"The only thing we have to fear…is fear itself."
A famous quote…perhaps you've heard it?
This quote could sum up last weekend's race, the Running With the Cows Half-Marathon in bucolic Bucyrus, Kansas.
I'd like to point out that this is probably the first time I've ever had an opportunity to use the word "bucolic" on this blog…it's a proud moment.
This was my 5th half-marathon overall, since I delved into this semi-long distance last October. You would think after running four previous halfs, that I would have some semblance of confidence.
You would think wrong.
After my somewhat disastrous half-marathon three weeks prior, at the Garmin Half Marathon in Olathe, Kansas - I was a tad bit anxious for this latest race.
Wait. "Tad bit" anxious??
I was scared to death.
All week, negative thoughts consumed my every waking moment…and were often the last thoughts I had before drifting off to disrupted sleep each night. All of those anxious "What if??" questions racked my brain…"What if I can't finish?" "What if my back hurts?" "What if I do even MORE horribly??!!"
Yup. Pretty much. This was me all week.
This is what's interesting about running for the non-elite runners - the good majority of us, actually - who strap on running shoes and head out each weekend to run in local races in our community.
We're not out there to win. We're not out there for the glory. We're not competing against the thousands of other runners beside us at the Start Line.
We're out there to compete against ourselves.
We're out there to push ourselves…to go harder…faster…better than our last race.
We're out there to test our limits…both mentally and physically…to see just how far we can go.
And my negativity about this race had me firmly convinced that I had reached my zenith at a previous half-marathon, and I would NEVER improve…NEVER go faster…NEVER get better…and thoughts like that can defeat you before you ever line up at the Start Line.
It had not helped that I'd had a somewhat disastrous training session the previous Tuesday with my personal trainer…she'd pushed me - HARD - and I'd crashed and burned…huffing, puffing, praying for death…one speed drill shy of throwing in my towel and retiring my tennis shoes forever.
So…race day approached. The weather forecasts were ominous…calling for severe weather, hail, overall doom and gloom.
That didn't help my anxiety, but I knew - short of a tornado - I could run in the rain, and I'd just run wet. Fortunately, the temperatures were projected in the 60's - so I wouldn't be super cold. I could do this.
Packet pick-up was the day before the race, and I did get a kick from the bright and cheerful race shirts & bibs:
And the back.
How cute is THAT??!!
Maybe this race won't be so bad…??
The night before the race, I set out Flat Me:
Another of my Sparkle Skirts…cool, comfy, and POCKETS to carry important stuff, like a phone! Hubby told me that I looked like a Catholic school girl, which somewhat fit the theme, because the race was benefiting a local Catholic school, Queen of the Holy Rosary School, in Bucyrus. Only because I was in black, I felt more like Britney Spears, in a "naughty" Catholic school girl uniform.
Our alarm went off at 4:30 a.m., as we needed to be on the road by 5:00 a.m. It was going to take a good hour of driving to reach the race location, and because of heavy rains all week, the race organizers were going to park us in odd locations along the sides of rural roads and then bus us to the Start Line.
This poor town. Thousands of cars parked all along the rural roads…it was surreal.
Because I had been so anxious about this race, I'd literally typed out a checklist the night before - and noted everything that I had done WRONG at the Garmin race…so I would NOT make the same mistakes again. Everything went smoothly as we were getting ready…but then…I began to feel sick.
As in, I'm going to puke, sick.
Was this real? Or was it anxiety? I tried to do some deep, focused breathing on the drive to the race, but I was still just…sick. Bleh. Just what I need.
After parking on some road out in the middle of nowhere, we hopped on the school bus and rode a short 2 miles or so to the staging area. Dawn was breaking, and there was a bit of a chill in the air…but they'd opened the doors to the school, which provided a welcomed respite while we waited for race time. The kids at the school had done some awesome decorations in preparation for the race:
My personal favorite, though, was this guy - who seemed to sum up my mood all week:
The school had a bag check, snacks, coffee, and tons of amazing volunteers. It was practically a party BEFORE the race even began.
Kristin and I before the race...
I was walking through the cafeteria, when I saw someone sitting on the floor, stretching out, who looked familiar. I gave her one of those, "I know you from somewhere…" looks…and realized she was giving me the same look. Recognition suddenly dawned; it was Heather, a fellow blogger here in Kansas City who writes at "What the Heck, Why Not?" I'd discovered her blog quite awhile ago, and had been wanting to meet her "in real life." It was great to FINALLY meet in person!!
Me, Kristin and Heather
You can't tell from this picture, but Heather is Kenyan. She's one of those super-fast runners who basically finishes races an entire time zone ahead of me. But this is what's cool about the running community - everyone is so stinkin' NICE, no matter how fast or slow you run. Everyone is there to support everyone else.
It's pretty cool.
And speaking of bloggers, I also FINALLY got to meet ANOTHER local blogger/runner, Allison. I didn't get a photo with her, but she writes at Dailey Runs…and she's ALSO Kenyan. Sigh. If you want to know how the other half lives…i.e., fast runners…check out Heather's and Allison's blogs.
At this point, I needed to get outside and do some running to warm up. This is one of the mistakes I'd made at Garmin - socializing too much before the race and NOT warming up - and I wasn't going to repeat this. In fact, I think my unofficial mantra for the morning was, "Don't do a Garmin. Don't do a Garmin."
So…heading outside…I ran for about 5-10 minutes…enough to loosen everything up…and it was then time for more socializing.
Because that's what racing's all about, right??!!
Actually, it was time for a group photo of the Half Fanatics…which I'd qualified for after the Garmin. I'd somewhat organized this photo op the night before on Facebook, determined to get a picture of all the Half Fanatics running, because, by golly - I'm now IN this darned club, and there'd better be a darned PHOTO:
A HUGE group of Half Fanatics were represented!!! Awesomesauce!!!
It was now time for me to say goodbye to everyone - including Phillip, Bill, Sandy, Paula, Kristin, Hubby - and sadly, even THIS guy, the Cow:
I needed to get into the corrals and start focusing on what was ahead. Time to get the electronics all turned on (Garmin watch, headphones, music, etc) and make sure everything was working. Time to breathe. And I was STILL feeling pukey. Bleh.
My trainer had set a goal for me to finish this race in 2:38…which would give me a 2-minute PR (personal record). So, I lined up by the 2:40 pace group, thinking I could hang with them most of the race and then push out a little ahead at the tail end, giving me that 2:38.
Speaking of goals…the night before, I'd read a bit of "Meb for Mortals: How to Run, Think and Eat Like a Champion Marathoner", and I'd specifically focused on the chapter dealing with goals.
Meb suggests that you set not just one goal, but several goals, for a race: an A Goal, B Goal, C Goal, etc. His A Goal is obviously to WIN the marathon, but if he can't win, then what's his runner-up goal? If he doesn't make his runner-up goal, then what's the NEXT runner-up goal? And so on, and so on.
Taking this into account, I'd set up the following goals:
A Goal: Beat 2:38 (which would be a PR)
B Goal: Meet 2:38 (which would be a PR)
C Goal: Run 2:38 - 2:40 (which would beat or tie my previous PR)
D Goal: Beat 2:47 (which is my worst time so far - Garmin - gah)
E Goal: Beat 3:00
F Goal: Just Finish
My ultimate goal was the A Goal…but I'd settle for any of those.
Soon, the gun went off, and we were off.
The Start Line from above...
In my attempt to "Don't do a Garmin" for this race, I was determined to be caught smiling and having fun at ALL photo ops. In this first one, I did not disappoint:
The course consisted of mainly straight, long, hilly passages…with a few sharp turns thrown in. The race advertises itself as "gently rolling hills" - and they weren't kidding…about the hills, anyway. I'm not so sure about the "gently" part. Some of those hills were long…and I was determined, though, to take them slow and easy and not get wiped out too fast, too soon.
Don't do a Garmin.
The school children had done some awesome chalk art on the roads the days before the race, which somewhat broke up the monotony:
Running with the 2:40 pace group, though, was presenting a problem…they were going just a tad bit TOO slow for me. Without realizing it, I found myself slowly creeping up on the 2:35 pace group. Checking all my systems, I was assured that I was NOT going too fast, too soon…and I told myself that if I had to fall back at some point during the race with the 2:40, I still had that option. So, I kept going.
Conditions were near perfect. It was still cool…still cloudy…and there was a gentle breeze blowing in. The 2:35 pacer, Kelly, was running 3:1 intervals, with slight slowdowns as we climbed the hills, and a slight speed-up as we crested and cruised over the top of the hills. By Mile 3, I was totally in the groove, thinking that my A Goal was still within sight.
I had studied the course ahead of time, and knew EXACTLY when to fuel up with my GU gels, and when to grab water. Again, this was a result of Garmin. I was not going to BONK and hit the wall too soon.
Don't do a Garmin.
My music was amazing…I have over 800 songs on my running playlist, so I never really know what's going to come on. I listen to everything from Tom Petty to Aerosmith to Johnny Cash. At Mile 4, I had to laugh…as Britney Spears (don't judge) began singing, "Hit Me Baby One More Time":
Wearing her naughty Catholic schoolgirl uniform….
Around this time, I ran up on a running maniac, Sandy, who's a rockstar…we chatted for a bit, but then I was off.
Around Mile 5, I ran into Kathi, my Red Cross buddy…we chatted for a bit, but then I was off.
This was becoming a pattern, it seemed.
Before I knew it, we were at the halfway point, where we turned around and began running back in the other direction. My A Goal was still in sight, as I was still hanging with the 2:35 pace group, with no issues, other than I was starting to feel a blister burning on my left foot - right where my beloved (not) bunion is.
More hills…more pasture…more cows…the only break in scenery occurred when we'd come across the numerous aid stations scattered throughout the course. The volunteers here were pretty amazing; most of them appeared to be kids - probably the kids from the Queen of Holy Rosary Catholic School.
At Mile 8, we began "The Climb." This was the longest, and steepest, hill on the course…it went on for what seemed like forever. I looked up ahead, and could not see the crest anywhere in sight. I swear to God, we were climbing Mount Kilimanjaro, and I began to struggle a bit mentally, wondering if I would EVER make it to the top of that darned hill:
What it looked like from my point of view...
Running is 90% mental and only 10% physical. It's that 90% mental that I have to work on…so I was, once again, DETERMINED to "Don't Do a Garmin". No negative thoughts were allowed to cross my mind on this day. As soon as I began to feel defeated - especially on this stupid mountain - I pushed them out of my head and focused on my goals.
Especially A Goal:
It was still in sight.
And again, my music came to my rescue. "Deep Way Down Deep" by Selah came on, and I knew I had to dig down deep and push through for about 3 more miles. It's funny how we hear the songs we need just at the right time.
After what seemed like forever, we crested The Mountain, and began a long, slow downhill for awhile. Everything was still going right…I was fueling when needed, and feeling strong (other than the blister pain.) Around here, I ran into another friend, Paula, and it was good to chat with her. These little chats with friends are uplifting and supportive, and I always appreciate running into a familiar face along the road.
Soon, we were approaching Mile 13.
By now, I realized, that unless disaster struck - like a tsunami, earthquake, or tornado - I would reach my A Goal.
I was going to beat 2:38.
And I was one happy runner, as this photo bears out, taken at Mile 13:
Turning the corner for the last .1 mile to the Finish Line, I kicked it in to high gear. Running as hard and as fast as I could (thanks to my Beast of a Trainer, who makes me do this on my Speed Drills), I gave it everything I had. Wanting to puke, but not wanting to mess up my Finish Line photos, I gunned it…and soon, the Finish Line was in sight:
My best time EVER!!!!
After the race, Hubby and I stayed for awhile, cheering on the other runners and chatting with friends. There was a potluck luncheon in the school, which I heard was FABULOUS, but being Celiac, I tend to stay away from those…which sucks, because I was STARVING at this point.
Eventually, we caught a bus and headed back to the boonies, where our car sat, forlornly on the side of a bucolic pasture road…and it was time to head home and call it a day.
Oh, and that doom & gloom weather they'd been predicting all week?
And neither did the puking that I was SOOOO feeling all morning.
Life is good.
Things I Liked:
3. Aid Stations/Volunteers - plentiful. Oranges, snacks, Oreo cookies, milk, candy, etc.
4. Weather conditions
5. Indoor facility to hang out before the race
Things I Didn't Like:
2. Hills - although none too steep, there were a LOT of them. That last hill was a killer.