Running Pace and Other Reflections on My 3rd Half Marathon


Before I start reflecting, here's what I've officially given the title of The Worst Photo Ever Taken of Me. My sister didn't fare too well either. (I'm only showing you this because it's completely ridiculous and also because I have no shame.)

Lesson learned: do NOT stand anywhere near a camera at 6:30 in the morning.

Two years ago this month, I took up running. It was April 2010, and a friend convinced me that we should run a half marathon together in Wichita in October of that same year, which gave me 6 months to train to run 13.1 miles. I trained through the sweltering Oklahoma summer and participated in my first half marathon. I had so much fun, I decided I absolutely needed to run another. I ran a second half marathon in October 2011. Then I ran two 10ks (6.2 miles)--one in February and one in April 2012. 

My third half marathon was on Sunday, April 29. My dad ran the half marathon as well (his first), though we didn't run together.

I write about running a lot on this blog (just click on the "running" tab to see them all), and that's because running has changed my life. In some ways it's more than a hobby; it's a way to test myself, push the limits of what I think I can do, and challenge myself to always be better. (And it allows me to eat pretty much whatever I want with no lasting effects.)

My personal best half marathon time was 2 hours and 8 minutes. When I signed up for the OKC memorial race, I set a goal of under 2 hours. Training began, and I quickly realized I had failed to consider just how hard it actually was to shave off time. 

I don't know all that much about the technicalities of running, but over the past two years I've observed a few things--one being that everyone runs at his or her own pace. Obvious, right? But the more I thought about it, the more it dawned on me that that's exactly why some people are faster or slower than others. Being in shape and adequate training are important, no doubt--but it starts with natural paceA person who finishes in 2 hours might not actually be in better shape than a person who finishes in 2:12, and they might not have been training as long. They could be, and they might have, but I still believe that from the get-go, the former had a faster running pace, so he or she finished sooner.

Case in point: my brother, who ran his first half marathon in 1:58 with minimal training. It was hard for me to not be slightly upset about his result, seeing as how I had spent months training, only to get a slower time. But if his natural pace is faster is mine, it's not a strike against my training or how in shape I am. It's just a fact that he runs faster than me.

When I set out on a run, my natural pace is a 10-minute mile. That pace got me across the finish line in Wichita in 2:08. So to cut 8 whole minutes off my time, I would need to somehow actually increase my natural running pace by a full minute per mile. 

After that genius thought hit, I bumped my finishing goal back from under 2 hours to anything under 2:08. (Secretly, though, I was still hoping for as close to 2 hours as I could get.)

The last 5 miles were terribly, dreadfully horrible. A few times I semi-seriously considered quitting. Just running into the grass and quitting right then and there. You see, what I realized too late (as in, 8 miles into the run) was that I'd been training for 9-minute miles, but I hadn't been going on runs longer than 8 miles at that pace. So for the first 8 miles, I was rocking a 9-minute pace. I congratulated myself more than a few times on my speed and was satisfied with how everything was falling perfectly into my running plan.

When I saw Jordan and my mom and my sister somewhere along mile 9, they said I was right on pace for a 2-hour half or, if not fully under, definitely close to it. 

Then I hit my wall, and so began the horribleness of the last 5 miles. 

After three half marathons, I can tell you with certainly that I hate mile 9 with the passion of a thousand fiery suns. Curse you, Mile 9! I felt like I was running through sand, and I got slower and slower...and slower. 

I hadn't once looked at my watch for the overall time, but when I finally hit mile 12, I figured I should see where I was at. 


"Crap!" I shouted out loud, causing a few odd looks from nearby runners. That one word had cost me precious and much-needed energy, so I continued the rest of the conversation in my head: Forget under two hours, you slow dummy. If you don't hurry up, you won't even beat your old time! Get moving! 

I spent the next 1.1 miles issuing loud, audible grunts every 30 seconds or so. This confused nearby runners and caused more odd looks, but I was beyond caring. A stream of negative sentences were running through my head. Apparently I had no energy left to encourage and found that negativity was easier.  

The running has to stop. This is the worst I've ever felt in my life. I am never running again. Heck, I might even quit right now. MAKE IT STOP!

My faint light of inspiration was the sheer fact that the sooner I got to the finish, the sooner I could stop. Forever. That and the fact that I would feel like a huge failure if I didn't at the very least beat my old time kept me moving forward at as quick a pace as I could manage. 

Oh, and the fact that I'd written this message in Sharpie on the back of my calves: 

I saw someone do this once and thought it was a fun idea. The only problem is that if you write something like this on yourself, you can't very well stop and walk without looking ridiculous and hypocritical. 

Also, please note the arrow, which is pointing to the blood that seeped through my shoe when my toe split open. I was stupidly not wearing my blister-proof socks. This has happened to me before.

At the end of it all, I clocked in at 2:07
Forget 8 minutes. I was overjoyed to have lost 1. And that's the truth.

I was smiling, but really I felt like I was dying. 

Despite my negativity, I do plan on running another. I will continue my quest for an under-2-hour time, although now I realize it might take me years. Literally. Even so, I know what I need to do now, and I'm more prepared for the simple fact that speeding up your natural running pace is hard, hard work.

So just know that this is not the last you will hear from me about running. I don't know if that's a warning or something to look forward to, so take it as you will. Running is part of my life now, and I love it. It's hard and stressful and downright dreadful sometimes, but there's nothing quite like crossing that finish line, knowing you wanted to quit but didn't, knowing you did something that at one time seemed impossible. And--for me, anyway--the lingering knowledge that at some point in the future, I'll line up at the start, and it will happen all over again. Mile 9 is waiting.

For now, however, I'm icing my knees and eating cake.

(Oh, and I can't forget to mention that my dad's a total rockstar. He finished just 7 minutes behind me in 2:14.)

(It started raining. That's not all sweat!)
Melissa said...

oh my gosh! thats awesome that your dad ran with you! im running my 2nd and 3rd 1/2 this goal is 2:15..but my secret goal is 2:10 or under! i always fight with myself about pace, and often need to remind myself that i am competing against myself!
congrats on your race!

Elaine said...

New to your blog-ran my first 1/2two Octobers ago, found out I was about 4 weeks preggo a few weeks later and have just started running again. I ran the Harbor 1/2 in Corpus Christi in 2:10. I am with you and run about a 10 min mile natural pace...too bad we aren't closer or we could train together, that is if I get crazy and decide to run another and find somebody willing to watch my 2 kiddos while I train. Great job on continuing to run:)

Lauren said...

Yay you are so wonderful! Times aside, you RAN ANOTHER HALF MARATHON!!! Let's pause for a moment & not take this lightly. You are a rockstar with the bloody toe to prove it. GO GIRL.

I did my last long run yesterday... 9 miles... & I almost didn't make it. But hey, maybe it's just the 9 mile wall you speak of & I'll be fine. Right? *gulp*

Geoff Reese said...

You inspire me.

Anonymous said...

great job on beating your time. that's hard core and super bad-a. so proud of you. hooray for #3!!


PS tell your dad congrats too, on his first! pretty impressed by him!