I started dreaming of running my fastest half-marathon ever. What a great way to honor Michael. What a way it would be to add to an already great year of running.
When I arrived in Cincinnati, I began having second thoughts about my optimism toward the weather. I was soggy and freezing as I watched friends run the mile race Friday evening as part of the 3-way challenge. Over the course of the next three days, they would tackle a mile, 5k, 10k, and half-marathon. I was awed by their running stamina, but the half was plenty enough challenge for me.
On cue, though, the weather brightened and was ideal for running by Saturday morning. Things began looking up for a nice Sunday race day. As I watched my friends' races Saturday that kept me near the Cincinnati Reds' stadium, I reminisced about the days I would sit on my great-grandparents' front porch and listen to Reds' games on a tiny transistor radio. I wondered what they would think of this day and age when you can literally watch every game, every day, on television. I walked away pretty sure they'd still be sitting out there on that old wooden porch swing, my grandpa with a pipe in one hand, that little radio in another, swinging back and forth, back and forth.
One of the coolest things about the weekend and my running journey in general is the friends I get to share it with. We all gathered for a pre-race dinner Saturday evening at the Palomino restaurant in downtown Cincinnati. We laughed until we cried. The mood was a perfect setup for my race, now a mere 12 hours away.
It was perfect, that is, until my friend Danielle started describing the half-marathon course to my friend Lashell. Danielle had run the course before. Lashell and I had not. In a slip of the tongue sort of way Danielle fired off something about how crazy the hills are on this course. In my building hopes for a great race day I hadn't factored in images of crazy hills. Hills, sure, but not crazy hills. Danielle tried to soften her stance a bit once she sensed my oncoming panic attack. Make molehills out of the mountains she had just heaped on my psyche. But it was too late. The image was there. That attack was in motion.
All the same, it was still a wonderful evening with friends.
The irony in that mountain story is Danielle is the one who sent me a pace chart for the course. It was an outline of the pace I would need to keep mile by mile to achieve my goal of breaking 2 hours and 30 minutes. It's what got me to thinking, "I really can do this."
But the pace chart didn't include the words crazy hills.
When I got back to the hotel that night I knew I needed to do something about the negativity swirling in my mind. So I amended the pace chart Danielle sent me and made my own. This is what it looked like when I carried it with me the next morning.
I broke the race into chunks. One chunk was following Danielle's plan to get me to the hills on time. Then, I wasn't going to worry about my pace on the hills; I was going to worry about my mental game there. I needed to completely zero in on the idea that "it's just a hill" or the hill would end up crushing my goal. Once over the hills I'd focus on getting to the 10-mile mark by the target 1:56:17. If I could meet that goal, I knew the final 3 downhill miles would be all mine.
The plan worked perfectly. I got to the hills on time. They were challenging for sure, but they were just hills. When I got to the 10-mile mark 3 minutes ahead of schedule I knew I was going to crush my goal time. The final 3 miles were some of the fastest race miles I've ever run. I actually sprinted across the finish line to complete the race in 2:27:50.
I've been thinking about that little "cheat sheet" since I finished the race. I'll likely keep it forever. It was the first time I attacked a race strategically. I broke it into bite sized pieces. I outlined what each of those pieces needed to look like. I even projected the mental strength I would need and the words that would represent it when I arrived at the hills. For the first time ever, I had a running plan.
I've always run on gut instinct and feel. The net result of that has been a slow runner whose gut had an instinct to turn inside out at the end of a race. There was never anything left but death.
I got to thinking that's the story of my life in many ways. More often than not doing life without a plan hasn't worked out well for me. I'm not advocating overplanning, but I think it would certainly help me to map out a pace chart for other areas in my life. I think I'll do a podcast on that soon so stay tuned.
The Flying Pig Half Marathon will go down as a beautiful memory for me. Some of the things I got to do this weekend that have permanently touched my life:
What would I change about the Flying Pig?
Bottom line. I hope to return to the Pig again one day.
Life is like running.