On Sunday, I ran my fifth half at the Ann Arbor Marathon. I have mixed emotions about this run and didn’t really tell anyone I ran it, except my family & a few trusted friends. I knew I was a long way from my sub-2 hour PR days, but the race was harder and hillier than I’d expected, and so I have to put this in the “to learn from” column.
Clock Time: 2:29
Chip Time / Garmin time: 2:27 (11.11)
I ran this half in 2012, in one of the first years of its existence (it was also my first half, coincidentally) and the event has undergone a few changes. It used to be in June; I assume they changed it so as not to compete with the larger Dexter-Ann Arbor marathon. And the original half route took us around Briarwood Mall, of all places. (I vividly remember watching the cars pull in for tire rotations at the Sears store and thinking, this is the best they can do?) The altered route is much improved, although undeniably more challenging; start and finish near Michigan Stadium, the first stretch up Hill Street onto campus, past the Law Quad and out to the Hill; then past the cemetery, and out the rolling elevations of Geddes Road to Gallup Park. We cut back through Gallup around the medical campus, and then through the Arb, where Mile 12 is a long slog uphill on a dirt trail. The start and finish location was my biggest complaint. It was a narrow street near a lumber yard, which made me feel as though we were packed into a narrow box canyon like mustangs waiting to be shot from a helicopter. There were so many people that lines for bag drop and porta-potties were indistinguishable and there were many minor beefs over people perceived to be cutting in line. This could have been resolved with more space and a more thoughtful layout. But otherwise, the course was interesting, well-marked, lots of volunteers; the shirt and the medal were cool and I would definitely do this event again.
I haven’t run any real distance or been competitive in running for a few years now, and my training runs have been slow and steady. I’ve gained weight, I’ve had injuries, and so my goal for this race, first and foremost, was to finish. I wanted to show myself that I can run a half again, and get through a training cycle without quitting or getting injured. I mostly did that, despite a groin strain that proved problematic. My second goal, though, was to finish in around 2:15, which proved very elusive. Although I train on hills, this route was beyond my capability. The initial steep hill tired me out immediately and the long rolling grind of Geddes wore me down; by the time we hit Gallup Park, I knew I was in trouble. Maybe if I’d had a long downhill to regain some momentum, I could have rallied a little, but miles 6-9 were brutal mental slogs of self-recrimination, physical discomfort in my hips and knees, and wondering if I would make it. The only thing that kept me moving during those miles was thinking that B and Miss L were waiting for me at the finish line, and how little I wanted to disappoint them. But at that point, I knew I was in trouble, and all I could do was hang on.
The Arb was an exercise in misery but at least I wasn’t alone in it. Everyone in the loose pack I was pacing with had to stop at some point up that hill and walk it. And the spirit of the running community was strong then; many people telling each other to keep going, “you’re doing great”. The course ended in a nice downhill, where I finally achieved a respectable 9.17 pace, and was reunited with my people.
Despite the poor time on the clock, I was proud of myself for finishing and showing myself that 13.1 is possible again.
I also have mixed emotions about even feeling embarrassed about my time. There are always runners that are faster than me and slower than me, and feeling ashamed at what I consider to be a slow time really does an injustice not just to my own accomplishment, but to all runners who are lapping everyone on the couch.
When I say I’m embarrassed at my time, it’s not because I think that an 11 minute mile is somehow less honorable than an 8 minute mile – it stems from the fact that I know I can personally do better, I’ve done better, and I want to learn and train so I can do better again. I don’t have any other events planned until the Crim in August, which I’ll run with B for fun, not for time, but I want to build my base mileage and do more long runs regularly. I also need to cross-train more, to strengthen what I consider to be my weak hip flexors, and generally build stamina. I know I won’t be back to sub-2 in the near future, if ever again, but I know I can do a better 13.1 and I’m looking forward to getting there.