These were the words of wisdom from my coach at my last workout before flying down to Arizona for the Rock and Roll Arizona Half Marathon. I had been whining about how long it was going to take me to complete the race. I missed close to two weeks of training due to illness. My longest training run was only nine miles. My LSD pace was in the 10:30/mi range. I told him that I’d be lucky to finish in 2:10, and it would likely be 2:15 or 2:20. He told me that I should be able to finish at the 2:00 mark – it’s a race, not an event. Follow your plan and expect to be sore when the race is over. I kinda smiled and said ok, and internally thought, “yeah right”.
On race day, I woke up at 5:30a to start fueling for the race. I actually had a fairly decent night of sleep – an anomaly for me the night before a race. The hotel café was open, so I ran down and grabbed a bagel and some fruit. After eating, I started to mentally prepare myself, slowly going over my gear to make sure nothing was forgotten. The cool part about this particular hotel – I could see the starting corrals from my window. So I stayed in my room till about 20 minutes before the race (which meant no pre-race restroom lines!)
The temperature was a concern coming into the race with a cool morning expected then warming up fairly rapidly. I decided to go with just a long sleeve shirt – no gloves or throwaway sweatshirt. As I made my way to the starting corral, it was clear that I made the correct choice. I wasn’t cold at all – in fact, I started to wonder if I’d be too warm by the end of the race.
My strategy for the race – try for negative splits. Shoot for a 10:00 min/mile for the first three miles, 9:00 min/mile for the next three miles, and then listen to my body for the rest of the race. I planned to fuel much more frequently than I had in the past – a hammer gel every 3 miles.
And I was off! I started by following the plan, and held close to the 10:00 min/mile pace. This was a bit foreign to me, as I usually go hard at the start before falling back into a more maintainable pace. The first three miles were easy, except for one small problem – I needed a quick restroom break.
The restroom break – there is a huge amount of strategy in this. How long are the lines? How many porta-potties are there? How many people are in front of memaking future lines longer? If I stop too soon, will I have to stop again? After considering all the variables, I found a stop that seemed to have a good line/porta-potty ratio. It still cost me around two and a half minutes…
At the three mile mark, it was time to speed up my pace to 9:00 min/mile. I was surprised at how easy this transition occurred. In fact, I had to keep myself in check a bit as I was going too fast. It was a good thing, as my legs started to fatigue a bit. When I made the 6 mile mark, I tried to bump the speed up again and only got a little bit more.
Around the eight mile mark, the legs started to feel it. At this point, all I could hear in the back of my head was “it’s a race, not an event”. I did a mental assessment of my body – my legs were tired, but they didn’t hurt. Cardio wise I was not breathing hard (I did not check my heart rate at the time, but my watch put it in the mid 170s at this point, which is on the high side for me). I decided to hold a 9 min/mile pace until mile 10, at which point I’d push hard for the last 5k+ of the race.
I also remembered looking at the course profile – the end of the race was downhill, so picking up my pace would be easier. So I crossed the ten mile mark and sped up, all the while the words of my coach repeated over and over in the back of my head. My legs were tired, but I pushed on. With about a mile left in the race, my legs really started to burn, I had to dig deep to make it. My pace dropped off a bit, but not a ton. I pushed through the finish line and looked at my watch…
2:01:10 – I guess my coach was right after all.
(my splits can be found here)