6 Mental Leaps to Running a Half Marathon

Sunday, TJ and I ran the Mercedes Half Marathon in Birmingham.  Looking back, it was an awesome experience in so many ways.  I’m going to try and write several short posts about it over several days rather then a really long post.

My prep for this race was non existent.  Life got in the way and unlike any other half marathon or my 1 marathon, I did no training or workouts.  So for me this race was all mental.  I knew my physical conditioning wouldn’t bring me though.  Here are the “Mental Leaps” I had to take to actually run this race.

  1. Getting to the starting line.  The race registration was a Christmas gift from TJ (thanks TJ), but my race prep was non existent.  I have a lot of excuses, but non that matter.  Basically, I have been working crazy hours since last Spring and helping my Lovely Wife a lot as she hasn’t been feeling well. Many days I’ve been working /  erranding for 12 hours before I get a chance to run.  With it getting dark early and my hectic schedule, I end up only running 3-4 miles a day. So the race itself was a huge fear for the last couple of months. I even told my Lovely Wife that perhaps I’d show up and after TJ started the race, I’d go somewhere to sit and wait for him to finish (just not tell him that was my plan).  She didn’t think that was a good idea. But after the expo and talking with TJ, I decided to run the race and if need be, have a van take me back to the finish.  At least I’d try, fears and all!
  2. The 7 mile stretch.  I haven’t run over 7 miles for about a year.  Most days at 7 miles my joints and hips just shut down.  The pain gets pretty severe.  So on race day I knew at 7 miles I’d be half way through the race… A major mental leap for me.  The problem was that at 7 miles of running that morning, I was only at mile marker 5!  TJ and I ran 2 miles before the race just looking for a porta potty.  The only bathrooms were inside a nearby building and the line was a mile long.  We ran one direction and then the next.  Finally I asked a police officer and he said, “They are at 18th and 8th”.  I then got turned around and we ran the wrong way for 3 blocks.  When we found the potty, we used them, ran back to the line and… I realized I was too hot.  I had 2 jackets on as it was cold, but all that running made me realize I was over dressed.  So we ran 2 blocks back to the car, then back to the potty and back to the starting line.  2 miles of running and the race hadn’t even started.  Ugh.
  3. The Gu strategy.  My last half marathon nearly 2 years ago, TJ was pacing me.  He was an awesome pacer and he would give me a Gu every 3 miles to help me get the PR that I made that day.  So I tried to follow that same strategy during this race.  At mile 3 I got 2 Gu’s.  I put one in my pocket and eat one.  My “mental leap” was to keep looking forward to the next third mile.  At mile 5 when they gave out more Gu, I passed them up as I had one in my pocket.  Finally at mile 6 (mile 8 to me) I reached in to get my Gu and it was gone.  It must have fallen out of my pocket.  This was not good.  Just as I started to panic, there was someone giving out Gummy Bears. 🙂   I got a couple and at mile 7 an awesome little girl gave me more Gu.  I survived another mile.
  4. The half way point.   I made it half way.  It was not as bad as I thought.  I was trying to keep a 9:00 pace and was close to keeping that goal.  I ran the tangents like a pro.  Every inch that I could save I knew I would need.  At 6.5 miles I was still nervous and not sure I’d might need to walk some, but the goal I created at this point was to keep running and not walk during the race.  Miles 6-9 were pretty much up hill so I was beat, but this was the first point I thought I might finish the race.  I knew I was in new territory as I had now run 8.5 miles (with our potty runs) and my body hadn’t done that for a year.
  5. Mile 9 and mental gymnastics  I knew now I’d make the goal of completing the race and not walking.  But I’d have to do some brain tricks to keep going and I felt like I was fading.  I eat my Gu, I drank gatorade and kept going.  I would think to myself, “Only 4 miles to go”.  I’d think, “You made it past mile 8” – thus the mental gymnastics.  Each mile I’d be surprised that I was at that mile as I kept my brain a mile in the past.  I know this sounds crazy, but it helped being surprised that I was at mile 9 when I was thinking I was at mile 8.
  6. A new goal at mile 11  So far I made it to the starting line, I kept close to my 9:00 pace, but the hills set me back a bit.  I didn’t walk and I knew I’d finish.  My new goal at mile 11 was my biggest of the day.  According to the race clock, I was going to be just over 2 hours at my finish.  I knew I’d have to get below my 9 minute pace to beat 2 hours.  I was tired and my legs were killing me, but I sped up my pace.  I figured in my head that I had to be close to an 8:30 pace for the next 2.1 miles and I decided to go for it.  At the start of mile 12 my pace was down to 8:50.  I had to run faster if I was going to do this.  My 13th mile (15th with my potty run) I felt like walking.  I was really hurting.  I heard the finish announcers finally.  It was a LONG mile.  My app told me at mile 13 that I was at an 8:37 pace for that mile.  I entered the finish shoot.  I gave it all I had…

I crossed the finish line at 1:59:56!

All the mental leaps.  All the fear.  All the running.  The cold.  The Gu.  The awesome runners and volunteers.  This was the most fun I’ve had in a half marathon ever.  No PR – In fact I was about 18 minutes slower then my PR.  But I finished the race, I didn’t walk, I made it under 2 hours.  And in front of me was a battered TJ, all bandaged up from a fall at the finish line.

This is why I love running.  That 4 seconds under my goal.  Had I made one stop, had I walked, had I not pushed as much as I could that last mile – It all came down to 4 seconds.

It… was… awesome!

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