Jan. 10, 2022

A Sub 2 hour Half Marathon effort- part one

Standing at the start line of the Colorado Springs Half Marathon, my mind drifted back in time. It was Spring of 2017 and I had just completed the Colfax Half Marathon- my 5th half marathon since starting long distance running back in 2014. My finish time was 2hrs 4min. I was disappointed. It was my third 2:04 finish and wanted to improve by breaking the 2 hour mark.

Fast forward few months and I had started training with a coach to improve my time. My target race was the ADT Half Marathon. But I had to withdraw in the last minute due to a torn meniscus. My next attempt at breaking the 2 hours was the 2018 ADT Half Marathon. Once again I had to settle for a 2:04 finish as my right Achilles Tendon tightened up at the 10 mile marker- I literally hobbled the last 3.1 miles.

So there I was one more time at the start line of another half marathon on 09/28/2019, wondering if that was going to be the sub 2 hr one. It was not like I was injury free that year. I was sitting out in Jun-July with Achilles Tendonitis in my left foot and as a result had lost valuable training time. As I started back on training in August for a September end race, there was zero expectations. My coach told me to go out and have fun.

It was a chilly morning with an overcast sky and a light breeze. I wondered if wearing the long sleeves shirt was a good idea since few miles into the race and it could be warm and uncomfortable. I tried to divert my mind and turned on my Garmin watch and stretched my left Achilles tendon- no pain which was a good sign. I looked around and felt the anxiety inside me.

The gun fired and I crossed the start line. My coach had given me a plan to beat the 2 hrs. Run the first 6.5 miles which was all uphill at an average pace of 9:20min/mile. At 6.5 miles, I was supposed to turn around and start going downhill at an average pace of 9min/mile for the remaining 6.5 miles. That should pace me at 9:10min/mile and get my sub 2 hr. I heard my Garmin watch warning me that I had started out too fast and slowed down a bit. After few warnings, my watch buzzed one last time telling me I was at my desired pace.

I had crossed the 1 mile marker and started a gradual ascent. I had trained on this trail many times. But training is different from an actual race. Several runners crossed me which made me wonder if my pace was too slow. I checked my watch and it still showed my desired pace. I focused on the runners in front of me while my muscles warmed up and my body had settled down into a nice rythm.

Pretty soon my muscles had warmed up and my body had settled down into a nice rythm. I tried to be more mindful of my body and the surroundings. I noticed a nice cross breeze and started focusing on my breathing making sure they were deep. Deep breathing had always helped me while running.

The course had water stations every 3 miles. In the past, I had always stopped at water stations to drink few sips of water/electrolyte. But this time I had decided to carry my own electrolyte in a small bottle and take few sips every 30-40mins. Drinking water while running was not something I was used to. I had to practice it repeatedly during my training runs.

About a mile from the turnaround point, I saw the leader of the pack running down the opposite direction followed by more runners. At this point my legs had started gettng a bit tired from running uphill close to an hour. But those runners gave me a much needed mental boost. I pushed myself and finally reached the turnaround point, took few swigs of electrolyte, shouted out a A Big Thank You to the volunteers and started flying downhill. I checked my watch which showed an average pace of 9min/mile. I was on track to finish at Sub 2 hours.

For every long distance runner, there is a point where it becomes Mind over Body. For me it had always been mile marker 10 and as I approached that mile marker, all sorts of negative thoughts had started flooding my mind. I remembered how challenging the last 3 miles had always been for me and how my Achilles Tendon had tightened up during my last half marathon. All of a sudden, my legs felt weak and I had started to break down mentally. Instead of picking up the pace, I had started falling behind. My Garmin watch had also started warning me that I was slower than my intended pace. The Sub 2 hr had started slipping.

One of my coaches had told me once that I could easily break the 2 hours but go to believe in myself. I started applying a mind mapping trick which my coach had taught me and imagined a rope tied to the runner in front of me. I pulled the runner towards me with that rope. Once I had caught up that runner, I used the rope to pull the next runner in front of me and so on. I started picking up the pace.

The mental trick got me to mile marker 12- only one more mile to go and was still on target to finish under 2 hrs. However, I was staring at a hill and the finish line was at the end of the hill. I searched for the last bit of energy in my body to run up the hill to the finish line but there was none. The mind trick did not work a second time. I felt very thirsty and had started slowing down. My watch had started screaming at me to pick up the pace. Runners I had left behind had started catching up. The Sub 2 hours was slipping. I tried to push through mentally and managed to jog to the top of the hill and got a glimpse of the finish line. I tried to pick up pace but my legs had never felt heavier. And from a distance I could see the clock time which was about to cross 2 hours and my goal slipping away.