In January, I had a pretty disappointing experience at Phoenix Rock and Roll Half Marathon. For the most part, this was due to an untreated injury. Since that race, I sought consultation with a physical therapist and started addressing some of the causes of that injury. With patience, I was able to up my mileage from the 15-20 I was averaging in December and January to 30-35 miles per week in March and April. I also started training with the Oxy-Gen Morons in February and was doing more difficult long runs. Given all of these factors, I signed up for the Shiprock Half Marathon hoping to PR and break two hours.
The Shiprock Half Marathon is held in beautiful and remote Shiprock, New Mexico. The race starts at the striking Shiprock landmark, which is apparently the core of an ancient volcano.
I travelled to the race with my running buddy, Allison, and another friend, Christine, who was running the marathon and also hoping to PR.
I felt pretty prepared for race day. I knew that the pace would feel challenging and my goal was to do a negative split since I thought I went out too fast at Phoenix. Allison and I talked about the plan to go out at a 9:15 pace for the first 5 miles and then pick up the pace for the last 8.
The day before the race, I was well hydrated, well-nourished, and had my race day gear all ready to go.
Race morning started with an inauspicious 4 a.m. dream that I had missed my goal by 6 minutes because I had to make a portapottie stop in the middle of the race. I woke up relieved to realize that I actually hadn’t raced yet. Allison and I breakfasted and headed to the finish line, where we caught a bus that would drop us off at the start. This part of the race was really well organized. We didn’t have to wait more than a few minutes to get on the bus and arrived at the start with a half hour to spare. We used this time to take goofy pictures and do a short warm up run.
The race started at 8:00 a.m. sharp, and was one of the more informal race starts I’ve been to. There was no timing mat, and the race director started the race by saying “3…2…1…Go!”
It was perfect race weather- mid 40s at the start that warmed up to the high 60s by the end. There was a 5-10 mph headwind for the whole race, which was useful towards the end when we were running under full New Mexico sun.
The first four miles were downhill, which made it hard to stick to the plan to run a 9:15 pace. I felt fantastic and excited, and the downhill made the pace feel easy. Our first 4 miles were 9:07, 9:02, 9:12, 9:07. I kept looking at my watch and trying to slow down, but it wasn’t happening. The highlight of the first four miles was seeing Christine fly by us in her bright pink Oxy-Gen morons singlet with a race vehicle tailing her- I realized she was in first place female for the marathon!
Most of mile 5 was uphill, and combined with a water stop, we came in at 9:39. My legs started to feel a little bit tired at this point, and the next miles reflected that: 9:11, 9:25. I was keeping an eye on our average overall pace and we were still within the window of being able to make sub-2 with a negative split.
At mile 7, I was aware that we were supposed to be picking up the pace, but my legs did not feel springy and fresh. Instead, they felt heavy and tired. For some reason, I was also feeling really nauseous. During miles 6 and 7, I was doing a lot of positive pep talk inside of my head, saying things like “you have the training to do this,” “this will feel hard, but you can do it,” and, “more than halfway done…you got this!”
Mile 8: 9:50. I lost Allison at this point. She could tell that I was struggling and figured that I might be grateful to work it out on my own. I took an excessively long walk break at the water stop and tried to get it together. I was telling myself that I could still finish under 2:05 and feel good about that. I checked in with my body and noted that nothing hurt, my legs just felt tired and heavy. I still felt pretty nauseous, but kept working on the positive self talk, which was quickly becoming an argument between two voices.
Mile 9: 9:25. I kept checking my average pace and tried to focus on coming in under 2:05. My head was playing all sorts of games with me during this mile. I was getting hot, the gentle wind felt somehow hostile, and all kinds of doubts were crowding my mind. Even though I logically knew that finishing in under 2:05 would be a good run for me, the feeling of failure crept in, as I thought about all the people who knew about the goal I set and what they would think about me failing to achieve it.
Mile 10: 10:52. Halfway through this mile, the nausea became more pronounced and I actually stopped and threw up on the side of the road, which was not one of my finest moments. This shook me up, as I generally don’t have GI issues when I run and I was not sure what was going on. I walked a good bit of this mile and felt demoralized. All of the positive self talk that had kept me feeling hopeful during the first 8 miles was replaced by a negative voice that was so compelling and ugly that it felt like it was wrapping my legs and my heart in lead. The meta-process was somewhat hilarious, as my therapist self was sitting back and observing the wreckage and thinking, “Hmmmm.”
Miles 11-13: 10:36, 10:45, 10:32. My best assessment of what happened in the last three miles is that I just gave in to the doubts and frustration. My legs felt spent, it was hot, there was a headwind, I was shaky from throwing up…I just gave up. Part of me knew that it was possible to push through these feelings and bring in the race at a decent pace, that my head was the biggest obstacle stopping me from doing so, but I just didn’t have the focus to regroup and push.
Last .25 mile: 9:27 pace. This was the most telling thing about the race to me. No matter how awful I feel, I usually can get it together enough to muster some kind of kick at the end. The last quarter mile of the race (the course measured long for almost everyone I talked to- I came up with 13.25) went through a stretch of sand, and in my sorry state it was almost more than I could manage. I jogged it in, feeling embarrassed, ashamed, and disappointed. My Garmin has my final time as 2:07:52, but I think my official time was a 2:09.
The highlight of finishing was finding out that while Christine hadn’t hit her goal to PR, she was the first overall female in the marathon, winning in 3:20:48.
The race had some pretty cool finisher awards, including a unique medal and a long sleeve tech tee.
After watching Christine get her gorgeous pottery award, we concluded our race excursion with a stop at Three Rivers Brewery, where we had consolation prize beers and lunch.
Takeaway points from this race:
-I finished without feeling any pain and without injury, despite running on roads with significant camber for the majority of the race. My PT is working!
-The first 9 miles of the race were pretty good. They made me realize I could run a great 10k at this point.
-This race taught me some things about the importance of mental readiness.
Room for improvement:
-I definitely need to start incorporating race pace miles in at least some of my long runs leading up to a goal race. I think fast finish long runs might help me get used to the feeling of working through dead legs and tired mind and still hitting my pace.
-I still have a lot of “baggage” from when I first started running and had 11 minute miles as my race pace. Part of me still doubts that I can be a faster runner because I don’t see myself that way. My running has changed in the past 2 years, but a lot of my self-concept as a runner has not changed with it. I need to trust that I can push myself without falling apart physically or mentally.
-I put too much focus on a number defining success in this race. It was a beautiful day to run, a beautiful course, and I let my expectations narrow my experience of the race.
-I went into this race having worked 110 hours over the previous 11 days. I don’t think I factored the resulting mental fatigue into my race preparation.
So, while this race certainly was not the race I was imagining, it was valuable in its own way and I will use the experience to prepare better for my next goal race.