When a Race Is Not a Race: Off-Peak Racing

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.  :)

Happy Running!






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  1. Great job!!!! Great race report! :)

  2. I needed this. I’ve been struggling with my goals and what is healthy vs. what I’d like to acheive. Congrats on being so smart about it. I know it’s hard to let others beat you.

    Think about it this way: you probably made someone’s day by letting them acheive their “A” goal. 😉

  3. It sounds to me that you are beating yourself up for no reason. You just completed a marathon and a month later did a very fast half. The I shoulda, coulda, woulda attitude is diminishing what you accomplished in that half.

    We all do it, but what purpose does it serve? You went in knowing that you were using this race as a training run and showed that you are in fantastic shape. You got out of the race injury free and ready to run again. Getting some age group bling is not as important as being able to run tomorrow without any injuries from the half.

    You done good and did the right thing – look at the long-term gain.

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