I ran the Just a Short Run (JASR) Half Marathon on Saturday, March 26. This was my 8th half marathon, second time running this half marathon, and third time running a JASR race (I ran the 5K in 2014.) My main goal for this training cycle was to get through a second cycle of training with the Hansons’ method, since I plan to use that method for full marathon training, and just to build a good base of miles for marathon training later this year. While I didn’t have a goal time, I set 10:40 as my goal race pace since the plan prescribes training run paces based on your goal time. That pace is 10 seconds faster than the average 10:50 pace I ran in my October race, which is my PR. While I didn’t have a time goal for this race, I wanted to run my best. I wanted to start slowly and finish strong, which is the strategy I used to run my October race, which was my best race. I did not run even close to my best. I ended up running this race just 36 seconds faster than I ran it last year, but I ran it last year as a training run. Where do I even start to explain this race? You better settle in, because this is a long one.
Leading Up to the Race
I take full responsibility for running a poor race. But I had a lot going on in the two weeks leading to this race.
First, there were work stresses. I usually handle work stress really well and definitely feel like running helps with that. But the past two weeks have been extremely stressful, and it got to me.
Second, there was the car situation. I drive a 14-year-old car, and my husband’s car is 20 years old. Neither of us drive much (his car only has 80,000 miles on it), neither of us are car people, and neither of us want to spend money on a car. But when you drive old cars, things need to be replaced, and that’s what happened to my car recently. Plus, we take our dog everywhere with us, and he can barely fit into my little VW Golf. Well, even though we know exactly the car we want, it turns out there are a lot of decisions to make, and it’s stressed me out enough to now think I shouldn’t get another car and should just drive mine until it dies. I’ve been agonizing over this.
Third, there was my mindset. Two weeks ago I ran my peak week of 47 miles. When I said it crushed me, it really did. It crushed my will to run. After that week, I was pretty much done with training. I was counting the days until the race would be over so I could have my three months off training before marathon training starts. I want to do all the things I didn’t have time for or couldn’t do while training–strength training, yoga, doing a walk commute to work, cleaning the house, not eating so many carbs, staying up later than 8:30 p.m., sleeping in past 4:30 a.m., etc. The only reason I wanted to run the race was so that the race and training would to be OVER. I worried that I didn’t care enough about the race–after all, I’ve been saying I had no big goal for it–and that I wouldn’t be able to push when I needed to.
The Hansons’ Half Marathon Method: Second Time Around
I followed the beginner plan of the Hanson’s Half Marathon Method for the second time (don’t let the name full you–it’s tough!). The first time, I followed the plan to a tee, with the only changes being a planned week of easy runs while on vacation and tapering a little more than the plan called for at the end. Last week, I read through those training recaps. Going into my goal race, I felt so confident and was 100% confident I would have a good race. And I had my best race.
This time, I wasn’t nearly as good at following the plan to a tee. Because I hadn’t set a big goal for a race, I felt more comfortable slacking off. I looked back at my training log, and I skipped 3 runs–once because of snow, once because I was sick, and once during my taper because I just didn’t feel like running after my peak week. However, there were a total of 22 runs (out of 100) where I didn’t follow the planned workout and cut runs or speedwork short or didn’t do speedwork at all due to snow and ice. And on many of my pace runs, I cheated a little and would stop my Garmin and take a break between each of my miles at goal pace.
Now, I know that everyone says it’s perfectly fine to skip some runs and not follow the plan to a tee. I even read one article that says try to follow the 80/20 rule, that you should be fine if you follow about 80% of the plan. The thing is, that may be true for most training plans, but it completely goes against the Hansons’ method. The whole point of the Hansons’ method is to build cumulative fatigue so that you learn how to run well on tired legs. When you don’t run enough miles, when you skip runs or cut them short, you don’t build the fatigue you should be, so the method doesn’t really work. Plus, for me, the biggest benefit of the Hansons’ method was learning how to push through hard workouts when I was tired. That really built my mental grit. I did that so many times during the first cycle but feel like with the reduced or missed workouts, I didn’t push nearly as hard as I should have in training this second time.
So, while I can give myself all the pep talks I want about knowing the course well and running well on the course, the truth is that I didn’t believe I put in the training I should have. I worried that because I hadn’t got enough practice in training, I wouldn’t be able to push during the race. I also worried that I’d run all my pace runs on the flat river trail where I do my weekday runs and didn’t have any practice running at goal pace on hills.
Well, basically all my worries became reality. I got to the race an hour early to get a good parking spot and was just in time to get the very last good spot so I didn’t have to take a shuttle bus from the other parking areas. My running buddy Anna was doing the 8.1-mile race, so we met at registration to pick up our bibs and swag (shorts and socks). There was a gear bag drop-off, so we took our bags over only to find that there was no marker to write our bib numbers on the bag. So while Anna was waiting to use the bathroom, I walked back to my car to drop our bags off. That was just one thing I was annoyed at before the race started. I was annoyed that I wasn’t given pins with my bib and had to go back and ask for them. I was annoyed that the bathroom smelled like poop and I had to wait in a long line smelling poop. I was just annoyed that I had to run the race.
If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you know that I do not like races. Just last weekend, when I was running with Chelsea for her 50K, she was telling me all the races she’s doing this year. I commented that she must love races and that I’m the opposite. I love to train but hate to race. She asked why, and I said because of everything. I hate everything about races except crossing the finish line. So, this race was no different.
Anyway, I got back from my car to find Anna. I was in the middle of doing my dynamic stretches when we heard “Go!” and everyone started moving–three minutes early according to my watch and confirmed per the race results. So, we had to start in the very back instead of with our pace group, which annoyed me.
Miles 1-3: 10:50, 10:37, 10:36
The weather was perfect–about 33 and cloudy. My plan was to ease into my goal pace of 10:40, and that did NOT happen. The 5K, 8.1-mile, and half marathon all start together. The 30K is supposed to start five minutes earlier and merge in, but I think this time everyone started at once. That meant that after the merge all the runners near us were running much faster paces, and you know what that’s like. You either go with the flow or get trampled. The first mile includes a .25-mile hill with a 137-foot climb and is the biggest hill of the course. I planned to take it easy on that hill and felt like I was, but in retrospect I should have gone slower. I kept trying to put the brakes on, but I failed. Plus, I was annoyed at everything. I didn’t say a peep to Anna the whole race even though we were running together. I was already in a not-good mental place, and when I get like that I tend to go inward. I was annoyed at the woman behind me breathing heavily. I was annoyed at the people talking around me. I was annoyed at all the different pace groups around me because of the merged races. I was annoyed at two guys doing run-walk intervals who kept running around me then stopping to walk right in front if me.
Miles 4-6: 10:44, 10:41, 10:29
The race course is two 5-mile loops around a lake preceded by a 3-mile out-and-back. As we started the first loop, the seeds of “I don’t want to do this loop a second time” took root in my brain. Anna and I stayed steady, going a little slower on the uphills and a little faster on the downhills. Still, everyone was annoying me–except Anna, and that’s because it’s nearly impossible to be annoyed at Anna! Finally, around mile 4, I told Anna I wanted to put in my headphones to drown out the people around me, so we walked for a short time to get out our headphones. Physically, I wasn’t feeling bad. I just was not into the race.
Miles 7-10: 11:16, 10:37, 11:27
In mile 7 I started to feel a little tired. I decided to walk to take my second gel and salt stick since it coincided with a hill. Anna was feeling good and kept on, and I let her go. When I saw the 11:16 split show up on my Garmin, I told myself not to panic. I have been known to throw away the whole race off of a single split (I’m thinking of you, 2015 Pittsburgh Half Marathon.) So I really tried to focus and get my mojo back for the next mile, which I did. However, as I was coming to the finish line area where those running the 8.1-mile race would finish and I’d have to keep going, I started thinking Maybe I’ll just go through the finish line. I did NOT want to run anymore. It’s weird because I didn’t feel like I was physically struggling. I wasn’t feeling super good, either. I just felt meh. I didn’t know if the race chip would figure out that I only did 8 miles if I crossed the finish line, and I certainly didn’t want to be a cheater. So I reluctantly kept going. Shortly after that, I passed where I’d parked my car. I slowed down and was this close to just stopping, getting in my car, and going home. I did not want to be running! But, I’d said that the only thing I had to do in this race was finish, so I knew I needed to finish, even if I had to walk the rest of the race. So that’s pretty much what I did.
Miles 11-13.3: 12:19, 12:30, 13:18, 11:42
I walked a lot of the last miles. At one point the 11:27 pace group passed me while I was walking, and I rallied and tried to keep up with them. But that motivation lasted about five minutes. I walked when I wanted to and ran when I wanted to. And I kept being annoyed. Are you ready for this? I was annoyed at the little kids handing out water at the water stations because they were veering too far into my path. Who gets annoyed at volunteers–much less little kid volunteers–in a race? What kind of person am I??? One of the reasons I picked this race is because it’s very low-key–most runners do it as a training run for the Pittsburgh Marathon–with no spectators. There were all of two people cheering…and they annoyed me! Can you see my mindset here? I was in a dark place and just could not pull myself out of my funk. So I walked. And ran very little. I made myself run the last mile and finished the last .3 at a 10:58 pace.
I crossed the finish line at 13.3 miles in 2:30:19 according to my Garmin, for an 11:18 pace. The official results are 2:30:14 for an 11:29 pace.
The Perfect Storm of a Bad Race
Poor Race Plan. Per my race plan, I wanted to start slowly and run in a 10:30-11:00 pace range until mile 10, when I planned to speed up. I based that race plan off of my 10:50 pace in my half marathon PR but didn’t take into account that that race was on a flat trail. Plus, I didn’t practice my pace runs on hills. So my pacing strategy for such a hilly course turned out to be more than I could handle. In retrospect, I realize I was just running too fast in the first half of the race. I wasn’t checking my heart rate, and that was a mistake. When I looked at my stats after the race, I saw that my heart rate was in my max zone for the whole race up until the last miles where I walked a lot.
Burnout Leading to Poor Mindset. I was simply burned out from the training at the end and didn’t want to run. This is the first race where I didn’t plan out a cute outfit, and I didn’t take a single picture at the race. I just wasn’t feeling it.
Mental Struggles. Confidence does not come easy for me. While I developed huge confidence from doing the Hanson’s plan the first time, I felt really bad about my training this time and didn’t feel like I was going to have a good race. And that’s the power of the mind, friends. I went into the race thinking it wouldn’t be good, and I could not pull myself out of a very dark mindset that caused me to throw this race away. I do think that the first faster miles made me a little tired later, but I didn’t feel that bad physically during the race. I just didn’t want to push myself to keep my goal pace. I just didn’t even want to run. I gave up mentally.
What Worked & Lessons Learned
All is not lost, however! One thing that worked well was my fueling and hydration, which I wrote about here. I had no stomach problems whatsoever. While the cool weather surely contributed, I’m glad that I have a fueling and hydration strategy that works for me. The other thing is that I wasn’t a big baby about this race not going well like I was in past races. I think my husband and family are always praying I’ll have a good race, because they know how upset I get if the race doesn’t go well. Not this time. Yes, I cried a little when I was showering after the race, but then I just thought, “Oh well, I really suck at races” and didn’t beat myself up.
I also learned some really valuable things.
Run at least the first half by heart rate. This has worked really well for me in the past, so I don’t know why I didn’t do it this time. I’m not sure how my heart rate was in the max zone for so long in the race, and I didn’t think I was going too fast. I so wish I would have checked my heart rate! From now on, I need to check my heart rate and not just rely on pace.
Do pace runs on the race course or similar. It would have been very impractical for me to drive to the race course to run two days of the week (I usually ran it during my long runs), but I should have at least added in more hills on my pace runs.
Follow my training plan as closely as possible. Whether or not I actually need to do that to have a good race is a moot point because my mind believes that I do. However…
Don’t race. Yep, I think I’m done with races. I don’t like them, and I don’t do well in them. So why do them? I feel like I just need to run for fun for a while. But…
The marathon. My first full marathon this fall that I’ve been planning since 2014. This race confirms that I should not do it. If small local races stress me out, how will I handle a marathon? And if I know that mental struggles are my biggest hurdle in races, a marathon isn’t the place for me. And yet. I still want to do it. Is that crazy? I’ve been wanting to for so long, and I’ve built up all the mileage to get to this point. Registration opens this Friday, and I don’t know what to do.
I’ll end this by saying a huge thanks to everyone who has followed my journey…although you may no longer want to follow me now after learning that I was irritated at little kids trying to give me water! I know so many have been rooting for me for so long, and that means a lot to me. This wasn’t the ending I wanted, but it’s a journey, and I have to take the bad along with the good. Also, I’m trying to remember that I did accomplish my main goal of getting through another training cycle and logged 593 miles, all while staying free of injuries. I’m happy about that, and I’m moving on!