While our times are often measured in hours and minutes, many runners will agree that seconds make a difference. A few difference of seconds on a clock can represent a large amount of passion and grit poured into months of training and the burn and discomfort of racing hard.
I have learned to let go of finish times as my primary goal in a race. This is not to say that I don’t push myself to run faster and give 100% of my best on race day; quite to the contrary, shifting my focus away from solely the time on the clock has helped me improve and give my best. My breakthrough races came when I was less concerned with a finish time and more concerned with following my pacing plan, fueling well, and running a smart and hard race.
I hoped to beat my personal best of 1:38:40 from this same race last year, but that wasn’t my primary goal of this race. I never do well with obsessing over a goal finish time, so I had more abstract goals for this race that I focused on during the race itself. I wanted to negative split, which is key for me for running a strong and smart race. I wanted, as I did at CIM, to hold on strong if the last miles hurt. And I wanted to respect the zero waste standards of the race and express my gratitude to the volunteers.
I could write a rambling mile by mile race recap, but I sort of entered that state of flow where the miles blur together, until the last 2 miles. I was so invested in staying present and focused that I really only remember looking at my watch at 1 hour to assess my potential finish time, then gritting it out over the last 1.5 miles when wanted to be done and snag that PR. That final fight is always what I remember most in races. The comfortable miles blend together, especially when the race is going well and I’m feeling strong.
The weather didn’t go as forecasted, in the best way possible. Instead of the predicted rain and 30 degree wind chills, the weather was 40 degrees and sunny by 8 AM. I am really glad that I didn’t overdress but instead just went with my go-to race outfit plus some arm warmers. Even the arm warmers were too much by the last 5 miles. There was a bit of headwind along the trail, just enough that I felt its resistance as I ran against. But all things considered – the coldest winter on record in 32 years – I didn’t mind the wind at all if it meant some sunshine.
I recapped all the race specific details – race start, course, finishing area – in my post from last year’s race, so if you are interested in that, you can read it here.
All in all, my pacing was consistent for this race: my slowest mile was the first mile at 7:38, my fastest mile was a 7:24 at mile 11. In retrospect, I wonder if I held back a little too much in miles 5, 6, and 7. I hit a 7:26 in mile 4, but then settled back into a 7:30-7:35/mile pace. I ran a solid negative split, with my first 7 miles at mostly in the 7:30s (with the exception of mile 4) and the last 6 miles all in the 7:24-7:29/mile range. I achieved my goal of a negative split and that to me is always a race well run.
One thing I did not like about the race this year was the detour. The Lake Sammamish Trail is under reconstruction, so part of the trail was closed off to foot traffic. Instead of continuing to cruise along a quiet trail, free of any cars, we spent about a mile or so on the slanted side shoulder of the Lake Sammamish Parkway. Cones alerted traffic of the runners, but still the cars went whizzing by, which threw off me off a bit. I subconsciously held onto my pace rather than trying to speed up, due to both the slant in the road surface and trying to focus on the cars more than my pace. Thankfully, this detour should only occur in this year’s race and I do greatly appreciate the care that King County takes in maintaining the trails out here.
The final mile was a fight. My core ached with fatigue from the headwind and my mind wanted to be done. I reasoned that the faster I ran, the sooner I would be done, and so I gave it my best, chasing the heels of a runner in front of me. It wasn’t a surprisingly fast mile compared to the other ones – right around 7:27/mile – but it was a mile full of determination and grit. I kicked out a 6:49/mile for my final 0.1 mile.
As I approached the finish line, I saw the clock flash 1:38:2x. Last year, I crossed with a 1:39:xx on the clock and ran a 1:38:40. I didn’t cross the start line immediately this year, so I realized that this certainly meant a PR.
My Garmin flashed up the “New Record” notification as soon as I saved the run. After grabbing some food, I checked for my official time: 1:38:13. My average pace was 2 second per mile faster than last year.
If I could describe the 2017 Lake Sammamish Half Marathon in three words, those words were grit, hungry, and grateful.
Grit because I had to fight at the end for my PR. Maybe it was mental, maybe it was the wind that was just strong enough during the race, or maybe it was just because, unlike in 2016, I didn’t have a perfect race day. My 2016 goal races were dream races, seamless races that lead to significant PRs. But not every race is like that, nor would I want every race to be. Grit isn’t a quality that is developed out of theory. It’s refined in practice, in the moments when the choice exists between gritting your teeth and embracing the discomfort of hard work, or going gentle and surrendering to the mental demons of doubt.
Hungry not in the sense of physical hunger (although I did indulge quite a bit that day), but in the sense of hungry for more training and racing. I was super excited to start off-season after the race, but a couple days later I have a desire, a hunger, to race another half again soon. It’s a hunger that stems from the satisfaction of hard work well done, looking forward to what can next be achieved. It’s funny how so shortly after a race, when the sensation of burning lungs and legs during the final mile is still a fresh and vivid memory, I crave it again.
Grateful because being able to run hard is such a gift. I could sit here and write that maybe I could have ran faster or pushed soon or trained harder and gotten a 1:37:xx, but to what good is that? I’m grateful for the race I ran on Saturday and that my body is strong and capable to run that time – a time which a few years ago I didn’t believe I could run. I’m grateful that the sun came out and I’m grateful for the beautiful trail that this race takes place on. Most of all, I’m grateful for my husband who cheered me on as I crossed the finish line (and took all of the photos in this post) and I’m grateful for the support from each and every one of you.
What words would you use to describe a recent race or run?