JUST KEEP MOVING FORWARD…
Last Sunday felt a bit weird for me for two reasons.
Reason 1: For the past 6 years straight (and 8 times over the last 9 years) I ran the Los Angeles Marathon with my T2 (Team to End AIDS) charity group during the 3rd weekend in March. It’s a truly wonderful race and was the linchpin in my annual race line-up.
But this year I wasn’t in Los Angeles come mid-March. I’m calling Atlanta home now. Instead, I was lacing up my shoes to run my first Publix Georgia Half Marathon.
Reason 2: In mid-March, I’m typically at the peak shape of my distance training, raring to trek 26.2 miles (a distance that many people hate to drive, let alone run). But not so this year. Given all of the changes my life underwent in 2017, I decided to focus this year on the half marathon and shorter distance races.
My last half marathon was actually on Turkey Day, and then I eased things down to rest my weary legs a little during the holiday season. My goal was to ramp things back up in January and February. Well, it was at the beginning of February (right after the Hot Chocolate 15K) that my “month-long plus” chronic cough started and then my stomach bug hit.
That derailed my distance training and proper race prep. And two extended breaks from running/working out (in order to properly recover) did nothing to help my endurance. Mind you, the breaks were necessary, but the result was me heading to the start line last Sunday in far less-than-ideal shape.
And the Georgia Half Marathon course is a challenging one. It features several rolling hills and a cumulative 700′ altitude gain over the 13.1 miles. And the biggest uphill portion is during the final three miles. This is a tough one, even when you’re in great shape.
In short, Sunday morning I was about to run a half marathon that I was pretty certain was going to kick my ass.
When running half/full marathons, I have several goals in mind, depending on how the race plays out.
If the day is going really well, I’ll push my pace and perhaps even shoot for a course PR or some other tough to reach plateau. These are the kind of races where I hit the finish line with absolutely nothing left in the tank.
If it’s an average day, the course is hard, or the weather conditions suck (too hot, too rainy), I hold back as a safety precaution. I just try to run a solid and steady race.
Now if it’s a bad day, the weather is horrible, or the wheels have come off for some reason, I throw all PR/time/pace goals right out the window. At that point, I only have a singular thought in my mind: finish.
And Sunday’s was the latter. I had prepared a very conservative race plan that utilized my standard run/walk ratio coupled with a slower than normal pace to account for the hills and my current conditioning. But I also knew that I might not be able to maintain that for the full 13.1 miles.
The pre-race was a lot of fun, as I took public transportation (MARTA) to the start area to avoid parking headaches. On the train, I was chatting up with several of the other runners. When I reached the staging area (at Pemberton Park by the Coca-Cola Museum and Georgia Aquarium), the weather was good (53 degrees) and the place was packed with energetic racers waiting for the gun to go off.
Bang! And we were off, running through the streets of Atlanta.
The first five or six miles were okay. Since I hadn’t run this particular course before, I made sure to enjoy the scenery, taking particular note of my surroundings. We did cross over the freeway a few miles in and I caught a great view of the downtown skyline as the morning sun was casting an orange glow on the buildings. Pretty sweet.
Near mile 7, I started feeling the first noticeable twinges of fatigue. Earlier than I’d like, although not entirely unexpected. It was also at this point that the full and half marathon courses diverged. I don’t think I’ve ever been so thankful that I wasn’t running a full marathon.
During next three miles, I felt my energy slipping as my fatigue grew and my breathing got harder and harder. At this point, I figured I’d slow a bit, take slightly long walk breaks and see how far I could get before things got bad. I, unfortunately, ran out of steam around Mile 10 as we emerged from Piedmont Park and hit the biggest incline on the course. My legs were pretty much toast and I was really winded.
Now, this wasn’t the first time I’ve been in the middle of a race with miles to go and a body that was pretty much done. But typically it’s a full marathon and not a half. When that happens, I just go into “fartlek mode.” That’s where I walk until I feel partially rested and then run a short distance… say to the next mile marker or the streetlight up ahead. For the finally 5K of the race, I alternated between walk and run (more heavily on the walk).
I eventually lumbered over the finish line where my medal and a whole heap of snacks awaited. Granted my finish time was nothing to write home about. In fact, it was one of my slowest halfs ever. That said, I achieved my goal for the race. I finished. And that was enough.
As I took MARTA home I thought about something my first running coach (Scott Boliver) told me years ago, and it still holds true: “Just keep moving forward. Even if you have to slow down, even if you walk at a snail’s pace. Just keep moving forward.”
I do have some work to do to get back into proper running shape, and my race schedule will be adjusting to reflect that, but I will follow my coach’s advice. I’ll just keep moving forward.