I was totally blown away by this result. I was hoping that I could do 2:06, which seemed realistic based on a 12-miler I did a couple weeks ago at a 9:40/mile pace. When I crossed the finish line and checked my watch (after downing a bottle of water and sitting back on my heels half-asleep for about 20 minutes), I couldn't believe it. I held a 9:20 pace for 2 hours straight?! I had no idea I could do that.
And you know, I keep trying to write more about it than this, but the truth is there isn't much to say. My training for this race was spot-on. I've been consistent and strong in all my runs. I mean, I've missed a run here or there, but it's been more hit than miss (and that might be the first time I can say that about run training for any race). I got in a solid 15-mile run at the beginning of last week, and I managed to hit some really good tempo runs. When the race began, all I really had to do was show up and do what I knew I could do.
I didn't set out to run a 2:02 pace, though. Based on what I had been doing in my training runs, I decided to set out with the 2:07 group and try to hang on. I figured I would feel a little too fresh in the early miles, then end up hanging on for dear life in the last 3-4 miles. The pace group was wonderful: perfectly paced, with an encouraging leader and a good vibe. I felt good at that pace, and had no trouble surging ahead to pass, or to sneak ahead for some water. My legs felt zippy and springy every time I needed to accelerate. I knew I had plenty of gas in my tank.
I think it was around mile 8 when I started pulling away. I felt good, and I kept edging ahead of my pace group. There was another girl (in a pink "iRunLikeAGirl" shirt) who was sneaking ahead, as well; she had told the pacer early on to pull her back if she started to get ahead, because she was afraid that she would fade in the last few miles. So when she started to really pull away, I decided to pace off of her instead. At any rate, I figured if we slowed down later I could pick the pace group back up and still finish around 2:06, 2:07.
There were a few times when I lost the iRunner at water stops, then caught her up later. At around mile 10, I thought she'd dropped me for good, as she was picking up speed. I started to go with her ("She's not faster than me! I can keep up!"), but decided it wasn't worth it to pursue. So instead I just held my own pace. I passed her around a mile and a half from the finish line, when she started walking.
I have to say, the last 2-3 miles were difficult; they were tough. There were a few very slight inclines (like in Kansas, they were slight but noticeable) that were enough to hurt, but not enough to really offer an excuse to slow the pace. During those last 20 minutes or so, I kept glancing down at the clock, wondering when the pain would be over. I repeated to myself, "Strong and steady and strong and steady" as a mantra. I focused all my attention on that point just between and behind my eyes (the Third Eye). And all of it paid off. I didn't slow down, or at least not much; my last mile split was 9:30.
I ran without an iPod, because I wasn't going to be like all those one-timers in their basketball shorts with their music-players strapped onto their biceps; I am a runner, and I don't need music to have a good result, thank you very much. It was nice to have bands right on the course, although I was running by them at such exceptional speeds, I'm afraid I didn't get to enjoy the music for very long (I'm just kidding, of course).
One of my favorite parts about the race is that the Super Official and Very Expensive Thank You Very Much race photos of me all came out very well. I'm not going to pay $80 for them, but I can tell you that I actually look like a runner, I am not making any funny faces, and my legs aren't doing that wonky displacement thing that you often see in race pictures.
I am so happy with this time. Like my 70.3 time, I'm right on the cusp of breaking through a Big Number Barrier--in this case, 2 hours. I can surely knock off a measly little 2:21; all I have to do is run 20 seconds faster per mile next time (and all I have to do to break 6 hours in a half ironman is not stop at the toilet in T2). I can do that. I'm still nowhere near my potential.
You know, the great thing about endurance sports is that the horizon is forever receding. Today I ran 2:02:21; tomorrow I'll start trying to run 1:59. And once I do that, I'll lower the bar a little more. In fact, the whole endurance sports process is very much like a very long, very painful game of Limbo.