Monday, March 1, 2010

24 Seconds To Spare

I officially checked off the first of my 2010 goals yesterday, breaking the two-hour mark at the Hyannis Half Marathon.

With 24 whole seconds to spare.

Sure, it was close. But it counts. And it feels great.

Not only did I get under the two-hour mark -- something I thought might lead me to signing up for a slew of half-marathons this year in an effort to check that off the list -- I also knocked seven minutes off of my previous PR (from the Maine Half in October).

Seven freaking minutes!

I didn't necessarily set out Sunday morning to break two hours. Actually, I was shooting for somewhere in the 2:05 range, figuring I'd chip away at that sub-two goal with a few new PRs along the way.

Make no mistake, however, that somewhere in my subconscious that sub-two was rattling around. The night of the race, in fact, I had a dream that I finished in 2:00:30. (The dream also included some panicked controversy about how I hadn't properly fastened the timing chip so it wouldn't "count"... toss, turn, toss, turn.)

Apparently a good night's sleep is not essential. (I should also note that my pre-race meal the evening before the run included sharing a bottle of wine with TC in a chic, delicious spot we stumbled upon while walking the streets of Cape Cod.)

It wouldn't be right if I didn't give proper credit to my ever-supportive TC, whom I dragged along to this mid-winter New England race and convinced to sign up for the 10K. Without him, this race would have been different.

And I don't think I'd be writing my sub-two post.

We donned our race apparel, debating how many layers or hats/gloves we might need, and made our way to the Hyannis convention center for some stretching before making it to the crowded, chilly (but definitely not cold) starting line.

We lucked out with the weather, especially considering the day before had been a day-long mix of rain and snow.

Soon enough, after a far-away-sounding National Anthem and an anti-climatic "GO," the race started. I only know that because slowly -- ever so slowly -- the first runners (the fast ones) began to bounce up the road in front of us.

Then the next set. And the next.

Slowly and methodically, we went from a stand-still to a walk and, eventually, a slow jog as we crossed the starting mat. We both clicked on our watches to start our "real" time - which would be a couple of minutes off from the gun-time.

The first couple of miles was spent dodging runners, finding spots to pass and, generally, just trying to stay on two feet amid the thousands of runners trying to get position. At times, we jumped onto the sidewalk to pass the sea of runners, having to zig-zag around spectators to do so.

We passed the first mile marker with a 9:30 pace. Hmmm, slower than we wanted. But given the crowded conditions, not too shabby.

TC is a cyclist. He probably won't ever claim to be a runner. He runs to stay fit in the off-season. And, I suspect, he runs (at least does runs like a winter 10K on the Cape) for me -- as a way to support me and enjoy a common interest.

He may not be "a runner" - but he's darn good at it. And he's fast -- and I was reminded of that as I tried to keep up with him in the next few miles.

Mile Two was somewhere around a 9-minute-mile - right on pace for a sub-2. But by Mile Three, TC was really pushing me. We ran an 8:15. What!? I don't run 8:15's - and not in the third mile of a half-marathon.

I was huffing and puffing and starting to struggle. I thought about the 10 miles ahead of me. I'd have to slow down, no way I could keep that up.

I knew TC's turn-off for the 10K was somewhere around the five-mile mark. I'd do my best to hang with him and get ahead of the pace with him while I could.

I pushed it hard for the next mile, still hanging with TC (who was running slower than he normally would but notably faster than my "comfortable" pace). I got a cramp in my side and began to get some inner worry.

It was the first time I'd ever questioned whether I'd even finish. I mean, I knew I had almost nine miles to go. Nine miles shouldn't be taken lightly.

At that point, I seriously wondered if I should just let TC go ahead for the last leg of his race. I'd gotten ahead of pace for a few miles -- which was good -- but I was afraid I'd pay the price later. Part of me was afraid I'd slow down too much after we split off. Or perhaps I'd just konk out entirely.

We ran in silence (unusual for me - and a clear signal to TC that I was pushing it) until the split. We said our good-byes and good lucks and parted ways.

I took a deep breath, turned on my iPod and tried to recollect and refocus on a strategy for finishing this thing.

Just after the split, somewhere around the six-mile mark, I came upon a water stop. I grabbed a cup and started walking. (I haven't yet mastered the art of running and hydrating - at least not from the cups at water stops.)

The water stop was situated at the bottom of a slight hill, so I decided I'd use that opportunity to get myself together, lower my heart rate a bit with a good walk up the hill. Then I'd be back to tackle this thing.

And the strategy worked.

I felt great as I flew through miles six through eight almost effortlessly. I bee-bopped to my music and really got into a good, pain-free rhythm. I checked my watch at every mile marker -- doing some Marathon Math at each point. (You know, the kind where you try and figure out what time you might reach the Finish Line, what you'd have to do to shave minutes and/or seconds off.)

By my calculations, a sub-two hours was within reach. But it would be tight. Really tight.

I began to visualize the sub-two. I know it sounds crazy, but I mean I really began to visualize it.

I thought about how it would feel crossing the Finish Line. I pictured it. I saw myself crossing the Finish Line. Maybe doing a slight fist-pump in celebration?

I thought about how proud I'd feel. I thought about telling my friends and family that I did it. I even thought about the post I'd make on Daily Mile.

I also thought about how I'd feel if I missed it by just a minute or two. It would be worth toughing it out through a few miles -- a mile at a time -- to avoid that. Right?

As I got closer to the Finish Line, the tighter I knew it would be. My Marathon Math skills were working overtime as I crossed each mile marker.

My iPod Shuffle landed on "Who Let The Dogs Out." As much as I don't want to admit it, that song moves me forward during my treadmill runs, and I found myself picking up the pace.

Mile 11 hit me pretty hard. I wanted to slow down. But I knew I had to keep that pace to make it in under two hours. I hit repeat on my iPod - again and again and again.

Who Let The Dogs Out. Again and again and again.

I was running with such focus now - like nothing I've ever done during a half-marathon. I didn't want to just finish this time. I wanted to get there before that clock said 2:00.

I passed Mile 12. Then Mile 13.

I realized at that point that I didn't know exactly what .1 mile looked like or felt like. I had no idea how long it takes to run .1 mile.

Just as I was about make the last turn toward the finish line, I saw TC standing on the corner in the crowd.

It's one of my favorite moments of the race - the look of pure excitement and almost surprise as he spotted me in the crowd. (He admitted that I looked questionable when he left me for the 10K turn-off.)

Amid the many cheers approaching the Finish Line, my loud iPod still playing Who Let The Dogs Out and the rush of other sounds on the course, his voice was the only thing I heard: "You've got one minute to get there," he shouted. "Go, baby, go!"

I knew it was now or never -- no way I wanted to finish in 2:00:30 like that nightmare-dream I had the night before. I gave it everything I had and scurried up the last incline to the Finish Line - weaving around runners ahead of me, passing no fewer than half a dozen.

I describe it as a "scurry" because that's really what it felt like. My short legs moving faster than they're supposed to, moving in and out of the crowd, making my way up the hill.

I spotted the clock at the Finish Line. I had just flipped past the 2:00 mark. I remembered the crowded and slow wait-n-walk start.

At that moment, almost as if he knew what I was thinking, I heard the announcer say, "Remember, folks, some of these people might be under two hours because of the way the start works. They'll be timed using an individual timing chip on their shoe."

I glanced at my watch just as I crossed the line. 1:59:35.

I proceeded through the finish chute, collected my super-heavy medal and was greeted by the biggest hug and smile from TC I'd ever seen. (That's saying a lot since I get plenty of big hugs and he never falls short on smiles.) It literally almost knocked me off my feet.

We made our way to the convention center, grabbed some post-run food and waited for the official results to be posted. I was too close to the 2-hour mark to rely on my watch-starting skills.

Eventually, it was posted. Officially, 1:59:36.

I had done it. And with 24 whole seconds to spare.



  1. What a great race report! I felt like I was right there with you!

    I had to laugh at the marathon math you were doing - I think we've all had those moments...and that .1 mile always seems to be the longest.

    Congratulations on a fantastic achievement!

  2. You bet it counts! Great racing!

  3. Awesome race report! Congrats again! You rock! Maybe we'll actually meet each other next time! You're running Boston, right?

  4. Fantastic job on the race and an entertaining race report!

  5. Congratulations on a great run. Whlie I may have helped pace you, all I really did was show you that you can do more than you think you can. Keep pushing yourself and you will continue to do great things and exceed your expectations.

    - TC

  6. yay! so excited for you and so inspired. sub-2 is my goal for the National Half in DC later this month and this post was very motivating :)

    I love the Marathon Math skills and that you were writing your Daily Mile post in your head and the "Who Let the Dogs Out" on repeat. Love it!

  7. Congratulations on breaking the 2 hour mark! Great drama cranking it out at the end!


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