It’s Sunday, September 13th and I am awakened by the cute tune I set my alarm to play. It’s one of the little music jingles on my iPhone that hilariously enough makes me want to do a little dance at any normal hour of the day. But at 4:30am I just want to smack it off. But then I immediately recall why my alarm is set so early and am out of bed in a flash. I’ve been looking forward to the Skagit Flats Half Marathon, even though it’s only one week after my VanRace as well as my 100 mile week.
I thought I was going to taper a bit for this race, but with a 100km in my legs already this week, on top of 161km the week before… I am most definitely not feeling tapered. All good though – this is but a training run. Somewhere between marathon pace and a maybe a bit faster / closer to actual half marathon race pace. Maybe a sub 1:40? It’s a long shot… But man, how happy that would make me.
I’m making my oatmeal: Qi’a creamy coconut instant. It’s my staple pre-race breakfast. There’s no need for me to try anything else again, ever – it’s worked for me so well lately. With a banana. And extra hemp hearts and chia. Plus just a few walnuts. And maple syrup and honey of course. I make a bowl for hubby too, along with my matcha tea.
We’re eating by 5:00am, exactly 3 hours before the race starts. I’ve found if I try to eat any closer to a race, I’ll feel it in my stomach while racing – jumping around, making me nauseous. Or worse.
I’m buzzing on excitement and with everything prepped the night before, we’re out the door in a flash. It’s a good hour and a half trip across the border… So we’re out the door by 5:30am, with hopes to arrive around 7am, one hour before the gun goes off.
We decide to hit up a rest stop at about 6:35am. I’ve brought banana muffins with us, knowing that sometimes eating so early means I’ll want a little something else before the race begins. Plus it’s a chance to get just a few more carbs pre-race. It’s not a marathon so it’s not as big of a deal to get my nearly 200g of carbs I’ll want on marathon race morning, but I know it’ll help if they’re in a form that will be fully digested by the time I begin racing. Same for hubby – his GI system is even more sensitive than mine. Or maybe it’s because he’ll be ‘racing’ more than I will be. The harder one runs, the more the digestive system shuts off.
So at 6:40am, we each eat one banana muffin and wash it down with matcha Skratch exercise hydration drink. I sound like I’m advertising for Qi’a and Skratch and the like… But I’m not. I’ve just literally researched and tried every single darn product out there (what can I say, part of the job!) and these are what both works perfectly for my super sensitive GI system as well as contains natural and delicious ingredients.
We hit the road again and enter Skagit Valley at 7am pretty much exactly. As we turn off the highway, I immediately begin looking for a coffee shop. Lucky for me there is a little coffee hut drive thru – I’ve seen these a lot in the States and small towns – there is no such thing in Vancouver. This one is has a super nice cheerful young girl working in it.
I order my triple shot espresso – and am super thankful to get my hands on it, especially since last Sunday I wasn’t as lucky. I try to always take in my espresso exactly one hour pre-race – as it takes 60-90 minutes for the caffeine to reach peak concentrations in the blood, making it the perfect ergogenic aid which has worked wonders for me in the past.
We pull into the highschool parking lot. Many other runners are already there and last minute package pickup is in full swing. Two years ago we arrived so early we were the very first two people picking up our race packages on race morning! Ha, not so today. So we grab our bibs and timing chips – the old fashioned kind you attach to your shoe. I can remember when I began racing that’s all every race used and when they introduced the strips on the back of bibs I was worried they weren’t going to work lol (they’ve worked perfectly every time).
We’re sitting in the car and it’s 7:30am. My pre-race nutritional rituals are not yet done. I need my beet shot. I can’t find an empty water bottle though, so I dump the beet shot package contents into my espresso coffee cup, pour in a bit of water and swirl it around. That is not the right way to mix this product. I gulp down lumpy chunks of beet powder and water.
By this time we figure we better get to the start line so we’ll have time to warm-up. We head over, but make a stop for the bathrooms in the high school gymnasium first – as has every other runner. In a bit of a panic – clearly the line is not going to let us go before 8am race start – we head to the start line rather worried. And find a long row of portapotties with pretty much zero line up. Clearly this is going to be a great race – pretty much everything has been working out just about perfectly!
Except for the fact we are now short on time.
“Shall we warm-up?” I ask hubby, and we run for just over one kilometre total before it’s time to line up. So much for my 4km warm-up that was on the schedule – clearly you can see I’m a nutritionist and my priorities have been in the food area lol.
It’s a small race – they call everyone onto the road literally 2 minutes before the race is to begin. We line up. I find the 1:40 half marathon pace bunny. I figure I’ll hang off his shoulder for as long as I can. And then, after taking a moment for the national anthem, we’re off.
For the first few kilometres, as we make our way out of the town centre I really, really feel like I could be running faster. But I make a very conscious effort to stay BEHIND my pace bunny. He really seems to be doing a good job of landing right on pace. So eventually I stop checking my pace and just follow him.
I do my very best to stay right with him, I am literally hanging off his elbow. He is not a talkative pacer – I think I hear him talk once, maybe twice the entire race, when spoken to by another runner in our group. When we pass the first mile marker, I hear a racer cheer and yell out, “Woohoo, one mile!”
I hear him again at mile two – he’s still ahead of me, but not by so much. At mile three, he’s pretty much beside me… Mile four he’s somewhere behind me… And by mile five I can no longer hear him. Either he’s stopped cheering at each mile marker or he’s too far behind me that I cannot hear him.
Me and my group begin passing racers who went out too fast. You know, what I usually do! Somehow this seems to be my day. With each kilometer that clicks over on my GPS, I’m feeling just as strong as when I began. I’m hanging onto my pace bunny with relative ease.
As we approach the half way mark, and the turn around point, we see the leader coming towards us. I start looking for hubby. Another runner races by. Then a group of three, and one of them I know, he sees me and yells out words of encouragement before I have time to realize it’s him!
And then there’s hubby, all by his lonesome – so many smaller races he runs up there on his own. I guess that’s what you get for being faster… Not so many people to run with. I’ve never run into that ‘problem’ lol.
We cheer each other on, and now my focus is on reaching that halfway point. I go to grab water but end up with whatever electrolyte drink the course is serving instead. I’ve enough experience to know not to put anything in my system when racing a half other than a bit of water. So I toss the cup.
I reach the half way point, still with my pace bunny and group. Although, the group has diminished in size. I can’t really tell how much because I’ve been at the front hanging on to bunny’s elbow but I know we started with at least a dozen runners total. Now we have maybe 4 or 5.
I’m still feeling ridiculously strong. At this point I’m beginning to wonder how much longer this can continue because seriously – I’m feeling SO STRONG!!! So I do what I totally should not do. I pull ahead of my pace bunny. It’s 13km in and I pull ahead. I feel amazing and my pace increases accordingly. I carry on for not even 2km like this… And all of a sudden realize my pace has dropped right back to where it was for the first 13km. And then slower.
And then, there he is. At 15km, my 1:40 pace bunny PASSES me. I’m devastated and now struggling to hold on. He has only 2 runners with him now, but they are looking pretty strong still. I pull it together and muster up EVERYTHING I’ve got in me, physical and psychological. My pace inches closer to where it should be and I move closer to my pace bunny. Not going to let him go.
We continue like this for the next few kilometres. He’s ahead of me, but not dropping me anymore. I so regret passing him. Was it that surge that caused me to enter struggletown like this? No matter, this is where I am and I know what I must do to deal. Despite every single part of me wanting to just slow down a bit and relieve the suffering I am going through, I do not allow myself that.
Instead, as we enter the town again, with just under 2km to go, I try to push the gas pedal just a bit harder. It hurts, I’m not sure I can breathe! Oh wait, I can, keep going. We turn a corner, I ran harder. It’s so hard. I want so bad for it to be over! But even more so, I want to catch my pace bunny.
And then I do. With less than one kilometre to go, I pass my pace bunny as well as the two guys running with him. There is one guy just ahead of me I set my eye on to pass. I’m closing in on him. As we reach literally 400m to go, he does the look back, and sees me catching him! That must have spurred him on. I chase him with everything I have in me, around the final corner, onto the highschool track and finally cross that finish line – with my pace bunny mere seconds behind me.
I cross the finish line with an official time of 1:39:32 and couldn’t be happier. I wanted a sub 1:40 but really wasn’t sure it was physically possible. While my PB sits at 1:36 from 4 years ago – a time I know I’ll never beat unless I train specifically for it – I had decided I’d treat a sub-1:40 on this day pretty much like a PB. That’s how big of a deal it was.
We are often capable of more than we think we are. I think the trick is to go into things knowing that it’s not going to be easy but if we set our minds to our goal, or our task at hand (and prepare for it and do everything possible to ensure our success), it can absolutely happen.