I have goals for every race in which I compete, sometimes several. Almost always, one of them is to improve over my last performance in that particular event or over that particular distance. The Bridge the Gap to Health half marathon on May 12 was one of my "A" races for the year. I wanted to greatly improve my road half marathon time; I set that goal last fall. I have run 2 such races prior to this year, both at this event. In 2008 my time was 1:52:32 and in 2009 I finished in 1:45:38. In the meantime, I ran two trail half marathons, but none on the road. As my training progressed and I tested myself, I calculated my training paces and predicted finish times. Based on my recent 5k time trial, depending on the method of calculation, my predicted half marathon pace was 7:30 - 7:33/mile. So, that was my goal--the lower end of the range, of course--challenging and a great improvement, but according to the science, doable.
After a quiet late summer/early fall 2011, I starting my base training for 2012. My original plan was to run a spring marathon before this half, but had a few setbacks that convinced me to postpone, yet again, my first marathon. However, I was able to keep my mileage at appropriate half marathon training levels. Since I started early, was making better nutritional choices, and doing more strength training and cross training, I got to my race season weight a lot earlier than most years. Of course, this improved my running economy by carrying less weight. Obviously, the strengthening had other benefits as well. During this time I also learned more about running form and applied it to my own running gait which definitely helped. This is how I arrived in race week--lighter, stronger, faster, more efficient--I was supremely optimistic about my ability to achieve my race day goal.
Working at the race expo on Friday night at the NuFIT For You table, chatting with fellow competitors, friends, acquaintances, and colleagues was an enjoyable evening. It also helped to increase my level of excitement--I probably could have raced about 7:00 that evening. I was pumped up! Anyway, after the expo I went home to carb load--no pasta for me; I prefer rice or potatoes. This time it was home-made chips, as my Scottish wife would say, and a veggie burger--minimal meat for me on pre-race day too. As is my usual routine, I hydrated with bourbon. It has anti-inflammatory properties dontchaknow? I was up after ten, which is uncommon, but I rarely sleep before a race anyway.
This night was an exception. I slept well and was up soon after five, feeling rested. I started my half-caff espresso--I drink decaf most of the time, but like a jolt on race morning--and my oatmeal. Most of my race day gear was ready the night before, but I checked everything again. After chillin' at home for a while, I made my way to Clat Adams Park for a pre-race photo op with some of my spring runners who were racing or cheering. Then, I warmed up, had a gel and some water and made my way to the starting line to wait for the cannon shot. I seem to enjoy race days more and more as I get to know so many fellow competitors. It's so much more festive when I see dozens of people I know in the crowd and can share words of encouragement.
My plan was to average eight-minute miles during the first three or so miles until I descended the hill out of Riverview Park, then gradually work my pace down to an average of 7:30/mile. That meant, pulling back three seconds/mile for the last ten.
As I said I was feeling good, but my optimism increased a bit more when, after the cannon fired the song on the PA was "Don't Stop Believin'" by Journey which always makes me smile. Then! When I remembered to turn on my iPod over the first bridge, it was again the first song that played. (don't hate) I started off a bit fast, but wasn't too worried. I thought eight-minute miles was a bit conservative anyway. I was also banking time on the downhills when I could. I started off back in the crowd to prevent myself from trying to keep up with all the rabbits at the front, but I passed a lot of folks as I traveled west. As we turned around in West Quincy, the crowd had thinned out and everyone seemed to be settling into their strides. My pace was 7:4something at this point, so I eased back a bit. Then, I flew down the hill after the bridge and made my way to Riverview Park. I do a lot of hill training so I picked off a few people here, then flew down the hill on the other side banking time. I was still around 7:4something, so I backed off again. Soon after, I decided I needed to make a quick pit stop--I didn't think I'd drank that much--but, wasn't too worried. I thought the short rest would slow me down and help prevent bonking.
Now I was entering the tough part of the course--the monotonous section. I settled in and spent a lot of time with a few other runners who were in my age group so I could keep an eye on them. I walked through all the water stops, being sure to stay hydrated. I took a gel about fifty minutes in. At the turn-around, it was time to speed up. I was somewhere around 7:45/mile with about five miles to go--I had to make up three seconds/mile to finish at my goal. Basically, I was on schedule, but it was time to get to work. I was getting warm too without the headwind, so the shirt came off. I started to get uncomfortable around mile six or seven and it wasn't getting better. My feet and ankles and thighs were talking to me. So, I had to do a lot of talking back, reminding myself of my goal and telling myself to leave it all out there and have no regrets.
The miles left dwindled and my average pace lessened, but with great effort. I kept checking in on my form and making small adjustments. Heading back into town on the final stretch, I was able to see everyone still behind me on their way out. It certainly broke up the monotony. But, on a more positive note, what a boost I got from all my friends! The smiles and gestures and encouraging words from everyone as I struggled pushed me to soldier on. Of course, I did my best to reciprocate as well. As a result, that was one of the easier sections of the course for me. That got me over the hump.
I had another gel in there at some point, which I hadn't planned to do. It just felt right and it was available on the course. With 2 miles to go, I was around 7:35/mile. Doing well, but more work to do. At 1 mile to go, I was around 7:32/mile, I think. That little rise leading up to the railroad tracks seemed larger than I remembered, but I was nearing my goal. I. Was. Not. Quitting. Speed up! Finish strong! I will feel nothing when I finish on my goal pace.....
I put my shirt back on as I neared the finish. Since I'm self-sponsored by NuFIT, I figured I needed to represent at the finish line and display my NuFIT shirt--just like pro cyclists in the leading breakaway who zip up their jerseys during the final kilometers of a race. I saw a guy in front of me I thought I might try to catch. I knew he was younger than me so it wouldn't affect my age group placing, but I needed someone to pull me home. During the final quarter mile or so, I was gaining on him, but I couldn't catch him. Regardless, I finished strong. I pushed stop as I crossed the line and checked my average: 7:29/mile (after uploading to my computer, my report showed 7:30--it must have rounded up.) Jackie gave me my medal. My wife was nearby (she had walked the 10k.) I put my hands on my knees to attempt to stay vertical, but had to show her my watch. I had met my goal and left nothing in the tank. I think my eyes were even a bit misty I was so pleased.
Official results: 1:37:15. 7/27 in the 40-44 age group. 18/153 for all males. 20/410 overall. (Official results had me at 7:26/mile, but my Garmin showed only 13.0 miles.)
That's my report, but what does it mean to you? First, set challenging, but realistic goals. If you train appropriately, you can achieve them. If you're achieving your goals too easily, maybe you're not setting goals that are lofty enough. Second, one can continue to improve into your forties. Age is just a number. Don't think you're too old to improve.