What a difference a year makes. Today is actually the one-year anniversary of my first half-marathon. Run Through Redlands '09 was on April 19, 2009. When I crossed the finish line then, I never could have imagined that a year later I would have crossed the same finish line about 18 minutes faster. Heck, I wasn't even sure if running such long distances was something I'd want to do again, particularly since I felt miserable right after finishing the race.
I've grown a lot as a runner in one year. Before last year's half, I'd run double digit miles exactly twice ever. This year, save for once (the weekend after my marathon) I've ran double-digit miles every weekend.
Still, I needed to show what I was capable of. I thought finishing the 2010 Run Through Redlands in under two hours might be within my reach.
As I drove to the race early Sunday morning, I wondered if I bit off more than I could have handled. Two hours is one thing, but to do it in a course that has plenty of hills was another. And worse, the sun was threatening to beam brightly above Redlands. Heat + Hills = BAD. That's what destroyed me last year.
I got one last-minute bit of encouragement from a blog buddy and that helped me get focused. My mind was everywhere and focusing was what I needed the most.
However, as soon as I got my bib, I was thrown off somewhat.
(side note, I'm definitely going to blog about Lois later in the week so stay tuned for that)
I ran into blog/Loper buddy Angie as we'd hoped to shatter the two-hour mark together. We ran into a couple of other Lopers as well (I'm telling you, we are everywhere!) as we waited for the race to start. I'd run about three-quarters of a mile to warm up so I felt pretty good, pretty fresh, and when the race began I felt great.
Once the race began, we were off. I resisted the urge to go fast but we still got through our first mile at roughly 8:28. Mile 2 we got done in 8:37. It was a fast clip, but not something that was going to destroy us. The course was still flat at this point, but started to climb by the third mile.
I was battling some mental monsters early on. I kept wondering if a sub-2 hour finish was attainable, wondered what I was doing out there at all and thought to myself that I did not want to do any marathons anytime soon. All this and we weren't even halfway through.
We were doing well, Angie and me. I figured that if we stayed ahead of a 9:00-per-mile pace, we'd be fine. So, just multiply 9 by whatever and we had a rough estimate of where we should be. I think we got four miles in under 34:30, so we were good. At that point, though, it was too early to worry about that, but my mind still got involved with that sort of game; and I think that's where I struggled. By Mile 6, we were smack dab in the middle of the hilly part of the course and we'd been slogging through some miles: 9:57, 9:31, 9:29.
At about Mile 8, I finally started to get out of it. I wasn't dragging anymore and I was feeling very good, recovered and hit my stride. Even though Mile 8 was mostly downhill, we still got in an 8:19 mile. Most of the course was downhill at that point.
I'd made it a goal to get to 10 miles in under 1:30:00. That way, I knew that even if we hit the wall sometime after, all we'd need to do would be to run the final three miles in 10 minutes per mile. We got to Mile 10 in around 1:28 and change. I didn't want to feel as if the race was over, but I knew that barring a major collapse we were going to get the race done.
At this point, I was very focused. I ran Mile 11 in 7:48! Angie had fallen behind but she caught up to me, and the first thing she said was "We're going to do it!" It was exciting!
But Mile 13 was rough. The street seemed to take forever, and I could not tell where the final turn was. I flashed back to last year, when I was trudging down that same street, after 2 hours 14 minutes worth of running, and seeing the corner. I didn't quite feel the same on Sunday but I was gassed.
Finally, I saw where runners were making a left turn towards the finish line. That helped give me that last little extra push I needed. When I got within sight of the clock, I could not believe it. I had imagined, dreamed even, of seeing a 1:57:xx on there, and I saw 1:56:55! I said "Yeah!" to myself as I crossed to the finish line. I turned around and saw Angie right behind me, and she was grinning from ear to ear.
We put on our medals and wore them with pride (even though she had to remind me to actually put mine on).
I really don't know if I could have done it without Angie. We weren't side by side the whole time - she managed the hills much better than I did - but having us feed off the other's energy was a big part of the race, for me anyway. She's running the OC Marathon in two weeks and is hoping for a finish time of under 4:30, and I know she'll do it.
My official time was 1:56:58 while Angie came in at 1:57:00 on the nose. And while it still hasn't quite sunk in, that I was able to run 13.1 miles at a pace of roughly 8:55 (!) it already feels good knowing that there's a one in front of my half-marathon PR time.