It was a long racing season.
I didn’t even expect to write a race re-cap because I thought this race would be uneventful like many of my others. Oh, was I wrong. By the time I ran the Healdsburg WIne Country Half Marathon last weekend, my body was finished and so was my mind. I learned a lot about myself this year in terms of my limits and my strength. But what every athlete always knows deep down is that training and racing is as much mental as it is physical. I may have PR’ed this race, but I didn’t know it until I crossed the finish line that day. There was a lot I did right and a plenty I did wrong, both of which would make and break this race for me.
This was the last of four races for me this year. What started with the More/Fitness Half Marathon in April (I didn’t re-cap this race because what can you say about 2 loops around Central Park?), turned into an unexpected Spartan Race in June and shortly thereafter I began training for the Athleta Iron Girl straight into Healdsburg Wine Country Half Marathon training. To some this may seem like nothing, but as I explained in my Listen to Your Body post, everyone has different thresholds for how much they can handle at once. This year I maxed mine out.
Call it overzealousness or poor planning.
Either way, I was training for at least 9 months out of this year with no more than a few weeks rest at any one time. In addition to making big strides in my business and my work with the New York Junior League and Young Female Entrepreneurs , I was stretched really thin in body and mind.
After crossing the finish line of the Athleta Iron Girl Triathlon , I physically felt finished with training but I moved straight on to training for the Healdsburg Half, my final race of the year. David and I had planned about a year ago to do this race together. I told myself to just push through a few more weeks. I’ve built a lot of strength and speed this year and training with David meant I was running my training runs fast — sub-8:30 min/mile pace. We trained hills in Central Park and speed work. We chose a 3-day per week training plan and at first, I was also doing HIIT, yoga and strength training in between. About six weeks ago, I realized this was all too much on my body coupled with everything else going on in my life. I considered dropping out of the race, but then just backed off and focused on my training runs, yoga and getting a lot of sleep. Seemed to work. But still, I was totally anxious about this race and beating my half marathon time.
I’ve PR’d every race this year and I didn’t want this one to be any different.
For the record, I don’t even know when or why personal bests became so important to me. I’m re-thinking this mindset, by the way.
The week leading up to the race, I went from freaking out to feeling completely calm and self-assured. I was also totally jet-lagged from a trip to California the week before for the Next Generation Start-ups Conference . I did some yoga, made a playlist and did my final runs. We flew to San Francisco Thursday night so we had some time to make it to Healdsburg before race day. I thought this would be enough time to re-adjust to the time zone but in hindsight it may not have been.
I did everything right leading up to the race from sleep, to fueling and hydration, to visualizing. Race morning came around and David and I woke up extra early to catch the shuttle from our hotel in Santa Rosa to the race start. We were anticipating lines and crowds but there were none. This race sold out at about 2,000 participants, 70 percent of which were women. 2,000 sounds like a lot but it was just the right amount. It was well-organized, gorgeous views, perfect weather and the post-race festival was really fun with TONS of wineries and breweries hosting tastings and plenty of food. Transportation was quick and easy and no lines, which is always a plus.
Everything negative about this race was completely my fault. So let me explain. On the bus ride to the start, I realized I had forgotten my Garmin back in the hotel room. Instead of panicking, I tried to stay calm and figured I would just pace by how I was feeling.
We were at the start about an hour and a half before the race started which meant a lot of time standing around in the cold. The sunny California afternoons start out as chilly mornings. That morning it was 40 degrees and no amount of moving would suffice to keep us warm, including the warm-up led by lululemon. We sipped hot water and used the easily-accessible bathrooms about a hundred times before finally making our way over to the race start. We lined up at the start (no pace corrals, what?) but by that time, I was so nervous in addition to being cold. I couldn’t feel a thing.
My legs, feet, hands and core were all numb.
Looking back, this could have been another mistake. When the gun went off, I went out fast, but having no sense of feeling in my body, I had no idea just how fast. This course is rolling hills. Period. Amen. A lot of people were wearing cute Halloween costumes, but David and I had decided to forgo the costumes and focus on running a good race. At least for me, maybe the costume would have been a better idea.
David and I ran together for the first six miles. By mile four I was already feeling spent. And nauseous. By mile 6, I was mentally finished. And still nauseous. At this point, David was running slightly ahead of me and I really let my being unable to keep up get to me. He had to stop to use the bathroom at the mile 6 water stop so I took advantage and sipped some water to wait for him. He took off again and so did I. I knew I needed some fuel, but I couldn’t get it down since my stomach was upset. David kept getting further ahead. I had explained to him that I wasn’t having a good race and that he should go ahead without me. He had trained hard, this was his 2nd half marathon, and I wanted him to see the results of his hard work.
I decided with the way I was feeling, the smartest thing to do was to forget about him, slow my pace to what felt manageable and stop at every water station. That worked a little.
This entire race I could not get out of my own head and I just wanted the race to be over. I tried to focus on the beautiful scenery but I couldn’t. By mile 8 David was so far ahead I couldn’t even see him anymore. It was at this point, I considered a DNF (did not finish). This was shaping up to be my worst race ever. Suddenly, David was back by my side to check on how I was feeling. I told him I wasn’t feeling great but that I would be fine (a total lie at this point). Again, I told him to go on ahead.
My playlist was a mix of old and new songs I love, but I realized a lot of the songs were bringing up old, negative memories. I decided to take my headphones out and focus on my breathing.
I noticed that everyone seemed to be passing me and if I had to guess, I was running at a 10 min/mile pace. There was only 1 clock on the course that I saw (at mile 6) and I didn’t even notice the time on it when I passed. By mile 9/10, not finishing, wasn’t an option. Thank God. I decided I would finish and having stopped at every water station since mile 6, I started to feel a little better. At mile 10, I briefly thought about walking the rest of the race but negotiated with myself that I would see how I felt at the next mile. At the mile 11 water station, one of the volunteers asked me if I was doing ok. I told her I wasn’t having my best race. She said, “But you’re doing it!!” Just those few words of encouragement meant the world to me.
I kept running. People kept passing me. So what.
The last mile of the race was literally the easiest mile. Given my pacing issues with this race, I’m not surprised. As I rounded the corner and the finish chute came into sight, two miracles happened. 1.There was a running coach. He was cheering on two girls coming in right behind me. I had told myself that I would probably not be able to sprint to the finish (yes, even that thought went through my head. I thought of it all). I pretended that coach was my coach. I let him coach me right into that finish. 2.When I saw that the clock was well under 2 hours, I couldn’t believe my eyes. I would PR this thing! I picked up my pace and gave it everything I had left inside me.
The first person I saw at the finish line was David. He had finished about 4 minutes before me. I threw my hands up into the air as far as I could manage, ran right into his arms and sobbed. Slightly dramatic but I was SO relieved to have it all behind me.
My official finish time was 1:53:44, an 8:40 min/mile pace and a 5 minute personal best.
As I ran this race, I swore I was finished running. But there’s something about crossing that finish line every time that won’t let me walk away from this sport. My friend Sarah captured my feelings perfectly in her Nike Women’s Half Marathon re-cap .
She said, “Ill never give up on anything that makes me feel something”
For now, I’m ready to go back to my other beloved workouts, HIIT, barre, spinning and to run for the sake of running without a training schedule attached to it.
I know that next year I’ll reconsider how many races I’m doing and when.
This week David and I have been driving the California Coast. Spending time in nature. I’ve slept in, gone hiking and just enjoyed not putting pressure on myself to exercise. It’s the rest my body’s been craving. In so many ways, these are the moments I’ve been waiting for all year.