The 2007 Sioux Falls Half Marathon was better than expected. I achieved a PR by over 6 minutes in this race, so my race day experience was great.
Approaching race day, I was a bit concerned about my prospects because my last 3 long runs (8, 12 and 6 miles) did not go well. I set a goal of 2:05, which would have been a PR by about a minute, and planned on maintaining a race pace of 9:20 to 9:30/mile for the first half and adjusting that pace after that based on how I felt .
Race day came and the weather was perfect -- low 50's with only a slight breeze and sunny to partly cloudy skies. The race started with a lap around a track and then out on the roads. I thought the track was crowded and the pace very slow, until I looked at my Garmin Forerunner and realized we were moving around there at a 9:15/mile pace. Was it a good sign that I thought the pace was slow even though it was slightly faster than I wanted?
I ran the first 5 miles of the race with my friend (who's faster than I am but was using this race as a training run), and I tried really hard to maintain my goal pace, but I just couldn't get off of a 9:15/mile pace. I thought I was slowing up, but every time I looked at my watch, the average pace was still around 9:15/mile. I felt good.
My friend and I split up at the 5 mile aid station, and I left that station somewhat concerned because my past experience has not been good with faster than planned starts, and I was now alone. Over the next mile and a half, I was able to maintain the 9:15 pace and continued to feel good.
At that point, I decided to throw caution to the wind and see how good I really felt. After a couple of fast miles (for me), my Garmin Forerunner indicated that my average pace was 9:08, and I still felt good. I had about 5 miles left, but I realized that if I could maintain my average pace, I had a shot at breaking two hours. That thought had never entered my mind in the weeks leading up to the race. Breaking two hours was just not something I felt I was realistic based on my training. Thus, I was extremely hesitant to adjust my goal mid-race to try and break two hours. But I thought I had a shot and still felt good, so I continued to push it.
The second half of the race, I was regularly passing people, which never happens, and people weren't passing me either, which usually happens. Let me tell you that it felt really good to be on the other side of things for a change.
At about 10.5 miles, I started to feel the effects of the faster pace. My legs were getting tired, and my breath was getting short, but I was still able to generally maintain the pace. My walk break at the 11 mile aid station was a little longer than the others in the race (but still shorter than the minute walk I had planned on taking at each stop). I started running again and continued trying to push the pace, passing people and feeling relatively good, although I was tiring.
At the 12 mile mark, my watch told me that I still had a chance to break two hours, but I would have to pick up the pace a bit. I started out that last 1.1 miles by picking out certain points (the end of the bridge, a turn in the path, a pole, whatever) and increasing the pace when I got past those points. There was a water station about a half mile from the finish, and I thought about taking a drink, but instead just doused myself with a cup of water and continued on without stopping. A woman passed me, and I tried to stay with her but couldn't. Would I make it? I'm not looking at my watch. Just go!
Right before the last corner, I saw my dad and gave him a fist bump. I turned the corner and had about a quarter of a mile left. Out of the corner of my eye, I caught a glimpse of my wife, son and mom, and I just kept motoring on. I wanted to break two hours.
I hadn't looked at my watch since the 12 mile mark so I didn't know how much time I had left to break two hours or if it was even still a possibility. But for the last 200 meters or so, I could hear the watch alerting me that my pace was too fast (I have it set to beep if I go faster than an 8:00/mile pace). I knew that I was moving along at a good clip. I saw another friend cheering from the sidelines before the finish, which was a nice surprise, and then crossed the finish line. The official clock read 2:02 something, but I needed to check my watch . . . 1:59:58. Wow! I was ecstatic. I did it. Whoa! That was close. And then it occurred to me that my timing chip would hold my real time. What if I didn't start or stop my watch at the right time? What if it said 2:00:01? Oh, no! That would be terrible. Still, I was extremely happy because my time was well below my initial goal of 2:05. (In the end, my chip said the same thing as my watch -- 1:59:58.)
After I caught up with my family and friends , I realized that I must have looked like I was in great pain on that final stretch because each one of them asked me, "When did you start to hurt?" Honestly, I didn't really feel any pain. I was just giving it all I had there at the end. If it hurt, which it must have based on their comments, it was a good pain because I didn't feel it. Throughout the race, I was just amazed at how good I felt given how fast (for me) I was going.
I'm very happy. I accomplished something that I thought was out of reach for this particular race day. I can't wait for the next one.