Friday, April 20, 2018

Rock the Parkway Half Marathon: You can't always get what you want; but you get what you need!

The short:
I managed a course best, a 3rd overall female placing, and a new single age Missouri state road racing record at the Rock the Parkway half marathon with a 1:22:42 finish (1:22:43 gun time).  I also accomplished a goal I've had for about a year, which was to finish a half marathon with a sub-6:00 mile, when I ran my final mile in 5:52!  While the time isn't near my PR of 1:20:50, considering the course (508 ft of elevation gain), the weather (insane headwind for the final 5.5 miles), my lack of taper (including a 20 mile workout 6 days prior to this race), and all of the workouts I've bombed this year, I was elated with my performance in this race.  I also ran the whole way with smile on my face and thankfulness in my heart!  Based on this race, the Easter Sun Run "10K", and that 20 mile workout, I'm starting to re-gain some confidence and also a kernel of hope that, maybe, just maybe, I will be able to pull off a strong marathon in 9 weeks.

The long:
It's never easy to race a half in the heat of marathon training, and mustering the confidence to do so becomes even more difficult when the course is hilly and the weather windy!  I never expected to run a PR at Rock the Parkway; even in ideal weather conditions it would be unrealistic to think that I could improve my time from a nearly pancake flat course on the hills of Kansas City, and the 20+ mph winds assured me that they'd steal a lot of precious time from my final 5.5 miles.  I went into the race focused on placing as high as I could (hopefully in the prize money), and disregarding my watch.  There was a little part of me that kept thinking that maybe I could beat my Rock the Parkway 2017 time, though, since 2017 was similarly stupid windy.
Not flat
In the elite starting area, I knew one woman who would be miles ahead of me (she is a pro who runs for the Army and was 6th in the USATF National Cross-Country Championships), and she was with another woman who looked just as fast but was unknown to me.  After the gun, those two were out fast, along with a blond ponytail.  I settled into pace with three ladies I knew, Janell, Michelle, and Liz.  I follow Janell's training on Strava and hypothesized that her fitness and mine were very similar, I keep in touch with Michelle and did a training run with her on March 24 in Kansas, and I'd raced Liz in the Big 12 12K.  In my head I called us "the chase pack."  We got out nice and relaxed and chatting.  My split for mile 1 was the only time I looked at my watch during the race, because I felt like we went out very conservatively (we did, it was 6:34)...then I embraced effort-based/competition-based racing!

Janell started to speed up a bit as we eased into the race, and I went along with her, leaving Michelle and Liz.  A man around us asked Janell what she was aiming for pace-wise, and she said 6:15ish.  I told her I had about the same pace in mind and asked if she wanted to work together.  She did, and we fell into running side by side, and picked off the unknown fast looking girl around mile 3 and the blond ponytail around mile 4.  That put us in 2nd and 3rd female positions.
This pretty much summarizes the entire race - all smiles!
We chatted about training, racing, coaches, work, mutual running friends, etc. and the miles flew by.  The pace felt brisk but relaxed.  I felt cautiously confident, but racing a half on marathon training legs is always a little risky; you might go from good to the wheels coming off from cumulative fatigue in the blink of an eye.  Running with Janell was very enjoyable, we talked and encouraged each other, and countless people cheered "go girls!"/"2nd and 3rd women"/"you're beating most of the men", etc.  As we passed the 10K mark and continued onto a loop around a park, I reveled in how much better I felt than at that point in the race last year.  I also was very thankful to work together with Janell after a bad experience last year in this race where a female competitor sat on me and would not work with me or go around me until mile 12.  I knew that in the end, we would each be gunning for 2nd place, but I also knew that by working together we were going to both come away with faster times, and I'd take a faster time over moving up a place any day.
When you run a race with someone 6 inches
shorter than you & probably 40 lbs lighter,
you look like a giant in all of your photos!
As the course turned around mile 7.5, we were hit by the brutal southwest wind.  To add insult to injury, that point on the course has a hill that I've always struggled with in this race (in addition to 2017, I also ran it in 2015, pre-blog).  Janell was pushing the pace so we could catch up to some men to potentially draft off of, and I was hanging onto her but starting to doubt myself.  We flew by the men so they were of no drafting help.  For the next several miles, we battled the wind mostly side by side.  At some points she'd pull a little ahead of me, and at others I'd pull a little away from her.  I think we both went through tough patches at different points, and kept pulling each other through.  We continued to pick off man after the man as we ran 5.5 miles into the brutal wind.  No one passed us the entire race!
Into the wind during the final 5K
I knew that Janell has more speed than I do, so the competitor in me knew if I wanted to grab 2nd overall I was going to have to go sooner rather than later.  During the last 5K our talking had slowed down as we fought the headwind, and I vacillated between trying to surge ahead and not wanting to disrupt working with her.  The wind made it difficult to make a move, and although I'd pull a little ahead at times, she was always right with me.  At the mile 12 sign, I knew I had to go then to have a chance.  I started pushing with all I had, telling myself "just 1 mile", willing my legs to turn over.  I pulled away somewhat, but with about a half mile left she really turned it on, pulling me back in and passing me, and I couldn't hang onto her.  She pulled me along through a 5:52 final mile and a 5:18 pace final 0.1, something I'd have never done on my own (Strava said the GAP for the final mile was 6:00 exactly with the downhill, but I'm still counting the sub-6:00!).  She grabbed 2nd overall (and a new PR!), I claimed 3rd, and we hugged in the finish chute.  Runners really are the greatest people.  I then watched Michelle come in in 4th overall position!

Double chin finishing shots are my specialty
As I was changing my shoes for my cool down in a parking lot, two ladies walked by laughing (albeit painfully, as it had started to lightly rain at 41 degrees with 20+ mph winds!) about how they couldn't find their car.  One was in running gear and looked cold, so I offered her my space blanket.  She accepted and exclaimed, "Runners are the greatest people!"
Michelle and I after our cool down together
Official results can be found here.  My state record for age 37 can be seen here.  I'd completely forgotten that the state record was attainable for me (it was 1:23:11); I'd unsuccessfully tried for it when I first turned 37 at the Bass Pro Half Marathon, which ended up not being a certified course that year anyway.  I was running with Jessi the day after the race, also the day after after she set the Missouri State University school record in the 3000 m (9:41 - so fast!!), and she humbly said it was a weaker record because it was a less common distance.  I said, "That's why I broke the 12K state record when I ran only about the same pace as the half marathon state record..." Then I realized, "I broke the half marathon state record yesterday!"  I am glad I didn't remember it beforehand, because I probably would have put pressure on myself to get it, and that mindset rarely goes well for me.
Just keeping up my pre-race tradition when I go
to an event solo
God knew I needed someone to run this race with to keep me out of my own head, and he gave me that.  While I've spent the past 4 months desperate to run as well as I was running leading up to CIM, I've also learned to accept that I'm not going to nail every run, I'm not going to PR every workout and race, and I'm not guaranteed another solid marathon (or even another marathon finish) this season, or ever.  But, I am getting what I need, whether I understand it or not.  I'll continue to do my best and let Him handle the rest!
Now to run 1 second/mile faster for twice the distance...


  1. Such an awesome race! I’m so glad she was willing to work with you rather than use you. That makes such a huge difference in a race!!!

    1. I kept thinking how much better it was than 2017!

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