It’s the Tuesday before my next big race on Saturday, a half marathon. I’m doing my typical pre-race freak out. By “freak out” I mean there’s no hand-wringing, no crying, no tantrums, just a mild case of pre-race jitters that has me asking — yet again — “What have I gotten myself into?”
After a year of focusing on the full marathon, I thought it was a good idea to pick a race that I could run for “fun.” For the location, for the scenery, for the sheer joy of running someplace new on a closed course. So I chose a race put on by “Destination Races,” the Santa Barbara Wine Country Half Marathon. It runs through the vineyards of Santa Barbara county from Santa Ynez to Solvang. Sounds perfect, right? Well, yes. I think it will live up to its claim of being a gorgeous destination race. There’s just one little problem: me. I thought I could sign up for a race for “fun” and not care about my finishing time. I thought I could be happy soaking up the views and not care whether I clocked a PR. I told myself that even if I did care about my finishing time, I could look at it as a race where I cared less about the finishing time itself and more about where that time put me in relation to the rest of the field of 40-to-44-year-old-women-who-chose-a-race-that-has-a-wine-stop-on-the-course.
Yet again, however, running and racing have taught me some things about myself:
- I’m competitive, not so much against other people, but against myself. I do want to get a PR, and I do want to better myself in comparison to the field (not because I care about beating other runners, but because I revel in improving my overall performance).
- I enjoy training more than I enjoy racing. One might wonder why I sign up for races then, but the fact is that I like having a goal race on the calendar. I like having a training plan that builds up to a race. I like crossing off each workout on the plan.
- I take each race
a little tooseriously. I don’t race that often, so when I do race, I care a lot about how that race goes. I use each finish time to gauge how the training is going and whether or not I am improving over time. (I think these things are true about many runners, it just took me a little while to realize all this about myself).
So why the heck did I sign up for a race with an elevation profile like this:
Of course not every race is going to be pancake-flat and “fast.” And the hills are what make for some of the best views along this course. It’s just that if I care so much about my time, I probably shouldn’t have chosen a race with total climbing of 764 feet! I have no clue how to pace myself when the first seven miles are basically uphill and the last six miles are basically downhill. I could run by how I feel, rather than by the pace on my Garmin, but if there’s anything else I’ve learned about myself it’s that I would run a lot slower if I just ran by how I feel! I am a very poor judge of pace, going out too fast at the start and running too slow thereafter. I can run “naked” for the occasional training run but I want and need my Garmin for a race.
(Just for the record, don’t think that I have ignored the course elevation profile until now. I have been hill training specifically in preparation for this course. I live in the “Heights” for goodness sake — I have run a hill or two in my day. And I have been quite dedicated to the training plan. If you look at the calendar last month, I worked out on every day but one. Some of those days were 15-25 minutes of strength training only, and were “rest days” from running or biking, but I did some form of physical activity every single day).
I’ve been running and racing for three years now. During that time, I have only run two official half marathons, my first ever big race, the 2012 OC Half in 1:55:10 (smashing my goal of a sub-2 half), and a training run/race for a full marathon, the 2013 Spring Blast Half Marathon in 1:53:34. I ran the first half of the 2013 Mountains2Beach full marathon in an unofficial time of 1:51:01. I believe I am capable of a time in the 1:4x range, given the right course and given the proper training and taper before the race. And I need that 1:4x as a confidence booster to prove to myself that I am capable of training for running a Boston Qualifying time in the full marathon. To BQ with a 3:44:59 in the full, the McMillan Running Calculator says I would need to hit a 1:46:54 in a half.
Maybe the gorgeous views of the Santa Barbara wine country will help me fly up and down the hills to a PR, maybe not. What I need to do now is re-focus on my original goals for the race. I thought I could enjoy a race for the scenery. I think I can! I thought I could set aside the goal of a PR to focus on doing my best in comparison to the field. I think I can!
Do you ever run a race just for fun? Just this past weekend I ran the iCureMelanoma 5K with my 9-year-old, and I have to say it was a lot of fun to run with her and not worry about my own race time. But unless I’m running with my kids, I run for the “fun” of pushing myself to a personal best.