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Sometimes surviving is winning. Living to fight another day (or race another day) sometimes gets real.
You trained hard for your race. You tapered for your race. You ate to perform. You slept well.
Race day: Conditions are not ideal even though your body is primed to perform.
This recently happened to me here in the Hampton Roads area.
After several years away from significant distance running, I went all in this summer and early fall (fall in name only...temps have only now just started to drop into the 70s during the day and 50s at night) with my training to prepare for this half marathon. I went on several long training runs, completed multiple long tempo runs (up to 10 miles), and did a 9 mile race (which I wrote about last month) to help me get ready for the half marathon.
As morning dawned two weeks ago, the conditions for the race were setting up quite well. Low 70s (still a little warm), cloudy, with moderate humidity...yeah, that would have been great. We ended up with 85 degrees, sunny, windy, and sweltering humidity. Not the best conditions to crush a race you've been training 3 months for.
I knew I would have to adjust my race plan, but I wasn't sure how far into the race I'd have to adjust it. The first 5 miles unfolded as I planned...cruising at an 8 min./mile pace and on pace for a 1:45 target finish time.
Then I began to slow down...8:15 turned into 8:30, which eventually slowed to 9 min. miles for a couple of miles. I was a little discouraged, but focused heavily on continuing to hydrate and continuing to press. After fighting off a couple of 9 min. miles, I started to regain my confidence around mile 9 and after my final energy gel I received a nice energy boost to help carry me through miles 10,11 and 12. As I neared mile 12, I felt good enough to pick it back up to an 8:30/mile pace and then as I started to smell the finish line, I opened it up further down to a sub-8 min/mile pace.
It felt great to cross that finish line intact. Several people on the course suffered heat injuries and were either sidelined (unable to finish), reduced to a slow walk, or even some to an ambulance ride (the more severe heat injuries).
I believe there was high "race casualty" rate in this race because people did not adjust their goals when the weather conditions changed. Several people had their mind set on their goal time and refused to back off their pace to adjust for higher heat, humidity and sun. They - what I call - "popped" (bonked is a familiar term to many). They red-lined. They took their engine too far into the red and couldn't recover.
I've done this. It's not fun. And I felt awful for the people it happened to on race day.
Why was I able to avoid this fate two weeks ago? I adjusted for the conditions and never put my body in a position to fail me. I backed off the pace, took in additional fluids, and adjusted my expectations early. My previous experiences helped me win the day in this particular race, but I think that common sense can help guide you in the future if you've never "popped" before.
Adjust for the conditions. You have to. We adjust for the conditions during combat or training operations in the Army, and the same principle can be applied to racing.
I finished 105 of 1,509 runners and I ran a 1:52 half-marathon. That's not an amazing time. It's an okay time (for me), but on this day, it put me in the top 10% of runners of a big race because I was able to adjust my approach - and survive to win.
Train hard. Train Smart.
Talk to you next month.
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