It was my first race of 2010. Even though it was really just a training run, one of many to help prepare me for Ironman Utah, I was excited. Yes, I'd run the Carlsbad Half Marathon in 2007 and in 2009. But it's such a fantastic race. Gorgeous ocean views, tons of friendly racers and spectators, lots of friends participating, relatively flat course, and just up the street from home! Who can resist? It's early in the season too so it's a great way to test my fitness and see where I'm at.
I was probably one of the only competitors whose pre-race meal the day before consisted of a McDonald's Happy Meal and a 6-Pc Chicken McNuggets (with BBQ sauce). And my pre-race ritual? A 2-hour nap at 4:30 pm to make sure I sabotaged any plans on going to bed early. Despite needlessly challenging myself, I woke up at 5:00 am on Sunday morning ready to run. As predicted, the rains had stopped, and the sun was bright and blinding against a naked blue sky but the temps were energetically chilly (low 50s). Perfect racing weather. However, I absolutely hate the half-hour pre-race full-body shiver that is required to enjoy the benefits of perfect race weather. Most of you who live in other parts of the country with normal seasons probably have a much thicker skin than I. But I have been removed from the wild and placed in captivity (San Diego), and I have lost the ability to survive anywhere else. When the temp drops below 60, I whimper.
After covertly snuggling up next to strangers in the chute to steal some of their body heat (Tip: if you snuggle up next to other men, they don't seem to mind as much as women; plus, they're warmer; Warning--May only work for women), the gun went off. Finally! I was so excited to be able to run, if only to fulfill the primal urge to generate heat. Only 1/4 mile down the road, the first hill appeared, and I attacked, eager to get warm. I had to be careful not to trip over the heels of the surrounding runners. The streets were packed with thousands of us; it was hard not to feel claustrophobic.
The first 2 miles flew by unnoticed. I was concentrating on trying to find some open space. Finally, at the coast, I hugged the curb and weaved in and out, eventually finding open road. I drank in the obscenely gorgeous views of the glittering Pacific as I flew down Hwy 101. My pace was absurd, especially considering my haphazard training as of late. I couldn't possibly keep this up! Or could I? I vaguely remember thinking that the last time I PR'ed (San Dieguito Half Marathon, 2008). Deciding I had nothing to lose, I went with it.
I skipped the aid stations, taking advantage of my FuelBelt and saving myself precious seconds. In addition, because the weather was cool, I didn't need to hydrate much. My feet flew up the mild hills leading up to the turn-around. I remember the hills being killer a few years ago. I remember having a hard time biking up the same hills on my bike ride just the day before. Now, running, I just flew up them. All the trail running was coming in handy. My technique had changed. My body remained upright and I took shorter strides, keeping my feet under me. I used more of my core and upper body, allowing my arms to help "pull" me along.
All of a sudden, the turn-around appeared. Halfway done already? It's amazing how fast 13.1 miles flies by in a race; in training, those miles crawl by at a snail's pace. I reached my favorite downhill on the course, and allowed my feet to dance down the hill. I flew by some vaguely familiar faces. "Go, Rachel!" I heard behind me. I couldn't turn to look for fear of tripping but it was wonderful to know my friends were all around me. Afterwards, my friend, Darrell, came up to claim the floating voice. I had joked I couldn't turn to acknowledge him because I didn't want to fall. The last time he called my name out on a run, I had tripped over a root in the pavement and fallen flat on my face.
Only a mile further, I looked to the right at another familiar face. We were both in the zone.
"Allen?" I said.
"Hey, Rachel!" he replied. It was so great to be able to chat with a friend. The miles continued to fly by. I did get some annoyed looks from the other runners. Mostly because I was chattering away a mile a minute (very out of character for me) as they huffed and puffed. Allen finally let me go ahead, and I quickly fell back into a zone.
I glanced at my watch at mile 12. I realized if I pushed it, I had a shot at PR'ing. I hadn't started planning on PRing. My first goal had been to have an enjoyable run and push the pace a little. My 2nd goal had been to break 2 hours. My secret 3rd goal was, of course, to PR but only if I felt good. I realized I had a shot. But I would have to push it. I gave it everything I got. My breathing intensified. I felt my cheeks become hot and red. Sweat dripped down my forehead and fogged up my sunglasses. I heard my name cheered by friends from the sidelines. I shot them a huge smile; their cheers fueled me on at an impossibly fast pace. I focused on taking short, quick strides and keeping my feet under me.
At mile 12.5, I passed one of my arch rivals. I cheered her on as I passed; she's a super fast runner. However, internally, I was gloating. Of course, the final 0.5 mile was all downhill, playing to my advantage. I absolutely love downhills, and this was a perfect opportunity for me to showcase my skills. It felt like my feet didn't even touch the earth. I turned down the chute and put some extra mustard on my pace. I flew across the finish line victoriously. I had a fabulous run and had succeeded in PR'ing by 3 minutes. 1:48. Whoo hoo!