I completed the Cox Rhode Races Half-Marathon - the first leg of the United Healthcare Triple Crown - Sunday, and I can honestly say that it was one of the most rewarding race experiences I've ever had.
I offered a while back to pace my friend Deb who was also running, and helped her put together a training plan and provided moral support and encouragement through the ups and downs of her training cycle.
As race day got closer, we reviewed her time goals, and I knew that I would be able to run the distance at the pace she was aiming for, but I was a little nervous about whether or not I'd prove to be a good pacer. It's something I've never done for anyone, and never had anyone do it for me, either, so I didn't have any experiences to draw from.
In the end, though, I figured that I should just do what I imagine I'd want a pacer to do for me - keep me on track, and keep me motivated.
Race-day weather was beautiful - cloudy and relatively cool (low 50s). I was kind of wishing the sun would come out, but as it turns out, it was nice that it didn't. The few times it did peek through, it immediately started to feel much, much warmer, and we were glad to see the cloud cover reappear and stick around for most of the race.
We lined up at the 10:00 pace marker, as that was our plan for at least the first eight miles. I've never been so relaxed at the starting line of a race - it was nice, but felt kind of odd, too.
A friend of Deb's was also planning to run with us, and I snapped a few pictures as we waited at the start. I decided Friday that it would be fun to bring my camera and try to take some pictures during the race - something I've never done before, because I'm always too busy running as fast as I can, and not wanting to waste a single second.
The gun went off, and it was a good 30 seconds before we crossed the mat, but then we were off, heading along the river and chatting away.
It's a very different experience running toward the back of the pack. Things are a little less serious, and a lot more chatty. Everywhere around us, people were talking and laughing. It was fun! That’s not to say that I don't usually have fun when I race - I do enjoy it, but in a different way.
But I was definitely enjoying this, too! There were a few times during the first mile that we were going a little too fast, but in the end, we ran it in 10:06. The second mile got away from us a bit - we ran that one in 9:46. But we quickly got it back under control for miles three and four, both of which came in at 10:01. And at Mile 4, our time was just over 40 minutes, so we were right on pace.
Everyone seemed to still be feeling pretty good at this point. We had run a few of the hills on the course, and I tried to beef up the encouragement during those :)
The course has a decent amount of hills, but most of them are pretty gradual inclines, so they don't really affect your time all that much - they just sap your motivation. I was doing my best to keep everyone upbeat and get them over those hills without feeling too beat up, and I think I was doing an OK job.
We ran miles five and six at 9:59 and 10:08, and at some point in there, I ran ahead to snap a picture. I had hoped to take a few more, but once we picked up the pace after mile 8, I wanted to stay right with Deb and her friend. But I'm glad I got at least that one shot.
Mile 7 has the longest hill on the course. Again, not terribly steep, but loooooooooong. We got over it, though, and it only slowed us to 10:20 for that mile. And we cruised along for Mile 8, finishing it in 9:52.
This was when Deb had planned to pick up the pace, and she was ready for it, so we agreed that we were going to push it to 9:45 and see how that was feeling.
The only problem is that we suddenly found ourselves running a 9:00 pace - oops! As soon as I saw that, I let everyone know, and we got ourselves back down to 9:45 pretty quickly, and ended up finishing Mile 8 in 9:52.
I didn't want to push too hard, but I was pretty sure Deb had a little more in her, so I worked hard to keep us closer to 9:45 for Mile 10, and it worked - 9:46.
We were heading into the bike path section now, and back towards the city. Just a 5K to go. I didn't want to really push the pace too early, so we settled in for a 9:42 for Mile 11.
Going into the race, Deb had hoped for a sub-2:10, but had a "B" goal of 2:15. I knew she'd get her "B" goal no problem, but I wanted her to get under 2:10. Even before we started running, I wanted that for her, but then once we were out there, her goal became my goal. I wanted that sub-2:10 for us just as bad as I wanted my 3:38 in Gansett.
And as we headed into Mile 12, and I was watching the clock and running numbers in my head, and I knew we were going to be really, really, really close to sub-2:10, I got that same feeling I get when I'm chasing down a goal of my own, and it was tough for me not to start sprinting to try to get us there. But I also knew that I had to make sure that we saved some energy for the final stretch.
I knew Deb was getting tired. Mostly because she told me she was! But I could see it on her face, too. But I also knew that she was not going to throw in the towel. Mile 12 beeped at 9:26.
And as we crossed the Mile 12 marker, we were at exactly two hours. I thought for sure we had the sub-2:10, but I didn't want to take any chances, so we picked up the pace yet again.
I glanced down at my Garmin and saw that we were well under a 9:00 pace, and I knew how bad Deb must have been hurting at this point, but we both knew that we were so close to that goal, so we didn't back off.
And I didn't tell her how fast we were running. Throughout the entire race, I had given very frequent updates on our pace, but now, I knew and she knew that it didn't matter - she was giving it her all, and it would either be good enough or it wouldn't, but she would walk away knowing that she had left it all on the course.
As we hit the 13-mile mark and approached the final turn, I still wasn't entirely sure whether or not we had done it, since my Garmin time and the clock time were not in sync, and I wasn't sure exactly how far off they were. But I wasn't about to mention that, because we were still going to go for it, no matter what.
We ran the final .1 at an 8:10 pace : )
As it turns out, our official time was 2:10:58. Not the "A" goal we were shooting for, but a 15-minute PR for Deb. FIFTEEN minutes!!!!!
I am immensely proud of my friend, who faced numerous setbacks with her training (due to illnesses, asthma and other roadblocks), but who stuck with it and ran a great race, and is well on her way to a sub-two-hour marathon in the not-so-distant future.
And I am so grateful that I had the opportunity to experience the race from this perspective. Helping someone achieve their goal is every bit as rewarding and satisfying as achieving your own - maybe even more so.
It was also just plain fun to be out there with a friend, sharing those 13.1 miles, talking and laughing, making the miles pass so much faster.
And since this was a much slower pace than I would normally run a half, I'm feeling great today, and basically counting it as a long training run. It's awfully nice to come home from a half-marathon and feel like you have energy to spare!
I'll be back to my usual racing self at the next Triple Crown race - in Jamestown, in July - but I'm really glad I kicked things off this way.
For so long, running was such a solo endeavor for me, but I'm happy to be finding ways to make it less solitary. I'll still savor the times I run alone, because I do need that quiet in my crazy busy life, but there's so much to be gained from running with others, and I'm glad I'm finding that side of it, too.
And because I always post the numbers -
139 and 140 of 275 in our age group
1299 and 1300 of 2700 overall