Tiburon Half-Marathon: Why Does a Race Go Badly?

I look sort of like I'm running fast. But I'm not.
I look sort of like I’m running fast. But I’m not.

How do you know a race is going to go badly? When do you know? What is the difference between the good days and the bad ones? Yesterday, I could barely choke down my oatmeal and wanted to throw up all morning, but that’s pretty much how I feel before nearly every race. I started to doze off driving down to Tiburon, but that’s happened before some of my best races. I felt slow-ish during my warm-up, but not out of the ordinary. And, yet, it was a miserable day, a total battle for 10.5 of the 13 miles. Why?

My original goal for the Tiburon Half was to aim for 1:26. When I realized on Friday that the course might be kind of hilly, I revised that to 1:28/29. If I had really known how hilly the course was I might have gone in with the expectation of a 1:30/1:31. That’s definitely one part of a shitty race: misguided expectations and no knowledge of what you’re getting into. I ran a 1:35:15.

I intended to run 6:30s on the flats, try to hold it as best as possible through the hills, make up speed on the downhills, and then hang on for the last three miles to the finish. Running 6:30s means running some 6:18s and some 6:41s and not worrying about it. So, my 6:16 first mile didn’t concern me, especially because it felt so good. The 6:31 second mile that felt terrible did concern me. The way the race sorted out meant Devon Yanko was about 15-20″ ahead of me (at first, then she was much much farther ahead) with some men and I was all by myself. I was running completely alone, into the wind on a bike path, and feeling bad for myself. That’s definitely another part of a tough day: a race that just feels like a hard, miserable tempo run on your own.

By mile three I knew it was not my day. I ran a 6:38 or something, but it was too hard, so hard. Too hard for mile three. My legs were heavy and slow. I was nauseous and throwing up in the back of my throat. It was a battle. I wanted to drop out. Mentally cashing it in was probably the biggest part of what made it a bad race. Maybe it was only not my day after I decided it was not my day. There are some options when a day is not your day: you can either throw in the towel or tough it out. I had no interest in toughing it out. My goals for this race were to run a fast half-marathon and get a good practice race in before CIM. My goal was not to tough it out through a shitty 13 miles.

The problem with dropping out, though, was that my high school kids were basically manning every aid station. What was I going to tell them? I just was having a shitty race and didn’t want to do it anymore? And, I was the second woman. There are times when you’re in the front and it’s ok to drop out to save your effort for another day. This was not one of those times and it would just make me sort of a douche. I decided I would just run until I threw up; that had to come soon. And, then, once I threw up, I’d have a reason to drop out.

I kept running, but not well. I knew Andrew was behind me and would catch me, so I told myself when he did I’d stay with him. He caught me around mile four. I stayed with him for a half-mile. And, then there were hills — hills I thought didn’t started until mile six and were small. I was wrong. They were long and stupid steep and constantly up or down for five or six miles. Even the parts that seemed flat were really up; they were just less up. On the ups, I would get very dropped. My legs were dead; they had no strength. On the downs, my feet were hurting so much I would lean back and brake, taking them not too fast. This was partially because of the Zoots I was wearing (I dunno why they hurt me on the downhills), but mostly it was just because my toe and my heel and my feet have been killing me. Injuries that ache and make you second-guess everything are a key part of a bad day.

I got passed a lot. Sometimes, I made an effort to stay with the person. Sometimes, I didn’t. Around mile eight, another girl passed me and we were along the water briefly and I felt ok (terrible, but ok), so I went with her. I was fighting for it, battling, but hanging on, and I looked down at my watch. We were running 7:03s. My goal marathon pace. And it was killing me. Eventually, she dropped me at that pace.

Yes, apparently. my foot falls in during my pull-through. No, no idea why.
Yes, apparently. my foot falls in like that during my pull-through. No, no idea why.

From mile three until just past mile 10 I wanted to quit. Constantly, every step, I wanted to drop out. No part of me was enjoying the running and it was hard, very hard, and slow and I didn’t know why. I never decided not to quit, I just never had a good opportunity to. I never threw up. At one point, I realized if I quit, I’d probably have to walk back, so. Every mile ticked by infinitely slowly, but I went on. The constant droning whine in my ears of “This is terrible, quit, this is terrible, just quit” was part of what made it rough.

Eventually, I finished. And, it was slow and I was the fifth woman. And, the last 2.5 miles on the bike path, I really felt like I was pushing hard, I was trying, I was running my fastest. I looked at my watch: 7:35s. WHAT THE HELL???

I was pretty disheartened afterwards. Yes, on the upside, I finished, though I don’t know how and I had to force it for 10.5 miles. Still, that’s something. On the downside, what just happened? I intend/hope to run a faster pace than a 1:35:15 half-marathon for my full marathon at CIM.

In retrospect, part of the slowness was the course. Devon, the first woman, who’s very fast, ran a 1:26, so my expectation of running a 1:26 was probably totally off-base. Partly, yes, I had a bad day, which maybe isn’t as mysterious as it seems given how beaten up and tired and overbooked I’ve been. But, the last part, that was definitely all in my head. My best run maybe would have been a 1:29/30. A bad day and I still probably could have pulled off a 1:32/33. The 1:35 was (in part) what happens when you dig yourself a little hole and have to climb back out before you can keep running.

I’m still wallowing in my hole a little.

Then, Tupac and I did this:

tupac sleeping

4 thoughts on “Tiburon Half-Marathon: Why Does a Race Go Badly?

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