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Running Like Luis

September 7, 2012

I’ve never been a big fan of the half marathon distance. Frankly, I’ve always seen it as just a stepping stone to a marathon. And I can never get the pacing right. I know 5K is supposed to hurt the whole way. A 10K is supposed to hurt a little bit less. Marathon pace should be fairly maintainable until mile 20 and then it should be a struggle…but 13.1? I can’t start out at a comfortable marathon pace, but it shouldn’t hurt like a 10k. Up until Monday, I wasn’t really sure what that should feel like.

With some lofty marathon goals in my head, I figured benchmarking myself with a half marathon would be a great way to keep myself motivated over the summer and lead right into training for a fall marathon. So I signed up for the Labor Day Half. I managed to also convince some of my running buddies to do the same (none of whom had ever run a half before). Since I was leading a group of newbies to this distance, I really couldn’t back out.

Training with a group was a new experience for me. I’m so used to most of runs alone, especially my long runs. I really enjoyed the social aspects getting to run with others, but I was afraid that running with others at a slightly faster clip would burn me out early. Or maybe I wouldn’t be able to get the mileage I wanted. Or during speed and hill workouts I would get distracted by my friends and not push myself. And tempo runs really didn’t happen…

This running group also caused me to sign up for more than my fair share of races over the summer…all of which I was PRing in. I figured my luck at to run out some time. Then two weeks before the half I did my first sprint triathlon spur of the moment. I didn’t have many expectations going in, so I was happy to finish with a respectable time.

The week leading up to Labor Day involved a lot of preparations for my husband’s birthday party. On one hand, this distracted me and kept me from obsessing over the race. On the other hand, it made me obsess over party details.

Monday morning came before I knew it. I had my usual pre race breakfast of smashed banana + oatmeal + peanut butter. I demanded (and subsequently received) coffee from McDonalds (don’t judge, I succumbed to their evil $1 beverage marketing). I gathered and socialized with my running buddies before the (slightly delayed) start. The weather was perfect: 50-55 and overcast.  We waited. And waited. And waited some more. And then the horn blew and we were off!

For the first mile I tried to keep up with my friend Brian. When my Garmin flashed 8:11 for the first mile and my friend was a good 10 seconds ahead of me, I knew I had to slow down before I wore myself out too early. That kind of pace was not sustainable for me. My original goal was 1:55 (8:46/mile) and I knew I could hit it as long as I stayed focused and didn’t get greedy. Demoralized at the sight of Brian slowly gaining ground ahead of me, I thought to myself “run like Luis”. My husband, Derek, had given me this advice before one of my last races. Luis runs quickly and effortless. He seems to just enjoy the experience without getting caught up in paces, turnover rate, or PRs. So I ran like Luis. I relaxed, focused on the runners around me and the cheering bystanders. I was feeling good.

1 8:11.47

The miles flashed at me, showing a pace of just over 8:30, still well below my goal of 8:46 miles. I thought about slowing down a tad; this was still an ambitious pace for me, but I felt fine. So I kept it.

2 8:34.08
3 8:34.32

Before the turnaround I focused on finding Brian and giving him a high five. After the turnaround, I looked for Derek and our friend Mandy. Each time I saw a familiar face it gave me a small boost.

4 8:28

At about 4.6 miles I realized that my super speedy coworker, Yury, had probably already finished the 4 mile race (even though it started 15 minutes after the half). This was again a bit demoralizing. So I forced myself to smile. It’s a well documented phenomenon that facial expressions can affect the way you feel (fake it till you make it!).

5 8:34.08
6 8:29.23

I hit the halfway mark over a minute beneath my goal. I hit 7 miles in under an hour; a feat I’d never accomplished before. Just hang on for 6.1 more miles I told myself. Less than an hour to go.

7 8:35.24
8 8:37.70
9 8:32.61

Around mile 9 a man asked me if I was going to run the Seattle Marathon this year. In between deep breathes, I responded affirmatively and returned the question. I found it hard to talk at this point, but I was thankful for someone’s companionship. He told me he’d see me at the marathon and sped up a little bit.

10 8:37.25

Mile 10. The sun comes out. Pushing your pace for 10 miles is always hard. The sun beating down on you doesn’t help. I began to doubt myself. Run like Luis. A little pep in my step.

Nearing the final turnaround, I saw Brian again. He only saw me when I called his name, and though he looked tired he smiled. “I can do this” I thought. I’m almost there.

11 12 8:40.49

At one of the final waterstops, before mile 12, I splashed some water on my Garmin. It changed to the compass screen instead showing my time, distance, and pace like I was used to. I couldn’t get it back. I told myself that I didn’t need a watch to tell me if I was holding a steady pace. I just couldn’t shake the thought that by not seeing my instantaneous pace I would slow down to a crawl. Run like Luis, I thought. And at mile 12, I was holding steady at 8:40. Encouraging, but I just wanted to be done. The last mile stretched on for so long. I couldn’t help but worry that though my Garmin distance matched closely to the course markers, maybe it was off…maybe I needed to run a few extra tenths of a mile which would prevent me from getting my goal. I bumped my pace a little; I couldn’t let me goal slip away. The finish line came into view and I gave it all I had (which wasn’t too much at that point). I crossed the finish line, a smile on my face. I saw the clock…1:56 and change. How long did it take me to cross the start? There were two waves ahead of me, 90 seconds apart…or were there 3? I realized I could stop my Garmin from recording and focus on getting it to display my time. 1:52:38. AWESOME.

13 8:34.64
14 1:21

My official time, without the additional 12 second of wandering around after the race was 1:52:26, beating my goal time by more than 2.5 minutes. I ran like Luis.

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