Three years ago, I ran my first half marathon at a local race called the Birdtown half marathon. I had only ever ran a 7k race before, and I had no idea what to expect. My goal was to finish in under 2 hours and off I went. The race was a huge struggle starting at about mile 6 and I spent a ton of time walking. I remember watching the 2 hour time slip past the last mile and couldn’t even bring myself to keep running. I finished in 2:04:30, and was proud to say I had run a half marathon.
Last year, I ran the Birdtown again. Since I had run 2 more half marathons after the Birdtown, I was more prepared. That is, until race day when it was pouring rain. The rain didn’t bother me as much as I thought, and I pushed through with soaking wet shoes and an empty course. I PR’d the race at 1:48:30. I ended up running slower at my next half marathon on a much warmer and humid day, but was frustrated that I didn’t break the 1:45 time that I was hoping to achieve at either race that year.
This year, I took training pretty seriously and pushed as hard as I could in my workouts. I focused a lot more on shorter speed runs and did more strength training than I ever have. I saw a lot of progress in my shorter runs (I PR’d my 5k and 1 mile this spring), but my longer runs haven’t felt spectacular. Spring came really late in Minnesota this year, so many of my hour or longer runs were done on a treadmill and I only did a couple of 10 and 12 mile outdoor runs. They felt okay, but I was a little worried about my ability to keep an 8:00 pace the whole race.
A few weeks before the half marathon, my pesky knee pain started to show up again. I first started getting pain after running the marathon last year, and took about a month off with physical therapy to heal. When the pain didn’t go away, I stopped running almost all together, wrapped my leg, and iced it as much as possible to try to heal it.
The day before the Birdtown, I walked to packet pickup and couldn’t even walk without pain and was really freaked out that I wouldn’t be able to run. I felt okay on race day morning and tried to warm up as usual by walking and taped my leg and decided to wear a sleeve over my knee which always seems to help. Since I wasn’t sure how the race would go, I randomly decided to run with the 1:40 pace group instead of my 1:45 goal. If I failed, I could just blame my knee, right?
The first half of the run went really well. I wasn’t actually sure what the pace was for a 1:40 time, so I was pretty blissfully unaware of what I was running. There are a couple of steep hills during the course between miles 5-6 and the second hill really hit me so I backed off from the pace group a little. Once I slowed down to around a 7:45 pace, I felt a lot more comfortable (well as comfortable as you can be running a half marathon).
I felt strong through mile 10, and my parents kept biking around the course to cheer me on. It’s silly, but the boost you get from seeing friends and family cheering for you is really nice. I knew I couldn’t look wimpy in the pictures they were taking! I also knew the Girls on the Run team that I coach was going to be cheering at mile 11, so that pushed me through to look strong for them. I thought I was in about 3rd place for women at that point, so I was really proud to set a good example for the girls.
After mile 11, I was pretty miserable. There was crowd support here and there, but I was running most of it alone. The last few miles are on an open parkway and you can see for a really long way which isn’t great mentally, and I passed a lot of walking runners. That stretch is where I have fallen apart in previous years and ruined my pace goal, but I wasn’t going to let that happen this year! I was so close to my goal, I knew I could keep running, even if I didn’t feel great. I was passed by 2 women during this time who literally flew past me (seriously way to go ladies!). There was no way I could keep up with them, so I kept at my pace.
The last .1 is completely downhill, so I sprinted into the end at a time of 1:41:27. This was way under my goal of 1:45 and I was so proud of myself for remaining strong while pushing myself further than I thought I could. My parents were so proud which is always a good feeling. I also got to cheer on an instagram friend who ran the Birdtown as her second half marathon. There is such a great community of runners on social media and its so fun to meet them in person and watch them achieve their goals!
I’m kind of not sure what my next running goal should be now. I have another half marathon in July, and I would love to beat my time but I also know that this race had pretty perfect conditions, and I gave it 110%. I also now have no idea what my goal time for my October marathon should be, since I think I might be capable of running faster than I give myself credit for. I guess it’s time to train and find out!
Have you ever surprised yourself by achieving a goal easier than you thought?