Two years ago our family decided to run the 2nd half of The San Francisco Marathon. Then, to receive a special “half it all” medal, my husband and I returned the next year and run the first half. Of course, we had to follow up that effort with the next challenge – 52 Club – for those who run both halves followed by the full in consecutive years.
We knew it was a tough and hilly course. We also were confidant that our experience in already running both halves would help us. Hmmm. It turns out that previous experience didn’t help me much.
I went into this race feeling pretty confident. The weather was forecast to be perfect for racing, and except for the wind on the bridge it was. My running of the first half the previous year was one of my best races (not fastest – there were hills!). My average pace (on my watch) was 9:01 at this race, so I thought that a targeted pace of 9:20 was doable. (I Can Run Hills! A Recap of the The San Francisco (First) Half Marathon)
I came nowhere close to 9:20! Instead I ran one of my slowest marathons in a time of 4:39:05. What happened? Lots of things…here are the one’s I’m contemplating.
- I had a terrible night’s sleep! According to my Garmin, I got six hours of tossing and turning. It felt like less than that and I remember being concerned while I was trying to go will myself to sleep.
Pre-race anxiety can cause lack of sleep and for this reason, I think, many advise us runners to make sure they sleep well two nights before the race. My Friday night sleep was just “OK” in that I slept for a bit more than eight hours but most of it was restless sleep.
For me, this is a problem of menopause and one for which I have yet to find an adequate solution. I continue to try meditation and hopefully it will eventually help.
In the end, this lack of good sleep didn’t help my mental or physical game on race day.
- Bad race strategy. As mentioned earlier I had thought I could average a 9:20 pace. I still think that I could do this but I should have approached it differently. Next time I need to run by effort and ignore the times on my watch. My coach tells me this all the time! I guess I’m a slow learner. Anyway, I think that I was trying so hard to not run too fast up the hills, followed by constantly checking my pace on the downhill, that I wore myself out mentally. Part of my rational for thinking this is that, even with the hills, I had the slowest average heart rate for any race that I have ever run! Would I have had a similarly bad outcome if I’d gone faster? Maybe, but the more I think about it, the more I am convinced that I didn’t put it all out there.
- I wasn’t as ready for the hills as I’d thought. Over the past few months I’ve been doing lots of my long runs inland, where there are some good hilly courses (I live near the coast in CA). In the two months before the race the inland temperatures had climbed to the point that running would be difficult. So those last runs were along the coast where it is mostly flat. In retrospect I should have just move my runs up to the very early morning and kept hitting those hills.
I also hadn’t realized that the true downhill portion wouldn’t commence until about mile 20. I have no excuse for this mistake! The course was changed slightly from previous years so it wasn’t exactly as I’d run it before but the final 10K was the same. I remember thinking at one point, “another @$#&^%$ climb!” I think my brain was more tired of slogging up those hills than my legs were.
- I didn’t have a contingency plan. I honestly thought I would ace this race and when that wasn’t happening I started to mentally check out. I bailed so thoroughly that I even had a little mimosa and a sip of beer when offered somewhere around mile 23!
- I’ve gained some weight since last summer. In fact I was at my lightest when I ran that half marathon last year. Pushing more pounds up those hills is certainly not easy…even if I’ve been having great strength training sessions and awesome runs. (The Never Ending Struggle with Weight is Downright Scary)
As I think about this more, I can see so many analogies to life. Sometimes we are surprised by the difficulties we encounter that we lose momentum and perform badly. At other times we surprise ourselves by how well we can do in the face of adversity. A benefit of endurance sport is that experiences like the San Francisco Marathon teach us about ourselves and thus prepare us to know that we can get through hard times…even if the getting through is not very pretty.
At the end, the race was just a race. One that taught me to better prepare myself mentally and physically.
But there’s more! There was something pretty cool that happened at this race and that story will be my next post. Stay tuned!