Last weekend, I ran my first “virtual” race. I usually run a few races during the spring and summer, but this year all races were canceled or moved to virtual due to the pandemic. Part of me was excited to finally race, but part of me was nervous about pushing myself in a race that I was running all by myself.
The Red White and Boom half marathon is one of my favorite races of the year. It’s always on the 4th of July and usually really hot, but its so festive and a fun way to kick off the holiday. I’ve been working with a running coach the last few months, so I was excited to test my fitness to see if my work is paying off.
The hard part of running a virtual race is that you don’t have a closed course or support from water stops along the way. I spent a lot of time trying to plan my course by running around lakes where I wouldn’t have to stop at intersections. Since drinking fountains are still closed, I also had to plan to bring water bottles that I could access during the race.
Of course the race weekend was one of the hottest of the year so far. Even at 6am it was projected to be mid 70’s and 90% humidity. I knew that I was going to need really consistent access to water and electrolytes, so I decided that I would just run loops of a 3 mile lake where I could stop to drink from a water bottle each loop.
The day before the race was equally as hot. I did an easy 3 mile shakeout run and was really nervous. The humidity made it hard to breathe, and I was sweating and tired even at an easy pace. My coach had planned the race at a conservative pace due to the heat, but I mentally prepared that I might have to be even more conservative due to the weather. My goal became to have a comfortable first half, regardless of the pace, so that I didn’t end up unable to finish the race!
Like always, I didn’t sleep great the night before the race, but knew I had to get my butt going to get out there early! I packed my waters, electrolytes, caffeine gum, and gels and headed to the lake. I did an easy 1 mile “warm up” that felt so-so, but then I was ready to begin.
I started off the first couple of minutes faster than my goal pace of 8:00-8:10 minute miles, so I had to slow myself down. I hovered around 8:05 for the second half of the first mile, and was surprised that it felt good. I knew I had a lot of miles to go, so I kept checking in with myself to ask if I could sustain the pace for another 90 minutes.
The next few miles felt good, and I kept backing off to keep my pace around 8:00. I did start to get warm, and was really appreciative that I could stop for water every few miles. The stops were a little clunky because I had to come to a dead stop to drink, instead of grabbing a cup and continuing to drink like I would in a race. But, I knew this was the best I could do in this virtual race setting, and didn’t dwell on it.
I thought looping the lake 4 times would get boring, but it helped break up the race into manageable sections. Before long, I had 2 laps down and was “halfway”. At about this time, I realized that I would actually run over 4 laps to hit 13 miles. Math is not my strength, clearly.
At 6 miles, I took a gel, but started to be concerned with how I was feeling. My body started feeling sort of sore, which was strange since it’s not like I had been running for hours. I held pace for a few more miles before it started to get really hard. Knowing that it was continuing to get hotter and that I still had 30+ minutes left of running, I decided it would be best to back off the pace a little. I took a longer water stop at mile 8, and ended up choking on the water which delayed me more. Instead of trying to make up the time, I took it slow and steady and had my slowest 2 miles for the next 2.
Normally, this is the part of the race where I would start to fall apart, start walking, and throw away my goal. After my 2 “relaxed” miles, I started to feel better and was able to get back to an 8:15ish pace. I didn’t necessarily feel great, but I felt good enough to hold on. I promised myself once I got to mile 12, I would run as fast as I could for the last mile.
Mile 13 felt like the longest mile of my life, and I probably would have ran faster if I didn’t look at my watch nearly the entire time! I think I saw every .1 mile go by, and each felt like an eternity. I was able to hold a 7:33 pace for that mile and I was proud that I pushed when I would normally fall apart– especially given that I was all alone!
The last .1 mile was a blur but I was SO happy to be done. I finished in 1:47:35. My goal time had been 1:45, but I was really happy with the time given the weather conditions and virtual race setting. I still beat last years time by over 4 minutes!
I was sweating so much that it was dripping off my shorts and legs. I stopped and took a little break before jogging back to my car. I realized there were lots of other runners around the lake that were probably doing the same race. My friend said he even saw me towards the end, but I think I blocked out everything around me the entire time!
Overall, I was so proud of my race because I knew I did the very best that I could that day. I was pretty smart about the pacing, and made adjustments to preserve myself for the end. Obviously, I wish I wouldn’t have needed to slow down a few miles in the middle, but it was better than pushing too hard on such a hot day.
It wasn’t the fastest half marathon that I have run, but you have to run to what your fitness and the weather allows. The race gave me confidence to stick with my training because I am getting physically and mentally stronger! I also have to say the virtual race wasn’t all that bad. It wasn’t the same experience as race day, but it was better than endless training.
This gives me hope for my other upcoming virtual races, including Twin Cities Marathon— maybe it won’t be as bad as I’m imagining it to be!