I can’t say the Spartanburg Half Marathon was a race I was particularly looking forward to. I knew I’d be running it by myself, it’s not that close to my house (about a 45 minute drive) and I knew the course was extremely hilly. Still, with this being a cut back week, I liked that the only long run I had to do for the week was go out, run a half marathon, and get a medal. That, I can do.
When my coach and I talked about goals for the race, she mentioned me taking it easy and just enjoying the run, but I had other ideas. I’ve come really close to running under 2 hours in the half at both the Swamp Rabbit Half Marathon and the Columbia Half Marathon, and while I knew this was a hillier course, I also felt like it might be possible. Still, I know how worked up I get about setting goals for races, so I decided I would only try to run under 2 hours if there was a pace group. If there wasn’t, I would just try and run strong and see what happened. Is that a cop out? Maybe. But I’m still trying to build my confidence and have fun with running and training, and I know myself well enough to know that spending 13.1 miles checking my watch every five seconds on a tough course is not the way to do that.
Arriving at the start, I quickly realized there weren’t going to be pace groups – this was a pretty small race. I picked up my packet, headed to the bathroom, and waited in my car til about 5 minutes before the race started. Everyone else was warming up, which is something I just can’t bring myself to do. My warm car is too tempting! It’s probably a good thing I didn’t head out too early, because as soon as I got to the start, I heard everyone around me (local runners) talking about how hard the course is. There was a guy wearing a “100 Half Marathons Club” shirt saying it was one of the hardest races he’s ever done. Great.
The race director yelled “GO!” and everyone took off like bats out of hell. I’m not exaggerating. There was a crowd of people in front of me, and then there were no people in front of me. I have never felt so slow in my entire life! I mentally prepared myself for a long race and decided to just listen to my podcast (Ali on the Run Show) and do my best to run strong. That lasted about 3 minutes, until we reached the first of the seemingly never-ending hills. I was huffing and puffing already and watching everyone pull away from me. Not a great feeling.
The first four miles just seemed to be non-stop hills. The weather was good for running, though, and we ran through some nice neighborhoods. My goal was to run at a pace that was “comfortably hard” given the terrain and not slack off, but not kill myself, either. Still, it was hard not to get a little down on myself. The course was just crazy and my stomach also was not feeling its best. At mile four, I just thought “OMG…I have 9 miles left of this?” And I figured I’d be happy with a finish time of 2:11 or less (less than 10 minutes per mile). Well, nothing left to do but do it, right? Somewhere around this time, we passed the corporate headquarters of Denny’s, which is apparently located in downtown Spartanburg, for some reason. Who knew?
At mile 6, I finally caught up to a couple of people up ahead of me and I heard the guy say to the girl next to him that they were right on track for a sub-2 finish. This was the first time I really had any idea of what my pace was, and I’ll admit, I was pleasantly surprised. I ended up passing them slightly and resolved to just not let them get in front of me for the rest of the race. Note: I realize this is not the best strategy because everyone crashes and burns sometimes, and I knew nothing about those people or their speed, but like I said – I really didn’t want to be looking at my watch. I also took my headphones out at this point – I think I thought I might distract myself by talking with people around me, but there was quickly no one around me…again.
I felt confident for about two miles. By the time mile 8 rolled around, I thought, “There’s no way I can do this for 5 more miles.” Then I pushed that thought out of my head and decided to just keep pushing until mile 10. I reasoned with myself that I could check my watch at mile 10, and if I was on pace to break 2 hours, then I would keep pushing. If I wasn’t even close, I wouldn’t worry about it. I calculated that I needed to be at about 1:31:40, give or take, at mile 10. I hit it at 1:31:10 and thought “Well, shit. I guess I’m doing this.” I thought about Allie and how she always gives a race her best effort (as in, she actually races, unlike my usual strategy of appearing and getting a medal) and I decided to do the same thing. Approximately 50 yards later, I silently cursed Allie, because racing is really hard, and if she wasn’t so inspirational and badass, I would probably not be doing something like this.
I had overheard people saying at the start line that the hardest part of the race was the last few miles, so I mentally steeled myself. I decided I would check my watch at each mile marker to make sure I was still on track and adjust my pace accordingly. I was gradually chipping away and getting faster, and I just kept repeating my mantra of this training cycle, “strong and steady.” One mile at a time. I was obscenely sweaty and even briefly entertained the idea of taking my shirt off and running in my sports bra. Given the fact that running in my sports bra is something I have had literal, actual nightmares about, I think you can see how desperate the situation was. I did not take my shirt off but that is really only because it seemed like it would take far too much energy and time. Like I said, desperate times.
I tried to stick to just taking quick walk breaks at the water stations, but at one point around mile 11.5, I got to a huge, long hill and just said “F-CK” and walked for about 15 seconds to let my heart rate come down. I was really, really trying to be tough, but I also didn’t want to push too hard and then completely melt down in the last mile. That short break helped me mentally reset for the last 1.5 miles of the race.
I thought of Hollie around mile 12 because, as she likes to say, I was “riding the pain train.” I thought to myself several times that if someone took my picture at that moment, it would be the ugliest race picture on the planet. I was gritting my teeth and just trying to hang on. It felt like I was crawling up every hill. We finally, finally, finally made the turn for the finish and ran up two more hills. I crossed the line at 1:58:39, took three steps, and then immediately sat down on the grass right next to the finish line. I did not even get my medal because I did not care about anything other than stopping.
If you saw my Instagram stories, you know that I was pretty hyped after the race. Here’s why:
- 1:58:39 is a post-back surgery PR of exactly 3 minutes
- It’s only the third time I’ve ever run a half marathon under 2 hours (don’t judge)
- It’s my third fastest half marathon ever
- I negative split by about 30 seconds
- My last 3 miles were my fastest
- My last mile was my fastest
- I WON THIRD IN MY AGE GROUP and there were more than three people in my age group! In fact, there were 10. Boom.
Um, that’s a lot in one race, right?! I really had no expectations for how the day would go, but this blew all of them away. While I knew it was possible that I would run under 2 hours, it definitely was not a given. If I’m being honest, there was a part of me that thought I’d never be able to do it again, just because of how I’ve been limited in training because of my back. It was a really great feeling to break through that mental barrier, and even though it’s just a number, it’s a number that means a lot to me.
I think what I’m most proud of in this race, though, is the fact that I stayed tough even when it sucked…which was, quite frankly, most of the race. There were a lot of times when I wanted to back off the pace because it hurt or I was tired or scared of how hard my heart was beating, but I kept pushing. I took it one mile at a time and didn’t give up. Once I knew that 2 hours was within reach, there was no way I was letting it slip through my fingers, but I’m also glad I didn’t spend the entire race obsessing over my splits. The last three miles of that nonsense were stressful enough, thankyouverymuch.
A big part of why I wanted to shoot for under 2 hours at this race was because I don’t have any more cool weather half marathons lined up until fall. I knew this was my last chance for a few months, so I wanted to test my fitness while I had the chance! This was a huge confidence boost for me – I know I’m in the best shape I’ve been in since my surgery. Going into the Prague Marathon, I can’t really ask for more than that! Less than six weeks to go!
LEAVE A COMMENT: Do you obsess over your splits when you’re in a goal race, or do you prefer to run by feel? Do you have a “magic time” that you’re trying to get back to?OMG, @thetrexrunner totally crushed the Spartanburg #halfmarathon! Check out her #racereport! #runchat Click To Tweet