I've heard a lot of people say that the races that they're most relaxed about end up being the best races they've ever had, but I had never had that experience - until the July 14 inaugural Jamestown half-marathon.
I've written at length about how I wasn't putting any pressure on myself for this race. I didn't think I'd PR, given the possibility that it would be hot and humid, which always slows me down. And I wasn't really aiming high. My only real goal was to come in somewhere around 1:45, and I figured I'd be able to pull that off without too much pain and suffering.
With a 6:30 a.m. start time, and a 20-minute drive to the start, I found myself in my kitchen at 4am eating my standard pre-race coffee and bagel. I was still happy for the early start, though, since the forecast for later in the day was predicting temps near 90. Avoiding that was well worth getting up at 4 a.m., as far as I'm concerned. And driving over the Newport Bridge at sunrise was an added bonus.
Shuttles were lined up and waiting to take us back over the bridge into Jamestown, and that process went very smoothly. Unfortunately, things weren't so great when we got to the start and found that there were no porta-potties anywhere.
No porta-potties at a race start is a recipe for disaster. Everyone was dumbfounded, and even though an announcement was made that the porta-potties would be arriving within a few minutes, the surrounding woods were quickly put to use, with runners ducking in and out with as much discretion as possible. When ya gotta go, ya gotta go....
The race start was delayed five minutes because of the porta-potty fiasco, but there were no further delays. At 6:35, the gun sounded, and we were off.
I had planned to wear my Garmin and shut off the display, so that I'd have my splits recorded but not showing while I ran, but I was never able to figure out how to do that. So I just turned it on and wore it upside down on my wrist and hoped I'd have enough willpower to not sneak a peek at it.
The weather turned out to be pretty much what I expected - warm and humid - but thanks to cloud cover, it never got too horribly hot. The air was very thick, though, and there was actually a very light drizzle for the first few miles.
The drizzle actually felt kind of nice, and I was a little sad when it stopped. There were a few spots where it looked like the sun was going to come out, but thankfully it didn't. It would have been far more uncomfortable if it had - even so early in the morning, it was already close to 70 - plenty warm enough - no sun needed.
I had read some info about the course last week, and knew that it was a hilly one. That didn't intimidate me too much, though - I run hills often in my training runs, and I wasn't gunning for a big PR, so I was just going to take whatever came my way and do my best.
We got right to it with the hills, too - several just in the course of the first few miles. They weren't steep, but they were long. And they didn't slow me down too much, but they did tire me out just enough that as I was approaching the crest of each one, I'd be thinking to myself that I really didn't think I could take much more - then I'd be at the top and happily flying down the other side, and sighing with relief.
That proved to be the theme of the day, as the hills were pretty much relentless. There were some flat stretches, but not many. I made sure to use those flat stretches to really settle into my pace and make sure I wasn't pushing too hard (or backing off too much).
Running unplugged - no music, no Garmin - proved to be one of the most eye-opening experiences I've had as a runner. I love my numbers and I love my music. I love checking my pace as I'm running, and I love it when one of my favorite running songs comes on and I feel instantly energized.
But I learned yesterday that I also love NOT constantly checking my pace, and not constantly telling myself "too slow - better speed up," or "you shouldn't be running this fast - you'll never be able to maintain this pace."
I learned that I can trust my body to do what it's capable of, and I don't need to constantly monitor that, nor do I need a song to get my adrenaline flowing.
Without seeing those numbers every few minutes, there was no opportunity for that inner dialogue of self-doubt, and that was one of the best things about the entire day. Never once did I doubt that I'd be able to hold the pace I was running. I felt good, and I was just taking it one step at a time, and if I felt I needed to slow down, I would. It was so freeing to not be a slave to those numbers ticking away on my wrist.
There were a few times where I backed off a bit, and I didn't stress about it. It was what I needed to do, so I did it, and when I felt like I was ready to pick it up again, I did. So simple, so easy, and so stress-free.
For 13.1 miles, I just ran at a pace that felt comfortably challenging. I was working, but I wasn't pushing myself to the point of collapse. And I was enjoying the sounds of footfalls around me, and the scenery we ran past (I was a bit disappointed there weren't more ocean views, but it was still a pretty nice course), and in some ways, I was even enjoying the hills - crazy, right? It really was a very zen-like experience for me - I reveled in every aspect of this race, and was amazed at how great I was feeling.
In all honesty, though, it wasn't a completely numbers-free race, because there were pace clocks at every mile marker, which I never ever expected. I thought they might have one at the halfway point, but never imagined them at every mile.
At first I was kind of annoyed - this was messing with my goal of running without number-crunching. But as it turns out, it was just enough information - I knew I was keeping a pretty good pace, but I wasn't seeing those individual splits, so I wasn't getting stressed about each mile being either too slow or too fast.
As I cruised along, I felt a hint of fatigue starting to creep in around mile 10. But knowing there were only a few miles to go helped get me through the next few hills.
I was definitely starting to tire, but the mile markers still seemed to be coming up pretty quickly, and before I knew it, I was at mile 11. And even though I didn't want to crunch numbers too much, I knew full well when I saw the time on the mile 11 clock that I was on pace for a pretty nice PR, and I wasn't about to let that go.
So I took it up a notch for mile 12 and 13, and passed quite a few people down this stretch. I was tired, and glad there were only two miles left, but still feeling surprisingly strong. As I headed around the final corner, I could hear the finish line cheers and the announcer, and I picked it up again for that last stretch.
After the never-ending ups and downs, it was very nice that the last .1 to the finish was all downhill. I sprinted in with the clock reading just over 1:41, and knew I had just run those 13.1 miles more than 2 minutes faster than I ran New Bedford, but I somehow felt 100 times better.
I was kind of dazed at how fast I had just run, and how good I felt, and now that I had crossed the finish line, I allowed myself to flip my Garmin over and see how it had all played out : 7:50, 7:33, 7:45, 7:50, 7:44, 7:58, 7:36, 7:43, 7:48, 7:52, 7:23 (nice pace for mile 12!!!!), 7:32, 6:11. Not as consistent as I'd like, but given the hills, I think I did a pretty good job of pacing myself - far better than I thought I would.
I had hoped to meet up with some fellow Rhode Scholar bloggers after the race, but it turned out that they were both sick, so our meetup never happened.
I did stay long enough to check the results, though. I never imagined I'd place in my age group (I have at several small, local 5Ks, but never at a larger, long-distance race), but I always like to see where I placed anyway. So I was kind of shocked to see a number 1 next to my name in the age-group column!
I was already on a runner's high that felt like it would last for days - now it felt like it would last for weeks! I don't think I stopped smiling for the entire walk back to the shuttles, and the shuttle ride back over the bridge to Newport.
Not only did I pull off a huge PR and an age-group win, but I had a great race - one where I felt amazing the whole time, and truly enjoyed myself. Not a moment of self-doubt, not a moment where I felt burned out and exhausted and wanting to stop.
I'm not going to run every race without my Garmin from this point forward, but I am going to run more races without it. This experience gave me a lot more confidence in my ability to pace myself and listen to my body, and I'm just as proud of that as I am of what I accomplished, time-wise.
Inaugural Jamestown Half-Marathon stats:
PR by 2 minutes and 17 seconds!!!
1st place, 40 - 49 age group!!!
10th female / 301 overall
59 / 574 total
So, with that, I've now completed two stops on the Triple Crown, and had two vastly different race experiences.
And now that I've managed to run a 1:41 half, I am determined to break 1:40 in Newport in October, and will soon beging plotting out my training schedule to ensure that I meet that goal.
Oh, and I just happened to plug a 1:41 half-marathon time into the MacMillan running calculator, and it just happens to predict a 3:33 marathon for me.
I know full well that this is just a prediction, and I can say from my past two marathon experiences that that prediction is typically about 3 minutes off from where I usually finish. But allowing for those 3 minutes would still give me a 3:36 marathon, which would be good enough to get me back to Gansett in 2014 : )
For more from Michelle, check out Me and the Boys, her blog.