Slapdash To Speed: Run to Remember Half-Marathon 2012

I didn’t stay on the course for three days, though I can think of worse fates than spending days lollygagging in Boston and Cambridge, especially given my ongoing affair with the treadmill. On Thursday, I got up while Henry slept to put in a pace-check 10k with 4 miles at 7:20ish. I left him a note:

(The note was less grungy before I sweated on it.)

After my run, I safely dismounted the mill and saw this had been slipped under the door:

Mommy needs to get out more. A long, hot race under full sun would be a welcomed change of pace. Literally, for better and worse. Seventy degrees doesn’t make for a personal best.

I’m finally ready for the mental intensity of racing again. For a while, I was wondering if maybe I just didn’t care anymore, but it turns out, I do. Last weekend’s race wasn’t really about the finish line; it was about setting my starting line for the next training cycle.

Let’s get on with it, then. In the words of Dan Rather, “And now the sequence of events in no particular order…”

My running has been patchy and unstructured since January, with a dopey half-marathon outlier in February. I didn’t have much of an idea how fast I am right now, but I wanted the Run to Remember in Boston to be a regression toward a faster mean, if I can tap my inner stats dork.

Last week on a rare day off the mill, I did a 14×400 at the track while Henry was in archery class on the field. Because quarters predict a half-marathon in the way that Yasso 800s can predict a marathon and because I thought I might have to dodge arrows shot by first graders, I went for a pile of fast 400s.

I averaged 1:35 for the intervals, but I haven’t had the tempos or long runs to back up the predicted 1:35 half. Basically, I didn’t feel I deserved a PR in the R2R because I haven’t done the training. Racing is a meritocracy; only tough training merits a PR. I have a mindset that I can’t race a PR without the kind of effort that lands me in PT twice a week.

That’s why I was going to look at the R2R as a baseline for my next training cycle, the line for toeing off on 5 months of kick-my-own-ass running. The race was also meant to redeem my shameful run in Hyannis, which was 13 minutes off my half-marathon PR. I swore off squats and lunges last week, drank a respectable amount of wine with dinner on Saturday, and went to bed early. Such a good girl, I woke up with a halo.

The race started at 7, so I was up at 5 to get to Boston to use the porta potty enough times to make it through the race without incident (see Chicago Marathon 2011, 13.1 Half-Marathon 2010, and every 5k I’ve ever raced). Before having a baby, I contemplated my race kit with the kind of attention that I now contemplate the nuances of pre-race bathroom timing. Motherhood is so magical.

Having devoted all my concern for timing to executing perfectly even porta potty splits, my race plan was to run by effort. That said, I lined up with a few of my Cape relay posse, and they had more numerical ideas. Men. I was running with Chris and “QBaRK,”D, neither of whom like when I win (e.g., see Cape Ann 25k 2010, Falmouth 2011). Not to mention, “QBaRK,”D is a high priest in the order of Garmin worship. Jim was racing, too, but he started behind us because he worships at the altar of the negative split. With these three there, my run-by-effort plan was going to be pretty much secondary to my egotistical need to keep up with the boys. I have a rep to protect.

So with my slapdash training in my little Gu pocket, we saluted the fallen and waited for the gun. Even with 5,400 runners, the corral was pretty sparse and we crossed the Start quickly, within about 30 seconds of the gun. Within another 30 seconds, I could feel the sweat beading. It was getting closer to 70 degrees, under a cloudless sky– not my optimal racing conditions. Chris pulled ahead right off the bat. “QBaRK,”D was enough in front to push my pace. By 3/4-mile, he’d checked his watch 6,947 times and I was looking for a water stop. If he hadn’t been nursing a foot injury and on strict orders from his coach to run easy, he’d have smoked me before mile 2.

We wove from South Boston through Government Center and downtown Boston to find our way to Memorial Drive, where we’d run out and back to the Harvard boathouse in Cambridge. The course was flat, except for a few overpasses, but largely unshaded. I felt like I was working too hard in the early miles, pouring water on my head at the first water stop and thinking that one’s start of summer running shouldn’t be in a race environment.

We started too fast, if you ask me, putting in a few splits under 7:30. At some point in the early miles, “QBaRK,”D and I caught up with Chris and I said, “This is too fast. I want to go by effort.” They ignored me.

We hoofed past MIT and headed toward the turnaround, the leaders passing us at about mile 5. Unlike many people, I love an out-and-back course. I get a charge from seeing the winners coming toward me before I hit the hairpin. The three of us ran together for a while, and our splits were solid, though I really wished I had more speed and strength in my legs. They weren’t PR legs.

We passed the Harvard bricks and I gave a mental fist bump to the Crimson. I was giving this race the old grad school effort, which was fitting but frankly too fast for halfway through a half. At that point, rewriting my dissertation was looking more attractive and likely than racing a negative split.

After the turnaround, “QBaRK,”D said, “You okay?” which is really just a polite way of saying, “You’re slow, lady.”

“I’m fine,” I said, which is really just a polite way of saying, “I’m holding. Leave me alone.”

“Wanna head back?” he asked. Yes, please. On an incline at mile 8, “QBaRK,”D started talking about NPR and ketchup, which is just a polite way of saying, “I’m bored.” I was holding my effort and thus unable to speak, which is probably a good thing. Shortly thereafter, we passed a road crew of convicts, who applauded when we went by. “QBaRK,”D is such a gentleman, I’m pretty sure the fan club in orange jumpsuits had something to do with his decision not to dust me on Memorial Drive.

We ran onto the Longfellow Bridge, in full sun and wind, and I hit my mental and physical nadir for the day. I used to run that bridge to Boston almost every day when I lived in Cambridge, but on Sunday, I wasn’t really waxing nostalgic, and my pace going into mile 10 showed it. I fell off the 7:45s I’d been holding and looked for a water stop so I could Gu up.

We turned onto Charles, one of the most charming and expensive streets in Boston. I can’t say I was feeling charming or swanky. I could feel my lack of longer pace runs; my legs were bitching with loud, heavy slaps of my feet.

With my mind low, I sent my focus outward. I started trading places with Kelly Ripa’s doppelganger, a woman sporting a green shirt and amazing legs. Kelly would pass me, and then I’d focus on her green shirt like a salty margarita and reel her in. We played tag like that for about 2.5 miles and it took me out of my head when I needed to shut off my brain.

We turned off Charles and ran around the Public Garden. I was hoping Officer Mike would stop us to make way for ducklings, but no such luck. To me, mile 11-12 is always the I-Hate-This-Like-I-Hate-The-Flu mile of a half-marathon. Because “QBaRK,”D is, in fact, known as “QBaRK,”D, I had to keep my bitching inside my head. My complaints were whirling like my brain was on one of those anti-gravity rides where you stand inside a giant salad spinner. By mile 12, I’d invented the mantra, “This is not a treadmill” to boost my brain.

The last half-mile or so of the R2R is a straight stretch on which you can see the finish from way too far away. I’ve noticed that most finish lines fall shortly after a turn, and this race demonstrated why that standard is so much better. When you try to pick up your kick into the finish from more than a half-mile, your kick kind of unkicks before you should even start kicking in the first place. That 800 meters felt eternal.

We crossed the finish without any real sense of where the line was. There was no banner, no stripe on the road, just three timing mats in close succession, so you didn’t really get a clear sense of when it was over. I just kept running until I saw other people stop.

1:41:42 (7:46/mile)… 39/1102 in AG

Not too shabby. I’ll take that and a bottle of water.

It was faster than I’d expected and a good outcome for a hot day on minimal training. It’s way off the 1:35 prediction and pretty far from my PR (1:38:55), but I was expecting around a 1:43, so I’m more than happy with this baseline. Here’s the other thing: you want a race to be fast enough to avoid pouting but not so fast as to leave you without motivation to train. I am so ready to start a renewed focus on speed work, volume, and the training that had given way to who-knows-what.

To sum up this stupidly epic report in a fortune cookie: A slapdash Spring yields a summer of speed. Next up: the BAA 10k on June 24 and Falmouth in August.

And tomorrow’s note:

3 responses

  1. Your friend has a very hard name to pronounce…what is that, French or something? And Henry has the male two-word response down pat, I see. As for the Half, running in heat completely sucks in my book, so I think you did well :-) ! Congrats.

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