The title in my iTunes of my playlist for Sunday's half-marathon was titled Return to Eugene because the race--the inaugural Eugene Women's Half--covered much of the same paths as the Eugene Marathon I ran last year. Despite setting my personal best at that 26.2'er, I wasn' t sure I could PR at 13.1. I was hoping to run 1:45, which would mean averaging 8:00-miles. I was motivated and excited, yet my workouts during the week--8 x 800 and a 3-mile tempo run--told me my pace wasn't quite up to snuff. My numbers weren't radically off, just enough to let in a scintilla of doubt. Yet a great night's sleep, no race jitters, no aches or twinges in my legs or glutes, and beautiful weather meant conditions were prime for a PR.
I felt relaxed at the low-key starting area, chatting with several runners including a Masters runner who had come down from Anchorage and Laurie, the cutest mother of four ever. I had met a bunch of fun moms the afternoon before at my reading (see photo below), and one of them, Meredith, and I started running together. We both wanted to go out conservatively--in 2007, I blew my legs out in the Hippie Chick Half by going out way too fast. Yet we marveled at how effortless our 8:20 pace felt. Like we could run it all day long, barely breaking a sweat. Ahhhh, gotta love adrenaline and caffeinated gum!
I picked up the pace earlier than planned, amping up my speed to 8:05 by the first mile-marker banner, then settling to my 8:00 target soon thereafter. The race "crowd" was ideal--sparse enough to ensure no bobbing, weaving, or jostling, yet enough runners to keep the competitive juices flowing. As the course veered off near mile 4 to make a little loop, we got to see the leaders dash past us, an inspiring jolt. I eddyied out around 4.5 to take in my first GU and some nuun-flavored water from my belt. When I resumed running, I felt as fresh as a filly. I was surprised, but went with it, quickly catching up with the cluster of runners I'd been with before. I spied a man running in a pink skirt, bleach-blonde wig, and sparkly bra over his shirt, and I immediately set my sights on running him down. I'm not a fan of guys running women's events (call it a hypocritical bias), so I was irked by his get-up. About 1.5 miles later, as I gunned past him, I gave him a snide piece of advice, "If you'd shaved, you could run faster."
I kept the pedal down, and I was proud of myself for gaining ground whenever the mostly table-flat course went up an incline. I averaged 7:56 and 7:54 for miles 6 and 7, yet the week's self-doubt creeped into my head as I wondered if I'd be able to maintain my pace. I did a quick mental-scramble and called up a tactic my pal Julie of the Chubby Mommy Club loves: I mentally "chunked-up" the remainder of the race. Math is never my strong suit, but I figured I had two 5Ks left. Somehow that seemed more do-able than the second half of a half-marathon.
But as the group of women I'd been running with gained ground on me, and a few more passed me, I knew my pace was dropping. Still, 8:09s or 8:14s weren't too dispiriting. On long runs, I often have a strong finishing kick, so I reassured myself I could pull some sub-8:00s at the end to salvage my 1:45. I paused at mile 9 for another fuel break. Starting to run again, I was a mare, not a young horse fresh out of the gate. I admitted to myself I was also disappointed for another reason: This was the first running race my entire family was at (somewhere!), and I had pinned my hopes on them being at mile 9 or 10. Some of my sizzle fizzled when I didn't spy any familiar faces in the pockets of spectators.
Basically I hung on for the rest of the race, buoyed in the final 1.5 miles by encouraging one young runner to stay on my shoulder. I finally spied the fam about 150 meters from the finish line, but by then it was too little, too late. (Note to self: Give them a few cheering pointers between now and the Portland Marathon!) I crossed the line in 1:48:00 exactly, an 8:14-mile pace. It placed me 10th in my age group (a tough crowd to beat in Tracktown, U.S.A.!) and in the top 100 (92nd) overall. I'm proud of my effort, and feel it sets me up well for my marathon in five weeks.
Playing Monday morning quarterback on the race, I decided I hadn't repeated my previous mistake of going out too fast. I just had to test myself to see if I could maintain an 8:00-mile pace for an extended period of time, and I discovered, at this point, the answer is no. I also realized, though, that I can test a pace and if it proves too aggressive, I can still pull through with a proud-of-it finish. Important lessons learned, and I've tucked them into my (running skirt) pocket.