Here’s the short version. Yesterday at the Spirit of Columbus Half Marathon, I set a new personal record: 1:51:48.
Funny thing is, I almost didn’t even run the race. Back in the winter when I committed to training for and running the Chicago Marathon, my friend and running guru, Mike B, helped me put together a solid training plan, and he suggested a half marathon late in the summer as a tune-up for Chicago. He had run the Spirit of Columbus half and thought the timing was just about right, so I signed up. Since then, life has had its way of conspiring against the timing of this particular weekend. Here’s what this weekend’s schedule ended up looking like:
- Friday, immediately after work: end of the year party for my younger boy’s baseball team. Stand around in the hot sun.
- Saturday morning until noon: my company’s community service project where we helped a local YMCA build a new playground for the kids. Shovel dirt into wheelbarrows, move wheel barrows, dump dirt, rake dirt. Hot sun.
- Saturday afternoon and evening: kickoff to younger son’s 2011 baseball team, where I am head coach. Hot warehouse.
Not exactly how I’d describe resting and hydrating for a race. By the time we got home, we knew we wouldn’t be able to make it up to Columbus until 10:00PM at the earliest, so we debated not going at all, or me just going alone. In the end we all just piled into the car and made our way up there, and I am so glad we did.
Sunday morning came early after a fitful night of sleeping, which always seems to be the case before a race. But, I was feeling pretty good, got a small bite to eat and drink, kissed my family and made my way over to the start. My family planned to meet me somewhere around mile 5 or so, and then again at the finish. I looked around to see if I recognized anyone, but no such luck, so I focused on stretching and getting my mind right for the race.
When the gun went off, I repeated a mantra over and over for the first mile: nice and easy. Watching runners go flying by me was tough on my ego, but I knew I’d be better off later in the race. As I passed the first mile mark, I turned off the governor and spent some time finding a comfortable pace. I had heard of runners who could find a “gear” and just go with it for miles without thinking about it. I had never found that in race before, but it did this time. I found a cadence that felt right, and just went with it. By the time I hit mile three, I glanced down at my watch and saw that I was running at an 8:30 pace ,which was a surprise. It was surprising because it felt so comfortable rather than like a big effort. No huffing and puffing, just nice easy breathing. A little worry crept into my head about going out too fast too soon, but I decided that I’d let my legs and lungs tell me if I was running too hard, not some artificial limit I had in my head.
So I had found my gear, and I just kept going. Miles 2 through 9 were all right about 8:30 and I honestly wasn’t feeling tired at all. At the 5 mile mark, I heard a voice yell, “Go Sean!” and I turned to see a friend from DailyMile, Jenny J. She’s not only an amazing runner, but is an incredibly giving person who is constantly motivating people, both on DailyMile and in person. What a great shot in the arm early in the race to hear someone cheering for you. Fast forward to mile 7 or 8 (I can’t remember exactly), and who do I see but my wife and two boys cheering for me and giving me high fives as I ran by! Then I noticed Jenny J was right there next to them cheering as well. Boy does it make a difference to have people cheering for you in a race. I found out after the race that they had gotten to talking before I passed by and had figured out the DailyMile connection. About a mile later both my family and Jenny passed by the stream of runners in their cars and beeped their horns and cheered a few more times before heading down to the finish line. Again, incredibly uplifting.
When I arrived at the ten mile marker, I knew my goal of 1:55:00 was well within my reach, but I didn’t want to take my foot off the throttle just yet. In fact, I was still feeling remarkably strong and comfortable, so I decided to pick up the pace a tad. When I look back at my splits, I’m still a bit shocked by my last four miles.
- Mile 10: 8:11
- Mile 11: 8:16
- Mile 12: 8:12
- Mile 13: 8:06
I think the smile on my face tells the story. Still feeling great as I passed the finish line.
I loved the course the Spirit of Columbus organizers put together. Having a half marathon at the end of August in Ohio is really rolling the dice, but I believe the course they chose went a long way toward making it a non-factor. The grand majority of the run was along a shaded path along the Scioto River, which meant that although the heat did start to build in the morning, we didn’t really feel it until the end of the race when we emerged from that path and into downtown Columbus. The shade really helped us keep cool. They also did a great job with water stops and having sponges with cold water available.
Finally, while I’m proud of having set a new PR in this race, the greatest benefit was not my time. This point in full marathon training for Chicago can be quite a slog. High mileage and long training runs in the heat of the summer gets pretty old after a while. Having a great race, which really proved to me just how far my fitness level has progressed is priceless to me. What price can I put on that kind of confidence?