Last year I paced the Spirit of Columbus Marathon and I remembered thinking, damn I wish I was racing this. The weather was good, the course is a net downhill (About 210 feet of uphill and 378 feet of downhill creating a net drop of 2.42 m/km), and much of it is shaded. Race management could use some work, but overall it was a good race. So when I was deciding which half to go to to get an idea of what kind of endurance fitness I had this fall I decided this would be it. In addition past years the race had offered a decent prize purse which usually drew some serious competition. I was hoping there would be a good field to help push myself as well as take the pressure off. My last decent half was last fall at Buckeye and I do not feel I performed as well as I could due to putting too much pressure on myself. So with all that in mind I found myself on the road to Columbus this past weekend.
They canned the prize purse this year so the field was not stacked this year giving us mere mortals a chance to shine a bit. Columbus has some speedy chicks though so I wasn't sure what to expect place wise. Given the course is point to point and relatively fast I decided I should be somewhere between 6:10 and 6:20 pace. The great thing about having a slow for your fitness half PR is that even if I didn't meet those pace goals I would still have a significant PR. My worst case scenario goal was to break 1:24 since that is the standard for running the Columbus Marathon as an elite and I want to start right up front there this year.
I was lucky to be able to stay with a pacing friend that lives 15 minutes from the start so I got to bed early and up and to the race with no problem. In retrospect I should have woken up an hour earlier. By go time I still had to pee (for the umpteenth time) but had to go without because the porta potty lines were not moving and I needed to get to the start. So note to self at the marathon wake up 3 hours before go time and no more liquids after 2 hours to go. On the plus side I was definitely hydrated and had no problems with cramps etc.
The race started at 7:30 and thankfully the hot weather held off until later in the day. Still warm enough to get disgustingly sweaty, but humidity was low and for most of the race I was comfortable.
The half marathon distance is great because you really don't have to run at an aggressive pace, you never go completely anaerobic, you won't really ever suffer like you do in shorter races where you have to push your aerobic boundaries, and you won't run out of steam like in the marathon where you can run into endurance issues. The key is to find that sustainable pace and stay mentally focused throughout.
I was comfortable with my goal, mostly because during the week leading up to the race my legs were getting this twitchy feeling they get sometimes when I am ready for a breakthrough. So despite my struggles with tempos at paces slower than the goal I had a good feeling.
I lined up about 4 rows back from the start with another Second Sole runner and we awaited the gun. And we were off. I watched 3 or 4 girls take off quickly and knowing one was capable of a low 1:16 just let them go. A group of about 4 or 5 women and a few men were around me for the first mile. It seemed like the effort was good and despite starting a little quick I was sure we would settle in and this would be a good group to work with.
We hit the first mile and the clock read 31:30 something. It was awfully quiet so I made a crack about how it didn't feel like that mile was that slow. This seemed to break the tension a bit and got a few of the other gals talking who had run the race last year. In reality the mile was around 6:10 which was right in the ball park.
During the second mile I decided to pull forward with another gal who had been talking. I asked her just how "fast" she thought the course was and she said that she felt it evened out with the uphills. She had run a 1:24 there last year and was looking to do better. I stuck with her for about a mile but it was clear she wanted to push the pace so I let her inch ahead. Second mile was a little slower around 6:16. Just tried to focus on settling in. The next two miles had a long downhill before heading onto a bike path in the park. I was sitting about 20-30 meters behind the girl and trying to keep that gap from getting any wider. 6:14 and 6:09.
Through the park miles 4-6 I settled in a bit and was just gliding along. I could hear someone breathing pretty heavily gaining on me. It seemed awfully early to be working that hard. But this young girl passed me and I practiced patience letting her go. I then remembered there was a relay and wondered if maybe she was in the relay. Clipped off two 6:17s rolling through the park and got caught by a pack of about 5 runners that I had started with. I had decided I needed to catch up to the first girl I started with and upped my effort to stick with this pack and used them to get by the two girls by mile 7. (Neither of which were in the relay)
Mile 6 (I swear I am running 6:17 pace here even though it looks like I am walking)
There was one girl in the pack and I did my best to stay ahead of her. Miles 7 to 9 were rolling downhill and I did my best to pull ahead of the group (6:10, 6:09). But mile 10 was a slow false flat and the group once again caught and passed me as I clipped off 2 miles at 6:14. Again I decided to practice some patience and stick to my strengths (not uphills!). At 10 I did some math and realized if I could run a 20 minute 5k I would finish in 1:22:30. I knew I could keep the pace under 6:20 if I kept my effort up. It was warming up and the last 3 miles are the most boring part of the course. All in the sun and industrial.
I kept telling myself that I had sub 18 5k speed and I could close on the group if I worked on reeling them in. I missed the watch splits but knew my effort was there as I clipped a 6:15 to mile 11. I had trouble getting water at the aid stations and it was getting warmer but thankfully they had ice cold sponges which at least helped to cool me down! And a nice lady had water bottles which I was able to successfully grab for a quick drag.
Two miles to go just keep moving! I still wasn't gaining on the group but I was catching the stragglers. Unfortunately all guys. 6:13 to mile 12. 1.1 to go, let's turn it on Elizabeth. The group was starting to push and for a brief second I thought there is no way I can catch them, they are working together and I am by myself, but I pushed it out of my head and just focused on reeling them in. I asked myself what I would be doing if the girl ahead was in 1st and thankfully my response was I'd be doing exactly what I was doing right then, running as hard as I could to catch her. Hit mile 13 in 6:06 as I caught the female in the group. I encouraged her to push with me and told her we could break 1:22 if we hustled through the uphill (that's just cruel!) finish. We kicked it in and of course she was local so they are announcing her name and that she is a local TNT coach so of course I feel like a chump when I beat her to the line by one second.
But I felt much better when I realized I had just run a 5 minute personal best. 1:21:51. Right in the middle of my goal pace range at 6:15. Also puts this at my best race of any distance to date. Even if you handicap it a little bit for the net downhill it would have been solidly in the 1:22 range. I was very pleased with my effort. I was engaged the entire race, and when I needed to step it up and get out of that 6:17 box to pass those two girls I did. It would have been really easy to settle in with them and lose a good minute or two off my final time. I'm very greatful that group came along when they did, even though we had different strengths and never ran together it was helpful to have a target when they were ahead and it was good fuel when I was ahead to keep pushing. I ended up as 4th female (First three chicks were in a race all their own finishing in 1:17 to 1:19) and 30th overall. Not a bad morning. What can I say Columbus has always been good to me. I now have 3 different distance PRs residing in Columbus.
Other than some hot spots on my feet I had no race soreness or cramps etc. It is so nice to run a race where the only limiter is your fitness and mental capacity to push yourself. My last long race was Boston and believe me it still doesn't sit well with me to have what should have been an amazing day turn into a complete struggle because my quads gave out and forced my mind into self preservation mode. It was great to be able to push my physical and mental boundaries on Sunday and let loose. I've still got a lot of work to do but this was a huge step in the right direction. Big confidence booster and more fuel in the fire!