Sunday, June 26, 2011

Fairfield Half Marathon

My standard three alarms were set in 5-minute increments (starting at 6:20am) but thankfully I didn't need any of them. My eyes shot open before the first alarm even went off, and I was wide awake at 5:45.  I didn't want to risk going back to sleep for just 25 minutes, so I laid on the couch and read my book. I think my friend Ron nearly fainted when I texted him that I was awake. He responded: "oh glorious day! it's already amazing!!"  And that about sums it up.

I went into this race feeling fantastic. I felt strong, capable, and ready. I was optimistic, energetic, and actually quite excited about running through my old college town. Every time I'm in Fairfield, I get that warm fuzzy feeling like I'm "home" again. 

By the time Ron arrived, promptly at 6:50am, I was ready to go. Since I had laid out my clothes and set aside my sports beans the night before, basically all I needed to do was throw on my clothes, wash my face and head out he door. I grabbed a slice of bread with peanut butter & honey (standard pre-race fuel) about T-minus 1.5hrs until the start.  The only things I brought with me to the race were my credit card, a $10 bill, chapstick, and sports beans, all which fit nicely in the pockets of my nifty Adidas running shorts. I also brought my phone and water bottle, but left them in the bag check with Rons stuff. We parked at the Fairfield train station and took the shuttle bus to the beach. I still can't believe how early we were - the timing was perfect. We had plenty of time to pick up our numbers and wait in line at the porta-potties without being rushed. I even snagged a small tee shirt!  It was a nice relaxing way to start a race. At one point, while scanning the crowd for Ron, I noticed John Fields from my graduating class at Fairfield. What a small world.  I chatted with him for a bit and wished him good luck, then proceeded to the bag check.  

The humidity factor had already skyrocketed by 8:30 in the morning.  The announcer kept advising everyone to hydrate well - before, during and after the race.  I decided to heed his advice and took full advantage of the water tables before the race even started. I'm so glad I did!  I remembered my experience with the Fairfield Half 3 years ago, and it was NOT pretty (I was sick to my stomach and nearly collapsed in a pile of misery and tears just before the finish line).

Ron and I parted ways and made our way to our respective starting lines (the start was split by men/women for crowd control, which I think was a fabulous idea).  The race started out pretty well. I ran along the sidewalk for the first mile or so, comfortably passing most of the crowd and working my way up to the runners going my pace.  The separate starts helped a lot to alleviate congestion, and before the end of mile 2, there was enough room to run freely, and I fell into a comfortable groove.  

The initial comfort level was extremely short-lived.  This race was TOUGH!!!  I remembered Fairfield being hilly and hot, but I completely forgot just how hilly and hot it actually was! It was brutal. I was pouring sweat before I even crossed the starting line.  The sun beat down on me nearly the entire time and I could actually feel my face start to burn.  I slugged up every single hill, slowing nearly to a walk pace, while dozens of runners flew past me. I made up for the uphill struggles by letting gravity take over on the downhills; I flew down the hills but destroyed my toes in the process. The fire hoses set up on ladders spraying the road were my salvation. I ran underneath the water sprays with the determination and glorious ecstasy that usually comes with crossing the finish line. I was so afraid of dehydrating that I stopped for water at least 4-5 times. I could not have survived without the multiple water stops. If it weren't for the fire hoses, water stops, and the occasional stretch of shaded road, I probably would have died.

Somewhere in the first half of the race, I saw Ron up ahead, caught up to him and matched his pace. His plan was to run 8-min miles, so you can imagine how shocked I was to find him.  Granted, he was taking it "easy" but I still couldn't believe I actually passed him! Ron is a super star; he qualifies for the first corral at NYRR events. 

A little farther into the race, I overheard two girls behind me talking about CPTC and I could have sworn one was runnerskitchen (Megan if you are reading this, were you or your friend wearing red sunglasses?)  Those girls seemed to be taking it so effortlessly, and kept going at a conversational pace throughout the entire race. It's ironic to me because I was legitimately racing this race, and we were around the same pace... anywho I couldn't believe how fast I was going and kept calculating my pace in my head, thinking I might PR. I racked my brain, trying to remember my previous half PR, but that was years ago. I didn't think I would get it, especially when I noticed my pace dropped significantly in the last half of the race. 

At another point, I overheard tons of people cheering for someone named Maggie. As I slowly closed the gap between me and this girl Maggie, I realized that she was one of my old tutees!! Again, what a small world. I congratulated Maggie on her awesome pace (this was her first half marathon) and then plowed on ahead.  It's all kind of a blur at this point. I ate 4 sports beans somewhere around mile 7 or 8. They tasted really sugary and gross and kind of bothered my teeth.  

I had to do so much self-talking and coaching throughout this race. I kept wondering when the hills would end.  I didn't want to tire myself out too early if lots of hills awaited, but I wanted to give maximum effort on the uphills if there were only a few left. As it turned out, I needed to give maximum effort anyway, just to avoid walking up the hills. I kept searching desperately for each mile marker.  Once we reached mile 10, I picked up the pace, thinking I could survive with just a 5K left. After that, it seemed like FOREVER before the next marker sighting; I actually thought I missed mile 11 and would be coming up on mile 12 soon. WRONG. When I finally saw the 11 mile marker after what I thought for sure was 12 miles, I nearly cried.  The course was taunting me. 

Ron came up behind me around mile 12 and put on an incredible kick for his last mile.  I tried to follow his lead, but he was out of my sight before I could even process what was happening.  When we approached Penfield beach I was pretty much sprinting and thought for sure I could push it at that pace just a few more yards. Then we turned the corner and I found out we had another .25 miles left. I wanted to give up then and there.

At the end of the day, all that matters is that I gave this race 110%.  I ran fast, I ran hard, and I never stopped. I felt optimistic going into this race, and I surpassed all my own expectations. I got a PR!!!!  My standing PR was from 2009 - 2 years ago! - and I killed it by almost 2 minutes! I was so surprised that I nearly cried... but surprisingly I didn't. Despite continually pushing myself through the entire race, enduring extreme agony for the last 2 miles, and being on the verge of tears nearly the entire time, this is the first half marathon I can remember where I didn't cry. 

The craziest part of all, is my time improved by 12 full minutes in just four weeks. Unbelievable! (I just ran the Brooklyn Half about a month ago, and didn't even break 2 hours.) It's even more incredible because I haven't even been training. The longest run I did between Brooklyn and Fairfield was 8 easy miles. I've been doing my standard 1-2 mile morning runs, with the occasional (3-6mi) weekend run thrown in, but that's the extent of it. Then I just got up and ran a half marathon PR on an extremely tough course. Go figure. I'm positively thrilled.

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