Monday, October 09, 2006

San Jose Rock and Roll Half Marathon Race Report

I woke up at 6:00 for an 8:00 am start. Late, but, with the cold, I needed all the sleep I could get. Plus, it doesn't seem to take me as much time to get ready for a road race as all the other events. Just me and my shoes and more time to shiver and stand in line for the Port-A-Potty.

Did not want breakfast but figured this was okay since I'd done all my other early am long runs sans breakfast and been fine. Figure in the future, it may be best to try and get the cals in my drink instead. My breakfast cocktail consisted of ibuprofen, sudafed (for my cold), Prilosec (antacid for my IBS), and my daily thyroid meds. By the way, I do not recommend this pre-race breakfast for most people. Oh, and for those who are wondering if sudafed gives you an unfair race advantage, it does not. At least, not when you have a cold handicap anyway. (And PMS too, as I found out later).

Jason and I were closing the garage door when my dad came rushing out, yelling, "Wait! Wait!" He desperately wanted to come to support us but we hadn't wanted to wake him. Poor guy. I waited a few minutes for him, joking that racers don't normally wait for spectators. I made an exception. Having an assistant/personal fan is always worth waiting for, especially when it's your dad.

I was worried we would be running a tad late to the race. The typical race butterflies were fluttering, which I took as a good sign. My voice was so hoarse, I could barely talk. Plus, I felt groggy and sleepy (more than usual at that time in the morning). My dad asked if I was still going to do "this thing." I nodded, yes. He (a physician) replied with a chuckle, "Man. You're going to be really sick." Not what you want to hear from a physician moments before the race. However, I knew I really wanted to do it. My grand finale for 2006.

I had time to go to the bathroom 3x before it was time to shed my polar-fleece sweatshirt and shiver up to our corral (like we're being rounded up like wild mustangs). Surprisingly, I didn't feel cold admist all the people (15,000 entrants). Body heat is amazing.

The gun went off, and in about 30 seconds, we started walking. Then, walking fast. By the time we crossed the start line, we were jogging slowly. I love that for half-marathons. Big crowds that force you to take it slowly at the beginning. Plus, we had given the race directors our predicted race times ahead of time so they had placed us in the appropriate corral. Everyone around us was shooting for a ~2:00 time. It was great because there weren't tons of people zooming past, and there weren't tons of people blocking our way.

Jason and I ran together the first mile. He clearly felt good, and I told him to go ahead. I didn't feel good, but I didn't feel bad. I've done so many long weekend runs that my legs just seemed to go on autopilot. It felt pretty routine.

Running when you have a cold is a foreign animal to me. I hadn't had a cold in 5 years. Seriously. So it felt weird. I felt oddly detached from my body. I felt as if my senses were absent. My sense of smell is very acute so without it, I feel like I'm deaf or blind. I don't normally even realize how present and in the moment this sense makes me but without it, I feel lost. I kept having these weird sensations that I couldn't identify. My body needs something. Something. What can it be? Oh. Maybe I'm thirsty. I pulled out a bottle of water enriched with buffered sea salt and squirted some into my mouth, feeling instantly gratified. Oh! I'm thirsty. That's what that is. Apparently, being sick turns off your normal "thirst" sensations. Great.

I passed mile 1, and my watch read 9:18. This is 18 seconds or more slower than my normal splits. I reminded myself 9:00 minute miles was just a target number, and that being sick gave me a good excuse to run slower. However, I was worried. Normally, at mile 1, I have to slow myself down because I start off too fast. Although this is not good either, I knew I didn't have my normal adrenaline rush. My normal race "spark" (like for the Spirit of St. Louis Half Marathon of 2005, where I felt awesome the whole way) was absen. I also was having a difficult time getting into my groove. I was having to focus especially hard. I knew it was going to be mentally tough.

I passed mile 2. 18:30. Okay. Keep it steady. It's okay. Okay to go slow. I just knew my body didn't have it in it that day to go any faster. Mile 3. 28 minutes. Damn. I ran the slowest 5K split ever. About this time, waves of self-defeat washed over me. Running is normally easy for me. Effortless. I feel like I can glide forever. This was hard. It felt like I had just biked 20 miles. Not fresh out of the gates. I became frustrated. I had never run that slowly before. I thought about walking. But I knew if I walked, I wouldn't be able to get running again. I felt tired. I felt groggy. Sluggish. Every step was work. And it was only mile 3. I even thought about dropping out.

Just for a second. At this point, I remembered why I wanted to do this. I had trained all season for this. Basically since June since I scratched the first half I signed up for in August due to a stomach flu. This was it for 2006. I wanted to finish. I had read about negative thoughts during a race. And how to quell them. That was what I was going to do. First, I told myself it was okay to run slowly. My goal had always been to finish and have fun. Not to push myself too hard. Not to PR. That wasn't what I trained for. Plus, the cold put me at a great disadvantage. No way could I expect my body to perform its best. I decided to let my body take me through it the best it could and just support as best I could. The cold could go to hell, in my opinion.

Then, I just focused on keeping my legs running. Since that was what I had trained to do, it wasn't too hard. Instead of thinking how far I had left to run, I thought about making it to the next mile marker. I kept waiting for mile 4 and the band at stage 4. Every time I heard the next band around the corner, my legs perked up and I felt a brief surge and remnants of the easy running feeling I normally get.

At every mile marker, I took a swig from my bottles. It was great not to have to stop at the aid stations. It was also great to keep running. I hate walking, personally, because it really interrupts my rhythm and flow. My gut would act up a little after I took a drink, but only briefly. I would just slow down a little, let it pass, and pick the pace back up. Then, I was able to even make up a little time because the fluid would make my body feel so good.

The bands were a lot of fun. I loved the entertainment. I only wish there had been more of them! They were my saving grace and motivation. It's amazing the effect music has when you run. The band at mile 6 matched my tempo exactlly and I even picked up the pace a bit and had a touch of (gasp) runner's high. Plus, there were cheerleaders doing flips and cartwheels at several points along the race. The venue was very pretty. We went through some gorgeous neighborhoods with very nice houses and rose gardens. Couples and families having tea and coffee and reading the paper out front in chairs while cheering us on. Very cool.

At mile 7, I negative thoughts arose again. How am I ever going to do a full marathon when a simple half is so hard? And how am I ever going to make it through March's half IM, if I can't even do this? Stop. I'm not doing those things. This is what I'm doing NOW. Focus on now. Stay in the moment. Focus on the task at hand. Think about mile 8. These positive statements became my mantra. You've probably heard that racing is 80% mental? After this race, I've decided it's true. I had to totally talk myself through it. Instead of feeling totally defeated because I was running so slowly, I lifted my spirits by thinking about a recent 10 mile run around Lake Miramar, where I had felt like a colt let out to pasture after a long, cold winter in a dark barn. I felt fast and fresh and could have gone forever. I focused on how I had felt that day. It actually made me feel better.

Mile 8. My knees and hips began to bug me. This is not new for long runs although it did seemed achier than normal. Plus, I had blisters because I had worn the wrong socks. Too thin, and there was slippage. They began to really sting. I could feel them sliding around. Ouch. The hip felt like a soft tissue thing but the knees felt like a joint thing. Bone grinding on bone. Ugh. Maybe it's time to try the chondroitin sulfate/glucosamine supplements again. Had some luck with them in the past.

Mile 9. Pain the same. I took stock. Breathing--easy. Very easy. As a matter of fact, it was just general fatigue from the illness that was bugging me. Okay. Good. Hydration. Pretty good. Drinking every mile. Not sweating too much or feeling too thirsty. Feet--they're just blisters--ignore it. Knees and hips--will need rest and ice after race but nothing is permanently injured. Just a warning sign. Pain was a 3-4 out of a scale from 1-10. Okay. Not too bad. (Blisters bugged me more.)

Mile 10. Really great band (don't know the name; sorry). I picked up the tempo. Everything went numb. Usually, this is the point where it gets hard, not easy, so I felt elated to get my runner's high at this point. I felt good. No pain anymore. Joints, hips, feet--great. No problem. I hit my groove and knew I was going to be able to finish. This is when I realized my troubles were mostly mental. If I hadn't been physically fit or well enough to do this, I wouldn't be feeling this good at mile 10. My confidence built and my runner's high just accumulated. Awesome. I knew I could easily do the "mile countdown" now.

Mile 11 went by very quickly. Mile 12. Oh. 2:00. My other half marathons were all under 2:00 so I was a little disappointed. Stop. We've already been here. We're running slow today. Oh, yeah. Okay. Funny but it seemed that it took forever for mile 13 to appear. I'm really going to have to start doing some mental training b/c I can't believe the difference it makes.

I saw the finish and almost wanted to cry. I've never been that emotional at the finish before but I think it was such a challenge mentally for me that I truly felt wonderful that I could finish. I just wanted to throw my arms in the air, shout hallelujah, and cry. I was so happy. I had done it, despite it all. I feel good about my 2:10 time. I ran the whole way, despite a cold and finished in a respectable time. My base fitness is awesome because it can get me through something like that.

Aftewards, I actually felt less congested. I think running had something to do with that. My parents were astounded that a) I ran it with a cold and b) I seemed to feel better after running than before. Jason and I drove back to San Diego a few hours after the race so we could get to work on time Monday morning. I don't recommend taking an 8 hour road trip shortly after running a half-marathon. People at the gas stations must have thought I was crippled or something the way I hobbled into the bathrooms. However, I proudly sported my half marathon t-shirt (with the most awesome logo, by the way). Today, I feel pretty good. Tired and sore but the cold is almost gone. I just need some good old-fashioned R&R.

What I learned from this race:
1. Running with a cold is hard.
2. Racing tests your mental toughness as well as physical.
3. Know why you're doing the race before you enter.
(You may have to remind yourself during. I just wanted to finish for the pure accomplishment of running 13.1 miles).
4. Have several race goals. One that is optimal (if I had felt good, it would be to run 9 min miles), a second that's in the middle (run the whole way), and a third for sub-optimal conditions (finish).
5. Have a mantra to keep you in the moment. Mine was "Stay in the moment." Or, "Stay in the now." "Just keep running."
6. When negative thoughts creep up, stop them in their tracks. Replace them with confidence-filling thoughts. I kept telling myself it was okay to feel like molasses since I was sick. I told myself I was doing great. I focused on past runs where I had felt great and visualized them.
7. Break the race into small portions. I began to think, "Oh, God. I have 10 miles left to go." Or, at mile 7, I freaked out b/c I knew I still had an hour left to run. Instead, I thought, where's the next band? Where's the next mile marker? That helped. A lot.


Jodi said...

Great race report! I am so impressed with your ability to keep out negative thoughts. That will be a big part of my training this winter- finding a good way to deal with them.


Jack said...

Great race report, I love your lesson learned - so true! I admire your courage in hanging in there under less than idea circumstances (e.g. cold). You'll do fine with whatever goals you have, you are tough!

Rice said...

Nothing like a run to work a cold out of you. Its so cool that your dad came running out to come with you.. Good lesions too, it would seem every run is a learning experience; I had a big “learning experience” myself this weekend. Luckily we only had a one hour drive, couldn’t imagine doing eight.

Great work.



Jenö said...

Good race report. I hope you're feeling ok two days after the race.

Ann (bunnygirl) said...

Great job hanging in there! You're right-- it isn't easy to run long when you're not feeling well. Just think how much better you'll do on upcoming races when you're at your best!

Ellie Hamilton said...

I knew you could do it! If you can do that, I can go out and do my brick today :-)

Cliff said...

That's great Rachel.

These lessons will prove valuable on your future races (especially the long ones).

The number one goal in all my race is to survive :). That is to reach the finish line. Then i have another goal that is a bit harder that I strieve for.

The last point is to me the hardest to break. Especially for the longer distances. I found it very easy to get freak out..then i have to remind myself about my trainings.

Anonymous said...

I'm impressed at what you can do with a cold and without any food in your stomach! Also glad to hear that your feeling better, I would have been afraid to make the cold worse.

Great job, don't worry about the time... There is plenty of time for another half marathon PR next season, perhaps during the half IM!!!

JeffM said...

Great report- so vivd! A great study in perseverence and working through the suffering. Have to keep the mantras in mind for the next bad run.

Bolder said...

well done. most (including myself) would have just stayed home!

you are very aware when you are running in a race! after the Bolder Boulder '06, everyone kept saying to me did you see Elvis, The Blues Brothers, did you like the Belly Dancers, and I was like 'huh, what?'.

Jessica said...

Nice job despite the cold, and great lessons!

Barb said...

I'm impressed at how well you managed the mental side of the race. So glad I read this post today. I've got my 1/2 tomorrow and I've let my fitness level slip somewhat. I'm sure I will need to use some of the techniques I just learned from you to get through it and enjoy the race.

It's not about the speed... it's about the experience!