Last night I made a valiant attempt to get to bed early in preparation for my 4:00 AM wake up. I hit the sheets at 9:00, with the dog (I hoped) happily snuggled away in his crate. Sometimes I let him sleep with me, but I know I get better rest when I’m not sharing space with him. Sure, he’s only a 12-pound dachshund but somehow he always seems to take up more than half of my bed!
Of course, The Dog chose last night to whine and yelp for over an hour before finally settling down. Partly I think he was reacting to the sounds of my upstairs neighbors’ party (of course, OF COURSE they had a party last night), so I don’t blame him too too much. Anyway, after he finally settled down, I couldn’t get my mind to settle down.
The night before a race is like the night before the first day of classes in a new semester, or the night before an out-of-town trip: I’m too excited to sleeeeeep! I lay awake until well after midnight, and reluctantly got out of bed at about 3:45, a little before my alarm. I was just not sleeping that soundly.
The pre-race morning routine involved making my favorite breakfast of an Ezekiel English muffin (whole sprouted grain is nutritionally AMAZING for you), almond butter, and fruit spread. I had a cup of coffee at home and one for the road. I picked up my friend and “race sherpa” for the day, Brunbec, and we hit the highway down to Montgomery at about 4:30. That’s an early effing morning.
Parking and check-in were a breeze; I got my numbers and my timing chip and had a successful trip to the restroom at the host hotel. “No port-o-lets for me,” I thought to myself! We hung around a while, B. ate some breakfast, and I made one more trip to the facilities before heading out to the start line.
This was only the second annual Montgomery Half and there were over 1100 runners in the race! I lined up in the middle of the pack, observed a moment of silence with the other runners, watched the wheelchairs and hand cyclists start (so impressive and inspiring), and then slowly jogged my way to the start line.
There was a little hiccup with my Garmin – it went into sleep mode while I was waiting in the starting corral, so I had to re-start it right as I crossed the line. It would be a few seconds behind the actual race time the whole way, but it was really no big deal.
My race plan was to start out running 10-minute miles and just see how it went. If my injured hip started acting up again, I could slow it down. If I felt good and had the energy I could pick up the pace in the second half of the race. I kept to this plan for approximately two miles.
In mile three, I wound up unintentionally picking up speed on a slight downhill and kept on going at my faster pace. In mile four, I realized I had to stop at the port-o-let despite my best efforts. It was as minimal a detriment to me as it possibly could have been, though: I’d been speeding up so I felt like I had “time to spare,” whatever that meant, and I came upon the port-o-let just as a man was exiting and there was no line. I was in and out in maybe 30-40 seconds.
As I kept going, I managed to hold my pace to 9:30-10:00 miles. I kept waiting to start hurting and to have to slow down, but it didn’t happen, really. I joked yesterday about not being able to hold a pace under 10:00 for 13 miles, but to my incredible surprise, that seemed to be just what I was doing. My hip wasn’t tiring, and my hamstrings (a typical problem area for me) weren’t really hurting yet either.
Things got a little tougher in miles 8-9. When you are waiting to hit mile 10, it seems simultaneously like you should be almost done and yet like there is still so far to go. As I rounded a corner in mile 9, though, I wound up on a downhill stretch and found myself chatting with a couple of guys around me. We were happy to see that downhill, let me tell you, and happy as well that there was “only a 5K” remaining in the race.
Sidebar: this is the first long race I’ve done without music, and I really enjoyed the occasional chats with runners around me and being able to hear the race officials and spectators on the sidelines. I may never go back to running with headphones!
The last 3.1 miles included a massive uphill just after mile 10, when I briefly saw my pace hit 11:40-ish. I was being cautious and not charging uphill as usual, trying to follow my doctor’s advice about treating the hip and the hills with care. I and my pace recovered from the hill, of course, but the remaining miles saw my hamstrings really tighten up. It was more work to keep to my desired pace, and I could really feel the pain.
“Hello, pain,” I thought to myself. “I’ve been expecting you. Come run with me.”
What’s that? Oh, just an incredibly cheesy little mantra I picked up from The Non-Runner’s Marathon Trainer. It’s a very helpful book for training for distance running. It contains a schedule (which I haven’t been using – using an online one instead), but the best parts of it deal with the cognitive-behavioral psychology of running. One of the best things they go over is the way we talk to and about ourselves. In my half marathon back in February, I used a little paragraph about myself, written during training, that I repeated over and over throughout the run. I won’t type it here, but I do still have it memorized. Sounds silly, but it works. I wouldn’t lie to you about running, you know!
The spectators during those last miles were awesome — so many people with boomboxes blaring (“Eye of the Tiger” was a favorite for me to hear), handing out snacks and water, and screaming for each and every runner who came by. “Lookin’ good, 865!” someone yelled at me.
The final mile led us around and into the Riverwalk Stadium, where Montgomery’s Biscuits play baseball. We passed under a huge pink arch and ran through the grass of the outfield on our way to the finish line. I heard my name called out as I crossed the first timing mat — this is one of my favorite moments in every race ever, and to have it called out over the baseball stadium’s PA system while I ran through the cheering crowd, well. This is one reason why we race.
My friend B. was there to capture the whole thing on
film pixels, so we have her to thank for all these photographs. Thanks, B! And thank you for getting up at the crack of dawn to ride down there, cheer me on, and drive me back home.
My final time was better than I’d had any right to hope for. Had I never gotten the hip flexor strain/inflammation, I would have been training to break 2:10 for the race. After having taken two weeks off and knowing that I’d have to treat the hip with caution, I predicted I’d finish between 2:15-2:30. I was hoping only to beat my February race time of 2:29:31. It was a good thing B. showed up early at the finish line, because I kinda smashed that.
My official chip time: 2:07:07
My average pace: 9:43
Rank: 51 of 95 in my age group (30-34 Female)
(If you want to see the course route and all my mile splits, you can do so at dailymile.)