I ran my second half marathon of the year yesterday (May 4, 2013). The From the Heart half marathon is a fantastic local race in Owatonna, MN that benefits families in the community fighting cancer. New families are honored each year, and this year was the 5th annual race. Our family has good friends that live in Owatonna, and the frosting on that cake is one is a BRF that I don’t get to run with nearly often enough. I ran this race last year too; it was an especially emotional one for our friends, as their neighbor was one of the honored families (he fought a hard fight with cancer and is at peace in eternal rest now…thoughts and prayers with the DeKam family). It was not a great race for me last year…the weather was perfect, the running company was fantastic, the race was well organized, but I just didn’t feel great…particularly in the last few miles. I had an OK race last year, and actually was only 6 seconds off my half marathon PR, but I knew I could do better. So I needed another shot at this race.
The conditions this spring were far from ideal; actually, the weather conditions this spring (winter?!) have been ridiculous. Two days before the race, Owatonna got almost 16″ of snow (yes, you read that right…more than a foot of snow in MAY), and lots of trees were down throughout town. The weather forecast for race day was high 30s-low 40s and rain. I ran my last half marathon in January (benefitting families affected by the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting tragedy). I had done a winter half marathon – and swore I’d never do another one! I have also run half marathons in cold rain before…and ended up sicker than a dog. That did not sound at all appealing, and I don’t have time right now to be sick (one week of classes and final exams left!). Suffice it to say that I had a pretty poor attitude about the race in the two days leading up to it – I even contemplated scratching from the race, something I have NEVER done!
Once we got down to Owatonna Friday night, though, and I obsessively checked the hourly forecast for the morning every 5 minutes or so, I was feeling a little more hopeful and positive. It was certainly not ideal conditions, but now we were there…and Kristen and I could formulate our race plan. I learned last year that when running a small hometown race that’s not in my hometown, it’s very handy to run with someone who has the same name that IS from that hometown! That way…when people cheer for her, I felt like they were also cheering for me! Our race plan was that I would completely ignore my watch and not obsess about my pace. I would trust Kristen to pace me, and we’d run as well as we could, as smart as we could, and make sure we felt great about it throughout the race. We set three goals: (1) shooting high for 1:52, (2) shooting for reality for 1:55, and (3) making peace with 2:00. Once I thought through how my attitude and the weather would affect those goals…I was realistically aiming more for goals 2 and 3.
Race morning was cold (38 degrees) but DRY (happy dance!). I got up early enough to get my coffee and breakfast into and through my system, get dressed in hopefully the right number of layers, and we got down to the starting line with perfect timing. Kristen dropped our bags, and we moved to the starting line just in time for her to secure her timing chip and take off with the gun. She knew the course well, and was a fantastic pacer. I started my watch when the gun went off and then hid it under my sleeve and was a good girl about not cheating and peeking throughout the race.
A few race details…there’s a hill…a very nasty and steep (but thankfully short!) hill around mile 5. I was sucking wind pretty hard by the time I got to the top, but we pushed through at a good pace. Somewhere around mile 6 was time for a Gu energy gel…but that little cup of water at the water stop wasn’t really enough to wash it down adequately. Both of our families were waiting for us at mile 7 (which just happened to be in their driveway!) with cowbells, drums, water, and a fresh outer layer just in case we needed it! They were seriously the best cheering section of the ENTIRE course!
By mile 10, with a 5k to go, Kristen said to me…”if we can keep this up, we’ve got goal #1 in the bag.” I honestly had no idea what pace we were running…I just knew I felt great and I was having fun!
So…time to kick it in for the last couple miles? You betcha! We kicked pretty hard those last couple miles, and they were our fastest splits. At the very end, I pushed to a near 7 min/mi pace (which is ridiculously fast for me – especially after running >12 mi already!), and Kristen pushed even faster once she saw the clock over the finish line! I came in just 4 seconds after her – and it hurt (in that hurt so good kind of way – once I was done anyway) to kick it like that at the end. Based on our unofficial Garmin time, Kristen came in at 1:51:58 and I was 4 seconds later at 1:52:02 – 3 minutes and 8 seconds better than my previous half marathon PR, and 3 min and 14 seconds better than my time in that very same race the year before!
Time to celebrate! My pacer and my BRF brought chocolate milk (which was still ice cold since it was such a cold morning!) AND a thermos of hot chocolate (which felt so good on the cold hands and in the cold body!). It took a little while for it to sink in…it still is, really…I ran a full13 sec/mi faster than I ever had for a half marathon. I pushed myself without realizing how hard I was pushing myself…because I was paying attention to my body and my running buddy, and not my watch and my head.
Time to pause to remember and recognize a few things:
- There were signs throughout the race course – in honor and memory of cancer survivors, those who are fighting, and those who have fought and now are at peace. One runner stopped at the driveway of one of last year’s honored families (who passed away since last year’s race), dropped to a knee and said a prayer. I love running races that are for a reason, for a purpose, and for people.
- I had foot surgery less than 10 months ago. I have had to work back from ground zero last summer to get back into half marathon shape. There were times (so many more than I’d like to admit to) when I questioned whether I’d ever be able to get back to running the way I wanted to again.
- I could not have gotten to that point without my support network. I have my friends who got me through my surgery and post-surgery recovery and rehabilitation. My family who has been there to cheer me on in every sense of the word. My BRFs who have run with me, encouraged me when I needed it, paced me, challenged me, and celebrated with me.
- Just one more…of course we had to snoop the results. I turn 40 this year, remember? I have finally found the bright side to that milestone: new age group for races! If the field of runners in next year’s race (pretty sure this is an annual event for us) is like this years — I’d have 1st place in that new age category! More humbling point: that time earned me 6th in my current (30-39) age group .
It was great to see people out there cheering on such a cold and dismal day. It was great to see husbands, kids, parents, and friends of all the runners. My parents are never far from my mind either, and my miles are dedicated to my Dad this year (please consider a heartfelt to donation to the Alzheimer’s Association in his memory and in support of me!). They never knew me as a runner, and they’d probably think I was a little crazy (most people do). Running, fundraising races, and other charity running options are a great way to bring awareness and much needed funds to some very necessary and worthy causes – and honor the lives and memories of those closest to us.