As evidenced by my posts the last few weeks, I went into the More/SHAPE/Fitness/Idontknowwhatelse Half Marathon on Sunday with mixed feelings. It’s only been a little over a month since my huge PR at the NYC Half, and I raced a solid 4-miler in Central Park last weekend. I’ve been ramping up the tri training over the last several weeks, though, and I’ve been cycling (no pun intended) between feeling like I’m on the verge of overtraining, backing off, panicking because I’m not training enough, ramping up, and repeating. My big toe stopped squeaking this week, but now it hurts in a way that is somewhat reminiscent of the early stages of my stress fracture in the fall. (I actually had an anxiety dream two nights before the half that all of my joints were squeaking like the Tin Man.) Needless to say that when I toed the line on Sunday morning, it was with mixed emotions.
I scored a Wave 1 start for the race, and for the first time ever I actually lined up right at the tape. That was mainly to get a view of Deena Kastor (squeeee!) RIGHT IN FRONT OF ME. When the gun went off I attempted to hang with her for about 25 feet, and all I can say is that seeing an elite runner up close was both incredibly humbling and slightly terrifying. In the thrill of chasing Deena I laid down a sub-7 first mile, which was probably not wise. I tried to back it off a bit on the next couple, but running with the front pack was throwing me off and I kept finding myself speeding up. It wasn’t long before the initial excitement wore off though, and I started feeling a bit flat. My left quad was worryingly tight, and even though my toe wasn’t hurting much I was also fretting about worsening that injury. To add to the fun, I could feel the early twinges of a side stitch forming, probably thanks to the breakneck speed at the start.
The course was just over two loops of Central Park, and I knew the key would be to keep my effort consistent between the uphills and downhills. I kept the pace in check for the first trip up the Harlem Hills and made up some time on the back side, but knew that pacing on round two would be tougher. I had my first gel when I passed the starting line again, six miles in. Almost immediately I felt the side stitch twinges solidify into a Side Stitch From Hell, a la the Baltimore Marathon. This time I at least had more core strength on my side, though, and I found that if I kept my upper abs totally engaged and breathed very low in my belly that the pain was manageable. I continued this way for about a mile and a half, breathing in for three steps and out for two, and eventually the cramp seemed to ease a bit. For most of that time I fantasized about dropping out, calling my mom and the Caveboy and telling them I DNF’d. Usually that kind of thinking would motivate and refocus me, but this time I just didn’t seem care that much. I kept running, pretty much on pace, so I guess I did care, but I just could not find my mojo. At some point the 1:45 pace group leader caught up with me, and I hung with her group until the next aid station, which they walked through. They caught me again just before the second trip up the Harlem Hills, and and I was happy to tuck in and let them take care of pacing for a while. About a mile later I heard the leader say something about the pace being off, and they sped up a bit. They pulled away over the next mile, and while I kept them in sight, I never made a serious effort to catch them.
By that point my main concern was my left quad, which was still cranky. I was hoping it wouldn’t cramp up with the downhill stretch through the bottom of the park, and knew I should be drinking more and taking in another gel. I was still wary about the side stitch returning, but I finally decided it was worth the risk and took a gel around the 11 mile mark. We still had a couple of rolling sections left, and the course was becoming increasingly crowded with the walkers that we were lapping. I’m all for athletes of all abilities taking part in these events, and I’m a firm believer that the last person across the finish line has every bit as much right to the course as the first. Participating in a road race demands a certain level of awareness, however. Whether you’re running fast, slow, or walking, you’re part of an athletic competition. Walking four-abreast and blocking the entire lane and forcing other runners into the grass or the bike lane IS NOT GOOD RACING ETIQUETTE. I definitely paid for the clear sailing at the start with a lot of bobbing and weaving on the second lap when I was physically and mentally drained. By the time we turned off at the 72nd Street cutoff to the finish line, I was pretty fried. I managed to ramp up the pace to the low 7’s for the last 800m or so, picked off two runners in the chute, and ended up finishing in 1:45:33. It was certainly a solid time, and one I would have been thrilled with last season. I should be thrilled with it now. It was just over 2 minutes slower than my PR last month, but the course was much more difficult and the day was at least 15 degrees warmer. Given how generally flat I felt, it was a really solid performance. I finished 44th in my age group and 280th/7,500ish overall, which is certainly respectable. Still, I’m disappointed. I can’t tell if it’s just that I gave up a little bit mentally and stopped fighting for this one, or if it’s part of a bigger issue. Last year I actually scheduled quality time with myself after key races to reflect how things were going and make any adjustments to my training going forward. I haven’t done that this year, and I think it might be time.
My biggest concern right now is my toe and whether I’m headed for another stress fracture. If so, it most likely points to female athlete triad syndrome and the possible need to rethink both my training schedule and nutrition. There’s so much there to unpack that I am going to leave it for a separate post, but suffice it to say that the threat is weighing heavily on me. It’s way too early in the season to be worrying about major injuries and overtraining. My big-picture goal is getting to Boston in the next year or two. That means prioritizing my overall fitness and staying healthy so that I’m able to train consistently. To that end, I’ve decided that for at least the next week or two, my fitness goals are as follows:
- Get at least 7 hours of sleep every night.
- Eat more calories than I think I’m burning each day.
- Institute a biking boot camp and substitute biking for all run workouts until the toe shows signs of improvement.
- Stretch every day.