While it's fun to race in a new location, there's something to be said about familiarity and close proximity to home. Such was the case Sunday as I was running in the local Mission Inn Run. I woke up at 5 a.m., tossed and turned until 5:35 and then got up to get ready. By 6:10 I was in my car, and by 6:20 I was looking for a parking spot.
The Mission Inn Half Marathon offered a close location to home but also offered the chance of running another half marathon, my third of the year and fourth all-time. I had been going back and forth on whether I wanted to PR or not and ultimately decided I was going to go for it but knew that it was possible, likely even, that I would not come close.
While the Mission Inn course was relatively flat, it was not flat and fast as Long Beach. Add to that the wind that was blowing in from the north and it was going to be a challenging race.
I walked around towards the start area, ran into some friends and hung out for a few minutes. Then, I warmed up by running almost back to where I'd parked and then back towards the start line. All told, I ran about .8 mile, which worked out great.
Once near the start line, I felt the usual pre-race excitement. I was happy that I was running yet another race and trying to soak in the moment of what would be my final race of 2010.
The horn went off and the half-marathoners spilled forward onto Market Street. Very early on I had to dodge around plenty of other runners. The street sloped downward and helped my time, but I was also eager to get out in front and set a strong early pace. But after one mile, I felt I'd come out too fast. I'd run an 8:04 mile right off the bat and needed to slow down. Mile 2 swung us around a park and back through some residential areas, and at 8:42 was a more comfortable and manageable pace. I felt good, felt strong and did not feel any wind.
The course took us right by the entrance of my beloved Mt. Rubidoux, a place I've run sparingly since the spring, when it became a once-a-week fixture on my racing calendar. I felt the urge to run on the path briefly, just to say I ran on Mt. Rubidoux during a race.
We meandered through some more residential areas until about Mile 4, when we went around the base of Mt. Rubidoux, and the course was then a paved bike path. Eventually I came up behind the top of Mt. Rubidoux and saw the flag and cross that are prominent displays atop the local landmark.
At this point, we crossed the place that was the turn-off for the 10K. The 10K course deviated back through the park we originally ran through, past some houses and back towards downtown. That would await us near the end, but before then we had to run about four miles along the bike path, turn around and run four more miles back.
Miles 3 and 4 were run at 8:44 and 8:30 while Mile 5 was at 9:13. Most of Mile 5 was run with the wind blowing against me. While the houses and the park had offered protection from the wind, I was out in the open on the bike path.
I plugged along though, trying not to think about how awfully far it would be before I could turn around. I tried to keep landmarks in mind for the return trip. The course took us under four streets/freeways, which was about the only protection we had from the wind. I'd turned my hat around early on so it woulnd't be a casualty of the run. Somewhere along the path, the wind blew a hat clean off the runner in front of me. I reached for her hat but couldn't get it and she had to dart backwards to grab it.
I wasn't sure how to run in the wind. I tried to keep my arms close to my body, tried to stay compact but didn't want to throw off my mechanics.
But the wind wore on me. Mile 6 (8:54), Mile 7 (8:47) and Mile 8 (9:26) were all run into the wind.
I'd wanted to be at Mile 10 before the 1:28 mark. I figured if that were the case I could give it a good final three-mile push to get close to the 1:55 I needed to PR. So Mile 9 then meant some pushing and I ran it in 8:17, which was encouraging. But it also seemed to take a toll on me. The next mile was at 8:55 and I was at about 1:29 when I finally got to Mile 10.
Still, I felt strong and felt encouraged by that. In Long Beach, I felt like I was stuck in the same speed, a not-too-fast speed, for the final 4-5 miles but I felt like I had a kick in me this time. I wanted to stay strong, stay at my pace and then pick it up for the last stretch.
Mile 11 (8:43) was done and I finally was off the bike path shortly after. Originally, I wanted to pick up the pace here, once I was done with the bike path and close to the finish. But that did not happen. I didn't have much left and wondered if the wind had indeed won the battle. Mile 12 (9:13) was tough mentally but I kept reminding myself that it was my last race of the year, that it was only a small amount of time before I'd be done, that I would be upset with myself if I didn't give it my all here.
Now, earlier Mrs. LB had called and told me she was setting up with the girls. That was the big carrot dangling in front of me. I wasn't sure where they would be but figured it would be near the finish. I hoped that their presence and cheers would give me the energy I'd need to tear through to the finish.
The final mile was probably the toughest. This one was the only one that featured any sort of hill, and it weighed on me. I trudged up the hill and while I was giving it a good effort, my speed was not exactly there. Finally I turned the corner and had to keep running at an incline but only briefly.
Up ahead I saw the girls. Mrs. LB had the camera poised and ready and the girls were cheering loudly.
"Go Daddy! Run Daddy! Yay Daddy!"
Both the girls had their hands in the air, smiling broadly, jumping up and down, and their energy was the boost I needed. I didn't feed off it right away but once I got back on Market I went into a sprint. Mile 13 (9:06) could have been worse but I picked up the pace enough to make a bit of a difference. Finally the last corner was ahead of me and I was giving it all I had at that point. I saw the finish line, saw the time was at around 1:56:xx and knew that I was in fact not going to PR.
But it didn't matter to me then. I knew I had given it everything I'd had in me, knew that I ran a strong race and felt happy about my effort.
I tell this to my girls all the time: "It doesn't matter to me if you win or lose. What matters to me is that you give it your all. As long as you try your hardest, I'm happy."
So I took my own advice. I tried my hardest (my muscles constantly reminded me of just how hard I'd tried) so I had no reason to not feel happy about my effort.
What made the race a truly unforgettable one, however, was this:
How could I not be happy when I've got this kind of support?