I coach my younger son’s 9 and under travel baseball team. When my assistant coaches and I talk about coaching these kids, we talk a lot about confidence. You can take the boy with the most talent, the best technique, a perfectly balanced swing, but if he has no confidence when he steps into the batter’s box, he’ll have a tough time succeeding. “Knowing” you can do something can make all the difference.
I had signed up for the Cincinnati Heart Half Marathon quite a while ago, but I really looked at it as a training run. This weekend is the end of a ‘step-back’ week in my marathon training, so prudence would have told me to just take it easy. But a few weeks ago, I surprised myself at the Ragnar Relay by turning in all three of my legs at under 8:00/mile paces. And I felt strong and healthy afterward as well. That left me feeling pretty confident about the progress I’ve made in my running. Earlier this week, a gorgeous March day motivated me to try a short run at a faster pace and I came away from that feeling good as well. I know a fast four mile run doesn’t mean I can handle a long run at that pace yet, but I did come away thinking it wasn’t completely out of the question either.
After that run, my friend (and Ragnar teammate) Steve Speirs, who is just an outstanding runner, suggested that based on my recent running, I could be capable of a 1:45:00 in the half this weekend. This is the same guy who just set a 50K PR by 30 minutes while coming in 3rd overall, and is the two time defending champion of the Cayman Islands Marathon, so he knows what he’s talking about. I have to be honest, good recent running or not, it wouldn’t have ever entered my mind to attempt a half marathon averaging better than 8:00/mile had he not said it.
So this weekend, I decided to race the half rather than just run it. I exchanged messages with Madison Gerstle, a local runner who told me she was gunning for a 1:45:00 in order to secure a corral spot at the upcoming Kentucky Derby Half Marathon. Her plan was to line up near the 1:45 pace group and see what happens. Great idea! So I copied it. Sure enough, just a few minutes before the gun, we saw each other hanging out near the pace group, exchanged good luck wishes and off we went.
It took me a couple miles to really find a groove, but once I did, I thought I actually had a shot at holding this pace. While I knew I was working, I felt smooth and strong, so I just kept hanging with the pace group. My wife and sons came to cheer me on, so each time I saw them, I got a little boost of energy, which is huge in a race like this. The weather today was kind of cold and drizzly, so the fact that they kept out there cheering was great.
Just before a crazy hill at mile 6, I pulled away from 8:00/mile pace group after passing a water stop. This hill is just ¼ of a mile long, but climbs 109 feet in that short distance. I’ve done a pretty good job of mixing hills into my marathon training since the Flying Pig has lots of them as well, so I powered up, then cruised back down. At the end of the hill, I got to see my family once again, so that little burst got me going again. After that, I never looked back. While I was nervous about leaving the pace group, I knew if I could just keep my turnover consistent, I could hold the pace I was running, which was just about 7:55/mile. Madison and I continued to see each other on the course, so I knew she was ahead of her goal and had some time in the bank. We had a quick laugh about being glad to be past that killer climb and she also told me that every time I saw my family, I got a little pep in my step!
The rest of the race is a bit of a blur. I know we made our way into to downtown briefly, then headed over one of the bridges to Kentucky, then quickly back over to Ohio on a different bridge. While briefly in Kentucky, I know I saw my family again, but that’s about the extent of what I remember. After heading back into downtown Cincinnati, I knew we had a little over a mile and a half left to the finish. I glanced at my watch and saw something in the neighborhood of 1:30:00, so I knew I was going to beat my goal. With a smile on my face, I decided to see what I had left in the tank and push hard to the finish line. As I tapped my Garmin, I looked down and saw 1:42:44. My chip time was 1:42:43, more than 9:00 minutes better than my previous PR at the Spirit of Columbus Half Marathon. Madison also got her corral spot by running a PR and getting her sub 1:45:00.
After making my way through the finishing shoot, I found my wife and my boys and got giant hugs. I had tears in my eyes as I hugged Michelle, because she alone knew I wanted to run this race to shake off a few demons from last year. I had not yet shaken the feeling of guilt for running the mini marathon at this race last year and then missing being with her as her father slipped away from us. I had run the race, then immediately hopped on a flight to get to her, but he died while I was in the air. The race today, with Michelle there cheering for me, has given me a bit of closure. I thought of her dad a number of times throughout the race today, and I’m sure she did too. While the sadness never completely goes away, this little step today helped.