There is a Henry Ford quote that has been popping up on social media, “Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t – you’re right.” I worry that perhaps this quote will become prophetic regarding tomorrow’s race.
When I first started running – about 5 years ago – I had no concept of speed. I was training for my first half marathon, mostly on a treadmill in my basement. My B goal was to cross the finish line (preferably within the 3:30 time limit of the race) and my A goal was to finish under 3 hours. I had no race experience to help me predict my likely finish time and had only done a small number of runs outdoors. I set a pace on the treadmill based on nothing better than a random guess and used that pace for training purposes. I finished that race somewhere in the 2:45 range (I think around 2:46 but I don’t remember exactly) and was thrilled to shatter my sub-3 hour goal.
The downside to having finished a race is that I now had a target to beat. I quickly realized a few things: I needed a decent training plan, I was setting the treadmill at too-slow a pace, and I needed to run more outdoors in “real life” conditions. Over the next 3 years I managed to take about 21 minutes off my half marathon time. The last half marathon I actually ran for time was exactly one year ago at the MORE Magazine Half Marathon where I set my current PR (Personal Best).
My first race represents a sort of Eden-esque time. I was thrilled to be racing. Even more thrilled to be racing at Disney. And very pleased with my finish time which was significantly better than I realized I could run. Unfortunately my naive state of satisfaction with my performance was quickly destroyed when I ran the MORE Magazine Half as my second race. I beat my time at Disney but quickly learned that Disney races produce slow finish times and a mid-pack finish at Disney put me firmly in the back in a New York Road Runners’ race. With this realization came the desire to get faster.
I haven’t actually raced a half marathon since one year ago. The only half marathon I ran between then and now was in October in the heart of my NYC Marathon training. I ran the race at training pace in order to PR at the NYC Marathon. Following that I ran the Disney Marathon for fun before re-starting more serious training. I decided after the NYC Marathon (which despite a solid PR was not a great race for me), that I would focus my attention on a faster half marathon this spring.
Starting in December I added speed work to my running schedule and then in early March adding strength training and heart rate training. Unfortunately some of my efforts were derailed by the terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad winter we had. I found it impossible to convince myself to run outdoors at 4:30 in the morning when it was pitch-black, 10 degrees, windy, and icy/snowy. I didn’t miss any training runs but I found myself, once again, training primarily on the treadmill. I’ve had a few outdoor runs, including a 15 miler and an impressive track session of 14 x 800m repeats, but the majority of this training cycle has involved a treadmill. My one attempted tempo run took place on a Sunday afternoon about 24 hours after a challenging strength training session and following a day of running around from one child’s activity to the next. It was a confidence-blowing disaster.
Which leads me to my dilemma. I, honestly, don’t know what I’m capable of running tomorrow. Will this be my 2:20 half marathon that I’ve been hoping to achieve? Or, similar to my recent tempo run, an unequivocal disaster of low energy and slow pace? Will the 14 x 800m repeats be predictive of a fast (for me) race? Or will the hills of Harlem kick my butt since I haven’t done as much hill work as I had intended? I wish I could go into tomorrow’s race with a sense of confidence that I know what I can do but I honestly have no idea.
So what’s the game plan? I’m going to pretend like I have to the training to leave it out on the course. With a generous 4 hour time limit, I can walk the last half of the race and still finish. I’m hoping for 11:30 min/mile until I pass the first big hill and then increase the pace a bit until the second hill before trying to turn it up another notch or two. This might be a recipe for disaster but I guess I won’t know until I try!