Sunday, April 28, 2013

Running my best half and pacing my sister to her first 13.1 finish at the Irving Marathon

Race day at the Campión Trails in Irving.
Anyone who has read recent blog posts is probably sick of all the bike posts. Cycling and related races have dominated this space as of late. Tunesday has taken a backseat, so too has Five Photo Friday. Even running posts are in short supply. Well, I can fix that last one today!

Saturday marked the inaugural GE Irving Marathon on the city's Campión Trails, a scenic greenbelt that traces sections of the West and Elm forks of the Trinity River. My sister and I have raced before (Lovejoy Country Run 5K), but this was a very special day — Anne's first half marathon.

We took two different approaches to get to this day. She trained hard — followed a plan, incrementally ratcheted up her distance and hydrated like it was her job. I, on the other hand, didn't have a training plan. With all the training on the bike, I managed to run once or twice each week in the past month. Not ideal, but I figured the cycling counted for something — physical and mental strength conditioning (more on that in a moment). But I also figured this would not be a PR race for me, which would be OK. The highlight of the day was going to be seeing my sister accomplish her goal of finishing her first 13.1!

Ominous, fat, gray clouds rolled above our heads about an hour before the race. It looked like my knack at running rainy races would continue. Fortunately, they rolled east and the weather turned for the better. It was even a bit chilly at the start of the race.

The race layout was something new for me — the start/finish was in the middle of the course and there was an out-and-back loop on each side (map). Half marathoners ran both loops. Marathoners ran both loops twice, and 1-mile fun runners, 5Kers and 10Kers had different turnaround spots on the first loop. (To say that there was an opportunity for a lot of confusion on the course is an understatement. Fortunately, the course was well-marked and it was clear where everyone needed to go.)

I started the race in the 7:30 mile pace corral, hoping that I could keep that pace for at least a few of the miles. I busted that plan straight out of the gate, running 7:00. Clouds overhead and not terribly hot, I felt good, but I knew I needed to ease off the accelerator a bit. My second and third miles were around 7:15. That was more like it, but I still thought I might be a bit too fast. As I approached the first turnaround, I paid attention to the number of half marathoners who had already reached the turnaround and were passing me heading toward the second loop. There were only 10. That made me feel really good about my effort and gave me a boost. At that point, I knew this day could be special.

On the return route of the first loop, the sun came out, and the heat started to pick up. So I employed my dump one, drink one strategy for water stations (was *this close* to dumping red Gatorade on my head). I apparently wasn't the only one because some aid stations ran out of water and/or cups. These things happen, especially at first-time races. Fortunately, I also had my handheld water bottle, Endurolytes (3 every 30 minutes) and a gel (taken around mile 10) to keep me from seizing up.

I saw Anne for the first time as I approached the second loop, around mile 5. She looked great and like she was having a great time — smiling and strong. That's just what I wanted to see! Once on the second loop, the trail was less congested — fewer people bunched together, and no runners running in the opposite direction. This helped a lot because I was able to run the tangents. Over the couple of years I've raced, I have learned that every step counts, so why take more than you have to?! (Thanks, TPG). I looked well ahead on the trail to position myself for each step-saving, direct route. There was a runner 5 feet behind me who seemed content to keep my pace and follow my strategy for about 3 miles. At first, I was sorta annoyed. But he pushed me, and that's what I needed. I wasn't going to let him pass. And around mile 9, he slowed his pace and that was the last time someone was directly behind me.

What followed was the most challenging part of the race. Miles 10 and 11 were on a dam's gravel road. I, and probably everyone running the race, didn't expect this change of surface. I struggled on the rocks and contemplated running on the grass. My pace dropped and the turnaround in the distance seemed miles away. But I was feeling strong and I was passing runners. I didn't let these two miles discourage me. I knew that I could suck it up and get finish them. The sooner, the better.

The final stretch of the race was back on pavement. I fought my mind (the one that wanted to slow down and walk and take a stretch break at the next aid station) and focused on catching runners ahead of me. I also focused on friends and even people I don't know who are facing tough situations — extremely sick children, a broken back, unemployment and addiction. Their ability to stand strong when dealt tough cards made my temporary pain feel so insignificant and completely tolerable. Thinking about friends training for next month's Ironman also pushed me. Thinking about my recent successful races races reminded me that I can overcome the desire to slow down and not push myself.

Third in my AG (first time I placed at a run) and 19th
overall. A damn fine day at the races!
When I reached the mile 12 marker, I was exhausted, but my watch showed that I was on pace to run a sub-1:40. I dug deep and kicked as hard as I could. I didn't slow down. I kept fighting and I crossed the finish line — 1:36:37. I credit staying mentally tough and focused on the task at hand for slashing 11 minutes off my PR.

I was stoked! I hardly could believe it. I stretched, took some shots, made the accomplishment FB and Twitter official and then turned my attention to the the important task of the day — meeting Anne for her final miles en route to completing her first half marathon.

I removed my timing chip from my shoe and removed my bib (didn't want to jack up my results or confuse racers as I ran the wrong way). I had a good idea that I would probably meet her at the worst place on the course — that gravel road. I was right. I was glad I could reassure her that this section would be over soon and that she could do anything for two miles. She was relieved to plant her feet back on the stable concrete. Although she said she felt bad, she looked good for a first-time half marathon runner. She was keeping a good pace, was hydrated and able to talk while moving. She didn't stop once. Even when the desire creeped in, she kept going. All. The. Damn. Way. In the last half mile, spectators and 10K finishers lined the way. I announced that my sister was about to finish her first half. The dozen-or-so people erupted in cheers. It was AWESOME! With the finish line in sight, I sprinted ahead so I could capture the moment. Anne, finishing her first half marathon.

13.1 in 2:37:29! Congrats, Anne!
It was an amazing moment! I was thrilled I got to see it and be a part of it. It was an outstanding day for us. She accomplished a big damn goal! So proud! And I managed to podium in my age group! It was outstanding and so too was the post-race Tex-Mex meal!

We are capable of big things, y'all. Don't let anyone — including yourself — tell you otherwise.


Andie said...

Congrats to both of you! I love the great relationship you two have!

Michelle K said...

This is filled to the top with awesomeness! Congrats to you for a heckofa race, your bike training is making you so strong across the board! And yay for your sister! I know that it must have meant to have your support during a huge moment like that. I'm so proud of you both!

That Pink Girl said...

What a strong team y'all are! First, congratulations on kicking some major tail and netting a ginormous PR on a tough day! Wowza. Clearly the biking is going well - only making an already strong runner that much stronger.
And congratulations to Anne! A first half marathon is a VERY BIG DEAL! I imagine your encouragement and support help ease any jitters and give her the boost she needed to race strong and enjoy herself. She should be VERY PROUD of her accomplishment!

Congrats to you both!