Today I ran the Fiesta Bowl 1/2 Marathon. My goal? To run under 1:36:00. To set a new PR. What made today special? I took a slightly different approach to the race. I joined a pace team. A new tactic for me.
A trusted friend volunteered to lead the 1:35 pace group for the 1/2 marathon. I was excited when he posted this duty and immediately jumped on board. In addition, my husband (who is just bringing his mileage and speed back up after a month off due to injury) joined the group to help keep me on track since he wasn't fit enough to race his own pace. With friends like this on board, what could go wrong?
We started near the front line and immediately after the gun went off, SR was monitoring his watch and his Garmin to ensure that we stayed on pace, not too fast, but not slower than necessary. The first mile felt easy. Probably because it was the first mile. But by 7 minutes into the race, I knew that it was going to take everything I had today to get across the line under 1:36.
Our group started with maybe a dozen people. My husband and SR set the pace up front and chatted easily. I tucked in behind SR and just focused on his loping stride. I tried not to think much. Just run. Slowly, we lost members of our team and by the time we hit 8 miles there were 3 of us left.
For the first 8-10 miles, the aid stations were spread out 2 miles apart. Each of the last 3 miles contained aid. As we approached the water stations, my husband urged me to keep running and he'd bring me water. I already felt guilty enough being in a pace group, I felt the need to get my water myself. So I did. I don't know if I lost any time, I doubt it.
We held a steady pace of 7:12-7:15 miles. With each mile, it became more and more difficult for me to just run. I hurt. My quads hurt. I couldn't control my breathing. I had a side stitch. After we passed 9 miles, SR began to gain a little space on me. I tried my best to hold on. I kept him in sight. My husband stayed with me and set a new pace. Not a sub-1:35 pace, but a PR pace. For 10 miles we were on 1:35 pace which meant that I had a little cushion (1 minute) in which I could still PR.
He tried his best to encourage me. To make me run faster. To want it more. I felt like I was giving everything I had, and my legs just wouldn't turn over anymore. My feet were slapping the ground with each footfall. Gritting my teeth, I growled at him to "stop talking, just set the pace." I was done. After my second admonishment, he ran in front of me, quietly setting the pace.
With each mile marker I glanced at my watch to make sure I was still on pace. Mile 11 was 7:30. Crap. Mile 12, which I swore I'd never get to, was 7:30. I was losing my cushion. I was down to 30 seconds to secure my PR. I put my head down and ran. My husband was just ahead, cheering me through the last two turns into the finish line. "Use your arms!" "Last turn straight ahead!" "GO!!"
I crossed the line in 1:35:47. A PR by 15 seconds. 15 seconds. That's a mere 1 second per mile. It's crazy how much one second can hurt. The last time I ran this course was 3 years ago. 2008 during the build-up to my first Boston-qualifying marathon. I was in amazing shape that year. I had run a 1:38 half marathon in Tulsa in November, and 4 weeks later a 1:36:02 at Fiesta Bowl. 4 weeks later? My first running injury sidelined me. It's nice to know that 10 days shy of my 35th birthday, I can still run fast.
I have mixed feelings about pace groups. I always want to feel like I earned the result that I got. Ultimately, it's my legs that carry me through the 13.1 miles. No one can do that for me. And I didn't take any assistance from my husband, even though he freely offered. But you know what? Even if it hadn't been my friend leading the pace group, or my husband by my side... it would have been someone else. That's the beauty of racing. We use each other, whether we know each other or not. In the race I ran a month ago, I used the women ahead of me as targets. I reeled them in slowly one by one. When someone tried to pass, I picked up the pace and went harder. It's not really any different than using SR to chase over 10 miles today. It's just a different strategy. Not better. Just different.
What would have happened today without the pace group? We'll never know. I suspect I would have gone out really hard in the first mile or 3, and then held on to finish in a similar time frame. I was ready for this race. I was trained for sub-1:36. I set my goal and realized it. It's that simple.
I look forward to next weekend. Another chance for another PR. In a 5k... a whole different level of hurt. It's short, it's sweet, and it's oh so scary. My husband accused me of being a masochist. Looking forward to that level of pain. But as another good friend of mine once said, real pain is sitting around all your life wondering what pain tastes like.