Despite dozens of race starts over the last few years I still get tense and anxious at the start of every one. Standing in the packed corral I looked down at my heart rate monitor, something I've just started to toy with, and was surprised to see a reading of 110 bpm and I hadn't even started moving yet! Anyway, the actual start felt slow as I wove through the crowd but once the field began to thin out and and everyone found their pace I was able to get up to a comfortable speed. It felt strenuous but sustainable until we passed the one mile mark in 5:58.
Crap! 5:58? That's faster than I've run a single mile before. I tried to get my adrenaline under control and slowed down to a safe and sane 6:20 per mile. Still, I can count on one hand the number of times I've hit this pace. It felt OK but I was in totally unknown territory. Ultimately I decided to just roll with it - go big or go home - and slipped into a pack of about 6 other guys doing a similar speed.
Being held on Cape Cod, which is more less a big sandbar in the ocean, the course is largely flat but even the tiniest uphill grades felt like mountains at this effort level. We hit a few open areas where a hard wind came in off the Atlantic and I began to struggle to keep up. My pace started creeping closer to 6:30. Doubts crept into my mind and slowing down to a walk was so very tempting, but I reminded myself that this was what I'd come here for.
With only 3 miles to go our little group began to fall apart, some powering on ahead and others falling back. I held strong, focusing on keeping my form and speeding up a little, but my sides were beginning to hurt and I was making funny gurgling noises when I exhaled. The little bit of Gatorade I was able swallow a few miles back - most of of the cup had ended up on my face - started trying to come back up in burps. After what felt like an eternity I rounded the last corner and kicked with everything left to cross the finish line.
Final time was 1:22:58 for an average pace of 6:20 per mile - not bad considering my goal was 1:25. I really gave it 100% this time and can't really come up with anything I could have done to go substantially faster at my current fitness level. This might even qualify as a personal breakthrough.
After drinking some water and staggering around for a couple minutes I headed back out on the course in reverse until I met up with my wife who I escorted to her own finish. It was a nice little bonus to be able to share something like that and I'm proud of her.
It's funny that when a marathon or half marathon comes up in conversation, people almost always say some thing like "that should be a piece of cake for you!" I find myself responding with the same phrase much of the time:
If it's easy, you're not trying hard enough.I think that sums up my experience last Sunday pretty well.