Yea, yea… Most of my blogs in the last year have started out with something along the lines of “I know it’s been a while” or “It’s my goal to do this more consistently.” Well, life happens so here I am, sipping my coffee on a lazy Sunday morning watching a movie with my monster in bed contemplating the transition to marathon training after my half in Philly last weekend. So it feels like a perfect way to start the day. I love recapping my races, so here’s my take on training for my sub-2 hour half (finally) and the Philly LOVE Run.
When finishing up my marathons toward the end of last year and beginning to think of my 2018 goals, I thought about slowing down and really going for that goal I’ve been chasing for over 7 years. So 2017 was really all about the distance… I completed 4 ultras (not to mention the miles put in to train for them), 3-ish full marathons, and countless other long distance races. My body was tired and craved something different. I’ve been chasing the sub-2 hour half marathon for about 7 years. My half PR was the 2011 Get Lucky Half in Minneapolis, where I ran 2:00:06. Since then, my half marathon times have hovered right around that 2-hour mark; however, I’ve never been able to punch it down and get under. I’ve also never just trained for a half… They’ve always been an after sight to use as a training run for my full marathons or beyond so with a fresh plate coming in 2018 I thought that would be the perfect time to find a great race and go for it.
Our Moms Run This Town group was rallying for a big group to register for the Philly LOVE Run last winter and I’ve been interested in that run since we moved to the East Coast. It seemed like a great run to go for it: flat, good crowd support, not too many people, and plenty of friends to run and train with. I wrote up a plan and expected to start training around the New Year. Already having a solid distance base under my belt, all I really had to do was build strength and speed to push those paces which are normally uncomfortable for me.
Now, a little backstory – I have a chronic foot injury due to an os bone in the arch of my right foot. My distance training is a little unconventional, but I’ve found a great balance between running twice a week and supplementing strength training and yoga to support the other pieces of the training pie. For the half, I planned to run a speed run mid-week (which, the route is moderately hilly so that makes for “fun” runs) and my long run on the weekend. I planned to start my long runs around 10-minute mile paces and slowly drop that pace as I got closer to race day. Eventually, I started playing with tempo mid-long run to build extra stamina and play with that endurance piece. I wound up pairing myself with my good friend, Mary for many of my long runs. She’s comfortable at the paces that are uncomfortable for me so it kept my accountability solid toward my goal.
For strength training, I started the 80 Day Obsession through Beachbody on Demand and mostly followed their meal plan (at least to start with…). I found these workouts really complimented the muscles I needed to strengthen for my running goals! I subbed my runs for the two cardio workouts the program has built into it, and it really worked perfectly. Bonus? Mary was doing the program as well!
Training went as expected, maybe even a little better than expected – but that’s mostly due to the amazing community of women in my MRTT group, sometimes dragging my butt along training runs, or meeting for brutally cold, pre-dawn runs (and it’s been a COLD Maryland winter!)… so by the time race day came around, I was cautiously optimistic that sub-2 was in my grasp. Regardless, I was going to leave it out on the course and run my best race no matter what.
Right around Christmas, I was trying to peer-pressure my sister-in-law into coming out for the race. My family doesn’t really have an interest in coming to visit (other than my mom!!) so I thought this would be a nice incentive to convince her and my brother to make a long weekend of it. She took the bait, and they flew in the Friday before the race!
We drove up to Philly on Saturday and headed for the expo. It was fairly small but had a good amount of vendors and plenty of photo ops. I really loved the CGI Racing tent who had a spin-wheel for prizes and I snagged a free pair of gloves… Those ended up being a LIFESAVER on race day! I also got to meet Bart Yasso and have him sign my bib for good luck! He saw my blog name: RunningYogiMom on my bib and said “Running yogi mom… you know, more runners need to do yoga. They’re so focused on the short-term run right now, they’re often not thinking about the long-term of what they need to do with their bodies to stay in the game… it’s not all about running if you want to run.” YES! This is exactly my philosophy! This is why I can and have successfully accomplished some HUGE running goals with only two runs a week! Run less to run more…
We checked into our hotel right across the street – the Marriott Downtown. The staff was incredibly accommodating, so wonderful, the rooms were clean and cozy, and the location was absolutely perfect! Bonus? I got a Priceline deal so it was all of $63!!! Totally worth it! We settled in and met up with our family. My hubby’s brother also happened to be in Philly for a conference, and their other brother came to spend time with the crew while we’re in town. We had a beer together, and hung out a bit and then made our way back to the hotel for dinner. Jenny and I decided to swing by the Hard Rock Cafe across from our hotel for dinner and decided on one more beer and a flatbread. Deeeeeelish! I made sure to chug water all day, and the days leading up to the race – as my brother once said: “the water you drink now will help you later.” I always try to go into my races as hydrated as possible.
Race day was a chilly morning, but it looked as if the rain was going to stay away. I had originally laid out shorts but swapped for running tights last minute and it was definitely the right decision. We scarfed a bit of breakfast – blueberry muffins and a banana with some coffee, and then made our way to meet my BRFs Melissa and April (also MRTT Chapter Leaders for HoCo!). Melissa has been my main training partner in crime since I moved here and has also been chasing that sub-2 but her goal was to just enjoy the run this round (ironically, that’s her IG name!).
The wind was really brutal and the race started a bit late. I think they were waiting for the all-clear from Philadelphia PD to make sure we had a safe course the entire way through. At the end of the day, the worst part about race day usually is the wait in the corrals at the start, but this one felt a little worse than normal. Constant shivering made for tight muscles so I just focused on staying as warm and loose as possible. The national anthem was sung (probably the most beautiful I’ve ever heard before a race, so whoever you were, AMAZING job!) and the waves were underway. I was in the third wave out and was grateful to start moving to warm up!
Mile 1 – 4
The race wound around through the city for the first few miles. I kept an eye on my pace, knowing I was going to be most comfortable at that 9-minute mile pace. Shortly into the first mile, I checked my Garmin and it read that I was running a 3-minute mile….??? I checked every 12-30 seconds and it continued to read 2:30 – 5-minute mile paces. Great. The buildings were messing with the GPS signal. I couldn’t rely on my Garmin until I was out of the city so I reset my mind frame and brainstormed how best to handle this. Having over 10-years of distance training under my belt and only having about a year’s worth of Garmin to use during training, I trusted my training and ran according to my body. I knew I had to keep a fairly uncomfortable pace, but not too uncomfortable that I would burn out toward the end of the run. The course was extremely flat so my pace should feel really consistent from mile to mile. As we wound our way around town and got out from under the bulk of the buildings, my Garmin was back on track and I could see I was running 8:45’s… Perfect. I also knew I had my first bathroom break coming up so that would eat up some of the cushions I had built in. Thankfully there were plenty of portos and NO LINE!!!! It’s a miracle when this happens in a race because trust me, you NEVER get this lucky!
Miles 5 – 8
Easy peasy. We made our way out of the city on a flat and easy road paralleling the river. My pace held strong at 8:41, 8;40, 8:45, and 8:45. I was working, but I wasn’t in pain… It was that perfect balance of uncomfortable pushing but sustainable pace. Along the way I sipped water from the aid stations and carried a packet of Honey Stinger chews with me, popping one or two every mile or so. This is exactly how I practiced in my training runs so I knew it would work well…
Mile 9 was our only hill, but it was a good one. I tried to keep a decent pace but my legs ached and my heart rate skyrocketed. 9:32, which wasn’t bad, but I knew I had lost some time with my rest-stop at mile 4ish, so that and a slower mile quickly ate up some of the cushion I had. However, what goes up also goes down and my easy downhill mile 10 was a solid 8:32, gaining a little bit of traction. At this point, my muscles are getting angry, but I know I’m on the homestretch. When I hit mile 10 I knew that I just had to keep that 9-ish minute mile pace to bring home the goal. The timing mat must have updated my runner tracking because I got a text from my bestie in MSP – “sub 2, go get it!” I responded with a quick “IT’S HAPPENING!!!” and kept on…
I saw Melissa on one of the out and backs around mile 11 and she said “you got this!” with the massive confidence I needed to keep pushing. I responded with a quick “3 minutes!” knowing I was probably coming in around 1:57. 8:59 and it was starting to hurt, but I had two miles left. I do this thing when I need to get out of my head during runs and races. I start counting down the minutes left on the course. It’s like a mantra, but I knew I was going to hold a 9-ish pace so I started chanting “18…18…18” in my head. Then “17…17…17…” and “16…16…16….” It just keeps me focused on moving forward.
Mile 12 I panicked. I had to stop for a bathroom break again OUT OF FREAKING NOWHERE, but I lucked out and they were right in front of me and there was no line… Seriously, the race Gods were looking out for me. “9…9…9…” Every time I checked my watch I was hovering around that 9mm pace, but my legs were screaming and I seriously couldn’t go faster. If I didn’t make my sub2 hour, I was confident that I ran my best race (minus the bathroom breaks, seriously wth). I was confident that I left everything out there trying and that was worth whatever time I ended with. But man, it was going to be close! Another text from Stef in MSP: “Push, no guts no glory! Keep fighting forward.” She literally is my favorite cheerleader EVERY SINGLE RACE… No joke. “You can rest when you’re done, but this is what you worked so hard for. I’m right here with you!” (I didn’t get this until I finished because I just had to put my head down and go for it).
Mile 13 – 8:54… 0.1 to go, I was ready to puke! That finish line was sweet and I could see people blowing past me but my legs just wouldn’t move faster… I felt like my shoes were filled with cement and my legs were moving through molasses. I crossed the finish line and stopped my watch: 1:56:45. I knew it auto-paused for my bathroom breaks, and I knew it was going to be close, but I had to get it.
Yep! That’s right! Officially a sub-2 half, FINALLY! Bonus? When I finally found my MRTT-ers, Melissa accidentally sub-2’d as well! She was about 30 seconds behind me! Jenny completed her first half in about 2:07, super respectable considering my first was probably 2:21 and she picked up training for it last minute in the harsh conditions of northern Minnesota. We tried to celebrate with post-race beers at the finish line, but it was just too cold!
We made our way back to the hotel (they had ever-so-graciously granted us free delayed check out, so Jenny and I were able to have a hot shower!) and packed up our things. The swag was better than I expected: a HUGE medal, a long sleeve finisher shirt, and a coffee mug… like a GOOD SIZED coffee mug! We both napped on the way back to Maryland and upon arrival, the entire group decided it was a great day for a burger and a beer… Jenny and I couldn’t have agreed more. We headed to our favorite restaurant and satiated our appetites while celebrating our victories.
Thanks for the great run, Philly… It was perfectly supported, a great course, awesome swag, perfectly seeded at the front with the corrals so I was never fighting to get around people, and I crushed my goal. Winning all around!