“…The important thing is not to stop questioning.”
My original goal for the half distance at the Santa Rosa Marathon last Sunday was an 8’30” pace. But with just a single 10 mile run and inconsistent weekly mileage over the last several months, on top of nearly a week of crickets before race day (camping vacation = no showers, no running, no yoga, no nuthin), I knew that my expectations needed adjusting. As I began to contemplate this, on Wednesday I developed an uncomfortable stomach issue (seemingly food-related?) that lasted for days. Then good ol’ Day 1 of my cycle kicked in Saturday morning. At this point I was completely thrown for a loop.
Then we had that earthquake and I was like now WTF?
Anyway, I happened upon a lightbulb moment race eve: I could sneak in a PR with an 8’45” average per mile. Given my recent training paces, I felt instinctively confident about maintaining this for quite a while, although I couldn’t be sure that my current level of endurance fitness could handle it all the way to 13.1. But I wanted to cap off the summer racing hard yet smart, without over- or under- estimating my ability (well that’s always the trick, isn’t it?). Anyway, the 8’45” idea sounded potentially challenging but not intimidating, so that’s where I landed. Of course, this was all assuming my recent stomach pain cooled off (and miraculously, it did).
During the early morning drive from San Francisco to Santa Rosa I solidified this strategy: Start with the 2-hour pacer, warming up with a 9’00” average for Miles 1-2, then lock in race pace until mile 10, and finally kick it up for the final 3.1, shooting for 8’30.”
Mile 1-2 8’45” / 8’38”
I lined up right in front of a compact, bubbly woman holding the 2:00 sign, but when she explained that early congestion might cause the group to hit mile 1 at about 10’00,” I decided to run on my own instead. I worried that too much restraint would mess with my momentum. So I began controlled and even, but faster than expected. 8’43” average. There I was, running the planned race pace, no turning back. I told myself to settle in.
Mile 3-5 8’44” / 8’46” / 8’56”
To be honest, the course itself is nice and pretty, but nothing to write home about exactly. An out-and-back along the The Santa Rosa Creek / Prince Memorial Greenway Trail. During these miles we passed pastures of cows, horses, vineyards, and wild turkeys. Peaceful, if a little boring. I enjoyed the nice weather, the quiet path, and continued running happy miles. My pace and effort felt even, and I was happy that my guts (literally) were cooperating.
Mile 6-10 8’55” / 8’49” / 8’45” / 8’45” / 8’56″
As usual, I’d set the default numbers on my GPS watch to show mileage and clock time, allowing myself to check in on my average pace at each mile marker. This technique has traditionally worked for me, providing insight into reality while avoiding obsession. But as I watched my average slip from 8’43” to 8’46” and then 8’47” — I started to panic, and disparaging self-talk flashed over the ceiling of my mind like heat lightning. How much I suck, I slow I am, how the could I even dream of a sub-4 at CIM… You get the idea. Employing canned positive mantras to help battle the evil thoughts was somewhat effective but also mentally exhausting (“You can do it!” “Don’t quit now!” “Stick to the plan!” “Keep control!”).
Around mile 8, in an effort to calm the hell down, I made a little deal with myself and adjusted the plan: I would begin the “kick up” phase at mile 11 instead of 10, and use this extra time to get my shit together before turning on the heat.
Mile 11-13.1 8’43 / 8’34 / 8’29”
Tough miles, tired legs. I kept telling myself I could still PR, that I was so close. Not to give up. Don’t faint. But don’t be a wuss. Keep breathing. Stay strong. All of that crap. By mile 12.8 I was heaving and moaning like a beast, it was all very dramatic, and running past a final stretch of spectators felt a bit self-conscious. But in the moment I wanted my freaking PR more than I wanted to not be embarrassed in front of strangers.
Official Finish: 1:54:48
8’44” average pace and a 40 second PR.
I’m neither excited nor particularly disappointed by this time. Mainly, I regret not sticking to my training plan, as I feel I could have better maximized by 5k speedwork to achieve a more dramatic PR. But, hey, we can’t change the past. So as far as my performance based on the reality of my actual training — I am comfortable that I made the right decision on pace. My goal was to run fairly even splits with a small kick at the end, and that’s mostly what happened. I pushed it at times and kept it together (by threads at times, but still attached), and come away with some good lesssons to carry me into fall. Overall I’m feeling strong and excited to really commit to my CIM plan!
A final note: I am not a fan of race expos, and usually find it inconceivably boring to read or write much about them. But the packet pickup at DeLoach Vineyards was certainly a highlight of the Santa Rosa Marathon experience. Exploring the beautiful grounds and indulging in a free taste was a real treat! And while I’m usually more interested in my registration fee going towards organization and post-race food, I admit that the “Runners Blend” wine was a very cool piece of swag. I also enjoyed the double spinner medal and the zip-up hoodie. Nice goodies!