Saturday, March 19, 2011

Canyonlands Half Marathon

I felt a tickle inside my belly as I walked to the bus that would take us up the Canyonlands in Moab, Utah.
It is only a tickle I feel before a race. It's the buzz of anticipation, excitement and nerves all in one. I haven't been single in a long time, but I would imagine the only thing that would bring on that package would be a first date.
Saturday's race was, in a sense, a first date. I've wanted to do this race for three years, but it's so popular, you apply and hope. I applied with a group of five of my best friends. They run. But you probably guessed that.
Well, we got in, celebrated and took off Friday morning for Utah. I'd never been to Moab despite the fact that it's one of the outdoors destinations in the world. That's sort of like a poker player ignoring Las Vegas. That's why I wanted to do this course. It's down the Canyonlands.
I had been looking forward to this, in other words, for three years. The sights were some of the best I'd seen on a run, ever. I was with my running partners. I had never felt better in my life.
It should have been a classic run.
But early on, I knew I was in trouble.
• • •
Denial is a powerful drug. When you're running, it's a steroid.
Looking back on today's race, I didn't really feel good after mile one. I didn't have the bounce in my step. I didn't feel fresh. I felt winded almost the whole time, even after we slowed a touch from the 7:30 pace.
We hovered around there for the next few miles, and I kept telling myself that I felt great. Really great. Awesome. So good. I was fine. I could keep up with my two closest training partners. This pace was pretty damn aggressive, yes, given that my best pace for a half marathon in October - when I PRd, by the way - was 7:59. But I had never felt so good. My training was great.
I was fine.
Only I wasn't.
I don't like to make too many excuses. The weather is always a part of a run. But a gusty, brutal headwind kept us chilly before the race and slowed us down once it started.
I didn't want it to bother me. But after a while, it was like someone pushing me back. Or like trying to run through molasses. It definitely affected me.
I kept up with them until mile seven, which was far too long to be running at a pace that was may, honestly, be too fast for me even on the best days. I still think I can run that, and soon, but not this week.
Here's the thing. Training is good for you. But when you're training for, say, I dunno, a marathon, and you've run back-to-back 50-mile weeks, and those included 19-mile and 20-mile runs, well, you're tired.
That's just it. I felt tired.
When you do start too fast, the miles after that, even when you do back off, in a word, suck. You feel worn down, like you have the flu, and slow, like your shoes are in cement, and just pain miserable, like you hate running and all you want to be is done.
I tried, many times, to quiet the troll in my head that was telling me to walk or slow down, and I eventually bargained with it. I would slow down, a little, even from my usual 8-minute-mile pace for half marathons, as long as I didn't have to walk much, and we'd get through this together.
I tried to enjoy the race as much as I could. The scenery was still beautiful, even if, after a while, it was mocking me.
That beautiful scenery, however, makes me feel OK about today's race. I had fun. It was a great experience. I loved it.
Perhaps the next time, I'll try to enjoy it.

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