We had a gorgeous Saturday for race day, but the heat got the best of me yesterday and I almost dropped out of the race after mile 8. Instead, I decided to walk when I needed to and run when I could. To date, it was my worse half marathon, but I still managed to finish in 1:59:25 and have some fun along the way. While I know some people that had a great race, it seems the majority of us boarded the struggle bus right around mile 8. While the temperatures started out great around 50 degrees (so “feels like” 70 when running), they quickly climbed to 60 in the first hour (“feels like” 80 when running). The sun was also beating down on a course that didn’t offer much shade. Since the warmest that most of us Ohioans were used to training in was in the mid-40s, it made the situation less than ideal. Regardless, this is an awesome race and it was well worth the struggle. Going into it with no time goal ended up to be the best thing for me since it obviously wouldn’t have happened. In the end, I wouldn’t have done anything differently, my body just wasn’t into it having not yet trained in warmer conditions.
We headed down to the race early to beat traffic, park, and meet up with my training group. Our group meets in a hotel near the race course so we can all stay warm inside and use a real bathroom. We then all walk down to the start together which is nice for those of us that want to hang out together in the corral to shake off pre-race jitters.
My BRF, Courtney, showed up a little while later as we were getting ready to head down the the start. We said goodbye to our significant others and headed towards the port-a-John lines to get in one last bathroom stop before heading into the corral. Then we hung around in the corral together until it was time to go.
We started out a little quick, mostly because between the buildings our watches weren’t properly picking up GPS and we had no idea how fast we were going. This didn’t concern me, since the start of the race in the fall was uphill and I encountered the same issue and it turned out just fine. Our first mile ended up being around the same as my first mile in the fall, at 8:09. At this point we caught up with one of our past pace coaches who took the season off from our training group to be home with his wife and kids as his second child was born this year. He told us he was pacing the first 3 miles at 8:25, so we decided to stick with him for the first 3 miles.
At mile 2 it was very clear that our buddy was not pacing at 8:25, as we clocked in at 8:10. I asked Courtney if she wanted to slow down and thankfully she said yes. We waved goodbye to our pace coach as he moved up ahead and settled into a comfortable pace of 8:31 for the third mile. After that mile we really hunkered down and started to get into the zone. Mile 4 went by easily with a 8:26 pace. We were right on track. Mile 5 was in the sun and it was when I first started to feel the heat. As we rounded into the mile marker, clocking a 8:34 mile I told Courtney I needed to take my gel already. She said “I don’t blame you, it’s hot” and broke out hers. So far I had drunk from every water station so far alternating between water and Gatorade as I generally do. At this point, we were on course for a 1:50 finish. This would not have been a PR pace for me, so even if the second half had gone well, it would not have been a new record for me.
We headed down High Street battling the sun and were happy to get some shade from the buildings. Right around the half way point, I lost Courtney as I headed to the fueling station for water and she kept going up ahead for Gatorade. I decided it wasn’t worth trying to catch up with her at that point since she was already right on pace for a PR. My original plan had been to stay with her until this point and then fall back if I wasn’t feeling it. I wasn’t feeling it, so I went with my plan. It’s a good thing I did, because then things started to go down hill. During mile 7, I started to feel like I couldn’t breath. This has never happened to me before. I did a quick body check, and my legs and everything else felt fine. I decided to slow down a bit and clocked in at 8:39 for that mile. Then I turned onto mile 8 and that’s when everything started to fall apart. My legs still felt fine, but I knew I was in trouble. Despite fueling throughout the run, I wasn’t sweating. My body was having trouble maintaining a good temperature. I knew this feeling, it had happened to me a few times in high school during lacrosse. Simply put, if this had been a lacrosse game I would have asked for a sub and sat the rest of the half out until I recovered. But this is running, so that’s not an option. I debated if I should drop out, but I really wanted to finish so I decided to walk a little and see if I could get it back together. Mile 8 beeped in with a 8:45 pace.
Unfortunately, my body was done. I spent the next 5 miles switching between running and walking as I felt necessary. (9:45; 10:18; 9:48; 9:52; 9:34). I ran into a few friends and chatted a bit, letting them know that my body was just not having it today. The funny thing was, I didn’t even realize it was the heat, I just knew something was wrong and trying to push it was not the right choice. During my run spurts, I encouraged other runners that had stopped to walk.
During mile 11 and 12, I had a few thoughts in my head. These included “Thank goodness I didn’t have a time goal or this would be a really upsetting race,” “Why hasn’t the 2:00 pace group caught up to me yet?” “I don’t even care if I come in over 2 hours, I just want to finish,” and “Meb threw up a bunch of times during the Boston Marathon, so I guess this isn’t too bad all things considered.” The final stretch of the race is a steep up hill. There was this awesome guy running the race that was basically running up to participants that were clearly having a tough time and giving them pep talks. As I struggled up the hill he came over to me and said, “You have 300 meter’s left, you can do this!” I told him it wasn’t my day and my body just wasn’t having it and that I had almost dropped out. He said “But you didn’t and you’re going to finish, but make that last 200 meters sexy!” and then he was off to talk up another runner. I came around the corner to the finish and dug up everything in me to sprint to the end. I’m sure it was a slow sprint, but I absolutely love digging deep and sprinting to the finish so I went for it. Then I looked at my watch and deliriously laughed at myself for still finishing under 2 hours.
After I got through the finishers chute, I headed over to my training group’s tent to pick up my stuff. A few of my friends were there and asked me how it went. “It was my worst half marathon ever!” I told them, but I was laughing. I went on to tell them how I started to fall apart at mile 8 and my friend Dan said, “EVERYONE HAS THE SAME STORY!” Apparently, Tory also stopped sweating at mile 8 and had to reign it in as well. My friend Cory ran with the 2:00 pacers since he was also running Pittsburgh today (both just for fun) and commented that even the 2:00 pace wasn’t a walk in the park – and that’s coming from a guy that broke 4:00 on his first marathon. Tory made a good point later saying, “I like to say that bad a races actually make you stronger… you learn to push through the pain even though you hate running at the time. And crossing the finish line of a bad race is the biggest relief ever!”
It was a huge relief to cross the finish line. As I said before, I wouldn’t have done anything differently. Courtney did not get the PR she was going for, but she still PRed. We both know had the temperatures remained around 50, it would have been a very different race for the both of us. I did not feel disappointed or frustrated with my performance in this race. I know what I am capable of and I had not planned to to run a PR. My goal for this race was to get into shape and build a strong base for marathon training and I did just that. I am thankful for my time as I know there were people out there hoping for a 1:59 or better that did not get it.
Running with my training group I have learned that, if you’re actually pushing yourself during a race, you’re bound to have a bad race here and there. You’d be hard pressed to find a large group of runners without any marathon DNFs amongst them. Some days are just not your day. There is a huge difference between running a race and racing a race, even when you’re not going for a big PR. My friend Dan made a great point later that I have been thinking about since, “I think we forget that training and racing are two different entities. I am happy with my results, but I took the race mentality too lightly. Running fast is difficult.” There is so much truth to that statement. Running fast takes huge mental concentration and an understanding of your body and what it’s telling you. You have to be able to fight through that mental barrier that tells you to slow down when you really don’t need to, but still have the humility to listen to your body when you do need to slow down or stop. Running fast is not necessarily going to be a “fun” race experience. That being said, I saw two people in the parking garage after the race in wheel chairs. To me, no race is worth that.
I enjoyed so much of the training cycle for this race and the great first 6 miles made the second half of the race worth it. The Capital City Half Marathon remains one of my favorite races. Next up is a 10K in June which I do plan on racing, but our weather is warming up this week so I will be more properly acclimated to running in warmer weather.
I hope everyone had a great weekend of racing and enjoyed the beautiful weather!