I finished my first half marathon almost 10 years ago, in my home city, running from heartbreak and toward some promise of happiness. I didn’t care a wink about time; my 2:21:44 (a 10:48 minute per mile) was meaningless to me in the shadow of such an athletic accomplishment.
Things are a little different now. I ran my seventh half marathon on Saturday, thousands of miles south, and in a different time zone. The winding route through ocean harbors and along palm tree lined streets reminded me of the circuitous routes life takes.
The race, the Women’s Running Half was over in a flash. I was home, showered, and back in bed, trying to sleep, by 9 am. I was too wide awake, however, so occupied myself until my support crew woke up for coffee and an edible reward.
As I entered my new half marathon best into my racing log, I was reminded of one of the things that keeps me doing this. Things like getting up at 5:15 to meet friends at Rose Canyon, or hitting the uninspiring treadmill, and somehow finding pleasure in it. Because 2:21 becomes 2:15, which becomes 1:51, 1:49, 1:44, and finally, 1:38:18. It’s measurable progress that’s not common in many other areas of my life, which reside, as expected, in a much grayer zone.
Even more than my time, it was the execution of a plan and a clear goal that pleased me most. I was methodical, leaving only a small margin for “feel.” My goal pace was 7:38, just what I needed to break 1:40. I planned to go out at a conservative 7:45 pace for the first few miles, but once I started running, the mid 7:30’s felt totally doable, “comfortably hard,” if you will. I promised myself to stick to that pace until at least the halfway point. I glanced down obsessively at my watch every few seconds for my pace, not wanting to leave anything up to a subjective feel. (Since I run a lot of hilly routes, I don’t trust myself to know what a flat 7:30 feels like). Around mile 6 I picked it up ever so slightly, aiming for 7:15-7:20’s, and told myself that I would not flirt with a 10K pace until mile 10. (Thankfully I had a recent 10K in my muscles for accuracy.) When that time came, I didn’t quite have it. Miles 11 and 12 started to hurt, and the final mile was a full-on mental battle. The woman I ran the last 400 yards with assumed the role of personal coach, whispering motivational phrases to me like “it’s all mental now,” “you’re right there, girl. Just what you’d expect from the sisterhood at a women’s-only running event.
I crossed the finish line, and was reported to have seemed disappointed. I guess at one point I thought I was going to run a 1:35-1:36, but that was a secondary, or “secret” goal that just wasn’t part of my day. Later, the wise advice came: part of maturing as an athlete is learning to be pleased with your accomplishments. Always thinking you could’ve done better can pollute the satisfaction of working hard to reach a goal. Plus, races offer all kinds of extra gifts, like free data (ie: pacing, heart rates, etc.) you can use to set better goals in the future, not to mention confidence in a well-executed plan. A few hours later, a friend texted me to tell me I’d won my age group. Never in a million years would I have imagined seeing my name at the top of running age-group results.
In less than 10 years I’ve gone from a 10:48 half marathoner to a 7:30 half marathoner. It’s a very simple progression that’s bringing me an unusual amount of happiness right now. And that is one of the reasons I run…
and bike, and swim.
What a satisfying weekend. Racing, two chatty recovery rides with friends, celebrating with friends and homemade pizza, an easy swim, and a candlelit yi yoga class last night that I’ve termed “nap yoga.” I’m refreshed and ready for another block of hard training—just as long as the old legs comply.