BREAKING THE BARRIER… FINALLY!
The old saying goes “If at first you don’t succeed, try try again.”
But exactly how many “tries” should one attempt? I think I might finally have an answer to that question.
You see, back in February 2009 I ran my very first half marathon (Surf City) and crossed the finish line in 2:36:01.
No sooner had I received my first ever piece o’ bling, then I challenged myself to one day run a sub 2-hour half marathon.
I thought it was happen sooner rather than later.
That would be a big ‘ole nope.
It didn’t happen on my 2nd half marathon, nor my 3rd.
- 10th– afraid not.
- 15th– guess again.
- 25th– that’d be a big no.
In September 2014, I literally came within 60 seconds of doing it as I ran the REVEL Big Cottonwood Half Marathon in 2:01:00.
In the two years since, while I’ve had plenty of good races, I hadn’t come within 5 minutes of eclipsing that elusive mark.
I was seriously starting to doubt if I’d ever break it.
Cut to the beginning of last week. I was prepping to run the 2016 Big Cottonwood Half Marathon, the scene of my previous 2-hour near miss.
This was going to be half marathon #46 for me. While I was ready and excited for the race, I didn’t feel I was in the same shape I was in 2014 when I flirted with 2-hours. To be honest, I didn’t think I had a realistic shot at it at all.
Then the entire week leading up to the race played out. And it was a crappy week. I mean really crappy. It seemed that every knucklehead in the world decided to pay me a call or get up in my business. By Thursday, I was really hating people in general.
Oh, and then my credit card got hacked, which is just a mountain of suck to deal with.
I was in quite a mood and desperately needed to blow off some steam. My buddy Jeff called and asked if I had a strategy for Saturday’s race. I simply responded, “I’m going to run pissed.”
In case you’re wondering, for me running pissed= aggressive. Very aggressive.
Now, I normally try to heed the battle-tested strategy of “not going out too fast.” Failing to do so is usually a recipe for disaster.
But Big Cottonwood has a downhill slope (quite steep at times) for the first 9.5 miles before basically flattening out. So starting out faster than normal is actually not so bad of a strategy.
And did I mention I was going to run pissed? It basically meant I was either going to have a really fast run for me or crash and bonk.
Cut to race day.
Hold on one second. If you haven’t run Big Cottonwood before, it’s a beautiful course and REVEL does an awesome job… check ’em out.
Okay, now cut to race day.
After almost freezing off various parts of my anatomy waiting at the high-altitude start area (7,344 feet above sea level), we finally got the go-ahead to line up at the start. Stripping off all of my layers in the 38˚ weather (chilly willy) I stood ready with the 2600 other half marathoners.
Bang. And we were off.
Now I calculated that to run a 2-hour half marathon, I needed an average pace of 9:09 min/mile or less.
I thought my goal for a sub 2-hour half was going to be over before it really got started. After the first mile I saw that my pace was 9:55 min/mile. Now granted I was still warming up, but I wondered if I was going to be able to ramp up my pace almost a full min/mile faster and maintain that for a dozen more miles. Scooby-Doo, we had some work to do now.
I uttered my mantra “my race, my pace” to myself. And picked up the pace. And then picked it up again.
As the miles rolled on, I saw that my overall pace was getting faster and faster.
By the halfway point, I had gotten my pace down to 9:10 min/mile, close to what I needed to have a chance to break the mark. It was also at the halfway point that I caught sight of the 2:00 pacer. She had a “2:00” sign on a stick and it was waving above her head. Now I’m not sure, but I do believe the sign itself was taunting me.
Since I knew the race course flattened out at the 9.5 mile mark, I only had a short time to utilize the downward slope and “bank” a few precious seconds (maybe even a full minute or 2). I knew I would need it near the end.
So I picked up the pace again.
At mile 7.5 a small blister started to form on my right foot. I tried to ignore it. And picked up the pace.
At mile 8 I looked down at my watch and grinned. My overall pace was now 8:59 min/mile. But I was starting to breathe a little bit harder and my muscles felt the first tweak of fatigue… and the toughest part of the race was yet to come. I hoped I had banked enough seconds.
So, mile 9.5 final came and the course flattened out. Of course after running downhill for the last 90 minutes on a downward slope, flat terrain felt like you were going up-hill.
The 2:00 pacer (and her damn taunting sign) had pulled a little bit away from me, but I could still see them. By mile 11 my overall pace had slowed to 9:05 min/mile and I was feeling it. My growing withdrawals from the time bank meant that I had less than a 50- second cushion if I was going to break 2-hours.
I was breathing harder and I felt the blister with each step of my right foot. I was hurting.
I had to decide whether to slow up, stop and fix my shoe or just grin an bear it and run on.
An then I thought about the plane ride home. Did I want to cruise at 35,000 feet eating my tiny bag of peanuts grinning over breaking 2-hours or lamenting that I missed the mark by a minute or two.
I decided to grin and bear it.
At mile 12, it got even worse. My pace was now 9:07 min/mile (less than a 20-second cushion) and I was feeling quite fatigued.
Then my gut kind of rumbled. In the bad way. In the “there’s a chance I might puke” way. And as if the universe wanted to drive that point home, I looked over at the runner to my immediate left as she stopped mid-stride and proceeded to toss her cookies.
I slowed my stride for about 100 yards as I figured this was it… “game over” on 2-hours. Did I really want to risk doing a one-man off-Broadway performance of “Jason and the Technicolor Yawn” all over myself? I guess I’d have to “try again”… again.
I didn’t have time to really answer that question because in the distance I finally saw it.
The finish line.
Screw it. Run on.
And if I puke? Well I’ll just photoshop the race pics.
I took a deep breath and started running faster. No more looking at my watch and calculating my time. All I could do was focus on the finish line, keep running and hope I made it in time and without a protein spill.
.3 miles. .2 miles. .1 miles.
There was the finish line just ahead. I could hear the crowd. I took my headphones off and listened to the cheers. I had only about 100 yards to go. The length of a football field.
And then I saw the “official race clock” as it clicked from 1:59:59 to 2:00:00. For brief moment I felt utterly dejected.
And then I realized the race clock showed the “gun time,” not my chip time (I was a little loopy at this point). I glanced down at my watch and saw my actual current time- 1:59:20.
I still had time.
And to my left I saw the 2:00 pacer (and her taunting sign). They were jogging slowly to the finish line (so they’d cross right at 2:00). She turned my way and uttered “You got this.” And I heard the announcer call out my name as I approached the line.
I smiled and clomped the last few yards. I did indeed “got this.”
Now REVEL had a camera recording the finish and if you watch me cross the line (at 58:27 of the video) you’ll see me let loose a rather pathetic yell of triumph (or maybe it was pain… or both).
My official finish time- 1:59:49:06 with an overall pace of 9:08 min/mile.
I had finally broken the 2-hour barrier… with just over 10 seconds to spare.
Now with that awesome time, I surely must have made the podium.
Nope. No way. Not even remotely close.
That finish time secured me 1106th place.
- The top 42.5% (1106 out of 2601)
- 42nd in my age bracket (42 out of 172)
- 448th in my gender (448 out of 768)
So, maybe I didn’t win the race. Maybe I only finished slightly higher in the top half than usual.
Didn’t matter. It was important to me.
After 7 years, I finally achieved something I had worked for so very hard. And I didn’t quit. And they can’t take that away from me. That’s all that mattered as I enjoyed my tiny bag of peanuts on the flight home.
So if at first you don’t succeed, try try again.
Even if it takes you 46 tries.
And as always…Run on!