If last week was test #1 of my fitness heading into this season, then this past weekend was the much longer, more difficult (probably all essay questions) final exam. I'm in the final stages of my build towards my first race of the year and last week was one of my heavier training weeks I will probably have all year.
But if that wasn't enough, I capped it off with one of the more ridiculous things I have ever done in training. But probably the most specific training effect you can get in preparation for a long course race, and ended up being a big confidence boost going into tri season.
So after a ~20 hour training week along with a full week at work, I got to have play time on the weekend. Saturday was one of my key long rides with some race specific tempo to get a feel for pacing and test out my nutrition plan. Lucky me...on my 112k out and back to Lake Huron I got a 30km/h cross wind on the way there which then turned into a 40k headwind all the way back. I expected the ride to be just under 3 hours, and after 2 hours in the aerobars at 22km/h I got home in just under 4. Out of nutrition, legs shredded, pissed off at mother nature. After a big week of training and lots of fatigue in my legs already I didn't really feel like putting in an extra hour fighting the wind. But I guess that's just training.
While I didn't expect the wind to be so strong and shift on me during my ride, I was aware from seeing the forecast that it was blowing in heavy rain and lots more wind for my first ever half marathon the following morning. I have done a half in a half ironman (a very long time ago), and have had no problems going well over-distance in training, but I have never raced the distance and I wanted to get a feel for it. I had no idea what my goal time or pace was...the whole idea was to figure all that stuff out, on tired legs, and learn how to suffer through and finish.
So on race morning I woke up feeling like I had raced the day before, and dragged Amanda and my mom to Run for Retina in the pouring rain. Short warmup, hang out with the Balance Point crew - most of which were doing the 5k, find a good playlist (the one upside of having a race entirely on fitness paths...Ipods allowed!) and off we went. Having no idea what I was doing, I figured it would be best to take things out at a conservative pace, but not so slow to screw me if I ended up running well.
First k 3:45...sure?
I settled in at what felt like a pretty conservative 3:50 pace, but considering the early hills, wind and already tired legs I was happy with that and tried to be patient. At 4k we ran past the race start and I got plenty of encouragement from everyone, sitting (relatively) comfortably in 2nd...the lead runner was clearly a "real" runner, and a decent gap to 3rd. Amanda later told me she could see the fatigue in me, not looking as smooth and comfortable as I usually do on the run.
Maybe it was my lack of experience with the distance, or maybe I was just having trouble focusing but the hardest part of the half marathon distance to me was all of the waiting. Waiting for the first km to see my early pace. Waiting for 5k to see where things are at. Waiting for 10k. Waiting to feel my pace drop. Waiting for the hurt to come. Waiting for that damn finish line.
5k rolled around at roughly 19mins, most of the hills out of the way but heading into the wind...still rolling along. I tried to zone out and go in cruise control at that pace (something I am usually very good at doing), but having no idea how I was going to hold up over 21k I found myself painfully attentive to every meter and every stride. Holy crap it's a long way to race...it's almost easier doing this off the bike. Almost.
10k comes around, 38:00. Trying not to think I'm less than half way, but at least my pace is consistent. I really felt like stopping for a pee break around 12k but I vaguely remembered that there was some prize money for top 3 in the half. OK fine I'll keep running.
15k marker, 57:10. Stride slowing, feet feeling heavier...maybe from the few inches of rain on the course and soaking through my shoes. Sub-1:20 is looking pretty tough at this point, but pace is still holding up and I'm not dead yet. Slightly faster than my K-Town run split a couple years ago, but at 16k I was bit slower than my best 10-mile time.
Just after that I was really in the hurt box. I was trying to make deals with myself - only 20 more minutes, only 15 more minutes, I'm crushing 3 burgers after this. But the only thing that worked was looking for the next KM marker up the road. The only time my pace slowed a little through the race was 16-19km. There are no more meaninful distance splits, no more motivation, legs are tying up I was developing some pretty bad blisters that hurt like hell on every turn and downhill. This was the place I needed to put myself in and become comfortable with to really RACE a 70.3.
At 20k I could start to see the race site and finally got my ass back in gear and finished strong. 1:21:53. I figured unless my legs competely gave out on me I would be somewhere between 1:20 and 1:25, so I guess I met my time goal. More importantly I learned how to push myself into that dark place no one really wants to go, and managed to hold a very consistent pace in tough conditions on jello legs. And it was all good enough for 2nd overall and I picked up $100 in prize money! Hell, I'll go through self-inflicted personal purgatory and 6 blood blisters every day if it pays $1.23 per minute.
Anyway so now everything is sore so it's a couple recovery days before one final week of solid training, then taper time. But I gained a lot of experience with the race distance, running on tired legs, and I am feeling a little more prepared for one of the toughest races in the world. Could I have run faster if I was fresh? Definitely. How much faster? Who knows. But that wasn't the point. I need to learn how to run tired, and I think I accomplished that.