How do you find the perfect race? That Unicorn, or as I like to say, when the all the planets align.
This last weekend was a great example when the planets did not align in Fort Worth, Cowtown. This is my favorite half in Texas. It was my 5th time running the 5k and the half. Last year I finally reached my sub 1:30:00 half at Cowtown (1:28:52), but even with the best race of my life, I still did not place in my age group. I was forth again. Why did that matter? It was still a great race. I finished strong, had a negative split and PR’d. I was happy but I was not done.
The reason placing in my age group was important, or at least became a goal I had to reach was the first time I ran Cowtown I had missed 3rd place by 8 seconds. So every race after that I made sure that I was reminded of those 8 seconds. Don’t get beat again by 8 seconds I kept telling myself. In a way, that one race provided all the motivation I needed to work harder and reach for that goal that before was not a goal. So each year I came back to Cowtown and pushed harder. And each year I left without reaching it. I did win the Overall Master in the 5k, but that seemed too easy. I wanted to place in the Half. Yes, I have placed in all the local races and none of them meant placing in Cowtown. Why, I have no idea other then it was harder and I had not been able to do it. So each year I pushed and trained. In 2015 I thought for sure it was my year. The weather was freezing and snow on the ground. They had to cancel the 5k, and on Sunday they canceled the Full and Ultra, but the half was a go. All the runners in the Ultra and Full ran the Half. The temperature at the start was 32 and slush was on the streets. The announcer at the start said, today was not going to be a PR, so just be safe and have fun. I somewhat agreed and figured it was just not the time to race. But the first few miles came and went and I felt great. I was on target to break 1:30:00. By mile 10 I knew I was feeling great and the Planets had aligned, this was the race. Even though I had the race I had hoped for, I still was in 4th place. Of course the first three finishers were originally running the marathon, but since it was cancelled, they ran the half. Well they did beat me, so next year I would be ready to break 1:28:00.
I continued to train and get stronger. Race day came and I was ready. No snow or canceled races this year. I ran the 5k and said I will just take it easy, well I did take it easy the first mile, but then the 2nd and 3rd were downhill and I felt too good to go slow. To my surprise I finished 1st in my age group, and was 2 seconds off from overall master. But that was not my goal, I wanted the half. So I carbo loaded, rested, and the next day felt ready. My only concern was the weather. It was windy, 16-20 mph winds from the south and a bit warm, 58 at the start. Looking at the course, the last 7 miles would be into the wind. And the worst part of it would be a straight away for 3 miles and the end of the straight away, a ½ mile hill at mile 9.
Well I told myself, I can’t do anything about the weather, just run as planned and take what the race has. So I started out with the wind at my back. At 5k I was right on pace to break 1:28:00. 10k came and still on pace. I had slowed a bit, but nothing to worry about, only a few seconds. Then I made the turn to the 3 mile straight away and there is was, 16mph wind and the hill steering me in the face. I could feel the wind was slowing me down. I tried to keep up my pace, but also didn’t want to lose all my energy on this one stretch with 3 miles to go after the hill. Well in the end, the wind won. I slowed and could not maintain my pace. Struggling mentally I wanted to stop, but I knew the only thing that was going to make me feel better was the finish line. So I pushed, it was everything I had to keep up a 8 minute pace. I knew my goal of breaking 1:28:00 was long gone, and I was sure placing was a lost cause too. I had become road kill as each runner who saved their energy was passing me with ease.
This was the toughest half I had run, and it was my 35th Half, never had I felt so mentally and physically beat. How could I be so wrong about being ready? What went wrong? I had trained just like the year before. I was hydrated, tapered (ok, I ran the 5k a little too fast, but I didn’t feel any ill affect from it), I carbo loaded, got a good night sleep. What happened?
It is easy to see, I was more than ready to run a good race, but the race was not ready. The planets did not align. I knew the weather was going to be a problem, but I ignored it and still tried to run a 1:28:00. That was my mistake. I should have adjusted my time, planned for a 1:33:00 and started off slow to save my energy for the wind that I knew was going to have an impact on the race. As it would turn out, I finished 1:35:32. It was almost my worst time at the Cowtown half. I was, to say the least, disappointed. How could I have been so hard headed and not adjust my time and pace. What a fool. Everyone has to run in the same conditions.
At the finish line I almost collapsed, never had I felt so drained, even in a marathon. I got my gear and headed back to the hotel, head down and disappointed at another bad race. I looked up the results and to my surprise I had finished 2nd in my age group. I had missed my goal by over 7 minutes, and had almost quit. You know they say a race is 90% mental. Well I was very close to being beat mentally. In fact, I was beat. I had told myself how bad I had run. When in fact I had put more effort into running 7 minutes slower in conditions that were not ideal then I had the year earlier when conditions were perfect.
Every race, I learn a little more. This race taught me to never give up, never let go of your goal. And more important, each race is different. The finish time does not reflect the effort it took to get to the finish line. My goal was to place in my age group. I thought I needed a 1:28:00 to do that. Turns out, when the planets are not aligned, everyone is affected. I know if I had run a smarter race, I would have been 1st. The time to beat was 1:33:57, not 1:28:00 Next year, I will be back Cowtown! Let’s hope I learned to run smart! Run my race and let the chips fall at the finish line.