As of two weeks ago, I had put in nearly 1,800 miles worth of training, run 8 races at various distances, and still hadn’t had a PR in over five years. After taking a little over 2 minutes off of my marathon PR at the Twin Cities Marathon, the 2013 Fargo Mini Marathon represented my last legitimate chance at taking down my #1 goal for the year – going under 1:30 for a half-marathon.
Coming into 2013, running a marathon wasn’t really even on my radar. I actually decided to do it after finding out a group of friends were running it at the Fargo Marathon this year. The number one goal has always been to go under 1:30. I was well on my way this spring before suffering and unfortunate training
injury setback… I don’t even know what you would call it. I got zapped by my defibrillator 11 times while I was running on the treadmill, spent a week in the hospital and got put on a beta blocking drug that was basically like a “limiter” on my heart. It basically zapped me of almost all the fitness I had attained and I was only taken off the drug completely a few days before the Fargo Half Marathon. I had a goal of running 1:35-ish, but I struggled the last few miles and finished in 1:40. A few weeks later, I felt redeemed as I ran a 1:34 half marathon which was my fastest since 2008. I knew that if I continued progressing in my training, I would have a great shot at breaking 1:30 later in the summer. However, every race seemed to have a few problems that prevented me from getting a true crack at 1:29. I ran a half in July that was warm and quite hilly. My time (1:33) wasn’t bad all things considered. In August, I ran another half marathon that was (trend alert!) warm and quite hilly. I was disappointed that I’d finished 5 seconds off of my old PR, but my time (1:31) wasn’t bad all things considered. A month later, I was sure I was going to finally break thru. However, by mile two, I was already in oxygen debt due to unusually hot weather (and the hills weren’t even coming for a few more miles). I made the decision to essentially “shut it down” at mile 4 and just run my normal long run pace through the finish. I knew that given the flat course and likely good weather, this was going to be my last good shot at going under 1:30.
Last year, I somewhat re-committed to trying to getting back to optimal fitness. I ran probably the most miles I had run since my previous “quality” training sessions in 2007 and 2008. After a mediocre 1:43 half-marathon in May, I trained fairly well and was able to knock out a 1:36:53 in August followed by a 1:36:23 in September. Coming into my last race of 2012, I was really optimistic about my chances to break 1:30 (or at least get awful close to my PR of 1:31:06). Here is a little of what I wrote about last year’s race.
For the past 12 weeks, I’ve been targeting the Fargo Mini Marathon as a race I wanted to run fast. I really have been hoping to set a PR (currently 1:31:06), but I knew I wasn’t quite in as good of shape as I was when I ran my PR. When I ran my PR, I was in killer shape and ran what I felt like was a poor race. Coming into the race, my training over the last six weeks has been good, but not great. I’d been averaging around 40 mpw. I’ve been getting really good long runs consistently every weekend, but my speedwork wasn’t what I was hoping for. I also had a wedding that came up sort of late in the game, so I wound up spending 8 hours in the car the day before the race.
Coming into the 2013 version of the race, I had a completely different situation. Unlike last year, my training had been awesome. I had a base about of 18 consecutive weeks of 50-60 mpw, however, I was only 13 days removed from running a PR at the Twin Cities Marathon… the last few miles of which really did a job on my legs. Coming into the race, I was still feeling some random odd soreness in my left hamstring. Whereas last year, I was really hoping that the stars would align and I’d get to mile 10 with a chance of breaking 1:30, this year, I came into the race will a ton of confidence that going under 1:30 (and beyond) was well within my realistic capacity.
Mile 1 -7:15 – I came into last year’s race thinking I had an outside chance of breaking 1:30 for the first time. I totally blew it in the first mile by running a 6:28 first mile (which felt easy, but I knew would doom me later in the race). This year, I was running with my friend (and recent first-time Ironman finisher) Derek who was also hoping to go under 1:30 for the first time. Before the race, I jokingly told him if we ran a 6:28 first mile this year, he was fired as my personal pacer. He told me if we ran a 6:28 first mile, I’d be running it by myself. Earlier in the week, I came up with a race plan of going out in 6:55-ish and then settling into (hopefully) 6:40-6:45 pace after a few miles. A few guys in the RW Sub-1:30 forum persuaded me to go out a little slower. In hindsight, I’m glad that I did.
Mile 2 – 6:46 (14:01) – Felt very strong. Really gradually picked it up. Was hoping to see something under a 7:00 mile on this split because I didn’t want to put myself too far behind the 8-ball. Only one thing bugged me about this mile. After a pretty straight mile, we turned right into a residential neighborhood in South Fargo. We turned onto a bikepath that allowed no more than 2 or 3 people wide at any one point. The 5k started at 8:00 AM and our race along with the 10k together at 8:10 AM. Having 1,000 runners running on a 3-wide bikepath doesn’t work that early in the race. And I was way up front in comparison to the crowds of people who were running in the 8:00/mi to 10:00/mi range. The company that puts this race on is the same company that puts on the tremendous Fargo Marathon in May. They do a fantastic job with race organization, but I was a little bummed by this part of the course.
Mile 3 – 6:42 (20:44) – Feeling really good. I’m comfortable, but I’m definitely doing work. I don’t know why, but in my head, I’ve got the vision of a “PR caliber” run just feeling awesome while running really fast for like 10 miles and then starting to hurt, but willing myself through it for the last 5k. I know that has never been the reality. I don’t know why I can’t get that vision out of my head. Starting to feel like I’m working this early in the race is creating all kinds of doubts. Maybe I’m not recovered from the marathon? Maybe I’m not hydrated enough? Maybe my nutrition was off?
Mile 4 – 6:42 (27:27) – Sometimes when I’m having doubts in a race, the most reassuring thing in the world is a good mile split. It’s one thing to feel like you are kinda right on that edge and seeing the time you are hoping to hit versus feeling like you are on the edge and seeing a split that indicates you are falling off your pace.
Mile 5 – 7:07 (34:34) – Complaint number 2 and 3 about this race. A handful of these miles were wickedly inaccurate. I might have freaked out by the slow mile time had I not been running with my friend Derek who’s GPS watch had went off before I could even see the mile marker. Last complaint – I’m getting very frustrated by all of the tight turns on the course. Before the race, I counted over sixty 90 or 180 turns. It really messed with your stride. My friend Derek and I guessed it cost you 1-2 seconds per mile.
Mile 6 – 6:24 (40:59) – So, this mile was obviously short (likely about as short as the last mile was long). The average time of the two miles (6:45) is right on par with what I had been running. Unlike all the other half marathons where I’ve tried legitimately to break 1:30 this year (3), I actually had people to pace off of in this race. We were in a group of about 4 people that were really running strong. The guy that was directly ahead of us for about 7-8 miles was really fun to run with. He was obviously a bit fitter than we were as he kept joking around and barely looked like he was putting forth any effort. I was just trying to sit on him because he was keeping a really steady pace. As a group, we were just blowing by people. I would guess we passed 20-30 from the 4th mile on while only getting passed by a single runner (who we had passed a few miles earlier).
Mile 7 – 6:59 (47:58) – Again, had I been running by myself, I may have had a mini-freak out. Six miles to go, I’m on the edge and I’m falling off of pace. Again, I was really glad to be running with a friend who had a GPS. I probably should run with my GPS, but I have the Garmin 205 which is a few years old. It works perfectly well for training, but it just feels a little heavy for racing. I’d really like to update to the new 620 sometime soon. Anyone want to donate to the buy Brent a nicer GPS watch fund? Don’t take this as gospel, but I’m fairly sure it would be tax deductible…
Mile 8 – 6:28 (54:27) – I’m still feeling good that this late into the race I’m running strong although I’ve given up altogether trying to figure out what my individual mile splits are. I figure that the 8 mile mark has to be relatively close to 8 miles. 54:27 would put me about 30 seconds ahead of pace to break 1:30. I know that I’ve got to stay pushing fairly hard at this point, but it’s giving me some amount of confidence to know it’s certainly still attainable at this point.
Mile 9 – 6:33 (1:01:00) – For the last half of this mile, we got to run opposite the masses of runners who were right around mile 7 (~8:30-9:15). It was kind of nice as I got to see a bunch of people I know. If nothing else, it gave me a chance to break up the monotony of just kind of pushing by yourself. It was helpful running with my friend Derek, yet at the same time, neither one of us was talking very much as I think we were both to that point that we were right on the edge. I thought I’d see my wife here (last year she ran 2:00:56 and was hoping to break 2), but I never did. Upon seeing my 9 mile split, I was doing some math in my head. At 1:01, four 7 minute miles + a 40 second last 0.1 mile would put me under 1:30 by about 20 seconds. This was really reassuring at this point. At the 9 mile aid station, I tried to grab a “salt pill” in my pocket. In my marathon, I really suffered from some cramps and though it was possible this could help. I decided I’d “practice” using a salt pill in this race (I took one before the race as well) to see if it worked. Unfortunately, due to my cold hands and tired body, I couldn’t get the pill out of the little plastic bag I had put it in. Might need to practice with that a little more before my next marathon attempt…
Mile 10-11 – 14:01 (1:15:01) – Don’t know how I missed the 10 mile split here, but it was more of the same. The guy that we kind of had been pacing off of since about mile 3-4 put a little gap on us, but we still were managing to pass quite a few runners. It was deceiving to hit the 11 mile mark because you could see the finish line in the distance (it finished inside of a hockey arena that the Fargo hockey team plays at), but it wasn’t nearly as closed as it seemed it should be. The last 2.5 mile were almost entirely into a slight headwind which I could’ve done without. At the last water stop, I grabbed a water and skipped the gel in my pocket. I usually take two of them in a half marathon. I had one at mile 6 and had planned on taking one near 10. I still am not sure if they even help the half marathon distance or it’s just the placebo effect, but it always feels like I get a slightly second wind a few minutes after popping one. Here, though, my hands were so cold and my body was so tired that the prospect of trying to open it seemed to daunting. I just left it in my pocket, grabbed a Gatorade and kept pushing forward.
Mile 12 – 6:42 (1:21:44) – The night before the race, we were staying at a friend of my wife’s house. She told me one of her neighbors (female), who just had a kid like 4-5 months ago was running this race. She jokingly said I needed to beat her. I looked up her times and figured that we’d finish really close together. A few miles before this, I was telling my friend Derek I thought there was the girl my wife’s friend was talking about. There weren’t a ton of girls up near the front of the pack, so I guessed it must be her. I joked with my friend Derek, though, that this was a no win situation. If we get beat by her, we just got beat by a girl who had a kid a few months ago. And if we passed her, congratulations… you just passed a girl who had a kid a few months ago. Hope you feel good about yourself! Anyway, we did pass her and maybe 1-2 other people this mile. I was definitely hurting and was really hoping this mile would say something under 7 minutes. When it said 6:42, I knew that no matter what, I was about to go under 1:30. I wish I could say I had one of those moments that you see in a sports movie… like when Jon Favreau started clapping for Rudy or when Adrian and Rocky are screaming for each other at the end of the movie. In reality, though, I just really hurt and I wanted to be done soon.
Mile 13 – 7:02 (1:28:46) – This mile was somewhat disappointing. In my idealized version of how I would break 1:30, the end of the race would’ve been this strong finish… a kick unlike any kick I’d ever thrown in a half marathon before. At mile 12, I remember thinking that if we ran a 6:40, we’d actually have a reasonable shot at going sub-1:29. For whatever reason, we just couldn’t find it in us to pick up the pace this last mile. I’d say this is the only thing I was a little disappointed in myself in this race, but being just 13 days out from a marathon and being nearly two minutes under my previous PR, I’m going to (for once) mute my complains a little bit by saying who gives a crap if I ran a mediocre last mile… I’m under 1:30 pace for the first time in my life!
Last 0.1 – 0:38 – Again, not the strongest kick I’ve ever thrown, but man did it feel good to turn the corner and see 1:29 on that finish line clock. The race actually finishes by going down the service entrance of the Scheel’s Arena in Fargo and finishing right on the arena floor.
Final Time – 1:29:24 – a new PR by 1 minute and 42 seconds. I can’t tell you how good this feels. At the age of 23, I ran a 1:32:52 half marathon in the first ever Fargo Half Marathon. At the time, I was over the moon to PR. I’d only been running for just over 2 years and nearly every race at that point was a big PR. My PR had dropped from 2:02 (May ’03) to 2:00 (Sept ’03) to 1:42 (May ’04) to 1:34 (Sept ’04). Hitting 1:32, though, the goal switched from just hoping to run faster than I previously had run to running under 1:30. I don’t know why to me the number stuck out as such an important figure, but 10 minute increments seem to “color” how I felt about myself as a runner (and likewise, how I felt about others as a runner). A time in the one twenties just seemed fast. There weren’t a whole lot of people that could go out and run sub-seven minutes for 13.1 consecutive miles without putting in a whole lot of training.
And then, for whatever reason, my training kinda stopped. My priorities changed. I was spending a lot of time coaching and a lot of time with my new girlfriend (and eventual wife). I trained, but not nearly as hard. The results weren’t what I hoped for them to be. In late 2007 and 2008, I had a few good training cycles. I brought my half marathon times down to 1:31:07 and ran a 1:07 10-mile race that I was really proud of. Over the next 3 years, though, I just didn’t train consistently. I gained weight, had a kid, and made a movie. I would enter a few races here and there, but would go weeks or even months in between training runs. I remember about 2 or 3 years in a row entering the Fargo Half Marathon in May where it would legitimately be my very first run I had done of the year. Not surprisingly, I ran a lot of races that were much closer to my first ever half marathons than they were to what I was capable of running.
In February 2003, when I began running, a transformation occurred within me. Physically, running made me stronger, raised my endurance, and made me shed weight and look healthier. Mentally, though, is where I fell in love with running. Running gave me a new sense of confidence. It gave me structure and taught me about being committed to something when nobody was forcing you to be. Running made me set goals and also research what could be done to achieve those goals.
Fast forward to October of 2011. After about 3 years of being a non-runner, I decided I was sick of where I was at. Here I was a guy who was helping coach one of the most successful cross country teams in history of the state of Minnesota and I was struggling to run at even 75% of what I knew I was capable of. For the last three months of the year, ran about 30 mpw (mostly on the treadmill) while coaching basketball.
2012 was the year I fell back in love with running. My training for the first three months of the year was solid especially compared with previous four years. The next three months were fairly inconsistent, but I was able to maintain a little fitness and consistently running around 40 mpw for the last half of 2012. My half marathons in 2012 showed the gradual fitness and return to where I had once been. I made steady progress going from 1:43 (May ’12) to 1:36:53 (Aug ’12) to 1:36:23 (Sept ’12) to 1:34:53 (Oct ’12).
In 2013, I made three serious running goals (and one kind of joking one). I’ve taken enough bogus, corporate “goal setting” classes to know that a good goal needs to be specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time-bound. When setting my goals, though, I had two of the three that were rather subjective.
My one objective goal (that I can thankfully now check off the list) was to run under 1:30. My two subjective goals were to “nail my workouts and long runs” and to make “every week is a good running week.” The HR director at my former place of employment likely would’ve rejected these goals because they weren’t measurable, but they absolutely worked for me. Instead of having a specific number to hit, I just had the goal of being consistent. When I set the goals, I would’ve said that 30-40 mpw every single week would’ve been a massively good achievement. I’ve blown passed that. I’m about two and a half weeks away from surpassing 2,000 miles run for the entire year! By making the goal to be consistent every single week, I was committing to becoming a better runner for the long term. In the past, I’ve made maybe four or five specific time goals. When I would only achieve one, two or maybe none of them, would that mean that I had a good year, a bad year, or something in-between? By focusing on the journey rather than the end results, I put the emphasis on doing the work with the hope that the results would take care of themselves instead of putting the focus on the results while hoping the work was enough.