Hartford Half Marathon Recap: Part II Race Day

This is Part II of my Half Marathon recap. Check out Part I here if you haven’t read it yet!

In the week leading up to Hartford, I watched the weather like a hawk. If it was going to rain, I was not going to do it. It was miserable last year because of the constant downpour and I was scheduled for 22 on Sunday so if the universe decided it was going to rain, I decided that meant I wasn’t going to run it. Well… the universe decided to give me perfect weather. So this was happening.

Since I wasn’t planning on “racing” Hartford, I hadn’t given much thought to my strategy. For all intents and purposes, I didn’t really know what I was capable of achieving in the half because I’ve slowed so much for the full. But my run on the preceding Sunday made me wonder if I should try to push myself a bit. By Friday evening I was excited for the race but not really sure what was going to happen. In talking it over with Jordan, we decided I probably was a lot stronger than I had been giving myself credit for. At this late in the training game for NYC, though, I didn’t want to risk injury. Ultimately, I decided I’d run with the 2:30 group since Coach Rachel was pacing it. I knew I could do 2:30, but if I felt good, maybe I’d break off in the second half and shoot for 2:25- 2:28. That was the plan… I was a little sad/ nervous that Jordan wasn’t going to be able to come to spectate, but with Rachel pacing and other people from Fleet Feet running, I knew I wouldn’t be alone.

I laid out all my stuff the night before and went to bed early.

Literally everything.

I woke up Saturday morning at 4:45. Just the same as last year, the dogs were not enthused to be up that early but they did their business without protest. I got dressed, ate my usual breakfast, fed the dogs and headed to Hartford. I parked, got my stuff together and headed to the bag check.

It was cold before the sun came up. Really cold. I regretted not having toss sweats to wear at the start. I waited until after 7:00 to check my bag to keep my jacket on for as long as possible, then found a corner isolated from the breeze. Once the pace groups (and more body heat) assembled, I felt more comfortable. The temperature had started to rise and the excitement started kicking in. Also the pace team briefing from Rachel was a lot a fun and really motivating. She really is a great pacer and huge inspiration to me. I don’t think I would be having such a positive marathon training experience without her and my new running buddy Bridget. Having a good support team really does make things so much better. Gotta have my people.

Hartford Marathon and Half Marathon Start

Before we knew it, the gun went off … and then we stood still for 5 minutes … and then we walked to the starting line … and then we progressed to a slow jog … and then Rachel finally picked up the pace a bit. The first mile of the race is chaotic because it is half and full marathoners all mixed together. That’s a lot of people. Once we hit the first mile marker, the marathoners broke off and we headed west. The first mile is always fast but I knew Rachel would settle in to our target pace fairly easily. I kept her in my sights and tried to settle into an easy pace. I started out with one of my back-of-pack-mates John. John has been battling injury but he has the best attitude. Always pushing, never giving up and never a downer. He rarely complains when he’s hurting and never wants to bring anyone down. I stuck with him for about 2–3 miles, but he decided to slow down and take it easy and encouraged me to go ahead. I caught up with Rachel, only about 50 feet ahead, pretty quickly. I felt nice and smooth at her pace and found myself actually enjoying the run. I realized that I have virtually no memory of the scenery of the half last year because I was so miserable the whole time. This year, I was having the time of my life and taking it all in.

Mile 1 10:25, Mile 2 11:15, Mile 3 11:30, Mile 4 10:59.

At around mile 5, I realized that the pace was too easy. My heart rate was surprisingly really low and I felt almost effortless. I told Rachel I would stick with her until about half way and then I would kick it up a little. She encouraged me to go for it. After mile 5.5 she slowed for a water stop and I just kept going. I figured I’d speed up a little and shoot for 2:28. Perfectly attainable with moderate effort and minimal increase from my current pace. And I have to admit, I felt kind of cool in my Oiselle singlet, channeling my spirit animal Kara Goucher.

Photo Credit- New York Times. Kara Goucher looking fly!

Mile 5 11:18, Mile 6 11:08.

Even though I recently figured out how to have my watch show me individual splits during the run, I kept missing them. The roar of the crowds and my music in my ear kept me comfortably distracted and allowed me to just feel my run. My average pace continued to tick down, but I didn’t watch it too closely. The first time I caught a mile split after breaking off from the pace group was mile 7: 10:31. What the what???? It felt so easy. My heart rate was only in the 160s and everything felt good. It crossed my mind that the PR was way more in sight than I thought. The next time I caught the split was mile 9: 10:19. Mile 9 runs through Elizabeth Park where Jordan and I got married. The emotional flash back and memories of pure happiness put some extra pep in my step. After we passed by the gardens last year, I made the mistake of taking a gel just before we came upon a hill (I didn’t know the hill was there). I ended up walking on the hill last year because I couldn’t take down the gel and charge up the hill at the same time. This year I was ready for the hill and zoomed past people left and right.

Mile 7 10:31, Mile 8 10:39, Mile 9 10:19.

Before I knew it, I was coming up on the mile 10 marker and I realized this was where I needed to make a decision. By way of reference, my goal during longer runs is to get 10 miles done in under 2 hours. That’s a 12 min pace and pretty easy for me these days. But today was different. After 10 miles, the PR was in reach so long as I maintained. I could probably come in around 2:23 or 2:24. But then I saw the clock. The clock said 1:54. I knew it took about 5 minutes to cross the starting line. My elapsed time on my watch said 1:49. I did the math. If I could squeeze out the last 5k in 30 minutes I would get to the finish in 2:20.

I did an inventory of how I was feeling. Heart rate still low. Legs not tired. Right foot, fine. Left foot, not bad. Left knee fine. Right knee not bad. Hips good. Neck and shoulders fine. I thought back to my last long run with Coach Kim. Those last few miles were a little tough but I was able to hang on and feel strong. I thought back to my Cheshire Half Marathon PR. That felt like a much greater effort than this whole race had felt up until this point. I thought back to the Hartford Half Last Year and remembered the last 3 miles of the course have a lot of good down hills. I thought of my Oiselle Volee team and one of our many mottos. Go fast, take chances. Decision made.

Mile 10 10:04.

As flew by the mile 10 marker, I realized that I would have to at least catch up to the 2:20 pacers. If my math was right, I would catch them around 12.75. I decided it was time to go fishing. I picked people up ahead and slowly reeled them in. I found that I was doing this faster than I was used to. Then I caught my mile 11 split.

Mile 11 9:53.

Was this really happening? Was I really running sub 10's at the end of a race? Could I really shave 5 minutes off my PR? I kept my eyes open for the 2:20 pace group. Digging into the depths of my soul, I pushed harder than I thought possible to mile 12. It’s all down hill after mile 12.

Mile 12 9:44.

Soon I could see the 2:20 pace group up ahead. It seemed too early and they looked slow. How was that possible? They must have started ahead of me. How could they be going so slow? As I passed them, I asked if they were still on time. They assured me that if I passed them I would beat 2:20. I was skeptical, but then I reached the top of the long downhill stretch to the finish. I let my legs fly and opened up my stride for the last half mile. I tucked into the inside lane around the corner onto Jewel St. I looked at my watch as I came upon the 13 mile marker. Elapsed time: 2:19:18. I was not going to come this close to 2:20 and miss it. I spotted the stretcher and EMS near the finish line and decided that if I passed out at the finish, at least I’d be in good hands (haha, kidding). I gave it everything I had. I felt my heart rate skyrocket. As we turned towards the Arch, other runners around me started to dig deep as well. But then they were getting in my way! I bobbed and weaved and pushed through as many people as I could.

Mile 13 9:32

As I reached the finish line, my lungs burned, my legs ached and my heart was racing… and I immediately knew I did it. The last time I remember looking at the clock, it said 2:24:40-ish. I was a little delirious as I walked through the chute. After catching my breath and drinking some water, I checked my watch. 2:20. Boom!!!!!!!!!!!!

Kara Goucher- not me- but this is how I imagine my finish photo would look if there was one.

Mile 14 (.33) avg 8:15.

I was immediately so proud of myself. I was texting with Jordan in my runner’s fog and wandered around aimlessly through the festival still not believing what had just happened. I looked for Rachel, Bridget and John but didn’t see them. I worked my way up the (cruel) hill towards the bag check. After I changed into a dry shirt, I made my way to meet up with Bridget for some drinks and food. Food is so good.

It was an amazing day and looking back, even though I didn’t intend it, I was definitely in a position for a PR. Since joining the Fleet Feet group my confidence as a runner has basically doubled. I saw in many of my runs that I had more speed and endurance in me than I thought. I realized that a pace slightly faster than what I think is my goal pace, is actually still very comfortable for me. I’ve learned that because I’ve been running so much lately, these shorter distances (ha! 13 miles is short!) are easier than they used to be which means I don’t need to conserve as much energy which means I can go faster.

I read once that achieving a PR is a matter of 3 factors. 1. excellent training, 2. good weather, 3. the stars aligning. October 10, 2015 is without a doubt the day the stars aligned for me. I really didn’t think that 2:20 was possible for me this year. I really didn’t think that sub 10 miles were possible for me that late in a race. I really didn’t think that I had any business PRing at that race in the middle of my marathon training. But you know what? Confidence is key. Once I let go of the mental limitations I had put on myself, anything was possible so long as I believed I could do it. Would I have been happy with 2:23 or 2:24? Absolutely! A PR is a PR. But 2:20 was a milestone. Those last 3 miles in Hartford helped me to prove to myself that I have some untapped reserves, some previously unknown potential and without a doubt some room to grow.

I’ve never been too concerned with lacking self confidence. Sure, I’ve been nervous to take the bar exam or argue a high stakes motion in court, but nerves and self doubt are not something that plague me on a constant basis. Only when the stakes are high do the doubts creep in. Maybe my success in Hartford was because there was no pressure. No one knew I was going for a PR, let alone 2:20, until it happened. Hell, I didn’t even know I was going for 2:20 until the last 30 minutes of the race!! I think taking the pressure off meant that self doubt never really crossed my mind long enough to hold me back. Confidence is key.