The Half Report

2.16.10: Disco running in the cold


Ridiculously obvious observation for the week: A half marathon is much, much easier than a full.

And while that statement might seem silly because, well, duh. It is also interesting as a runner because no other two races are quite so far removed from one another. For instance, a 5k and a 10k are only marginally different. A 10-miler and a five-miler, given the right training, are only slightly different.

The difference between a half and full can be summed up by the following anecdote: after yesterday’s half, I went home recovered a bit and then went to a disco roller party for 3.5 hours where I skated hard. After my full? I was under blanket, unable to walk and begging for chamber pots to make a comeback for the next 12 hours.

To which race did I truly give my all?

Yesterday’s half had many highlights: the gorgeous beach views starting around Mile 9, the strength I felt through most of it, finally being able to run a race (not just a training run) with Julia, the sun, the crowd, the fact that I reminded myself I can still go semi-fast (1:45:37; an 8:04 pace).

Despite all the highlights, I was disappointed with the outcome.

Yes, the time is a PR (Personal Record--by 8 seconds), but judging from the first half of the race, I really thought I was going to run a 1:42. My pace was strong, between 7:30’s and 7:50’s the whole first half. Even at the end, I never felt like I choked, so I am not sure what went wrong. The course was flat, the weather impeccable (although my husband suggested the cold and the wind may have contributed to the slow down) and generally it was a good race for a PR. And although I recognize that I ran a time many will never achieve, I also know it is not good enough. Calculated out, my 8:04 pace in the half will dwindle to an 8:34 in a full for a 3:44 finish.

Although I rallied nicely in the evening (after a hot shower and a peanut butter and honey sandwich), I was pretty spent at the finish. I could not hold my children or walk well, my stomach felt wonky and I was pretty nauseous. Any faster and I definitely would have been vomiting protein shakes, Gu and bananas on the boardwalk. It would be easy enough to blame the weather, but I won’t. I need to be faster. Period. I have said a million times, I am only competing with myself and this is a perfect example. Yes, my time was good. Yes, it was in the top 20 percent of finishers, but it was not good enough for my goals. And that is what matters to me. I am trying not to wallow in the disappointment. There were a few factors yesterday that may have affected my performance. I did not have the jitters I usually get before a race, which serve to fuel me well. It was pretty cold and I was wearing multiple layers and carrying a heavy cell phone. Most importantly, those race pace calculators are often off base for me because they do not take into account the variable factors that affect any given race performance.

What is striking me the most right now is that, like last time, this is going to be a close call. In those final miles of the full marathon, when I finally threw in the towel, I decided I would rather run a 3:48 than a 3:42, which is what I was on pace to run. Maybe it seems counter-intuitive, but for me, the idea of coming so close and then missing the goal was worse than being more than a couple minutes off-pace.

Sometimes I forget before the race just how difficult racing can be. As competitive as I am, the thought of overtaking other people or beating them does almost nothing to motivate me. It is all about me and focus is so important. I had that focus the first half and I lost it in the second. This was the first race I had ever run with a pacer. I started in the 8:00 pace, overtook her and then was passed by the posse around Mile 9, which was incredibly demotivating.

I was struck yesterday by what an individual sport running is. No one on that course was motivated by the same thing. I have no idea what drove Julia, at six months pregnant, to be able to run a 1:49:32 (which, by the way, is a time most non-preggos can’t achieve—GO Julia!) or what motivated the woman who passed me at Mile 11 to keep chugging along. I know that I feel the most power when I think about my family and my mother, too. I find strength in imagining that I am outrunning the things that scare me the most (cancer, losing someone I love).

Yesterday’s course had a motivational sign that resonated with me: “Pain is a privilege.” It truly is. And I am not ok with running a race that does not hurt. If I don’t feel like I gave it my all, then I am disappointed.

So maybe the fact that I could attend a roller disco and skate fast for 3 hours straight just a few hours after my race meant I did not put myself into the race. Maybe I had more to give, despite feeling spent at the end. Somewhere, inside me, there is the spark that will kick this to the next level. Maybe a half marathon should not feel that much easier than a full. Maybe there was more gas in the tank. And maybe what I need to find is the right way to tap it. I need to dig deep.

And maybe in those words, I have finally found my mantra. Dig deep, indeed. With two months, I must dig deep, indeed.

Sasha Brown-Worsham is a writer, a mother and an unabashed, unashamed runaholic. Check her progress each week as she trains to qualify for the Boston Marathon.