My journey as a long distance runner who started the sport later in life.
I ran the 21K Tarahumara this past Sunday, February 15, 2015. It was my seventh half marathon race, the fourth half marathon I have run in Mexico, and my second time running this same race. The 21K Tarahumara of 2014 was the race I ran with my hand in a cast after four weeks of no training due to doctors’ orders. My fastest half marathon was my first half marathon, the Tim Horton’s Chilly Half Marathon back in Canada in 2006, many, many moons ago. I ran that half marathon in 2:20:20. I remained unconvinced for quite sometime that I would ever beat that time, after all, I’ve had babies, I’m getting older, and losing weight gets harder and harder with age (or so it would seem).
So what did I do differently this time around to shave over three minutes off my time?
First of all, I went into this race with eyes open and knowing exactly not only what a half marathon is about (no nerves), but what this specific course would be like. It is definitely the type of course that would permit a personal record; few hills, wide asphalt expanse, and during a good season for PR-worthy temperatures and low humidity.
I also thought positive and made it a personal crusade to continue thinking positive no matter what throughout the entire race. Instead of saying, “Well a pace of 7 min/km is pretty standard for me, and I’m a negative split kind of runner so I will start with that at the outset,” I said, “What was my fastest time, and what pace would be required to beat it?” I had determined this number the day before and so I set the Garmin 310XT pace buddy to 6:35 min/km and committed to staying ahead of the little dude for as long as possible from the beginning of the race. Sure, I might flame out and have a positive split, but I figured the more kms I ran at that faster pace the more likely I would be to beat my old record. By running more slowly at the outset in previous races based on the negative split mentality I had precluded myself from the ability to catch up sufficiently in the back half of the race. Not this time.
So there I was, easily beating the pace buddy with km splits of 6:20 well past the 10 km marker on the race course. What was really hard was the second “out,” as the course requires two out-and-back loops of a major running area within the borough of San Pedro. I hit the 10 km mark around the time I started the second “out” and it gave me pause to be running away from the finish line again for another 11 km. I sucked it up and told myself to get over it, that it was no big deal and that I had easily run 20 km two weeks ago for training. This was possible and it was happening.
I did eventually break. By the 18 km mark I could almost smell the finish line. Geographically I was within what I would call my usually “stomping grounds” and it was either level or slightly downhill from there, literally. As it happened the downhill was figurative too, because I looked at my watch and realized that I very well could get a PR. It could really happen. I started feeling emotionally overwhelmed, and my eyes started to get misty. My legs felt a little like lead and I needed to walk. I started to walk. I could see that this would not help me to finish with a PR so I forced myself to run again, and I even sprinted the finish. I honestly think the biggest barrier to any advances I make in speed (at least for a while) will be the muscle between my ears.
I knew I had run harder than usual for that distance because when I came to a stop in the finishers’ gate to wait to receive my medal my legs started to shake. I wondered for a few moments if I might fall down. They weren’t sore any more, but they were vibrating uncontrollably. Thankfully the line up kept moving and I managed to score what was probably the last carved wooden medal of a plant. I asked the lady if she had a cactus, but she only had this one plant left, a lily of some kind. I am so grateful I tried positive self talk for a change, grateful that I had a pace buddy watch to keep me moving, and grateful I didn’t have a total breakdown and give up at 18 km. It is such a wonderful feeling to finally get a personal best!