Monday, April 26, 2010

Yesterday I ran the MORE women's half-marathon in Central Park. This race had been in the works for a long time - I think I registered in January - and as it approached and various events (and injuries) kept me from training properly, I began to increasingly dread it. It turned out, I was right to dread it, because it was pretty awful.*

The problems started before the race began, with the fact that it was raining. Not a gentle happy spring rain; this was serious water. Also, I was lazy about getting up, which means I didn't really have sufficient time to go through my full stretching / breakfast routine and was probably not as mentally prepared as I could have been.

The race itself seemed reasonably organized, but there is just no avoiding, in a race of that size, that you are going to be tripping over people for most of the first mile. The problem is exacerbated by people in groups and walkers who somehow have started in front of you. I can never decide if something like this is good in a long race because it keeps you from starting out too fast, or bad because you use up a lot of energy running around people and you get frustrated right off the bat. (In a short race, it's unmitigatedly bad because if you're running for time, the thirty or sixty seconds you lose in the first mile might not be regainable later and average out to a noticeable per-mile time increase.)

The first three or four miles were uneventful, and I ran at a comfortable pace and walked through water stations, but then we hit a big hill. I hadn't been expecting this because all the other races I've run in the park have taken a different path that avoids this. It is definitely the biggest hill on the course. About halfway up I realized that many of the people around me were walking, and that I wasn't going much faster than them, so I decided it would be better to save my energy and walk too.

Coming down the west side of the park, I was starting to get tired, and it was just so wet. My hamstrings were sore. I thought briefly about bailing on the race - I would say I seriously considered it, but we all know that my legs would have to actually fall off of my body in order for me to stop running a race in the middle - but then the leader passed us - there weren't a lot of elite runners in that race, but there were a few - and we cheered and I felt a little better.

And then I started to make mistakes. I've noticed that I lose the ability to think clearly when I'm tired. I needed to use the bathroom - expected in a race of this length - and ended up waiting in line for the port-a-potties by the entrance, which had no toilet paper (which was especially bad because all the tissues I'd been carrying were soaked). If I'd been thinking clearly, I could have waited another mile, perhaps saved a couple minutes of waiting, and probably gotten toilet paper.

I also failed to take my second gu. I took the first one at the five-mile mark and had been planning to take the second one at nine miles, but I just... didn't. They had gatorade on the course but I was only drinking water, because gatorade is gross. Everyone has their own amount of gu that they need, but I think if I had taken the second gu the last few miles would have gone a lot better.

The third thing that happened, which was not my fault, was that my left hamstring seized up at 7 or 8 miles. I had to stop and stretch it, and it hurt the whole rest of the way. I also took off my glasses around this point, because they were so wet and foggy (and I no longer had even wet tissues to wipe them with) that my inability to see was less ridiculous without them. It was also just so wet. I seemed to be getting wetter and wetter, which of course at this point was not actually possible. There were rivers of water running down the sides of the road at every hill, huge standing puddles, the cups at the water stations were overflowing with rain.

At about 9 miles was where it started to go downhill for real. Before that, the race kind of sucked, in that it was raining and I wasn't making great time, but nothing awful had happened. I was still trotting along at an acceptable pace. But then we hit the big hill for the second time (the race was two loops around the park, plus a little bit) and I was just not happy at all. I walked parts of the hill, but the race marshalls were yelling at us to get a move on (which they had no business doing because we were nowhere near the back of the race - the course had a time limit of 4 hours, and there was a long tail of walkers) so I didn't want to walk too much, and of course I had less energy than I had the first time around.

And then it just got worse and worse. Every mile was longer and harder than the mile before. I started having to walk more often, not just at water stations but also on big hills. It seemed like everyone around me was doing so much better, although I kept being passed by the same people over and over again (i.e. I would pass them while they were walking, then they would pass me) and of course I couldn't see how tired they might have felt. Even at twelve miles, when I'd gone around the park twice and just had to run the bottom edge, with no big hills, and finish, I couldn't muster up any enthusiasm. In fact, at that point I very nearly broke down crying because I was so upset that the race had beaten me. For the last mile, I was switching back and forth between a very slow run and a very slow walk every one to three minutes (I was actually counting steps, running 200 or 300 or 400 and then walking 100).

I did manage to run the last tenth of a mile, basically out of shame, and I finished the race. Afterwards my legs basically gave out, and stumbled to the grass on the side of the road, where I plopped down in the mud. I had been sniffling and whinging to myself for the last couple of miles of the race - it hurt and I had to keep going - and now I started to cry in earnest. Which was actually a good thing because it flushed a lot of the mud and salt out of my eyes. I also realized at this point how much easier the race might have been if I hadn't run it solo... on the one hand, everyone has their own pace and their own needs for rest, and running with somebody interrupts your rhythm. On the other hand, it might have relieved the isolation and boredom (my ipod died at some point on the course, presumably a drowning death) and helped me keep my spirits up, which might have led to a better endrace. It also would have meant I'd have had someone to help me get up out of the mud. My journey home, not actually a long walk under normal circumstances, was a lengthy, frigid, wet odyssey, and then I spent about half an hour in the shower trying to soak up enough hot water to get warm.

So, not my best race. But I did survive it. I was sore and hobbly all day yesterday, but I feel substantially better today (although needless to say I will not be going running). My finish time was a full minute per mile slower than I had hoped to run, a good deal of which is probably attributable to the rain, both directly and indirectly, as well as to the mistakes I've described.

It's easy to remember only the last three or four ignominious miles, when I let the race defeat me. But I need to also remember that I haven't run any distance this long since the marathon (and associated training) in 2007. Sure, the first half of that marathon was a lot easier than this half-marathon - but I had trained with much longer distances up to 21 miles. And some of it is just that runs are widely variable. I ran a 9-mile race three weeks ago, and I didn't feel as tired during any of it as I felt at the nine-mile point of this race... but when I did the full marathon in 2007, I felt far worse at 20 miles than I felt at any point in my 21-mile training race.

From here I need to take a short break and then resume training, because there is another half marathon in four weeks. I am hoping this race constitutes some degree of training for that one, and if I get the chance I'm also going to try to fit in one more long (ten-ish miles?) run. I'm also going to make sure to actually take my gu properly, and I'm going to hope that this time it doesn't rain.

* You might be one of those people who thinks that any half-marathon would be awful. This is true, if you are not trained properly. I was not trained properly, which was most of the problem.

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