Yesterday, I ran my first race ever in Europe! When Mike and I decided to come to Europe, the first thing I did was look up a race that we could do together. I had wanted to have something on the race calendar to keep me motivated, and I loved the idea of checking out a local race scene! After doing some digging, I came across the Great Bentley Half-Marathon and immediately signed us up before it was too late. Turns out the entire race sold out within weeks of opening up registration, so I’m glad we managed to get bibs.
Since we had some trouble stringing together some solid interval training sessions in the weeks leading up to Bentley, I wasn’t sure what to expect going into this race. Mike and I had a chat with Rejean (our coach) a few days before the race, and that’s when he told me to shoot for a 1:44 goal time, about a 4:55/km average pace. A year ago, that pace for a half would have terrified me, but I’m trying to stop being so terrified of trying to run faster and embrace the challenge. I honestly felt like that was a reasonable pace for me, and since we all thought it would be a flat and fast course, I decided to go for it. When Rejean later emailed me my game plan, he ended the email saying that it was going to hurt, but that I could handle the pain. I repeated those words in my head throughout the entire race and I really think it helped.
Rather than stay overnight in Bentley, we decided to stay in London and rent a car to drive to the race. We ended up scoring a sweet white SUV, which was manual – thank goodness Mike grew up driving on the left side of the road and learning standard! It took us about 1 hour and 40 minutes to get from our accommodation to the race since we drove very early Sunday morning.
Mike and I warmed up together and as soon as we set off, I felt the wind immediately and started to get worried. It doesn’t take much for me to get intimidated by less than ideal race conditions, and wind is high up on my do-not-like list. Mike gave me a little pep talk and told me not to be afraid of the wind.
KM Splits: (1) 5:07 (2) 5:09 (3) 5:00 (4) 4:58 (5) 5:02
I tried to apply what I learned from STWM and start off slow, even if it felt too slow. My first couple of kms were right in the range I was aiming for, which was good. For the 3rd km, I tried dropping my pace a little and was surprised to see that it was 5:00. The wind was already pushing at me, but I stubbornly tried to run my race pace against it anyway. I figured the wind would eventually subside and be at my back so I remembered what Mike told me about not being afraid of it and told myself to continue fighting it. I tried to pick up my pace again for the 4th km and when that came in at 4:58, I knew this entire race was going to be a struggle.
KM Splits: (6) 4:50 (7) 4:58 (8) 5:01 (9) 4:59 (10) 4:55
By the time I hit 7km, I knew that my original goal of 1:44 wasn’t going to happen. Here is where my negative thoughts started to take over. I thought about calling it a day and turning the race into a long run or stopping completely and saving my energy for another race. I weighed out all the “quit” options in my head, until I realized that I was giving up way too easily. We can’t always have perfect conditions and races – but that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth running the race anyway (unless you’re injured, obviously). Eventually, I decided to suck it up and just use the race as an opportunity to work on “mental toughness”. My friend Eric once told me that every race is a learning opportunity, even if that doesn’t involve running a personal best.
So I knew it wasn’t going to be the race I was hoping to have, but I also knew that I had a choice to make the best of my situation and to turn it into a positive experience. I made a new goal of trying to maintain a 5:00/km pace and sticking with it, especially at the end when I’d inevitably get tired. So for the rest of the race I repeated two things over and over again:
- Don’t be scared of the wind. FIGHT IT!
- It’s going to hurt, you can handle the pain.
KM Splits: (11) 5:00 (12) 5:02 (13) 4:58 (14) 5:09 (15) 4:59
Before the race, Mike and I were looking at the course map posted near the start line so we could see were the water stations were. I saw that there was one near the “9” mark and planned to take my gel around then. It wasn’t until I had started the race when I began to panic because I realized that the race was marked by miles, rather than kilometers. So, instead of taking my gel somewhere between the 9km mark, I ended up having to wait until the 9 mile mark (~16kms in). It didn’t end up being a big deal, in fact I think it helped give me a boost near the end of the race.
We hit the biggest hill in the course around the 14km mark – which is why it was one of my slowest kms. That was also where I stopped to take some water, which was a little awkward because they were handing out small water bottles, rather than paper cups. I am pretty sure I spilled half of it all over myself (I’m positive I did, actually).
KM Splits: (16) 4:58 (17) 5:02 (18) 4:57 (19) 4:51 (20) 4:56 (21) 4:53 (22) 0:34
Normally at this point in the race, I’m tired and fighting to hang onto my pace. Instead, I felt a boost (probably from the gel) and felt good enough to pick up my pace. Rejean told me to start picking landmarks or people to try to catch up to, so that’s what I did. I felt like I was really dropping the pace, but in retrospect, I was really only starting to hit my original goal pace LOL. I’m going to blame that delusion on the fact that it was the end. Paces aside, this was the first time I finished a half feeling strong and like I could have continued running farther after I crossed the finish line. I really hope that’s a good sign that I could have hit my goal pace on a better day with less wind. My official chip time was 1:45:17. Had I known that I was so close to breaking 1:45, I would have tried to push myself a little harder in the end. (Easier said than done, I know, but man, couldn’t I have just scraped under 1:45!?). Oh well, there’s always a next time!
- Mentally, I feel like I made a lot of progress. Usually when a course gets hard, I quickly get defeated and stop trying — and then I end up beating myself up as soon as the race is over for days. I really didn’t want to let that happen, and I’m glad I didn’t. I want to learn how to race, stay focused, and push myself from start to finish.
- I felt strong from beginning to end. Yes, the wind really got to me. A few times I caught myself struggling to keep on pace, and kept wishing for better weather. But you know what? Everyone else was dealing with it, so I knew I could too. There was a lot of run club love at this half; almost everyone was wearing their club’s singlet and it really brought a cool vibe (and a lot of FAST runners!!) to the race experience. It was inspiring.
- I did this one without pacing help. I’m sure my pacing could have been better, but the important thing is that I ran this race entirely on my own which was something I wasn’t even sure I could do given all of my pacing help last year. At one point, Mike almost decided not to race and to pace me instead. I’m glad he didn’t, mostly because that meant he got to run his own race (and he kicked ass!), but also because I really wanted to learn how to pace myself.
- I prefer counting down miles in races over kilometers. The last time I ran with mile markers was at the Chicago Marathon. I used to think running in miles were harder mentally because they’re longer than kms — however, when I saw the 10 mile marker, it felt so good to tell myself that I *only* had to do 3.1 more miles until the end. Somehow, that sounded a lot better than thinking that I had ~5kms left to go.
- I got a new PB. It’s so easy to get greedy and hope for bigger PBs at each race. I am guilty of this every single time I run a race, and yes, I was a little disappointed that I didn’t do better yesterday. But, I’m glad I didn’t throw a hissy fit and give up mid-race when I was healthy and had no real reason to. I am proud of myself for sticking through it and keeping my head in the game, even if that meant revising my goal. And a PB is still a PB – it could have been worse! I also know that eventually I will hit a point where PBs will become scarce and someday, I’ll be fighting to hit some of the times I am hitting now.
Overall, I’m pleased with this race! I’m already looking forward to my next race, and I feel like I’ll be even stronger for the next one – not just physically, but mentally as well which is huge for me.
Like I always say, progress is motivating. And at least it looks like I am heading in the right direction.
Oh yeah, as soon as we got back into the city, we showered at my friend Heather’s place and immediately went out for celebratory beers and pub food. Have I mentioned that I love this city?