Or, sometimes you eat the bar, and sometimes, well, it eats you. Pick any expression along those lines, and visualize that kid meandering around, physically and mentally checked out in the "party at the moon tower" scene from the classic movie Dazed and Confused, and you've got my race at The Other Half. Upon going through four years of race results, this was my second slowest half marathon ever, and goes onto the training log as one of the worst races I've ever run.
I knew I wasn't quite in the shape I was in a year ago, but between my recent training and most recent race result at the Anna Banana 5K, I had optimism that I could run this race well. It is one of my all-time favorite races, and I've run it well ever year for whatever my level of training and experience has been at the time. Experience is something I have on this course, too, running this course three times already since starting to run in 2007. There was no reason NOT to expect a good race, or to anticipate that things would get as ugly as they did on the run from the Dewey Bridge to Sorrel River Ranch outside of Moab, Utah.
Warming up for the race, things felt pretty good. I was a little bit punchy with race day energy, and I got up to race pace with no problems during warm-up, and even overshot a little bit, needing to slow down and keep that pace in check. I'd had some rice for breakfast, which goes down nice and easy for me. My body felt a little tired, but that wasn't unusual. Often, it's just that my body's not warmed up and in a running rhythm. I've run plenty of other races when I felt like this beforehand, but the second that starting gun sounded, the body and mind would slide easily into racing gear.
The weather was not too hot and not too cold-kind of perfect, really. Lining up for the start, I put myself in position with the other 7:xx/mile racers, where I'd paced and finished in my previous two runs at The Other Half. The traditional Taiko Dan drummers started sounding the call to start from the back of the truck, rhythmically pounding as runners moved toward the Dewey Bridge. The sun was rising over the red cliffs behind us, warming us and lighting the start area. Ranna, the race director, got on the megaphone for final pre-race comments. I laughed when her final words to runners, "....and you know what's waiting for you at the finish line?" were met with a a loud, resounding "BEEEEEEEER!" response from the crowd. It was time to go. I lined up with my finger on the start button of the Garmin that was duct-taped together on my wrist (no, I'm lazy, I haven't called Garmin yet to ask for a replacement strap), and then off we went.
Starting off, I found myself in just about the same position as the prior two years early on-in about the top dozen or so women. Things felt pretty good. I was loose, and just kind of went with that, trying to run relaxed but with a high cadence and short strides. I looked down at my Garmin, and was displeased to see that it was freaking out, starting and stopping itself even though I hadn't touched it since the start. There was clearly a problem with the internal workings of the thing, and that start button, since it had also jammed up at the race two weeks prior. Oh well...not the end of the world, I told myself. The guy running the stopwatch at the end of the first mile was shouting out "7:25....7:26......." as I approached and came through that mile marker. Good-first mile is done, and about where I'd wanted and anticipated being.
The next two miles weren't blazing, but they weren't terrible, either. I slowed down slightly but wasn't far off the mark. I wasn't feeling very springy, though.
Mile 2: 7:32
Mile 3: 7:32
Well, this wasn't quite like last year when I was regularly doing a Saturday long run on roads and a hilly medium-long run on Sundays. I was beginning to lose momentum in a way that felt like I had to fight for it because I wouldn't get it back if I started dropping off my pace too much and too early.
Mile 4: 7:53
Mile 5: 7:49
Oooof. I was starting to feel not good. At ALL. I was vaguely nauseous, which made no sense. I wasn't on any "run 'til you puke" kind of 5K race pace, and although it was a warm October day, it certainly didn't qualify as hot. This wasn't good news so early in the race. I usually find myself in "exquisite pain" on the hills later in the race, but the first seven miles stretch has typically been a place for me to be uncomfortable but strong, and pushing my pace.
Mile 6: 8:10
Mile 7: 8:23
I was really fighting now, and we were only beginning the hills on this challenging course. That nauseous feeling was welling up inside me; my legs felt heavy, and steps flat-footed. I started focusing my attention on the scenery around me, or the space immediately in front of me, trying to disconnect as much as I could from what was now an overwhelming urge to stop running. At least at the Canyonlands Half, there was a little bit of humor in the whole situation with the hot wind blowing up the canyon. Today, I was plain frustrated, and didn't know what the hell my problem was. I felt like I was moving through quicksand.
Mile 8: 9:50
That above split is correct. I was on the verge of a DNF in this mile, with that nauseous feeling growing, and people flying past me right and left. At one point, I took a step that was on the verge of turning into a walk on the uphill, but something in my brain screamed "DON'T DO IT. You won't be able to get going again if you do." I pushed on, and attempted to get some turnover happening on the flats and downhills. I was merely digging myself out of a hole, though, and not gaining momentum.
Mile 9: 8:40
We hit the next hill climb, and again, I just wanted to lay down and be done. This wasn't an option so I played the "disconnect your brain" game, looking around, and keeping in mind that it's a gift to get to run here. I needed to pull out some energy from somewhere, and it was going to have to come from around me today.
Mile 10: 9:17
I was moving in the entirely wrong direction again on pace, and moving really ugly, for lack of a better description. No natural flow over the hills, the ever-present nausea, and legs in quicksand. What's sad is that the year prior, when I set my half marathon PR on this course, I felt bulletproof. I'd been in that really uncomfortable zone the whole time, but felt strong in every way a runner can feel that way in a race. I'd spent lots of time at altitude and on hilly training routes this summer and fall, and had taken two days off to rest prior to this race. I wasn't going to let this race day funk get the best of me. NO.
Mile 11: 8:47
And then....the lovely sound of those Moab Taiko Dan drummers. I fought the fade and pushed toward the rhythm of the drums. If you've never seen or heard this group, it's an amazing thing to hear it echoing through the canyon, and then to come upon this group of women and men, raising these huge sticks high and coming down on huge drums. It's always at a cadence that causes one to pick it up just a little bit, or fight to hang on if struggling. They pulled me up to the top of that last hill, and I had to give them a little clapping in time to the drums as a thank you for the mojo when I didn't have any.
Mile 12: 8:54
This has always been my favorite section of the course...a rapid "bombs away" drop, and then long, curving horseshoe route to the finish at Sorrel River Ranch. I needed to hammer in with whatever was left today. I was clenched up all over by now, gritting my teeth, and feeling crappy, but working to flip that "faster you run, faster you're done" switch. This was where I locked in that NYC Marathon qualifying time by the skin of my teeth last year, and I pushed to find that effort.
Mile 13: 8:07
I could see the time clock now. I hadn't been watching my overall time on the Garmin between it acting up, and knowing that it would only be discouraging in that second half of the race. It was pretty discouraging to look up and see a 1:49 on the time clock, though. With previous times of 1:58, 1:41, and 1:36:xx, this was nowhere near what I'd realistically hoped or expected to run. There was some definite anger in me as I threw myself toward the finish with a final split of 7:37 for the last .1, Wonky Garmin final time of 1:49:08, and official race time of 1:49:31. In other words, in the time it took me to run the whole thing last year, I was barely past 11 miles this year, and fighting the urge to throw in the towel the entire time.
After the race, I just lay down on the grass for a good ten minutes. What the hell happened out there? I'd expected the best, didn't start too fast, and seemed to have all the components in place lately for a real shot at another PR. Sure, those don't always happen, but never in my wildest dreams did I imagine I'd spend eight miles feeling gross and wanting to stop the entire time. Racing IS very fun to me, though...I love it. My friend Ilana from Durango was kind enough to go grab me some water, so while I lay on the grass, I just closed my eyes and kind of flushed out all the pissed off-ness, frustration, and tense feelings.
By the time I was having that water, the "shake it off" was setting in. I found my way to other runner friends, and to the 3.2 Utah beer line. Sipping a beer, in the sun, by the river in this beautiful spot is sort of awesome, definitely took away most of the sting of what was a total mess of a race for me. The nausea and sick feelings had subsided, and the food at the finish area, pretty much entirely from local producers, tasted about as good as anything I've had to eat. Watching familiar and unfamiliar faces collect awards, it was cool to realize I was hanging out with runners from twelve years old all the way up to the fabulous Julia Barrett, now close to 80 years old and still getting out there to cover this course. I joked that at least I should get a door prize out of this day, and we were surprised with a trivia game on top of the regular prize drawings. When it was asked "Who is the Masters course record holder, and three-time winner of this race?" my hand shot up. If you live on the Western Slope of Colorado, and run, you've seen Bernie Boettcher a race or ten, and know that he's won most of them at least a time or two. I got a pretty sweet pair of Sock Guy socks for my quick thinking, which seemed to be the only thing moving quickly today for me. I would have rather raced for hardware, for sure....but hey. Really awesome socks.
In the end, my result wound up placing me 12th out of 192 in my age group. I will fully own up to playing the "if I'd run last year's time this year" game in the age group for all of about three minutes....but the fact is that I DIDN'T so it's a moot point. You race who shows up on the day you show up, in the conditions you get, with what you've got. I wanted to win the age group but today I was 12th.
Where to go from here? The Rim Rock Marathon is coming up quickly. I'm going to take a lesson from The Other Half, and NOT put pressure on myself to move up in time or placement, but just work hard between now and then. No cramming for race day, but no slumping or bailing from workouts either. The real focus is going to be the Winter Sun 10K in December. I am a weirdo who likes that distance, but doesn't get to race road 10K's before often because they don't exist in great quantity anywhere. It's a net downhill course, and kind of consequences-free when it comes to running aggressively. By the time that painful finish at the track comes, it's okay, because, hey, it's just "one easy lap." Or something. This is the third of the annual Moab Half Marathon races every year, too, and somewhat of an annual tradition. Then, there's the Moab RedHot 55K in February. I'm not an ultrarunner, and had an experience that exceeded my expectations last year in running for fun there. This year, I think I'm doing "fun plus," and am going to plan hill and trail training with a faster result in mind. When I have problems and tough spots, I will just imagine drums and beer awaiting me at the finish.