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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The perfect recovery drink for runners

I’ve been running now for almost 3 years. Sometimes after a run I’m shot. Exhausted. Breathing hard. Just not feeling great.  

After my last half marathon I had this type of feeing. I pushed hard during the race as I generally try to  do. I figure that I want to look back and enjoy the results. Momentary discomfort is totally worth it when you PR or just know you did your best. There is a need to be wise and not hurt yourself, but the feeling after a hard workout or race is awesome. 

Okay. The drink. I’m sure I am not alone in knowing this, but it took years for me to figure out the best drink after a tough workout. Beer!

So after my last half marathon I wasn’t doing well. I drank Gatorade, water, chocolate milk and after 30 minutes I was still not doing well. I found myself at the beer tent and had my 1 beer that they offered. Within minutes I was back to my old self. My mind was clear and I was no longer tired in the slightest. 

I kept that experience tucked away for 8 months.  Fast forward to the recent increase in my running.  My first long run was tough. Very tough. I couldn’t get myself to relax and knew it was about to become a long day.  I was driving home and decided to get a Gatorade at a local supermarket. I was exhausted. Then I recalled my half marathon experience. I decided to try it. I went to the beer isle at 9:00 on a Saturday morning.  I ended up with the non-alcoholic beer, Odules (it was 9:00 🙂 ).  I got to the car and downed one before I even put the keys in the ignition. 

In minutes I felt awesome.  Just like my half marathon, I had a 180 turnaround and felt like I never had an issue.

I now try to keep a recovery beer with me on all workouts. I had a really hard workout this weekend while visiting my mom in PA. I ran 13 miles with 2200 ft climb and when I finished… I needed a recovery beer. I took it out of the fridge and in a minute or two my breathing went to normal, my mind cleared and I felt great. 

Once again, this may not be big news to most runners, but it t really is a miracle recovery drink.  

Beer. I knew it was good for something. 

Tom

4 miles on 4 apples

Well I must say life has been too busy to write.  I tend to prioritize things that I need to do when life gets crazy and unfortunately, this blog isn’t a high enough priority (unlike family, work, sleep and running).  

Yesterday I had an apple day.  What is an apple day you ask?

We first started apple days on the diet that my Lovely Wife and I lost most of our weight.  Basically, an apple day is where you take 1 day and eat 6 apples.  That is it.  No other food.  Just 6 apples.

That isn’t a fun day.  It is hard, and it is a sacrifice, but the results cannot be questioned.  Yesterday alone, I lost over 3 lbs.

My weight has been creeping up.  I was in the mid 180’s and have been closer to 190 for the past month.  I questioned my doctor as to how I can run 4 miles a day and gain weight.  Part of the answer is poor eating and that has caught up with me.  So… an apple day was to be had.

On to my run.  I started my run after work as usual, but yesterday after work I had only eaten 4 apples of my 6.  I really wanted to run my 4 miles to keep up with running for the week, but I was worried about 4 miles on 4 apples.  I shouldn’t have worried.

I didn’t break speed records.  I still stopped at 4 miles, but I felt great.  One reason was probably the 69 degree weather.  It was beautiful, sunny and not a cloud in the sky.  But I also felt better.  Not as heavy (not speaking weight heavy, but overall  heavy).  It was just a good easy run and about at the same pace I’ve had for the week.

I was excited to check the scales this morning and find I lost 3+ lbs.  The thing about an apple day is that something in the apples kicks your metabolism in the pants.  The weight loss continues as long as you don’t eat something stupid like pizza (did I say we are having pizza tonight).

Anyway, I just thought I’d pass that tidbit along.

All is well.  I have my eye on running a half marathon in December and a full in March.  I think training during the fall / winter / spring should be a good thing since I live in the South.

Have an awesome weekend and be blessed.

Tom

P.S.

TJ showed me this quote from Earnest Hemingway yesterday… It made me think!

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Learning running lessons from the past

Running is the ultimate teacher.

If you want to do your best, then you have to learn from your friends, the help of other runners and your past mistakes.

I have run several hard races in the past.  After my first half marathon, I started having some hip problems.  After my marathon, I was out 3 months, off and on, with hip and foot issues.  I also got injured after running a 5K earlier this year.

Honestly, I don’t think it was the races that hurt me.  Looking back, I realize that I’ve pushed too hard AFTER the races to get back to training.  A few weeks after my marathon, I not only ran 10 days in a row, but also did a hard trail run a few weeks later.  That was the icing on the cake, that is my hip.  It was almost 6 months before I got back to a 100 mile month.

My last half marathon was last Saturday.  It was awesome.  I ran well and on a tough course.  I will look back and be excited for months about that race.

HOWEVER…

Tuesday, I decided to run my first run after the race.  It went well.  I ran 4 miles at an 8:21 pace.  Tuesday night I was in a lot of pain. My shoulder hurt and my hip was killing me.  Wednesday I concentrated on my shoulder as I was concerned that I pinched a nerve running.  That wasn’t the issue, it was just the way I slept.  I did however, ignore my hip pain.  It was in such pain I had to take medication to sleep.

Wednesday was the 30th of April and I was at 118 miles for the month.  I decided to run an easy 2 miles and walk the rest.  I didn’t.  I ran a fast two miles at my half marathon pace, but I did walk after that.

Yesterday I walked.  No running.

My hip is better.  No real pain.  Just a little pain while I drive which isn’t abnormal.  In fact I could have run yesterday.  I could run today.  I could run tomorrow.  I won’t.

I am going to learn from my mistakes in the past and come back slowly.  I have plenty of time until my next race.  I have a lot of mountains to run.  In fact my mountain running has been the one thing to help my hip more then anything else.  After several weeks of running my mountain on the weekend, I really had no pain left.  I think that strengthening my quads and all the muscles in my legs has taken the pressure off my hip.

So next Sunday will be my first run since my 2 miles on Wednesday.  I’ll run my mountain slowly and enjoy the run and take it easy.  I’ll play it by feel over the next few weeks as to how much I run.

I need to learn from my past.  Learn from friends.  Learn from other runners.  Learn from my mistakes.

If I don’t learn, I’ll never make my goal of qualifying for Boston.  I’ll run hurt, slow and probably have to stop.  I’d rather learn now and take it easy, then live with the pain of being stupid.

’nuff said.

Tom

Final thoughts on the Country Music Half Marathon.. I think.

This post is a continuation of my Country Music Half Marathon recap post from yesterday.  

Here are my stats

I was 17th out of 561 in my age group – top 3%
I was 697th out of 19,057 half marathoners – top 3.7%

Honestly, I think this was my best race to date.  I credit TJ for running with me and being an excellent pacer and my mountain runs for getting me in shape.  Thinking back, I have really only been training for this for about 2 months.  Between injuries and other things that got in the way of my running, that was all I could do to train.  But the mountain gave me strength in my quads and took the pressure off my back and my calves.  It also helped me be able to pick my speed up and be able to handle the hills on this race without slowing down.

RS did well.  He struggled a lot though.  He had honestly not been running much until the last few weeks before the race.  His longest run before the race was 7 miles and he went out and completed a 13.1 mile race.  His time was slow because he had to walk to finish the last few miles, but it is amazing to me that he could complete that distance with so little prep.  This was his longest milage run in over a year.

TJ had been hurt leading up to this race; thus the reason he paced me rather then trying to run a PR himself.  His last half was completed in under 1:30 and he was in coral #1 for this one.  His choice to pace me was huge for me and I hope fun for him, though being a huge competitor, I’m sure he wished he was running his own race.  He is back in the saddle now and talking about another half in the fall and maybe running the Jacksonville marathon with me in December.

I had fun meeting my running friends @BigBigGeek and @David_Topping before the race.  They did well and I think were happy with the result.  This was @David_Topping’s first half marathon.  He has lost a  lot of weight and really been doing the work that made his run possible.

I was really concerned with this race.  I have never run with so many people.  My experience was a great one overall.  Not just the run, but everything from package pickup at the expo to parking at the race went very smoothly.  There was the obvious traffic, but I purchased a reserve parking pass and it put us right at the race with very little waiting.  The police presence was clear, but not over done.  Other then the helicopters flying overhead, there was very little that I noticed outside of the normal presence at any race.

The bands were great.  A few were loud (one was so loud it affected my hearing for a minute), but they helped overall and the crowd was awesome.  Being that we hung with the 3:30 pacer, there were a lot of cheers as we ran by.

Overall I rate this race very high.  Perfect weather, great attendance, plenty of food and drinks after the race.

Top notch.

Tom

Country Music Half Marathon – PR and Recap!

So, how’d it go?  The race?  My second half marathon?

Let’s get that out of the way first.  Drum roll please…

My official time was…

1:43:03 – a PR by 1:08 minutes.

Honestly, I wouldn’t have made it without TJ pacing me.  The last 1.5 miles were mostly up hill.  That, after a lot of hills in the first 8 miles and trying to keep below an 8:00 pace… Which I did for all but the first mile.

Here is the graph and the splits:

Country Music Half Marathon

Country Music Half Marathon

My phone said I ran 13.33 miles rather then 13.1, so the times are a little off.

On to my recap

Philosophically, I view racing as similar to childbirth (please don’t get offended with me ladies).  The fact is – it hurts while you are in progress, but after it is over, you can barely remember the pain.

It was a beautiful morning.  We got to our reserved parking area in pretty good timing.  We met @BigBigGeek and @David_Topping and talked for a bit.  Then to the porta-potties for an hour wait – that was crazy.  TJ and I rushed off to coral #3 and left RS and the others to finish their business.  By the time we got done with the port-potties, it was just 10 minutes until race time.

We in just a few minutes the corals began moving. When we got to the starting line, somehow we were in coral #4 rather then #3.  I don’t know how that happened, but the 3:30 marathon pacer was also in our coral, which ended up being a very good thing.

I have never run a race with 20,000 people in it.  Actually I think the half marathon had 20,000; I’m not sure about the total with the marathoners.

We heard the horn and began our run.  It was tight.  It was hard to run freely for at least a few miles.  The first mile was our slowest at  just over an 8:00 mile (which really wasn’t bad).  That was mainly due to congestion.  Shortly after mile one, we ended back running past the corals with people standing and waiting to run.  I guess there were near 30 corals.  I thought of RS who was around coral 22.  We were 30 minutes into running before he even began.

TJ helped me make an unofficial goal to keep the 3:30 marathon pacer in sight as we never saw the 1:45 half pacer after the start.  This was hard for the first 3 or 4 miles.  He would get a bit ahead and we would slowly catch up.  The crowds were just too deep to get around.  I would see an open area and do a quick sprint to get ahead (the one thing TJ said was a mistake after it was done – he said we should have saved that energy and been patient to get around people… good point).

Finally after several miles we caught up with the pacer.  We hung with him until mile 10 or so.  This was huge for me.  Let me digress a bit and say the hills on this route were crazy.  The first 8 miles or so seemed to be one hill after another.  I could feel my mountain runs kicking in after a while.  I have done quite a few mountain runs in the past few months, but never at an 8:00 pace.  Though when I was running this race and I was getting tired, my legs seemed to keep their strength.  I needed that!  As we went up and up and up and up, my legs were good.  I was tired, breathing hard and wondering why I was doing this at times, but my legs kept me going.

Mile 3 TJ gave me my first GU. Mile 7 I had my second and mile 11, the course provided one.  Perfect.  Each time I was fading a bit, the GU kept me going.  I was so glad for them.

Finally the day got warm.  It started in the 50’s, but by mile 8 or so, it was warming up a bit too much.  This is where I first hit a small wall.  I was thinking, “I don’t know that I’ll make it the next 5 miles”.   This was when I had a neat experience.  Generally I tune out during a race.  I honestly didn’t notice much.  I just concentrate on running the race.  At this small wall experience, I ran past a person holding a sign that said, “The joy of the Lord is your strength”.  I prayed, “Lord, that is true, so please give me some strength”.  A moment later we ran past a large church with a praise band playing “Mighty to Save” by Hillsong.  I love that song and after a moment listening to it as we went by, I felt rejuvenated and had run past the wall.  Pretty cool.

Finally at mile 9 TJ said it looked like the marathon was splitting between the full and the half.  I panicked.  I had kept a perfect pace with the 3:30 pacer for 9 miles and I wasn’t ready to go it without his lead.  Fortunately I didn’t have to.  We didn’t split.  We kept following him.  Then a good thing happened.  At mile 10, we somehow got ahead of the pacer.  I looked around because I didn’t see him and he was behind us.  We never saw him again.  We just kept with our pace and at mile 11 the route split and I was fine.  Very cool.

Finally the last two miles.  I can do this.  Little did I know that they would be mostly up hill.  Seriously?  I just ran up and down tons of hills, and now, after keeping below an 8 minute pace for 11 miles I am going to have to finish with nearly 2 miles of hills.

At mile 12.5 I told TJ that I couldn’t continue.  I felt like it was too much.  He encouraged me saying we only have a little left to go and to try to keep my pace up so I’d beat my 1:44:11 PR.  Honestly, I don’t know how I did, but I did.  Without TJ there, I would have slowed down.  I doubt I would have walked, but I know I would have not kept up my pace.

We finally began going down a hill.  A runner who had finished was walking up the hill we were running down and saying, “It’s all down hill from here”.  I pushed as hard as I could.  A couple guys ran hard past us at the very end and TJ took off and passed them with just a few hundred of feet to go.  I had nothing left.  I just put everything in my body to get to the finish.  Everything.

I finished.

1:43:03

Personal Record.

Hills.

3:30 pacer.

TJ

Gu

RS

Bands

Runners

You (for reading this far)

Thank you all.  It was well a done race.  I hated the hills, but my mountain prepared me for them.  Once again, without TJ I would not have come close to the time I had.  Thank you TJ.  Thank you to my family for letting me spend a weekend away to run this race.  Thank you to everyone who liked my “results” post.  Blogging makes running so much more fun.

Tom

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