At my last half marathon, I learned one of the best lessons: run your own race.
My husband Matt and I registered for the inaugural Revel Mt. Lemmon Half Marathon a mere eight weeks before race day. After Matt’s less-than-ideal performance at the Revel Big Cottonwood Half Marathon in September, he was determined to snag a PR in one last 2017 race. Already content with my race performances this year (which included half and full marathon PRs), I wanted to do well and hopefully PR again.
We took a late flight to Phoenix on November 10 and went to Tucson for the race expo the next day. Once we had our bibs, we decided to drive the course to finalize our race strategies. We both felt surprisingly calm and relaxed, which is not normal for us. Since we knew we had to wake up ridiculously early the next morning, we called it an early night, with a strict 8 p.m. bedtime.
After our 4am wake-up call and a quick breakfast, Matt’s parents (our super-fans and good luck charms) dropped us off at the race shuttle. There we boarded a bus that drove us to the half marathon start—13 miles straight up Mt. Lemmon! As we boarded the bus, I was thrilled to randomly see one of my former colleagues, who I didn’t even know was racing that day. Catching up with my friend during the half an hour bus ride helped to ease my pre-race jitters.
By the time we reached the start line, we only had 45 minutes before the race began. I used one of the many and abundant porta-potties and did my pre-race dynamic stretching routine.
The race gun signaled our start just before sunrise. As the first few miles ticked away, I eased my way past every female competitor. I allowed myself to taste success as visions of my first-ever overall win filled my head. But at mile five, just as I was meticulously planning how I would break the finish line tape, I was overtaken.
I initially tried to keep up with the competition, but the other female was faster than my ideal pace of 6:25-6:30 per mile. I knew from my previous downhill half marathon that if I went out too quickly, the last few miles would be difficult. Therefore, I decided to stick to my pace and my plan. If I still felt strong, I would push myself during the last two miles to regain the lead.
There were hardly any spectators on the course besides the hydration and medical tent volunteers. However, what the course lacked in crowd support, it made up for in scenery. Even though I had visited Tucson several times, I had only seen Mt. Lemmon from a distance. This was my first time up close and personal, and the mountain did not disappoint. I was completely captivated as the course spiraled, twisted, and curved down Mt. Lemmon’s saguaro cactus-spotted cliff faces. Also, due to the design of the course, I could see Matt during certain stretches of the race. More importantly, I could see that he was in the lead!
At mile 11, I realized I was gaining on the first place female. I made it my goal to slowly overtake her. But as I slowly regained my lead, I started to doubt myself. I questioned if I had what it took to break that finish line tape. But I remembered the Saints and Sinners Half Marathon in February 2017, where I placed 2nd overall. If I could place second, why couldn’t I place first?
I continued to give myself positive encouragement and as we came up to the 12 mile marker, I passed her! ” I was taken by surprise when she responded with a kind and gracious “Go get it girl!”
I knew that the final mile would be difficult, but I didn’t realize just HOW challenging it would be. At that point, the downhill course leveled off and continued through a residential neighborhood. My quads were on fire while attempting to adjust to the altered elevation. I couldn’t maintain my 6:30 minute per mile pace, and dropped to 7:00. With that came a sinking feeling that I would not maintain my lead.
I started tensing up, worried I would lose it all in that last mile. My pace slowed down even more as I became incredibly anxious. And that’s when I completed the most challenging component of the entire race—I acted with grace and kindness towards myself. I told myself that it would be okay if I didn’t win, as long as I was giving my all.
When I was compassionate towards myself, my body relaxed. As I came into the final stretch of the race, I saw Matt and his parents, who cheered me on. I crossed the finish line, one minute before the second place finisher, with a 3 min PR of 1:25:22. I broke the “winner tape” and almost cried in excitement and elation. After Matt and I embraced, I discovered that he placed second overall, with an almost two minute PR. We couldn’t have asked for better collective races.
In the weeks following this race, I have reflected a great deal on my performance. It was, without a doubt, my best to-date, not because I was in the best shape, had the best taper or practiced the most solid pre-race routine. Instead I was successful because I listened to my body, stuck to my plan, and acted with compassion towards myself when I needed it the most.