Yesterday’s race was amazing. It was everything I hope it would be. I achieved the goals I set for myself – to have fun, not rely on my Garmin to tell me how to feel and to push myself to my limits. If you don’t follow me on social media I won’t ruin the surprise of my final time quite yet (if you do follow me you probably already know because I shouted it from the roof tops!).
For the first time in a long time, I had a really solid taper week leading into the race, exercise wise. I got an hour bike on the trainer (easy) in on Monday, a short 5 mile run with 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 minute intervals at race goal pace on Tuesday, a 4 mile easy run on Thursday and a 2 mile shakeout run Saturday. I enjoyed two days of complete rest on Wednesday and Friday and slept in every single morning, getting over 9 hours of sleep a night.
However, I semi sabotaged this perfect taper by having a little too much fun at a happy hour on Friday night and then stuffing myself with massive quantities of a massive pizza I thought would be the perfect size for 4 people (if you ask the restaurant they probably say it feeds 8-10 people). I woke up Saturday a bit hung over and it lasted most of the day. I barely ate breakfast, did my shake out run and met up with Mike (he helps run work outs as part of his work and was doing an open water swim session) to go downtown for the expo. I was hungry but we pressed on and by the time we got downtown, we both were about to melt down from lack of food (both of us hangry at once is never good) and ended up settling for greasy paninis for lunch. Post expo I went grocery shopping and then barely had time to stop and rest before we headed to a going away party and scarfed down veggie tacos, chips, guacamole and refried beans. Not exactly my normal pre-race nutrition plan but I suppose that’s ok.
Race morning came early with a 3:30 AM wake-up call in order for us to get on the 4:26 Coaster (the train that runs down the coast in San Diego). The Coaster was actually a GREAT way to get to the race because it was very low stress! When we arrived at Old Town station, plenty of buses were there to shuttle all the Coaster riders to the start. It was perfect! The port-o-potty lines weren’t crazy long when we arrived and before we knew it we were an hour out from the start and had plenty of time to relax and then warm-up before the race started. The weather was cloudy and in the mid-60s, typical for San Diego June. As promised in my no-data race plan, I changed my Garmin to show only overall time, not calculate mile splits and I wore it upside down.
Mike and I snapped a photo before he split off to join the 1:30 pace group which would be led by recent Boston Marathon winner Meb Keflezighi. Mike signed up for the race specifically to run with Meb. Mike’s stale PR of 1:34 (from La Jolla Half in 2011 after we finished P90X) was ready to be challenged and he figured there was no better way to do that than with an Olympian at his side. He only signed up with 4 weeks to go until the race and I gave him a training plan (speed work, tempo and long run per week) adapted from the “Run Faster” plan I was following.
Right before the race started, I had run into a co-worker of mine named Marc who just qualified for Boston last weekend at Mountains to Beach and he was running the half easy for fun. Once the gun went off and I was settling in, I saw Marc and his friend ahead. We started chatting and I spent the next two or three miles chatting and zig zagging through the very large crowds with them. Unfortunately, I had started right next to the 1:45 pace group and I just couldn’t shake them. I was still operating under my plan of taking it easy for the first 7 miles (Yellow zone) and my legs were feeling pretty heavy. I did not feel fantastic during the opening miles of the race and it wasn’t helping my mental state to have the 1:45 pace group leap frogging with me and blocking my access to run tangents. Despite not having any mile splits or pace information on my watch, I just kept telling myself that they could be running too fast and that it didn’t matter since I was going to negative split and leave them all behind.
Having Marc and his friend to distract me helped. If there were any low moments in the race it was sometime in the first four miles when I was battling with that pace group. However, I kept making a strong effort to send any negative thoughts out of my mind as soon as they entered. At one point I started making an excuse in my head for a poor performance and then I immediately shut it out and told myself that I would NOT be writing another blog post with excuses. This was my race to conquer. I told myself that I needed this race to fuel my fire for a Boston Qualifying race down the road.
I knew that the first half of the course had some false flats and rolling hills and it would be tougher than the second half and reminded myself of that. I also reminded myself that my breathing was still good. I could speak full sentences, just like my race plan told me to. I was not running too hard. In fact, I kept saying to myself under my breath once I split from Marc, “I can speak full sentences” to prove it to myself. My legs just felt sluggish. I haven’t been able to shake the sluggishness ever since that heat wave hit San Diego, which also coincided with me wrapping up 3 really tough training weeks. I had let myself wonder going into the race if I had overtrained and ruined my chances (a big part of my very easy taper week). When this thought crossed my mind in the race, I pulled motivation from the book I just finished “Iron War” about Ironman champions Dave Scott and Mark Allen to pull me through. Dave Scott and Mark Allen were incredibly mentally tough (as all Ironman World Champions MUST be) and I told myself that champion Dave Scott would never use the excuse of heavy legs to get in the way of his goal.
Around Mile 5, I took my first Gu. Soon after, my legs suddenly felt light and I started to come alive. It also helped that a lot to the climbing was behind me and there was some declines to enjoy as well. Despite that, something just came over me. I suddenly felt like I could conquer the world. I ran to the side of the course to slap a young girl’s hand and her mother said loudly “Wow what a gorgeous runner!” which made me even happier! I started to pass other runners quite regularly. I actually started playing the game where I would set my eyes on a female runner and pick her off. Because I wore my Garmin I was able to review my data and confirm that at this point I was running in the mid to low 7s and feeling great. I never saw that 1:45 pace group again.
At this point I was just having a blast. I made sure that I could still talk in sentences through a combination of talking to myself and shouting “thank you!” to spectators. I also raised my arms up and cheered and hooted at spectators and the bands/entertainers (there was a line of girls doing the Can Can and a team of cheerleaders at two separate cheer stations). I was passing person after person and smiling the whole way.
I admit, I did do some math in my head using my Garmin, which showed overall time only. But the good thing is, I didn’t do the EXACT math. I just knew I was within range. I knew I had a chance to break 1:40 but I didn’t know my average pace, any of my mile splits, and even better, had no idea by how much I was overrunning the course (I find myself getting annoyed in races when I realize I’m going to end up running much farther than 13.1 or 26.2 miles). Instead, I was just running happy. I knew the course ended with a decline and I knew I had energy to spare.
I was still feeling great as I reached Mile 8, where I was supposed to shift gears from “yellow” to “orange” effort. I should now NOT be able to talk in full sentences, just one word answers. Thanks to a nice decline, I was flying (I always pass people on declines and get passed on inclines) and could still talk. When I got to a few steep hills within Miles 8-10, I pushed it but tried to hold back a little. Around mile 10 I decided I wasn’t going hard enough because I could still talk in sentences. I was supposed to be hurting more. So I sped up. Around this time I saw a woman ahead who looked like my old boss (who is still a good friend!) and I made it my goal to pass her. Ironically, it actually WAS her (I didn’t really think it was!) and when I saw her I encouraged her to join me but she waved me off and cheered me on. I got another boost from seeing her and powered down the hill we were running down.
I pushed it hard up the next incline and then started to really feel it. I now achieved my goal of not being able to speak sentences and it HURT. I kept waiting for the long decline to the finish line to start, but after sections of decline there was always a hill (albeit a shorter hill than the one I descended) to match it. The inclines now really zapped my energy and I slowed way down on them, getting passed right back by those I had zoomed past. Despite feeling a little low, I kept reminding myself that THIS was the pain I was seeking. This is how it should feel to PR. I kept telling myself that soon I’d be a 1:3X half marathoner. It would all be worth it. I tried to imagine Dave Scott by my side, racing me in the 1989 Ironman just like he raced Mark Allen. Don’t let him pass you.
Despite feeling the pain, I still was having fun. I kept slapping high fives and I encouraged runners around me, including a young boy who was clearly struggling and a couple pushing their son with cerebral palsy. I was still smiling. A couple of people shouted “Go Oiselle!!!” at me as well! Every time I interacted with a spectator or runner, I got a boost. When I hit mile 11 marker, I looked at my watch and saw that I had just over 15 minutes to go to break 1:40. It was within reach!!! Finally, a nice long decline came along and I bombed down it, passing back anyone who had passed me. I was pushing it hard down the decline. I had a ton of room to run and was even closing my eyes a bit because I was in pain. Luckily I didn’t close them for long because a runner was sprawled out on the course with paramedics surrounding him – it looked like he had a badly sprained ankle. I felt horrible for him!
Right at the bottom of this hill I saw my friend Brooke. I saw her first and raised my arms, screamed and pumped my fists at her. I yelled “I feel great!!! 1 mile to go!!” and kept running hard. It was part truth and part lie – my body actually felt pretty awful but I really did feel great. The sun had come out in full force and now it felt very hot and my legs were very heavy. However, seeing her and cheering like I did really boosted my energy and I was able to power through the next section which was a slight incline followed by a more significant, short hill as well as a long tunnel which had strobe lights and techno music. I almost felt sick to my stomach in the tunnel – it was super disorienting!
Outside of the tunnel I heard my name called and almost missed Asia and Jeremy cheering me on because I was so in the zone. Right after I saw them, I was turning a corner and Pharrell’s “Happy” started playing on my playlist. I broke into a massive smile and ran even harder, feeling elated.
More declines, a few more short inclines (San Diego is not lacking in hills, tiny or not) and I was ALMOST there. When I saw mile 12, I turned it up a final notch. Just like my plan said, RED zone is mile 13 and it was time to run so hard I couldn’t speak. My legs started to feel incredibly heavy. I ramped it up and pushed it as hard as I could. There was some sort of short hill which took it out of me (note to self: do hill repeats) but at the top I powered over it and aimed for the finish. I saw my friend Allison who cheered wildly for me and I gave her a wave and a smile through the pain. I was dying to know how close I was to the finish the entire final mile. I had no idea if I was at 12.2, 12.5 or 12.9 at any point. I wanted the pain to be over. I just kept imaging Dave Scott holding a 1:40 pace group sign directly over my right shoulder. BEAT HIM.
I grimaced and pushed and ran my absolutely heart out. I knew I was cutting it VERY close and literally sprinted to the finish (Garmin says 5:22 min/mile average for those final yards). I looked down and was a TINY bit disappointed in the number, but overall ELATED. PR city and I executed my race perfectly.
Final time: 1:40:03 , a 2 minute, 45 second PR and just 4 seconds shy of my goal (as I made in my 2014 goal blog post) of a sub 1:40 half marathon. When I later saw my posted splits for the race I was even more happy – I executed a fantastic negative split race. More fuel for my fire in future races when the opening miles don’t end up being as fast as I hope.
As soon as I finished I saw Mike at the finish area waiting for me. I was so happy to see him and even happier to hear that he was able to stick with Meb’s pace group until about mile 9. Despite getting dropped by Meb (who ended up finishing under 1:29), Mike pulled out a 2 minute 20 second PR with a time of 1:30:40 (our finish times have all the same numbers in them but in a different order – freaky right?!). A great day for both of us!
We immediately tried to get to Meb for an autograph and photo and waited in line for about 10 minutes until they shut it off literally at the guy in front of us in line. It was a pretty funny sight seeing a line full of literally drenched in sweat runners (it was not only in the 70s and sunny at the finish but also very humid) waiting in line for an autograph. Although we didn’t get an autograph we managed a really bad selfie with Meb in the background (ironically we met Meb in 2011 when we had VIP access at RnR SD but I had no idea who he was then!). Better than nothing!
Mike and I were over the moon excited about our PRs and hung out in the finish area for quite a while, meeting up with some of the friends who came to cheer us on as well as running into friends we didn’t even know we were racing! The sun was out in full force and it was a beautiful morning for some runner’s high!
What is the most fun you’ve ever had in a race? What made it fun for you?