As a runner, the Forrest Gump quote about life being like a box of chocolates resonates with me. When going out for a run, or starting a race, you never know what you're gonna get. Most of the time, of course, it is average. Sometimes it really sucks. And every once in a while, it is really, really special. For me, for today, the City of Manchester Half Marathon was one of those really, really special days. Far better than I could have dreamed.
Going in, I wasn't at all confident. A week ago I had a Charley horse type of cramp in my left foot, and I've been worried about the resulting soreness ever since (shhhh, don't tell Patti!). The higher my weekly mileage goes, the more I get unexpected cramps in my legs and feet. I am fairly certain I get enough potassium, so I suspect I'm not getting enough magnesium.
And then this morning, when I saw below freezing temperatures at 6am, I started to question my sanity. The weather forecast was for 34 degrees Fahrenheit at the 8:50am start time. "Ugh, I'm doing this why?"
I met up with Dan and Marty for the start. These two guys are even more nuts than I am - they're doing the full marathon. But we're compatible runners, and Marty and Dan decide to run with me despite my warning them that I was planning on running steady 7:50 miles for a 1:42:00 target finish time. Dan's pace in this same race a year ago averaged out to 8:17 miles, and Marty's averaged to 8:23. Using me as a "rabbit" for the first half of their marathon really didn't seem like a smart idea to me.
We were shivering at the starting line. The wind was whipping down Elm Street, and we were standing in shade. The loudspeakers played the slowest version of the national anthem known to exist, making the starting gun anticipation all that much worse. And then we were off...
I thought the first mile would be really slow. After all, we were mid-pack, and it takes a long time for the pack to thin out. The first quarter mile, in particular, felt like a shuffle. And so I was shocked (as were Dan and Marty) when we passed the Mile 1 clock at 7:44. Really? 7:44? How could that be? It felt so slow.
OK, I thought, let me just find that 7:50 pace. I'm usually good like that - I can find a pace and lock into it with little variance, often just plus-or-minus 5 seconds per mile. Mile 2 passed in 7:55. OK, not bad, maybe a tad slow. Then a 7:36 mile 3, despite the first half of that being all uphill; I swear Marty set the pace on that hill. But, woah, that was way faster than I expected. On the other hand, I felt great. This is a stroll.
And so it went. When I felt really strong after a 7:30 mile 8, I decided I could pick it up for the final 5 miles. I dropped Dan and Marty with a 7:18 mile 9; good to know those guys have some sense.Me, Marty, and Dan at Mile 8; my smile is from Patti's cheering:
And the rest of my race went like a dream. Each of the last six miles was under 7:30, with an extra kick (somewhat gravity assisted) 6:53 mile 13. Runners dream of "negative splits" when they race - running the second half of a race faster than the first half. It is far easier said than done, but that was my box of chocolates today - a perfectly executed negative split half marathon.
My final finishing time: 1:39:39 (7:36 pace). I'm still waiting to hear how Marty and Dan made out; I'm predicting they paid the price for those first 8 miles.All sorts of serious at fifty feet from the finishing line: