Yesterday, I ran the Inaugural Gold Country Half Marathon in El Dorado Hills, CA. It was amazing! My last half was back in March, and I wisely stayed with the pacer for the first eight or so miles. Then I unwisely felt like I was having to hold back to stay with him, so I took off on my own. I couldn't believe how well I was doing, how great I felt- for about two miles. Then I bonked. Hard. I ended up walking more than running for the last three miles, until the aforementioned pacer caught me just before the finish, smacked me on the back, and said "Let's go, Craig!". I managed to jog in with him, completely wiped. Now, some of that was nutrition: I didn't take in much at all, other than a few sips of Nuun, and maybe a gel early in the race. Some of it was under-training: I was nursing shin splints and a calf injury. But most of it was taking off too fast, too early. Unless your name is Meb, you just can't kick at mile 8- especially if you are an old, kinda fat guy like me.
Yesterday's race was the complete opposite. I brought my own hydration, which I filled with Tailwind, so every sip kept me fueled. I ate a Honeystinger waffle right before the race, and then a Gu forty-five minutes later, and then again forty-five minutes later- so nutrition was on-point. No bonk.
I was trained up. I have been sticking to a training plan for my marathon pretty religiously, and my long run of ten miles the last two weekends was right on track to run a half yesterday. I also tapered this last week, and other than a trail 5K Thursday night, I took it easy all week. Speaking of trail 5K's; doing one of those each of the last few Thursday nights was huge. Those hills made the rolling hills of my half yesterday feel completely runnable. In fact, other than one pee break, one stop to see my wife and daughter at mile seven, and one 30-second walk break up a hill around nine to eat a gel, I ran the entire race, even as others walked the hills.
Lastly, I went out slow. Really slow. I ignored the starting corral adrenaline, let everyone race to their heart's content, and just cruised. With my last race's overall pace of 11:19, I wanted to stay around 11:00 for most of the race, and then pick it up at the end. In the end, though, I just felt faster than that, so I tried to stay around 10:30. I ended up slowly speeding up, and the lift I got from seeing my family at seven, couple with the gel at nine was amazing. I absolutely flew the last five miles (for me anyway). I just consistently reeled people in, and didn't get passed once for the last five miles, that I can remember. I just felt like everyone else was going so slow, and I wasn't slowing down. But in reality, I was getting faster each mile. The last three miles were slightly downhill, so that definitely helped- but everyone else got the same benefit, so I was surprised to be flying by people. I had to have passed a hundred people in the last five miles. I just felt so good! In the end, I ended up knocking seventeen minutes off of my PR: from 2:28 down to 2:11. I shaved a minute and a half off of my average pace. Now my goal is to get my half down under 2:00 flat!
I've read from a few ultrarunners that the body just does what it needs to- and I think I agree, or at least I hope so. After a 5K, I am beat. After a 10K, I am wiped- there is no way I can run farther. But then I can run a half, when it is time to run a half. Your body regulates your effort to get it done, and you adjust your pace accordingly. So, really I can run farther... I am excited to see just how far I can run in December, even if that means my son will be driving us home from Phoenix. I just gotta have faith.