Sunday, May 8, 2011

Indiana wants me... to set a new PR!

Another weekend, another road trip! This time I headed to Indianapolis for the country's largest half-marathon: the 500 Festival Mini-Marathon. After all the easy-paced running at Flying Pig weekend, I was kind of itching to run fast. I had mentioned this to my coaches, so they had me do a brief taper this week at FAST, just in case I did decide to race. It was going to be a nearly game-day decision, based on the weather (which wasn't supposed to be great) and how I felt, but I was optimistic that I'd get a shot at a new PR.

Just can't wait to get on the road again...

When I finally reached wonderful Indianapolis (one of my favorite cities, along with Cincinnati and now Milwaukee), I checked into my hotel and headed straight for the race expo. It was a short block-and-a-half walk from my hotel. As expos go, it was okay. The Flying Pig is an event roughly half the size of the Indy Mini (20,000 runners versus 40,000), but the Flying Pig's expo is easily three times larger than Indy's. But it's like they say: it's not really the size that matters, it's how they use the floorspace. (They do say that, don't they?) There were some cool booths to check out (Saucony Kinvara 2's are out now!) and lots of official mini-marathon gear for sale. If I had known what was in store for me at the race, I might have actually bought something.


I picked up my race packet and headed back to the hotel to see what sort of swag I had gotten. The last time I ran this race (two years ago in '09), I believe I got a long-sleeved cotton shirt and a tech hat. The swag is still similar, but the shirt is tech fabric and, thankfully, not white. Plus they've added something new: washing machine cleaner. I know what you're thinking. What's washing machine cleanliness got to do with running? Well, everything! If your washing machine is grimy, it means your running gear isn't getting clean. And dirty running gear is less aerodynamic, causing you to run more slowly. It's all scientifically documented. Really, I swear. So a clean washing machine equals faster running. I, for one, cannot wait to clean my washing machine and see a measurable improvement in my race times as a result.

Long sleeved-tech shirt, tech hat, and washing machine cleaner - score!

I was supposed to meet up with fellow FASTie, Nikki, and her family for dinner... but circumstances beyond our control prevented that from happening. So I ended up down at my hotel's pasta buffet for dinner. This turned out to be an excellent choice. I didn't have to make a reservation, I didn't have to walk anywhere, there was no wait, and the food was outstanding. I had a salad, some grilled vegetables, a breadstick, some penne with creamy tomato sauce, and far too many desserts (they were tiny, I swear). I definitely felt properly carbed up after all that. Nevermind that one really doesn't need to carb load before a half-marathon.

I moseyed back up to my room, relaxed on the very comfortable bed with my iPad, and then eventually drifted off into a good night's sleep. I woke up feeling refreshed, which was a stark contrast to how I felt the morning of my last half-marathon. No seagulls disturbed my sleep this time! I enjoyed a light breakfast and a cup of coffee and then I turned on some Get Pumped Music. Hopefully I didn't disturb my neighbors too much, but with a song like this, you just can't keep the volume low:

A snippet from my new favorite Get Pumped Pre-Race song. The Vulture, by Pendulum

I checked the weather forecast one more time, expecting to see lots of rain ahead for my race. But I was pleasantly surprised to see that the rain was supposed to hold off until about 10am. There was also very little wind. With temps in the low-to-mid 50's, a bit of cloud cover, and no wind or rain, I was definitely in business for racing this half. I was pumped!

The air was crisp and cool as I walked the several blocks to the start area. The sun was just starting to light up the eastern sky and runners were spilling out onto the streets from their various hotels and parking garages. This event, which consists of a half-marathon and a 5k, draws a combined total of about 40,000 participants. The starting corrals, which go from A to Z, stretch five city blocks. The last time I ran this event, I was in Corral S. It had taken me 45 minutes to cross the starting line after the gun was fired. This time, I qualified for a Preferred Corral, and was in Corral F. I could actually see the starting line from my corral! It sounds kind of ridiculous, but just being in this corral made me feel a faster and stronger. And part of me felt like I needed to prove that I deserved to be there.

Lucky Corral F?

As race time drew nearer, people starting filing into their corrals. I wanted to be front and center in my corral, so I got in early to stake my claim. I started chatting with a nice woman standing next to me and she mentioned that her husband had bought her an entry into this race for Christmas. She seemed to think that was kind of weird. Personally, I think it's awesome. I think more people should give race entries (especially for hard-to-get-in-to races like this one) as gifts!

Representing Team FAST

Soon we were singing the national anthem, and everyone was positioned in their corrals. I had nearly forgotten about the beach balls until I got hit in the head by one. Apparently this is a tradition, because it happened the last time I ran this race. Somebody (race officials?) release hundreds of beach balls into the corrals and runners hit them around until the race starts.

Balls flying everywhere!

Before we knew it, we were counting down the last 10 seconds until race start, and then we were off! It took me less than 4 minutes to cross the starting line. What a difference from last time!

I wanted to try very hard to run even splits for this race. That meant I needed to ramp up to my goal pace very quickly, which is something I'm not used to doing. No 11:00 pace for the first three miles to get warmed up. No, I needed to turn it on, and I needed to turn it on fast. My goal pace was 9:05, which would allow me to squeak in at just under 2:00. I honestly wasn't sure if I could run that pace for the whole 13 miles, but I sure was going to try. My first mile was slow, at 9:21, due to crowds of runners that were hard to get around. I didn't want to waste a lot of energy zig-zagging around people, so I just surged ahead when I was able and hoped the field would thin out soon. The field never did thin out, but the distribution of paces seemed to adjust itself naturally so that I wasn't constantly trying to get around slower people.

My next three miles were 9:00 spot on and I felt great. I decided to try to stick with the 9:00 pace until after Mile 7. If I still felt great at Mile 7, then I would try to pick up the pace a bit from there.

I can't say enough great things about the Mini Marathon course. It's flat like a pancake (mmmm... pancakes), and there's nonstop entertainment the whole way. The spectators are wonderful too. There is definitely no shortage of motivation in this race, and I could tell it was really helping my run. I pretty much smiled the entire race (except for maybe the last mile or two, when it got pretty intense). I sang along with some of the bands, high-fived lots of kids, and laughed at some of the more amusing entertainment (like the old ladies who were country line-dancing - awesome!). Who knew running at a 9:00 pace could be so much fun?

Then the course entered Indy Speedway. This part was wicked-cool last time I ran this race. And it is still wicked-cool. It's the most pristine running surface I'll probably ever encounter; nary a pothole in sight. This is probably the quietest part of the entire course, although there were several cheerleading squads in the speedway to give us a mental boost. They were truly wonderful - I don't know how they cheered for so long without losing their voices.

After leaving the speedway, we were at Mile 8, and I was still feeling very strong. So I decided to push a little more and see what I could do. I knew if I stayed at a 9:00 pace, I would be cutting it very close for a sub-2:00. I kept thinking to myself, "Leave nothing to chance"... I wanted to be absolutely certain I would come in under 2:00. If I ran a little faster, I could give myself a bit of a buffer. And so I pushed.

From Mile 8 until the finish, my pace was well under 9:00. In fact, each mile after 7 got faster and faster. It was definitely my day, and I was so ready to join the ranks of the sub-2:00 runners. I knew anything could happen between Mile 8 and the finish - I could trip and fall (a disturbingly likely scenario), I could hit the wall, the guy in front of me shaking out his left arm could have a heart attack and I'd need to stop to help him, etc. But I was trying not to think about those things, and instead focus on the fact that I had less than 5 miles to go... less than 4 miles... less than 3... less than 2... just 1 mile to go....

The last mile felt the longest, even though it was actually the shortest, time-wise. It was incredibly difficult. There was a man running slightly ahead of me in an orange shirt. I made it my goal in life to stick with this man. I was not going to let him get away from me. There were markers along the side of the road that said "3/4 mi to go", "1/2 mi to go", "1/4 mi to go". It seemed that these markers got farther and farther apart, and I was pretty sure they were moving the finish line away from me as I ran toward it.

But then something amazing happened. I made it to the finish line! It was a bit emotional, finally running a half-marathon in under 2:00. I glanced at my Garmin as I hit the Stop button. 1:56:55. Over 3 minutes to spare; I had left nothing to chance.

Leaving nothing to chance: the best half-marathon of my life. (click to see full-screen)

As I was walking through the finish chute, a man came up from behind me and said "Thank you. I just want you to know that you were my pacer from almost the very beginning. I just kept looking for your pigtails and red shirt. You really helped me. I just wanted you to know that." I don't think I have ever felt so honored in my entire running career as I did right then.

The Mini Marathon really knows how to make tired runners happy. First, they give out a super-cool medal which weighs about 6 tons. But they know that's a lot to carry around when you're famished, so then they give you a plastic grocery bag and fill it up with bananas, fruit cups, cookies, bottled water, granola bars and Gatorade. It was a veritable smorgasbord of post-run delicacies, and I was starving, so the banana and the cookie got gobbled up right away. They had professional photographers taking post-race portraits, so I stood in line for my picture, and then made my way to the post-race party.

Since I was alone, I didn't really plan to do much actual partying. But I wanted to find the Results Tent and get my official race time. When I did, I was beyond ecstatic.

1:56:52 (8:56 pace)

It was a PR by nearly 8 minutes (and that PR had only been set a month ago). I felt like a rockstar. I also felt really good, physically. When I had crossed the finish, I was exhausted. But I think that post-race banana and cookie really perked me back up. The walk back to the hotel was easy-breezy (no hobbling!), except for the ice-cold rain that was falling on me.

Did I mention the rain had started almost as soon as I crossed the finish line? It was like I had just outrun Mother Nature. And she wasn't happy about it at all! So for several blocks, I was wet and cold... but that made my post-race hot shower all that much better. Ahhhhhh....

And now, without further ado, the Shiny Medal of Victory!

Look, it's bigger than my head!

So now what? I have reached a huge milestone as a runner: the sub-2:00 half-marathon. I am absolutely thrilled! But am I satisfied? Heck no! I have new goals to achieve. New races to run. New paths to tread. The great thing about running is that you never have to be content with where you are; there is always something else to strive for.

I actually didn't believe I was capable of running sub-2:00 until I actually did it. It makes me wonder what else I'm capable of that seems unattainable at the moment. I suppose only time will tell.

In the mean time, now that Flying Pig and Indy are behind me, I am ready to start planning out my training for the Lakefront Marathon. Do I have goals for that race? Absolutely. Am I going to tell you what they are? Absolutely not!

So don't even try to ask. Because I ain't tellin'. At least not now...

Peace. Love. Train.

1 comment:

  1. Emily,
    Congratulations on a sub-2:00 half marathon. That is just wonderful! Congratulations again and again!!

    Keep up the training and constant improvement.