Wait a minute. How do I race again? It had been about six months since I put on a race number and toed a starting line. And leading up to Sunday’s Flower City Half Marathon, I was pretty sure I had completely forgotten how to race. The moments of panic were brief and abated by some great friends. First, let’s review my goals for this particular race:
- No. 1 — Keep my pace in check. We are 27 days out from my first trail marathon. If I pushed myself too much in this half marathon race, that would require more days of recovery. I don’t have time for recovery as I need to work on my strength and endurance for the Sehgahunda Trail Marathon.
- No. 2 — Run strong. Run confident. Run steady.
- No. 3 — Show up as my best self. Enjoy the experience.
Sunday morning was chilly (right around 30 degrees) and I met up with my friend Tracy inside the warm of Blue Cross Arena. Tracy, along with friends Staci and Tara, are training for their first Ironman this fall. And so last week, at nearly the last minute, Tracy decided to run the half marathon with me. See, she’s a speedy runner (compared to me) and really needed to slow down on her longer runs. Need to slow down? I’m your girl! It made for a perfect match — I wanted a strong pace but not one that would qualify under “kill it” and she wanted an easy, steady pace.
The course started on a slight downhill and I felt great, a good sign for me. And speaking of signs, I easily located my cheering posse. Saturday night, I stayed with my friend Mary and Sunday morning her father-in-law made a sign for me “Amy Mo” and attached it to a really long pole. In the first few blocks I spotted them and waved to my parents and my friends Mary, 4-year-old Cassie and Don. I had a smile on my face. I kept that smile most of the race.
Tracy had me set the pace, though she was the one who kept us in check most of the time. “We might be running a bit fast,” she said on a few occasions. I checked my own watch. Yep. She was right. It was feeling good, but it was early. And I wanted to remember goal No. 1: Keep my pace in check. The morning was brilliant. The sunlight was fresh and warming. The air was crisp, but frankly not nearly as cold as I thought it would be. Spectators lined the streets for the 13.1 miles cheering. Tracy and I chatted for much of the race. We talked about a little of everything. Sometimes I let her carry the conversation, because there were hills on the course, I got a little tired, and just wanted to listen to drown out those hills.
Oh yeah. The hills. I knew they were coming, but I didn’t study the course extremely well. I decided the element of surprise was better than the element of dread. There were a few longer climbs. Then we entered a cemetery which included a few steep but short climbs. (Including one up cobblestone. Cobblestone? What is this, a bike race in France? True story: Getting to the top without falling felt like the triumph of the day. The rest would just be gravy.) I knew the hilly sections would slow me down, but there were only two miles with hills and my slowest mile was only 15 seconds off my overall goal pace. Score.
As we came out of the cemetery we approached Mile 10. Double digits! A 5K left! Yes! And then … my race belt snapped. The stretchy part of the belt snapped off one of the buckles and it dropped to the ground. Oh no! I handed my gloves off to Tracy, picked up my race belt and kept moving forward. As we ran I tied the belt in a knot around my waist. It wasn’t the most comfortable arrangement in the world, but it was only three miles. I could endure it for that long.
As we ran along a river path, in the final two miles, we spotted a pacer ahead of us. She had “2:15” written on her back.
“I know you didn’t have a goal time in mind,” Tracy said to me. “But the 2:15 pacer is right there and I think we’re going to pass her.”
“I thought the same thing,” I said to Tracy, with a smile and slight huff. I was tantalizing close and the energy I saved early on was ready to go in the final two miles.
We chatted with the pacer for a bit and then with about 1.25 miles we passed her. In the final mile, I kicked it in and picked it up. Almost done. Almost done! And I felt fantastic. Absolutely fantastic! Just as I entered the finishing chute, I saw the “Amy Mo” sign, this time adorned with balloons. I looked over to see my cheering team which had expanded to include my 1-year old niece (oh, and her parents). That last tenth of a mile I ran hard. Really hard. At this point it was nearly a sprint. (That pushing back the puck factor I’ve worked on in track workouts came in very handy here.) I crossed the line, and put my hands on my knees. Wow. That was fun. Really fun.
The final stats are meaningful only to me. Consider that my half marathon PR is 2:09. On this day, I ran a 2:14. Consider that last year I ran three half marathons, my best at 2:12 in June at the Niagara Ultra, a race in which I was gunning for a PR. Consider that my fastest mile of the day was my last mile. Consider that I ran, one of my best at 13.1 miles, without getting wrapped up in times and pace. In fact, I held my pace back on purpose a few times, because that was the plan. I finished faster, much faster, than I had anticipated because I let go of the outcome and showed up as myself, to my training and to race day.
I can not thank Tracy enough for running with me. It was one of the most pleasant long runs I’ve ever had — race or not. My support team was simply awesome — those who were with me and those who offered a good thought for me miles away.