Last year, I ran the Gulf Coast Half in 1:46 and it was the first race that I felt I was "fast" in. Seeing an 8:05 pace made me realize that I could run faster than my typical 8:30 - 9:00 pace, and was the first reason I ever contemplated attempting a BQ. This year, I wanted to take ten minutes off my time from last year and run a 1:36.
The Gulf Coast Half starts at 7 am, and it's nearly an hour's drive from our place - on the Northshore of Lake Pontchartrain, a.k.a. The Boonies. Besides the drive, I knew from experience that parking would be a nightmare and we'd better get up early. David and I stumbled out of bed at 4:30 am, and even though I knew fueling had been an issue for my last race I couldn't eat anything. I made toast but after one bite I tossed it. I think it's these early mornings that get me!
The race starts and finishes in a state park, and we arrived with 50 minutes to spare, but by the time we crept single-file to the parking lot, we had just half an hour to do a bathroom run and get to the start. I met my little brother Sam and my dad before the start. Sam calmly informed me that he was feeling sluggish and, rather than run a 1:20, he would have to run a 1:24. This cracked me up. Sam is very, very, very quiet. He rarely talks, but when he does it is to the point. It turns out that his projection was almost spot on!
I started near the front and mistakenly went out too fast, but I thought I'd be ok since the announcer cheerily told us all that the second half would be accompanied by a brisk tailwind. I figured if I tired it would pick me up! The race went by quickly and smoothly, but my pace was all over the place. My first mile was fast, then I had a few at goal pace, then I hit a long, slow section. Part of the race is along the lakefront, and rather than a tailwind we had a stiff headwind that kept at us all the way in. In addition to the wind, the sun was surprisingly strong for such an early race (it was also surprisingly warm; the temps were upper 70's all the way to 80 F). The miles along this stretch were my toughest and slowest. I should have taken a Gu here, since I brought one in lieu of breakfast, but I didn't; I felt tired near the end but I didn't feel like my blood sugar had crashed.
Of course, I love seeing people I know on the course. This time, I only saw Sam - he was in 5th at the time and keeping a nice pace. There is only a short portion that doubles back, and I left it before David got there, so we missed each other.
There were a few funny things about this race. The first is that after mile one, when we spread out, two guys and a girl passed me over the entire rest of the race. And I passed two guys and a girl over the entire rest of the race! This was weird, since my pace was bonkers!
The other - embarrassing - thing is that my dad was waiting for Sam, David, and I to finish. As I neared the finish, another girl was just seconds behind me (she trailed me the entire race; after she told me I was pacing her, poor gal), and my dad made a huge scene hollering that I needed to hold the pace, another girl was just behind me, etc. I did hold my pace, and crossed the line ten or twenty seconds ahead of her. I felt so bad for her! But I went up and apologized later and she was such a good sport. The funny thing is that she actually beat me by two seconds! She had started far in the back, but since the race was chip timed she came in behind me but placed higher!
Sam, who finished in 1:23:50 and won his age group, waited for David with me. David forgot he had registered for this race and only realized it three weeks ago. He had been training for another half that is two weeks away, so he had this one sprung on him. But he still finished in 2:00:44, not bad at all!
I finished in 1:35:13 and was inexplicably disappointed in my time and place. I was 10th overall and 5th in my age group; I beat my goal, too. I think it has dawned on me that from here on out, I have to work to get faster. For an entire year, all I had to do was show up and I'd PR - but that was because I was running seriously below my intrinsic potential. Now, I'm running at my level of natural ability, and if I want to PR I have to work for it: train, monitor my pace, consider my fuel. When I don't - like today - I struggle to meet my goal, and still under-perform. Given my long-term goals, I should be able to run faster than I did today, and it should feel easy to me. I guess it's time to face the music and start working harder!
Tell me about the race for which you trained the hardest and ran the best you ever have.