Let me start by saying that this was the most humbling race experience that I've had since my very first road race in January of 2012; it was also, possibly, the most important race of my short road racing career. Have I got your attention? Good! Now let's get started with the recap.
I came into this race with lofty goals. I figured that if it was an average day, I'd run a 1:45. After all, I had run several practice runs at and around that pace with less than 100% effort. Somewhere in the recesses of my mind I even thought - Hey, maybe I'll shoot for 1:40.
Before the race I felt pretty good. I mean the weather was hot and humid, but I felt well-rested and hydrated. I even got some good sleep the night before. Here's a shot of me pre-race... all smiles!
I must say, the race was very well organized. It was a relatively small field (~1,500 runners I believe) so there was no structured wave system in place; runners were simply asked to arrange themselves... faster runners up front, slower runners and walkers towards the back. After a pre-recorded rendering of the national anthem the race started right on time (7:30), and we were off!
I started running with Ameer (#1190 in the middle) doing exactly what I normally make a strict policy out of not doing - weaving through the crowd. I started out fast - faster than I planned, and honestly, faster than I should have. This was my first mistake. Ameer and I ran the first three miles or so together at a 7:30/mile pace, after which, by choice, I let him pull away from me. I felt good at this point, and I made a decision to scale it back a bit because the sun was rising... and with that, the heat and humidity were rising as well.
Somewhere around mile three, there was a pretty steep uphill climb followed by about two miles of easy downhill running. The uphill climb took a bit of wind out of me, and I knew that there was a big hill at mile 6, so I figured I'd take it easy through the downhill stretch. I cruised through miles 3-6 at an 8:10/mile pace. Again, this was by plan, so I was okay with the slow down. But the weird thing was despite the heat, hills, and humidity, it was during this stretch that I lost my desire to drink. I can't explain why but I did not drink much of anything at all during these miles. Now understand that I normally take in 3-4 ounces every mile of every race. I mean I have it down to a system. This is the first time that I did not have the desire to drink. I knew it was odd, but I figured that if I didn't want to drink, then I didn't need to drink... so I didn't. This was my second mistake.
As I said, miles 6 was a big hill; but it was hill that I was very accustomed to - 10th street. I run this part of town often, so I knew exactly what to expect. I banked some energy from the prior downhill section so that I would have the ability to push through this hill. And push through I did. I got up the hill and through this mile in 8:30. Now this was the part of my plan where I was supposed to turn the motor back on and drop back to sub 8 minute miles for the rest of the race. Just one small problem, I was tired. I was more tired than I should have felt this early in the race. I simply couldn't turn it on, and this was when I knew I was in trouble. I went through miles 7, 8, and 9 at a 9:00/mile pace.
I hit the wall, and I hit it hard. This is when I knew that I was in serious trouble and any goal that I had in mind was officially thrown out of the window. But anyone who knows me, knows I have heart. I knew I hit the wall but I pushed straight threw it and started running on fumes. Out of sheer anger, I pushed through the wall and mile 10 in 8:42.
The Last 5K (the crucible)
Shortly before I crossed the 10 mile marker, I decided to walk for no more than 10 steps. Just long enough to take the emergency gel pack that I had in my pocket and swig some water. Only, I haven't taken energy gels in months... I thought I was beyond the need to take one for a half marathon. I mean really... I run this distance every weekend. I don't need no stinking gel pack! After my 10 steps I changed my mind and stuffed the gel pack back in my pocket. This was my third mistake.
Towards the beginning of my 11th mile I was passed by Malcolm and Margo. I was hurting badly. Margo looked over at me and asked if I was okay. I told her the truth - "no" I said. She asked what was wrong, and I told her that the heat and humidity got me. While that was true, I omitted the third culprit - pride. Margo is something of a legend in the running community, so I know that she would have understood... but I wasn't ready to admit it yet. Her asking me if I was okay was just as deflating as all of the spectators yelling at me "You can do it! Keep pushing!" I knew they were trying to give me life, but I also knew it was because they saw that I did not have it. I was ashamed. Shortly after Margo passed me, I took my second walk break and finished my 11th mile in 10:23.
During my 12th mile, I considered calling it quits. I was absolutely beat. By then, I had decided to stop counting my walk breaks; if i did, it would have taken almost all of my fingers to do so. It was somewhere towards the end of mile 12 that I ran into the BMR cheer zone. I knew they would be there, and honestly, I dreaded having to pass them. I figured they would be wondering why I hadn't passed yet. I knew they would try to cheer me up. And when I finally got to them, that is exactly what they did! They had so much life and energy. I could see them cheering me on. Maurice even ran a stretch with me... one of my biggest disappointments was that I barely had the energy to give them a smile, much less anything close to the energy they were giving me. It took all I had to complete the simple task of putting one foot in front of the other. I finished my 12th mile in 12:28.
I knew that my last mile would bring me to the finish line. I also knew that I was not going to quit. Remember that wall that I thought I had broken through in mile 10... yeah, I had actually been dragging it behind me for the last 5K. By now, I actually started to regain some pride. The pride of simply finishing the race. I knew that despite my slow time, it took more out of me to finish this race than the countless other runs of this same distance at a faster pace. I knew that my wife and boys would be at the finish line. I knew that they were expecting me earlier, but I also knew that I would be able to look them in the eyes and tell them that I left it all on the course... and I knew they wouldn't expect any less of me.
As I said in the beginning, this was the most humbling race I've ever run. I honestly didn't think I would ever run a half marathon in over 1:50 again. I was wrong. I thought that hydration was not that important for a run of this distance. I was wrong. I thought that my conditioning would make heat, hills, and humidity complete non-factors that did not even deserve the respect of me starting the race at a moderate pace. I was wrong.
I finished the race in 1:54. But here's the thing - I finished the race with my head held high. There are many reasons that I should have walked off the course, but I didn't. I earned every bit of those 13.1 miles, and along the way, I found an inner strength that I didn't even know I had. So while this was the most humbling of all my races, it was also the most important. My body was dragged to its lowest point of my running career, but the next day I got up and ran again. And now, more than ever, I know that I'm a runner, and I've got what it takes.