Baby Steps to the Finish Line

This coming weekend, about one month after I ran the half in Brooklyn, I’ll be racing in another half marathon on home soil, which will be a nice change, logistically and financially. I did have a fun weekend in Brooklyn, staying with friends, and the race wasn’t too bad, but there is something of ease about crawling out of your own bed and racing along familiar roads.

Going back one month: Brooklyn. As I said, the race wasn’t too bad. Because I didn’t have the months of training and mileage behind me, going in, I wasn’t feeling too confident about my fitness level. Based on the course description, I thought I’d take out the first 10k conservatively and try to finish strong in the last half. We jogged to the start in Prospect Park, which was very conveniently about 2k away from my friend’s place and did our usual pre-race washroom rituals before heading into our corrals. I can’t remember what I had put down as my seed time, but (and not to be a jerk) I felt as though I were in the wrong corral. Minutes before the race, most people around me seemed all too pre-occupied with taking duck-faced selfies and fixing their headphones; I felt unimpressed, judgmental, and confused.

The gun went off and it was a very slow and congested start to the race, which began with a downhill and a slight climb. In all of the previews of the course, I had read that there was to be expected a significant hill at around the 7-8k mark of the course; I went to Prospect Park the day before the race for my shake-out and to see if I could find this “monster hill” but didn’t encounter it. To be honest, I’m not sure I would’ve known where that hill had been had it not been for the signs of encouragement and warning about the hill.

Despite the first half being easier than I had expected, looking back, I think I took it out too slowly. My first 5k split was 21:23 and 5-10k was 21:43, which made for a 10k split of 43:06 and an average pace of 4:19. Yikes. In my race plan, I was hoping to hold around 4:12 in the park and then drop it down to 4:10 for the last half. 4:19 was just tard-y.

So, coming out of the park, I decided to get on a slightly faster train and dialed down the next 5k split to 21:00. At this point, the course was flat and would continue straight out before a short turn onto the boardwalk and to the finish. Looking at the remaining splits for the race, it seems that I waivered around 4:10, with a few faster and slower kilometers. It was also at this point where I felt the lack of mileage and training catch up to me; I was not comfortable at this pace and really wanted to stop at several points. I was glad to have my SO riding alongside on his bike, yelling out encouragement; his presence provided both the support to continue and fear of embarrassment had I actually stopped.

My last 5k split was the fastest, at 20:47, making the second 10k of the race split at 41:47 –a big negative split and maybe also just a big negative.

I spoke to my coach and he seemed very pleased about the result and the execution. Of course I realise that not all races can be PBs, especially when coming back from an injury-laden early season, but I did feel that the number just sounded slow in relation to how painful it was.

Back to one month later and this upcoming half; it’s not necessarily a “revenge” race since I had no expectation of glory in Brooklyn, but more of a re-evaluation race. In the weeks that have followed Brooklyn, I am happy that my training has resumed without any jarring aches and pains and it has been fairly consistent so far. I had a nice run in Collingwood along my favourite rail trail where the lilacs were in full bloom; there was that 3x2400m + 4x200m track workout that I thought would never end; last weekend, I ran a tempo in the cemetery with 5k warm-up, 8k at goal half marathon pace, and 5k cool down, and despite starting early(ish), it was already brutally hot and I lost so much weight in sweat during the tempo portion that my shorts started falling down. Science. I think.

I know it hasn’t been that long between races, so it will be interesting to see how much fitness I have gained. There’s probably some more science in there, but I, unfortunately, don’t know enough to feel secure in the facts and the brass tacks. In this case, it is nice to have a coach who has ensured me that starting out a bit more aggressively this time, along with my gains in fitness, will lead to a stronger result. I trust him and his experience, so based on his candid evaluation, it seems that along with continuing consistent workouts, I need to work on my mental strength, both leading up to and during a race.

It is not uncommon for people to repeat mantras during particularly difficult times during a race. It is a distraction and meant to be positive reinforcement, which can be particularly helpful when you are running alone. As I am not one who is very spiritual or touchy-feely, I have had difficulty in finding personally meaningful mantras and harnessing this technique of self-cheerleading. But last weekend while running on empty in the cemetery, I remembered a phrase that helped get me through that tempo:

I feel good, I feel great, I feel wonderful.”

Does it sound familiar? Do you love that movie?

What About Bob? was one of my favourite movies as a child and having watched it in my adulthood, I am happy to report that it still holds up. For me. And because of the plot of the film (no spoilers), this movie is rife with encouraging mantras, including:

Baby steps…”

I’m sailing. I’m a sailor. I sail.”

Take a vacation –from my problems.”

And my personal favourite:

Mmm mmm mmm mmm mmm!”

What a great movie. This is really just the tip of the iceberg. My goal for this race is to draw from this glacier some mental strength during those toughest of miles and to flex-it-out until the finish.