I felt confident going into Sunday's Highland Half Marathon. I've been having a strong month of runs, capped by a 20-miler a week prior. Also, I had two strong workouts the week before the race, giving me confidence that I could run a sub-2 half marathon.
The problem was the course itself. I'd heard that it was a difficult course, made that way by the hills. But I was ready for the challenge nevertheless.
There were two obstacles in my way, though, before the race even started. One, my stomach. I'd been having issues with it for the last few days prior and the issues hadn't subsided Sunday morning. Two, I'd visited my brother on Saturday night and stayed way longer than I'd anticipated and wound up getting about three-plus hours of sleep.
Still, I felt charged for the race, felt ready to run, ready to challenge myself. Once the race started, I felt grand.
The first part of the race was uphill, for a good half mile. But once we turned a corner it was flat and then downhill but quickly we worked our way over to the first of two tough stretches.
At 2.1 miles in, the elevation was 1400 feet. By 5.2 miles, it had changed to 1879 feet, which meant for those 3.1 miles I'd climbed 479 feet. And I felt it. My paces weren't slow necessarily given the conditions but they were slow enough to have me a bit concerned about my time. I hadn't wanted to run hard uphill for fear of having nothing left on way down so I paced myself.
After that initial stretch, we actually went downhill for about a mile and my paces reflected it. Instead of seeing paces in the 10-minute range, I saw some low-9s, even went into the 8-min range.
But then disaster struck. At 6.2 miles we'd worked our way down to 1755 feet of elevation. The turnaround was at 7.1 miles and we'd gone up to 1937 feet. In less than a mile then, I'd climbed 182 feet. I felt it. I was dragging uphill and didn't bother to look at my pace for fear of dejection. (I looked at the stats way later and I'd indeed been all over the place, from the low 10s and well into the 11s)
At the turnaround I glanced at the time. I was nearing 1:09, which threw me off. I'd have to run six miles in about 50 minutes if I wanted to have a chance of a sub-2. I'd figured that I could run the last portion, which was mostly downill, in the 8:40-min range, but that would not get me my sub-2.
Sigh. What made it worse was that there was some uphills yet to conquer. That stretch between the two toughest climbs? Well, it was a climb now. But once we got back to the long downhill I felt comfortable once more. Mentally I felt strong. Ready for this challenge. I was running hard, it was all downhill from here.
But I wasn't moving fast enough.
It was difficult to know that my sub-2 had slipped away. Like watching a ship sail away over the horizon, I knew my goal time was gone. Within reach, technically yes, but realistically it was way out to sea with no way for me to catch up.
It took me a bit to get past that feeling. I tried to rile myself up and I did. I started to feel it in my legs, to feel that kick that had eluded me. And then my water belt fell.
My water belt decided to throw in one final obstacle. I felt it get suddenly loose on my waist and then it came crashing down. I had debated wearing it but chose to wear it because I was unsure of what sorts of fuel they'd have at the water stops. I only wore one bottle so it hadn't bothered me until then.
Oh well. This was perhaps a final reminder that the sub-2 goal was gone but I still tried to run hard. I ran the last four miles in 8:44, 8:18, 8:43, 8:40, not bad considering the mishap.
Of course, the final portion was indeed uphill and I wondered how devestating it would have been to have lost my sub-2 on this part. Better to have lost it midway than to have lost it so close to the finish.
I charged up that hill though, giving what little of a final kick I'd had in me. When I turned the final corner and raced in to the finish I did so while hitting a sub-7 min pace. Even if it was for a little bit and even though it did not feel that fast, I was happy to have closed it out with a bang.
My final time was 2:02:52 which in and of itself is not a bad time. It was at least 2:53 slower than I'd wanted but I finished my half marathon, finished the race strong and got my medal; perhaps not the race I wanted to run but an accomplishment in and of itself.