends, and wound up heading over to a coffee shop (Red Velvet Cafe) with Andie. I had the best honey lavender latte of my life while Andie and I caught up (I haven’t seen her since the 15k!).

After my fun coffee date I went for a 4 mile shake out run along the river path. Dave and I were in Columbus in 2013 to see The Postal Service and we both really enjoyed the city. It was fun to recognize some of the same sights. My legs felt surprisingly good.

Next was lunch, and I’m sure I looked pretty weird putting together my microwaveable rice bowl with a can of salmon and a can of green beans while everyone else ate the catered lunch of sub sandwiches. I met up with my other friend, Obsie, and we caught up on the patio of a cute restaurant while a Civil War reenactment shot cannonballs nearby.

It’s funny how these days become totally packed. After lunch with Obsie I went back to my room and did my nails to kill time until I had a tea date with another friend. Before big races I like to paint my nails bright red. I think I do this because in high school I had read something once that said athletes who wear red perform better. I don’t know if it’s true, but it’s kind of a fun tradition.

Next I headed back to the hospitality suite to meet my friend Emily and we also ran into Becki in the process. I know I’m not alone when I say that one of the best parts of racing is seeing the friends you have made. I love how we can turn the competition on and off, and we all understand that once the gun goes off it doesn’t matter if we drank coffee together the day before or if we have plans together afterwards, it’s everyone for herself- at least in those final miles.

I usually don’t get nervous before races but I was uncharacteristically nervous for this one. So much so that I had a last minute session with Coach Dean. He brought up something that I really liked: breakthroughs happen as a result of a calculated risk that we take. Our brains weigh the pros and cons of the risk, and we can’t let the central governor keep us in our comfort zones by declaring there are too many cons to the idea.

I tend to feel the most nervous during the technical meeting. It never feels like we are racing until they tell us what time the hospitality suite opens in the morning and where to meet.

After the meeting I met up with Dave, who was spectating for the first time since the Trials! He is the best spectator. He rents a bike and is usually able to see me 5 or 6 times during a half marathon. After I ate the dinner I brought, we went off in search of my calm-the-nerves/fuel-the-fire beer. Fun fact: one beer gets me tipsy, and I’m a very confident drunk. Part of why I like to have my pre-race beer is because it enables me to go to bed with just enough swagger while still remembering to set my alarm for the next morning.

We found Dave’s dream come true: a Donato’s with a full bar and a guy playing 90′s acoustic. Bonus for me: it had a really great sour beer on tap.

I wanted to be back to the hotel by 8 so that I could go to bed by 9. I chatted more with my roommate, and fell asleep probably watching more dating shows.

I am very lucky that I am an EXTREMELY sound sleeper the night before a race. I went to bed around 9, woke up around 5, slept through all the storms, and felt well rested.

One thing I forgot to mention: about two weeks ago I had this very random feeling that the race was going to be cancelled. This kind of terrified me. I knew I was perfectly peaked for this race, and I also REALLY didn’t want to extend my season one week longer just to find a consolation race. The weather forecast looked pretty ominous all morning. I wasn’t convinced we were going to be able to start, or finish.

Warming up there was definitely a lot of humidity in the air. This race felt almost identical to Houston in January, which had 96% humidity. I’m not someone who sweats much, and I was already regretting having worn more than one layer.

My race plan was very simple: no race plan; just run. I refined that plan a little bit the night before and decided I would run 5:30 effort for as long as feasibly possible. Truthfully, I don’t know why I even make a race plan anymore.

The second the gun goes off, everything changes. I had told myself the day before: do not go out in 5:20.

My first mile of the race was 5:20, but I didn’t really care. I felt good, I felt smooth, and I felt fresh. The lead pack was ~10 seconds ahead of us and had 8 women, and I was in the chase pack of ~10 women. It wouldn’t have made sense for me to have gone out any slower.

We went through 3 miles in 16:30ish. Honestly, I’m not positive on any splits because I didn’t start my watch. I hate racing with a watch.

Around this point, I decided to try and break from the pack. My coach has talked to me quite a bit about surging. That’s really not something I have a lot of experience doing, but it felt right that day. For the next 5 miles I would surge away from the pack and they would eat me up, and then I would surge again.

According to the race results, I was in 10th place at 5 miles in 28:01, so I’m guessing that was a point where I was trying to break away. By the time we got to 9 miles there were 4 of us left in the pack and we had caught a few women who had fallen off the lead pack.

Around mile 10 my wheels fell off. I made conscious efforts to push myself back towards oxygen debt, where my breathing was embarrassingly loud. I got to 10 around 56:50ish. I was surprised how (relatively) slow I was running for how hard the effort felt. This certainly was not a fast day due to water soaked streets, waterlogged air, and a little bit of wind.

Around this point I asked Dave what place I was in. He told me 11th. 10th was ~20 seconds ahead of me. I also knew that if I could keep it together I could dip under 75 min (I long realized my original time goal of sub 73 was not going to happen) and get a $ bonus. My new goal was to use the woman in 10th place to keep me rolling through that final 5k.

I was hurting.

Miles 11 and 12 were the longest of the race. I knew that when I got to 12 I would have to make a turn past the finish line. no big deal, I was prepared. I was not prepared for how (relatively) hilly that last mile would be, going over 2 bridges and then climbing a final hill.

Ultimately, I finished in 11th place in 75:19. Overall, most people ran ~3 min slower than they had hoped.

I think the best way to describe how I felt about my race is simultaneously satisfied and disappointed.

I am satisfied because I know that, without a doubt, I left everything on that course. I was absolutely depleted when I finished, very much in the marathon sort of way where you want to cry when you cross the finish line. I’ve seen some pretty ugly finishing photos of myself.

At the same time, I’m disappointed because I didn’t finish where I had wanted, and where I know I am capable. I feel grateful that a disappointment was still a damn good day.

Even though I was ~75 seconds from my PR, I think it was definitely a PR effort. I realize that I probably need to stop comparing every race I run to when we had perfect running weather in Houston (40 at the start, no wind, no humidity) on what is widely considered to be one of the fastest half marathon courses in country.

Also, it’s kind of cool to see how my finishes on the circuit are linear based on distance:

10k cross: 20th place 15k: 17th place 10 mile: 15th place 20k: 12th place half marathon: 11th place

This makes me very excited to see how I finish at the marathon!

After the race, I met up with my best friend from high school for brunch. Then, Dave and I embarked on a little vacation across SE Indiana and we really enjoyed ourselves. The highlight was definitely our hike through Clifty Falls and then exploring downtown Madison, IN.

I’m taking a full two week break right now, which most people find hard to believe. I’m REALLY good at recovery, though, and embrace the opportunity to not be a runner for a little while. For me, I’ve found that it’s always necessary to find what you love and let it kill you. I think I was probably right on the edge of mental and physical running burnout, so now these next two weeks I will make it by goal to get burned out on NOT running or eating healthy. I’ve pretty much got it down to a science: drink all the caffeine, drink all the beer, cuddle all the dogs, watch all the Golden Girls, eat all the mac and cheese, and rarely leave the couch :)

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