Race Report: Phoenix Rock And Roll Half Marathon

So I’ve been meaning to write a post about injury and inertia but in the meantime, I’ve been  gradually running more and hurting less for long enough that I felt ready to sign up for a January half marathon. Several of my running buddies had talked about training for Phoenix, and so I decided that would be my first race of 2013.

In fact, I was feeling so optimistic about my healing peroneal tendon/ankle/calf trio, that I thought maybe I should try for a PR in Phoenix, despite the reality that I was working more and running less than I had been when I ran my half marathon PR in December 2011. I’ll get to the flaws in this plan after the race report.

One of the highlights of the Phoenix trip was getting to meet some my fellow Oiselle team members at the race expo. Meghan and Ashley were also racing the half, and were both hoping for PRs on the course (which they achieved!).  I also got to meet speedster and coach Allison and Nuun hydration goddess Megan, who were not running due to injuries. Meeting this group confirmed what I had suspected: the women who are drawn to Oiselle tend to be badass, smart, and strong women.

Ashley, Allison, yours truly, Megan, and Meghan.

Ashley, Allison, yours truly, Megan, and Meghan.

After the expo, my friend Joyce and I secured the necessary ingredients for a paleo-friendly pre-race dinner. We got our race gear ready and then enjoyed a fine gourmet feast.

Giant yam, chicken breast, coconut water. Dinner of champions.

Giant yam, chicken breast, coconut water. Dinner of champions.

We didn’t have to leave for the race until 6:45, which gave me plenty of time to have coffee, a banana, and some almond butter. My ankle was Rocktaped together, and I was ready to go! I jazzed up my Oiselle singlet with violet Rogas because bright colors make me smile.

Featuring: Oiselle singlet & Oiselle violet Roga shorts.

Featuring: Oiselle singlet & Oiselle violet Roga shorts.

We met up with Nancy, who was also shooting for 1:59, at the corral. My friend Trisha had also agreed to run with me “just for fun” and she found us shortly before the race started. She knew I was hoping for a 1:59something and since she is a speedster, she was confident she could help me keep the pace. I had looked at the course elevation profile and figured that I would try for even splits from miles 1-7, allow for a slight pace increase miles 8-10, and then speed up for the last 3 miles.

Course elevation profile.

Course elevation profile.

I felt great for the first 6 miles, especially after we had gotten through the first mile of people piled up on top of each other, and tried to keep myself from focusing on all of the miles ahead and just work through one mile at a time. The first 6 miles were right on pace: 9:03, 9:02, 9:09, 8:58, 9:13, 9:00. We kept with the 30 second walk breaks every two miles that I had used through training, which seemed to help my tendon keep from coiling up into a angry tight ball of pain. By mile 7, I was starting to feel the slight incline and it felt harder to keep up the pace. The slight camber in the road was irritating my ankle, but I tried hard to focus on the mental aspects of running and push all doubts out of my mind about the strength of my ankle. My Garmin ominously started displaying a “battery low” warning at this point.

Mile 7: 9:30. As we started mile 8, Nancy pulled ahead, and I was sorting through my options in my head. Could I fall back for two miles and try to make up the time in the last three miles? The tightness through my foot, ankle, and calf was starting to flirt with pain the longer that I ran, and after checking in with my body, I knew that I wasn’t going to be able to push for race pace without collateral damage. This was the point where I fell apart mentally: once I recognized my goal was out of reach, I wasn’t sure what to do with myself. I was terrified of finishing the race injured and having to take more time off: I’d barely survived my last running hiatus.

Mile 8: 10:04. When I saw this split, I felt demoralized. I won’t lie: I actually thought about dropping out at this point. I had to stop twice during this mile to stretch out my calf and ankle, and I could feel my shoulders creeping up towards my ears as I was trying to force my mind away from the discomfort. Mile 9: 10:11. We hit mile 10 at 1:34:56, and my Garmin died halfway through mile 10.  When that happened, I semi-jokingly said to Trisha, “I’m not sure if I’m going to finish.” Luckily, she didn’t entertain this idea for long, so we kept going, but I had to stop often to walk and stretch. The biggest injury at this point was my ego. I knew I couldn’t bust out a 5k at race pace, and in some ways I felt like it was the first half marathon I had ever run. My mind was a mess. I was obsessing over whether I’d pushed my ankle too far, whether this was the kind of pain I should just suck up and deal with (but what if I couldn’t run after), and wondering if I could conjure up an invisible helicopter that could swoop me off the course without anyone noticing. I was thankful for Trisha’s upbeat attitude and her encouragement to get this thing done.

The last 5k was a sad combination of walking and running. The high point was when Trisha pointed out where we would finish and told me that we only had .25 miles to go. Since my Garmin had died, I didn’t believe her, but once I realized that there was only a 400 between me and the end of this ego-bruising race, we “sprinted” to the finish. I was so demoralized that I didn’t even look at the clock as we crossed the finish line.

The damage? 2:11:01. Which was about 11 minutes and three seconds slower than what I had hoped to run. We found Joyce and Nancy at the finish, and found out that they had both set PRs on the course, both by several minutes.

Turning that frown upside down with the lovely Trisha.

Finishers! Turning that frown upside down with the lovely Trisha.

Finding out that several of my friends and teammates had set PRs on the course helped brighten my mood, as did the realization that my ankle was not swollen to the size of a baseball and that I could still walk on it without limping. Though I was not at all impressed with my time, I took a moment to remember that when I ran it in January 2010, my second half marathon, I was pretty pleased with my 2:24. Perspective, lady, perspective.

Looking back on this race plan, I think my biggest mistake was making a goal too ambitious for where I was with running this fall. I was coming back from an injury, prioritizing my new job over running, and had not built up a strong enough base to justify my expectations for this race. When I ran a 2:00:34 in Tucson, I had been running about 30-35 miles a week, with several long runs over 15 miles in the two months prior to the race. In contrast, I have been averaging 20-25 miles a week, with only 1 12 mile run and 1 10 mile run in the 6 weeks prior to the race. My goal for this race should have been to run a consistent pace and finish feeling strong, not to set a PR.

I’m glad that I finished with an ankle that is ready to resume running (and start PT!) and that the greatest injuries I sustained were to my pride. I am resolved to focus on strengthening in the next month so that I have the foundation for more ambitious goals later in 2013, which hopefully includes another go-around with the Jemez 50k.