It was a beautiful day for running, a cool fall day with patches of sun and clouds. I had been planning to wear arm warmers, but they weren't even necessary. Alan and I did a short warm-up and I headed to the starting line. Not one of the women I saw was wearing a singlet. That was strange but I took it as an encouraging sign.
The gun went off and I found myself running next to a blonde woman in a long-sleeve shirt (Kim). I asked her what she was planning to run and she said she didn't know. A man had given her last-minute advice in another language at the starting line, so I had no idea who she was or anything.
I started out at a comfortable pace, and I could tell that there were a few other women behind me. I was feeling so comfortable that I was very surprised to see 6:00 as the mile split. Hmmm. The first mile had some steep downhills, so I figured I was probably right on, effort-wise, for my goal of 6:15 pace for the whole race.
Over the next few miles I kept almost a perfect 6:15 pace (12:14, 18:33, 24:49, 31:04). I felt fine. I caught up to and passed a few men in succession. A race vehicle came in front of me, and Eric, sitting in the open trunk, videotaped me running for a while. One of the guys I was running with told me that there were no women anywhere behind me.
A little before six miles, Alan ran up to me and told me that I'd soon have company; the second-place woman was catching up. I was surprised about this. It was Kim, as I expected. I was a little concerned anyway, because the pace was starting to feel harder than I thought it should at this point of the race. I was having to breathe quite hard to maintain the pace, and my legs were starting to hurt -- and we hadn't even reached halfway! -- and the second half of the course was going to be hillier!
Kim caught up and she, Alan and I ran together for maybe a mile and a half. I had no idea who she was or how fast she could run. My natural inclination would be to assume that she's really fast, and now that she had caught me, she would probably pass me and I would not be able to keep up. But I reminded myself that it could be like in the St. Pat's 5k in 2010, where this woman was breathing down my neck the whole race and I was afraid she would sprint past me and win, but actually she was just trying to use me to run as fast as she could, and she didn't think she could beat me (and she didn't).
We made a turn just before 8 miles and Kim put in a surge. "Go with her!" Alan said. But I couldn't. I had run hard to try to shake her in the previous two miles and I couldn't go faster. I passed 8 miles in 50:23 and knew that I was still on pace to break the course record (which was 6:23 pace). Kim was running quite fast at this point, and maybe she would burn out and slow down -- who knew? It could happen. I had to just focus on running as fast as I could and try to stay in the race.
Unfortunately, that did not happen. From 8 miles to the end, I ran about 6:50-6:58 for every mile. Imagine, 6:00 for the first mile and almost 7:00 for miles 9 through 13! That's really embarrassing.
On the bright side, my quick early miles brought me through 10 miles in 64:15, a PR by almost a minute. (All my 10-mile PRs are from half marathons.)
At about 11 miles, another woman (Megan) passed me. I tried to go with her, but failed. I had been so far ahead of third place that she wasn't even visible, and now she was ahead of me. Not inspiring! And in fact, Alan could also see the fourth-place woman (Kristen) behind me and she was catching up. Unacceptable. Then I would be out of the money completely. My 11-mile time was about 1:11, so I calculated that if I ran just 6:50 pace I could still run a PR (1:25:20). That seemed totally doable -- I mean, right? 6:50 pace? That should not be hard.
From 12 miles to the end Alan kept giving me updates on how far behind me Kristen was, and exhorted me to push harder and run faster. I had not been going as fast as possible for the previous couple of miles because it was so far to the end, but now I ran as hard as I could up the hills so that she would not catch up. Luckily, it was enough to hold her off. This is somewhat amazing, because I didn't even achieve my 6:50 pace. I have no idea how that is possible, that my sprinting pace could be slower than 6:50. But that's what happened. I finished in 1:25:36, 16 seconds off of my PR.
So I went out too fast and then died, and ended up four minutes behind the winner. Oops. If I had known I would end up averaging 6:32 pace, I would have gone out in maybe 6:25 pace, and then maybe I would have been able to avoid blowing up, and would have had a faster finishing time. If I had known that this mystery blonde woman had just run under 1:22 a few weeks ago, I would probably have started behind her.
Essentially, I hit the wall. Why? Because I have not been able to train properly. If I were a professional athlete, I would have pulled out of this race, no question. I have done two long runs in the past 10 weeks or so. I've been trying to get over an injury, so two weeks out of the past three I've run under 30 miles, because I was pool running instead of actually running. But I had already paid for the race, and I like visiting NH, so I went and did it anyway. My race plan was to run 6:15s, and I followed it very well for 8 miles. So it goes. My 8-mile split was two minutes faster than what I ran at the Stowe 8 Miler in August 2010.
I like the half marathon distance, and I like training 80 miles a week, and when I am able to put together a solid block of long-distance training, I will race the half marathon again. From this race, I learned that it is totally possible to blow up in a race even if I am mostly fit, and I learned to push myself hard at the end of the race even if it won't get me very far or very fast.
My legs hurt so much after the race that I gave up on the idea of a cool-down run after one minute of a pathetic attempt at a jog, and did a "cool-down walk" instead. Today my calves are quite shredded and I am having trouble walking down the stairs. I find myself pushing on my knees when I get up from a chair. Clearly, it was a hard effort, a good workout even if it wasn't a great race.
Pictures (and maybe video) to follow.