The Best Yet: Breaking Down a Near-Perfect Race

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It took two years and two months. Finally, I reached my goal of a sub-2:00 half-marathon. If I’d done it on my first half or my second or my third, I don’t think I would have appreciated it as much.

And I didn’t just squeak under 2, either. I blew it out of the water. Official time: 1:55:20.

All my training was based on 9:00 miles. I think 9:02 would have gotten me in just under the wire, so I wanted some breathing room. My plan was to start out around 9:15 and gradually pick up the pace. But by the first 5K, I was already closing in on 9:00. Too fast too soon? History says yes.

Half #1. Jan. 16, 2011. Phoenix
My first-ever half, and I was rockin’ the nerves. I didn’t time my bathroom breaks or my water intake very well before the race, so I was doing the peepee dance as I crossed the start line. I hit the first bank of Porta-Pottis at around mile 1. After, when I was already a few minutes behind, I felt as if I needed to make up all the time all at once. I think I pushed too hard and ended up crashing at mile 10. Time: 2:08:15. Not my goal, but not bad for a first half-marathon.

Half #2. Dec. 4, 2011. Las Vegas
I worked this road trip into the training schedule for my first full. I should have known that training times for the full would not prepare me well for the aggressive pace needed for a half. I didn’t crash, but I did fade toward the end. Time: 2:02:49. Better, but not good enough to get to my goal.

Half #3. Dec. 2, 2012. Las Vegas
Another half thrown in while training for a full. How could I think I would shave off almost 1:30 per mile just like that? I was feeling great until mile 8 or 9, on pace for 2:00, when everything fell apart. Time: 2:04:49. Disappointing. I know I’m better than this.

Half #4. March 16, 2013. Washington, D.C.
So I’m feeling good for the first 5K. Really good, in fact, but I didn’t want to get ahead of myself. Still cruising through 10K. Breathing is steady.

I look up to see this steep uphill, maybe a quarter-mile or more long. At this point I’m glad I didn’t study the course beforehand, or I might have psyched myself out. It’s good that I’m not overthinking. I’m taking things as they come. And I attacked that thing! Lungs and legs burned, but I didn’t let that stop me. I caught my breath at the top and quickly picked up my pace again—even enjoyed a few stretches of downhill to gain the confidence back.

By mile 10, I’m still feeling strong, and I allowed a few thoughts to creep in about what it would be like to finish under 2:00. Then my mind naturally drifted to What am I going to do as my next challenge? I forced all those thoughts aside. I needed to keep my focus. You can’t work on your next goal until you achieve the one you’re working on right now.

Inside 5K left, I’m starting to fatigue, but I’m not concerned. I’ve broken the 10-mile curse that plagued me in every other half-marathon.

With about a mile or so left, I know I have it. My pace times steadily dropped throughout the race, so even if I had a collapse, I could probably limp to the finish and beat 2:00. I had energy to spare, so I kicked it into gear. As in KICKED IT. (I averaged 7:35 per mile for the last 1.2 miles.)

For two years I imagined what that moment would feel like, crossing the finish line in less than 2:00. Would I raise my hands to heaven? Would I ham it for the camera? Would I crumble to the asphalt in exhilaration?

Turns out I called on an old Vince Lombardi-ism: Act like you’ve been there before.

IMG_1463ccI hunched over to catch my breath for a few moments. I grabbed my finisher’s medal and my space blanket. I texted my dad:

That was damn fun.

It was fun. It was easy. Within minutes of finishing, I was fully recovered. You couldn’t wipe the smile off my face if you tried. It was the kind of race that makes me want to race for the rest of my life. No joke.

Then I started thinking, What am I going to do as my next challenge? I can allow myself to think that now.

Forecast, Schmorecast
Oh, the weather. What started out as a cold and rainy forecast changed to (relatively) warm and dry and changed back to cold and rainy and stayed there. For days leading up to the race. Cold and rainy. Yuck. Even the morning of, as I gathered the last of my things and got ready to leave the house, the forecast was cold and rainy. But rainy never happened. Cold, yes. But not a drop. It was the best weather I could have asked for. Hands to heaven.

» What About You?
Have you ever run a near-perfect race? Tell me about it in the comments below.

9 thoughts on “The Best Yet: Breaking Down a Near-Perfect Race

  1. Congrats on the sub 2:00 half marathon. Saturday’s race was my first half marathon, so I was very conservative and didn’t push myself too hard. I started in one of the later corrals (corral 30), and I felt like I was weaving my way around slower runners the entire race. I wish people who walked would have the common sense and decency to start in the last corral and not slow everyone down.

    I ended up finishing in 2:15:48, which was a little slower that the 2:10 I was hoping for, but overall I was very pleased. I think I could have shaved another 15-30 seconds per mile off my time if I wasn’t slowed down by the walkers and slower runners. But I finished strong, running my last three miles faster than my first three, so perhaps the natural slowdowns from the slower runners helped me conserve my energy and finish strong.

    I plan on running my next half marathon in a much smaller event with fewer runners. Hoping I can get my time down closer to 2:05-2:10. Congrats again on your PB!

    1. 2:15 is an impressive time for any half, especially a first. Congrats!

      Some people like weaving through slower runners because it gives them satisfaction of passing, but I don’t like it. Over the course of 13.1 miles, you could add even a quarter-mile to your total distance simply by weaving (“slaloming”) through slower runners.

      Because your start corral is based on your self-reported finish time, consider putting a lower finish time when you register and you’ll move to a lower corral. To put it into perspective, I said I would finish in 1:55 and I was in corral 9. I’m usually in corral 7 to 13 with a 2:00 finish time.

      1. Yup, you are exactly right. My Garmin said I ran 13.42 miles, so I added about a 1/4 mile extra, just based on lateral movement trying to get around people. Being my first half, I wasn’t sure how I would fair, so I put down 2:30 projected finish time. For future events I know to put myself in a slightly faster group which would help minimize all the weaving.

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