Roughly five weeks ago, I met with my coach to talk though the possibility of training for the Rehoboth Half Marathon, given my long pause on running all together. I successfully gained 15 pounds all the while logging ZERO miles a week. Well done.
He and I agreed that it would be good to get something in the books and we had enough time to help me regain some of my fitness. I did, however, need to make peace with knowing that a PR wouldn't be in my reach. I needed to be 'okay' running one of my slowest half marathons. I sighed, eventually realizing that this was my reality.
I trained through those weeks, never missing a key workout, maybe skipping one or two bullshit rides. On my speed work days, I tried to give it everything I had, all the while managing that little voice in the back of my head. The voice that told me 'you were much faster before'; 'you were much lighter before'.
I continued to modify my nutrition to deal with my IBS, but the weight remained. I did feel like I was getting stronger over that time. I left each workout feeling more confident in my abilities, even if my shorts didn't fit. I began to look forward to my workouts, instead of dreading them. Again I embraced tempo (no matter how laborious) and long runs.
On Thanksgiving, I was assigned an hour workout that I took to the track. The middle segment (following a decent progressive warm-up) was nothing but a 30 minute tempo. As with most of my runs, I focused on nailing the pace with an eventual negative split. I couldn't tell you if that actually happened; it probably did and then, more likely, I did my best to negatively split the run. Regardless of the details, I was sure as shit proud that I finished that workout. Certainly, I was ready for the race.
As expected, the week leading up to the Rehoboth trip was enough to make me crazy. I left work later than expected Friday after noon, but still needed to zip home for the final pack. I shoved a bunch of shit in the car (mostly organized through the pre-meditation packing process), without any lunch. In three hours, countless stories, deep conversations and a quick trip to Dunkin Donuts, I, and another Crazy, descended upon the marathon expo like a pair of newbie runners. We exhausted ourselves, spending all of twenty minutes in the expo tent, requiring the need to fuel at the Dogfish Head pub across the street. Following a few libations, one appetizer, two pocketed coasters, and purchases at the shop, we motored back to the condo in anticipation for the arrival of the remaining tribe members. A bottle of wine was cracked opened and enjoyed during the preparation of our pasta dinner. On the dot (9:03 pm), the door blew open with enough baggage to cause agita at airport security.
I hit the pillow at 10:30 pm with a nervous stomach, only to rise at 4:45 am with the warm scent of crock pot oats. I loaded my bowl with oats, followed by a few high carb toppings (ya know, per my sports nutritionist). I retreated to my bedroom for a 'get ready' ritual which included some slow, focused breathing and gentle stretching. I put the finishing touches on my race gear only to top it off with the sexiest AF bathrobe from my first pregnancy. I figured (a trick from a friend) that the best throw away attire would be the bathrobe - easy on/easy off and warm as shit. Boom. Instant hottie.
The weather was perfect for a race. The temperature was around 40 with a light breeze, but absolutely frigid in comparison to the lack of clothing I donned under my robe. With 30 seconds to spare, I unzipped the conversation piece and tossed it into a donation bin. Unfortunately, the race started five minutes late; I felt a lot of heat could have been maintained by the robe. #RIP
I took a deep breath; the tribe of three exchanged good will and off we went. I reminded myself that I had no expectations (I, strangely, had no goals from my coach), but in the deep archives of my mind I wanted to come in under 2 hours. Would the weather affective me negatively considering most of my best times were in the worst conditions (NYC Marathon 2014, NJ Marathon 2015)? Ahhh, it was the best of times in the worst of times. Pure literature.
I maintained a good pace, gradually increasing the speed over time. My legs felt great and not once did I hate the run. By the time I hit mile 7, the cheering squad (heard for at least a 1/2 mile back) greeted me with signs, screams, and lots more cowbell! It was the boost I needed to push me onto the trail. My pace continued to increase, noted by the volume of runners I passed along the way out. At the turn around, I really started to strategize my plan for the remainder of the race. If I could maintain tempo at 30 minutes in a workout, I could certainly pick it up for 3.1 miles to shave time off for a sub-2 hour finish. So I did just that.
Before mile 10 (still on the trail), I pulled off my hat and continued to increase my pace. After the 10 mile marker, I mentally put my head down and narrowed my focus to do work. Shortly after landing back on the road, I encountered the best cheering section (again), tossed my hat, and gave a quick high five to a mittened hand.
I glanced at my watch somewhere around mile 12 for a time check. I figured there would be a few minutes of wiggle room, but I couldn't lose steam. For the first time, I knew that I had to make it hurt. One mile left, I continued to pass people all the while maintaining my focus. I can honestly say that my form never faltered; I was stronger than ever. With a half mile left, I dropped the proverbial hammer and went all in. I lost my hearing, only to hone in on the boisterous words of the 2 hour pacer ("SUB 2 HOURS, COME ON! SUB 2 HOURS, COME ON!). For the shortest moment, around the last turn, I was halted by a runner who practically stopped in her tracks. I navigated around her, pumped my arms and let it the fuck rip. I sprinted to the finish with less than 2 minutes to spare. Like a reflex, I stopped my watch, crossing the timing mat in a blaze of glory.
I started to black out as the world vibrated around me. I grabbed a metal from a concerned looking volunteer and pushed my way out of the finishing chute to get some air. My legs buckled as I collapsed on the cool sidewalk. I got my bearings only to be reunited with one of my own whom I reached for in a sobbing embrace. I was beaming with joy. Never have I raced that hard, even with my faster times. I've made mention before that I'm slowly coming back from the dead. And goddamn it, I am! Oh, and so did that robe.