It’s winter, so in the topsy-turvy universe that is Florida, that means it’s officially running season. It’s not exactly cool yet – 75 degrees outside right now – but it does mean I can go for a run in the morning without spending the entire time feeling as though I am trying to breathe through a damp wool blanket.
I took a couple of weeks off from running after the 1/3 distance at the Great Floridian Triathlon because my IT band has been a total pain in my butt, or rather, my knee. I spent a lot of that time cross-training and lifting weights and doing a lot of exercises aimed at strengthening my hips, like clam shells and leg lifts with a therapeutic band around my legs, and glutes, like the insanely embarrassing barbell hip thruster. Man, that exercise will never not feel pervy, especially when performed in a weight room full of dudes.
I also decided to say farewell to my Newton Distances, as apparently they changed something with the most recent model, and now I can’t even run a block without my calf muscles feeling like someone ran them through a cheese grater, so on the advice of a couple of fellow runners, I switched over to the Brooks Pureflow and omg. Pain-free running for the first time in a while. Sorry Newtons, my heart is with Brooks now.
Anyways, this is all a long way to say that I’ve been getting myself into gear for running season, with my eyes trained firmly on my Holy Grail of an A-race: the 2016 Boston Marathon.
Truth is, as much as I love triathlon – and holy shit, do I love it – a big part of me missed the simplicity of a running race. You don’t have to load up a huge backpack full of crap and figure out your logistics in transition. You just put on your shoes and go. And the race itself is also simple: everyone goes at the same time. None of this glancing at people’s calves to see if they are in your age group, and thus whether you have to pick up the pace so you can pick them off. You just run. It’s beautiful.
And so it was with this in mind that I signed up for the Holiday Halfathon, which was yesterday. The Holiday Halfathon is a local race I’ve done, gosh, four or five years now? I’ve run it a lot, is what I’m saying. It’s one of a series of four half-marathons put on my friend Chris Lauber, and part of the race course is on the section of the Pinellas Trail where I do, like, 95% of my training. The race starts in Madeira Beach and ends at Taylor Park in Largo, and we all hang out afterwards and drink beer and eat pasta and listen to a guy with a guitar play Pink Floyd and CSN covers. It’s pretty awesome. Highly recommended, especially if you are living somewhere other than Florida and you want a break from the crappy winter blahs.
So last year when I ran this race, I somehow managed to pull a PR out of my butt, despite being hungover from attending my friend Anne’s fancy-pants wedding at the Don CeSar the night before. And then I proceeded to set new PRs at every half-marathon I ran throughout the rest of the season. And then I followed that up by smashing my marathon PR AND having a solid triathlon season.
I suppose that made me feel a little cocky, because I decided that I was going to see if I could PR. (Current PR is 1:39.) Despite the fact that the temperature was forecast to hit the 70s early on. And despite the fact that I’d only done, oh, about eight legit training runs over three weeks leading up to the race. And despite the fact that I knew deep in my bones that I wasn’t even in the same zip code as peak fitness. But #yolo, right? Right.
We toed the line and then off we went, heading north for 3.5 miles on Gulf Boulevard, which runs through the barrier islands of Pinellas County. I tried to settle in at a pace that felt comfortable, and that ended up being between 7:45 and 7:50, which was actually a bit off my PR pace. But I figured it was no big deal, because I’d probably relax at about mile 5 and everything would loosen up and I would feel great.
But then we crossed a drawbridge back to the mainland and headed east towards the Pinellas Trail, and I was feeling anything but great. I was fighting for every single stride. I found myself caught in that paradox where I knew that I needed to relax, but that forcing myself to relax would make myself not relax, and so instead I just hung there in this shitty tense limbo, hoping my body would sort itself out without any conscious intervention on my part.
I had started out ahead of the 1:45 pace group, but by this time, I was running with them. A couple of minutes later, I was watching them head off in the distance. So much for a PR. I just let them go. Not only were my quads already on fire, but the heat was really starting to affect me.
At about mile 6, I saw Brian roll up on our beach cruiser. He was not running with me, as he’s taken some time off running to let this persistent Achilles tendonitis situation heal, so instead he decided to ride along the course to offer some encouragement, both to me and the other runners. He tried to encourage me to stay strong and hang onto my pace, but one sidelong glance from me, and he knew I was just doing what I could to survive.
Finally, we got on the Pinellas Trail where we would run from mile 7 to mile 12. Like I said, this was my home turf, so it was easy for me to set landmarks for myself, because I know it’s about a mile from 102nd Avenue to Walsingham, and another mile to Ulmerton, and so on and so forth. So I tried to forget about pace and time and just focused on staying in the moment.
I had a couple of moments of lovely distraction. At one point, a bunch of people from the KLR team came riding down the trail and they all yelled “CAITLIN!” and put out their hands to give me the hardest fucking high-fives I’ve ever received. For real, one of them nearly ripped my arm out of its socket, but I didn’t care because it was great to see them. And then at about mile 10 or so, Danielle, who I met when we finished up last year’s race together, caught up with me, and I knew we were going to finish this race together once again. (BTW I have been meaning to do a Q&A with Danielle because check this out – she’s a world class sailor who medaled at the Pan Am Games. Amazing!)
By this time I was audibly groaning. My big toe was aching and I wasn’t sure why. (I realized later that it’s because it was sore from earlier in the week, when I accidentally dropped a room service tray on it. Now it’s turning a lovely shade of bruised indigo and olive green.) And my quads felt like lava. The only positive thing was that my IT band only woofed at me a couple of times, but then remained silent for most of the race. On the whole, I was so ready to be done. I’d been ready to be done for miles.
We turned into the park for the last mile, which took a loop on packed trails around a small lake. Normally I love running on that little trail but every time I’ve run it at the end of this half-marathon, that trail feels like running through quicksand. Plus, you’re only on it for like a half-mile but that half-mile is just in-fucking-terminable.
I made the final turn towards the finish line but I had pretty much no kick left, and crossed the finish line in 1:47. As soon as I stopped running, my quads seized up and I bent over like Fargo’s Marge Gunderson: “I think I’m gonna barf.”
Not gonna lie, I was really disappointed in the day’s race. I was not happy with it at all. It wasn’t until Brian pointed out that it wasn’t long ago that I would have been psyched to run a 1:47 that I started to cut myself some slack. And then by the time I’d had a couple of beers and spent some time talking with my friends in the running community, I felt great.
(And then when I found out that two of my running/triathlon friends – Chris and Sydney – got engaged at the finish line, well, that was just wonderful. They met when Sydney joined Chris’ running group, and they’ve been a total power couple since. It’s a good reminder that as fun as racing is, it’s not the most important thing in life. Not even close.)
I spent a bit of time processing my feelings about the race Hank Azaria style, which, if you didn’t read the first post about it, goes like this: you identify three things you did well, identify three things you could have done better, and then move the fuck on. I personally find this to be incredibly useful in all aspects of my life because it not only helps perfectionist-y strivers like myself identify ways to improve but it also provides a counterbalance to the perfectionist-y striver by forcing you to recognize when you’ve done well. And then you move on and you don’t dwell on things.
So here are the three things I could have done better:
- Adjusted my expectations. The temperatures were hot and I was undertrained. It’s cute that I was all, “I’m going to go for a PR!” but girl, be realistic next time, ok?
- Started out slower. I had a serious positive split, and I’m sure that could have been ameliorated had I not shot out of the starting corral like the proverbial bat out of hell.
- Maybe give myself more time between the end of triathlon season and my first half-marathon. Or, if not, see #1.
Here are three things I am happy about:
- The fact that I was able to run a 1:47 on minimal training bodes well for the rest of the season, provided I can stay healthy and injury free. I don’t think it’s out of the question to say that a new half PR is in my future.
- I stayed tough the whole time. Whenever I caught my self-talk wandering towards the pitiful and pathetic, I redirected myself. And when that became too hard, I focused on staying in the moment.
- The fact that I was disappointed in myself for running a 1:47 shows just how thoroughly I have redefined myself as an athlete. I’ve written about this in the past, how achieving these goals means I’ve had to change how I think about myself. In this regard, feeling disappointed in myself isn’t a bad thing.
I’m going to spend the next week recovering with some swimming and easy bike rides, and probably some hot yoga at the studio that is about a mile away, and then after that I’m ready to start training for Boston. Yesterday may have been a rough race, but on the whole I’m really excited about the upcoming running season. I mean, I’m going to Boston for the first time! How can I not be excited about that?