When a Race Is Not a Race: Off-Peak Racing
November 26, 2011 3 Comments
I was very confused. It was only a few days before the Secret City Half Marathon and I didn’t know how to think about it. I have been training for marathons this year. The first was in April and the second was in October, just a month before the Secret City Half. I had done very well in the Seven Bridges Marathon on October 16, but I had given it everything I had. After two weeks of recovery, I only had two weeks left to prepare for the Secret City Half. One week of full training and 1 week of tapering. I knew that I could not have a peak performance.
That being the case, why was I running the Secret City Half? The main reason was nostalgia. I had run the Oak Ridge Half Marathon a couple of years ago (2009) when I was just starting my comeback. I started that race very fast (not smart!) and finished at a snail’s pace. I survived to finish in 1:59:27. A year later, the course had changed and so had the name. The Oak Ridge Half had become the Secret City half. That race, in October 2010, I improved to 1:48:53. I had come to love this race, so I signed up for the 2011 event which just happen to fall one month after the marathon.
I knew that because of the proximity to the marathon, I couldn’t possibly run my fastest. On the other hand, I knew that my marathon training had me running a lot faster than last year. In the Seven Bridges Marathon a month before, I had finished the first half in around 1:37. If I just matched that, it would be a course PR by over 10 minutes.
Moreover, in my 1 long my training run in preparation for this half marathon, I had maintained a 7:30 pace for 15 miles. I was actually so much faster that my training pace would actually beat last year’s performance. If I just made it a training run, I could could still get a course PR!
So what was so difficult tho think about? Here is the complicating factor: I have been brimming with confidence as I have successfully improved on my marathon PR by leaps an bounds. I have a long term goal to establish a new PR in the half, but that is a very tall order. I had set my PR for the half marathon at 1:20:48 back in 1984, when I was 17 years old . I have been improving steadily, but this one was still just out of reach.
My dilemma was… How much should I push the pace in the Secret City Half Marathon of 2011?
Possibility 1: Try for a PR
If I tried to reach my all-time PR, I would tear or pull something important, get a DNF, and maybe never recover. No, I was not going to get a PR.
Possibility 2: Sub-1:30
If I gave everything I had, I believed that I might be able to get it down below 1:30, but at what price? I was certain that I could accomplish this, but I was also certain that I would need two or three weeks to fully recover.
Possibility 3: Think of it a training run
Choice 1 wasn’t ever really a choice, but I thought about it anyway. I’m a dreamer. What can I say? Choice 2 was definitely realistic, but it might cause me to run slower in the next marathon. Choice 3 would be sacrificing my pride, choosing to humble myself and be okay with a less than my best run. Perhaps the choice looks obvious to you, but I agonized over this decision. Can I physically handle going all out so close to the marathon? Can I emotionally handle the idea of purposefully running slower than my absolute best?
A few days before the race, I put the question to my friends in the online running community. I shared my agony and told them, “I don’t know whether to shoot for 1:28 or 1:38!?!” The two most common responses were something like,
“Both of them would be a PR for me!”
“What does your heart tell you?”
My heart told me two things as I read the responses. First, it told me that I was making much ado about nothing. Either of those goals would be a course PR. The slow goal would beat last year’s time by over 10 minutes. The second thing my heart told me was that the cause of my dilemma was pride. I has been so caught up in the pride of setting PRs in the marathon that I was reluctant to settle for a huge improvement in my course PR for the Secret City Half. What was I thinking! A big improvement is something to be celebrated.
The night before the race, I made my decision. I would run a relatively fast, but responsible race. And that is what I did. I ran a little faster than the previous week’s 15 miler, but I did not try to break any records. I set out to hang out just below a 7 minute pace and I managed to maintain around 7 minute pace through mile 10. I started to fade in the last three miles and this is where I struggled to stay with my decision. Will I continue to think of this as a fast training run, or will I push the pace to make sure I do not get passed?
My pride took a hit as about 10 runners passed me in the last 3.1 miles. I was fading and they were maintaining. I refused to go faster. I felt flat. I was not in peak condition. I was not trained to peak on this day. I reminded myself over and over, “This is a training run. This is just a training run. It is not worth straining myself on this day. Its just another long weekend run.”
I did give a little kick and pass one person in the last quarter mile. I finished 11 seconds behind the last guy in my age group to earn a medal. Part of me was very frustrated that I didn’t give more in those last miles and get the age group bling. Half of me was proud that I had contained my effort and managed to stay healthy.
The frustrated part of me griped about my performance to my online running buddies. As usual, they replied in such a way as to put it into perspective. I had done well. I finished in 1:33:31. I had beaten my course PR by over 15 minutes, for goodness sake! That is progress! Be happy already!
I guess it comes down to this. There are times when a race is not a race. Sometimes, you run a race for fun or for nostalgia. When you do, you have to leave your pride at the start line and just have a good run. Whether running with friends or running the old race like visiting an old friend, a race can be just for fun. I got to say howdy to some old friends and meet some of the folks I have interacted with online. No all-time PR, but still a good time on a great course with great people running and awesome people volunteering. Good times!
I plan to schedule more races as training runs. I have learned that it can be a way to gain perspective and keep the fun in the run.
I know that I plan to once again run the Seven Bridges Marathon and follow it up with the Secret City Half. This time, I will enjoy the half even more.