Short version: I ran 1:26:27 according to my watch and 1:26:29 according to the official results. Apparently, I was so out of it at the end that I came to a complete stop as I pressed “stop,” and then it took me an extra two seconds to walk all the way across the second timing mat and have my chip register. Either way, it’s a significant PR over 1:27:58 (which itself was a significant PR back in 2013). Evidently, I’m not just making up this ‘I swear I’m training a lot and getting faster’ thing.
Long version: You know when you know you have a good race in you, but you don’t want to jinx it or anything because there was that other time you also knew you had a good race in you and it turned out you were wrong, because basically you never really know. This time I was determined not to use my excess energy last week to fight with any idiots (see: link to previous race) or spend stress capital. I, literally, read two books in the three days beforehand. Actually, for real. And watched a lot of TV.
And so I didn’t know at the start line, but I knew.
Despite being possibly the earliest I’ve ever gotten to a running race, I still was in the port-a-potty line with 8 minutes to go. And as they started counting down, I was still checking out who had extra hair ties on their wrists and begging one off a random woman. At this point, I’ve just learned to accept this is how things go for me. (She gave me the hair tie too, fyi, because hair ties and tampons are the two things you are legally obligated as a woman to give any other woman who asks for them.)
Then we ran. This is my favorite picture from the race; it just cracks me up to the point that I might even buy it:
I was trying to both run my 6:30 pace through the crowds and figure out why the hell people would line up by the 6:00/mile sign if they were planning to run 9:00 miles. Nothing wrong with 9:00 miles, but that’s the number that looks like the upside down “6.” Fyi.
Also, so. I’m basically not wearing any clothes in that picture because I had this idea that if I dressed like a “serious for real” runner then I’d have to run like one. When I was trying to decide the night before if this was a good plan or a stupid plan, I thought, “I dunno, what if I run really slow and shitty, then I’ll be really embarrassed and look dumb.” And then I thought, “THAT’S THE POINT.”
(Side note: I was telling someone this plan and they were all ‘ohhh, I wouldn’t look good, I’d be too self-conscious.’ And I had to be like, “No, uh, to be clear, I don’t really have a full-length mirror in my house. I just assume I look awesome.” Problem solved.)
For a few miles I ran some 6:35, some 6:15, whatever, it’s sort of weaving and little hills through Golden Gate Park. It felt OK, but it also felt too hard for three miles in. I was already thirsty and hungry and tired. I thought there’s no way I’m going to make it 10 more miles, but then I also thought that I’m not a person who randomly drops out of things anymore. Instead of quitting, I decided to have a gel.
Miles four through seven sort of sucked mentally. I mean it’s a half-marathon, all the miles sucked. But if you divide a race or workout into quarters, then the second quarter tends to be the part when I most want to quit. It usually hurts a not small amount by then, but you aren’t even halfway yet. This is demoralizing.
I somehow caught up to a couple girls who were faster than me, though, and then we caught another couple girls, so I just stuck to the group and ran 6:20s on their heels. I was like really awkward glue, since they all knew each other and were chatting about what a nice day it was and how this was a good tempo effort for their marathon next month, and I was wheezing and wondering if I was going to have to kill them, as nice as they all seemed.
I also, somehow, managed to convince myself that if I just made it to mile 7, at the start of the Great Highway, then it would be easy. Because then all you have to do is run three miles out, three miles back. Bam, boom. Easy. (This is particularly funny if you’ve ever done the race, because the six miles on the Great Highway are well-known to be the worst six miles ever included in a race course.)
Surprise ending: it was not easy.
I fell off my group somewhere just after or around mile 8, even though I was running in the high-6:20s still. I tried to fight back on to the back, but I fell off again. And then I was just running along in a straight line forever into the headwind by myself. I ran a 6:37, and then fell to 6:40s. I was convinced I was never going to make it to the turnaround, but eventually you always do.
In some ways, the last three miles aren’t difficult anymore. There isn’t much to think about. It’s really very simple. Run as hard as you can for 20 more minutes. And, I swear to God, I was. I was running as hard as I could, which turned out to be 6:45 miles. Part of me wasn’t sure if I was going to make it to the finish. The other part of me thought, “Shut up, you’re running great, of course you’ll make it, just don’t fuck everything up now.” And then I only had to run as hard as I could for 15 more minutes, then 13, then 10, then just 8.
Finally, we turned back into the park and I am still convinced (even though everyone says I’m wrong) that the terrible little uphill to the finish was longer than in the past, but I just kept pumping my arms and hoping I wouldn’t throw up until I made it across the finish line.
Post-script: I never really do running races with my Garmin. I’ve always kind of rolled my eyes at people complaining about courses being long according to their Garmins. Get over it. A race is a race; what your GPS says is irrelevant. This race, though, I didn’t want to think at all. I just wanted to run 6:30s and I secretly thought if I could do that I could run sub-1:26. So, yes, I understand how races are measured and how to run tangents and why my watch says 13.24 miles instead of 13.1. (Almost like I’ve written an article about the topic.) But that doesn’t mean I wasn’t a little pissed that my Garmin said I actually ran 13.24 miles, averaging 6:31s. Sigh. 6:31s for 13.1 would totally have been a sub-1:26. Next time I’ll just have to go faster I guess.