Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Dress Rehearsal

My office is getting a little chilly and shooing the squirrels away is becoming an increasingly time consuming part of the day. I suppose this is what happens when your workspace is a large porch overlooking a lake in the Northeast. The temperature drops and the furry creatures become a bit more aggressive about storing up for the winter. It could be worse--I could be stuck in a battleship-gray cubicle, with no fresh air, politely encouraging the office "annoying guy" to scurry off. 

I'll take the squirrels and the scenery.

That little nip in the air, after all, is the harbinger of all things good in life: cozy sweaters, college football, beautiful changing leaves, and the thick of marathon training.

Indeed, the Philadelphia Marathon is just eight weeks away, so it seemed like a prime time to get a tune-up race under my belt as a gauge for what to expect in November. I chose the Philadelphia Distance Run half marathon, mostly because Philly is such a quick and easy trip from where I'm living and the race course, in part, mirrors the marathon course. I also coerced my running buddy Avi to join me--because, really, what's a race weekend without Avi?!

I had some serious flashbacks to last November, almost as soon as I arrived in downtown Philly on Saturday afternoon. I left that marathon last year with a host of mixed emotions--happy to come away with a best time, beyond grateful for my friends who came to support me, but disappointed that qualifying for the Boston Marathon remained elusive by such a slim margin. 

I haven't raced much since then, and, in fact, those few races that I entered in the spring just added up to some slow base miles. So, Sunday's half marathon was the first time I was testing myself. I couldn't wait to find out what I could do out there--I truly had no idea what to expect.

What I did know, however, is that I had nothing to fear. I've put in endless focus, hard work, miles, positive energy, and sweat into my training over the last 19 weeks. I arrived at the starting line with no particular goal other than to run a smart race, learn some lessons to apply to the marathon, and leave with a personal best half marathon time. I had nothing but confidence that all those goals were within reach.

When the gun went off I made that typical mistake of letting adrenaline carry me a bit too far. Having missed the first few mile markers, I wasn't sure how fast I was going, but I was fairly certain I was going too fast. When I hit the first 5K mark, my hunch was correct, so I tried to relax a little bit and back off the pace, though I wasn't sure what that pace should really be. That's when it comes in handy to be in touch with perceived effort. After many track workouts, threshold runs, and sub-threshold training runs, I knew what it should feel like, even if I couldn't translate it into numbers, so I went with it. 

As I cleared the 10 mile mark and headed into number 11, I was hurting--it was time to pay the price for going out too fast. Luckily, with only a couple of miles to go, I was able to talk myself into hurting for a while longer. I hung on for dear life, crossing the finish line with a new best time by a little more than six minutes: 1:36.42. 

When I return to Philadelphia in November, I'm relieved that I'll be doing so with happy memories instead of mixed ones. I'm ready. Bring it on.

In the meantime, I'll add squirrel chasing to my training schedule. It's gotta be good for shaving a few seconds off my time.



HolisticGuru said...

OMG! 1:36?! That's amazing Erin!

Strouter said...

Guru - thanks so much! It's been an awesome fall training season so far. Let me know what's going on with your hip -- hope you're healing.