Tuesday, April 10, 2012

The Other Half: What just happened?

The finish line didn't come soon enough
I've had a few races of near perfection where my mind is totally alert and in tune my senses, where I vividly recall exactly what I was thinking during every second of the race, can effortlessly recall each  split time afterwards, and even remember nearly every foot plant over the terrain from start to finish.  On the other hand, there are races like The Other Half Marathon in San Francisco I ran last Easter Sunday where I cross the finish line and think "What just happened?".

I vaguely recall coming through the first mile in 5:42.  I was shooting for 6:30 opening pace, which explains why I exclaimed "Oh shit!" as I looked at my watch breezing through the Mile 1 marker.  But then, it didn't seem THAT fast, and when I arrive Mile 2 at 12:41, it seemed pretty unlikely that I followed a 5:42 mile with a 6:59, confirming my suspicions that the mile markers were out of place.

I remember something about my left shoe feeling too loose right after the start.  It wasn't so bad at mile 2, but through miles 3-6, mostly uphill to the Golden Gate Bridge, it began to start to bother me more and began to effect my stride.  Reaching the bridge at mile six and crossing over from San Francisco to Marin County, feeling more fatigued than usual at this point in a half-marathon was not a good sign.  I was hoping to establish a decent stride over the relatively flat section of the course, but over the next mile I still struggled to find any rhythm and the loosening shoe continued to be a hindrance.

Finally at mile 7, I stopped to retie my left shoe.  Unfortunately, the laces slipped through my sweaty fingers and after a couple aborted attempts, finally produced an awkward looking but effective knot that kept my left shoe on tight.  I figured it was worth stopping to tie my shoe, that I'd only lose maybe ten seconds and a couple places retying it, but the resulting damage was far greater, something like 30 seconds and countless people whizzing by my as a struggled to tie a knot any 1st grader could make.

Friends, if you put in all the hard work to run a half-marathon, don't something stupid like waste some of that hard work over something silly like a poorly tied shoe.  It points to a pretty serious lack of concentration in my pre-race preparation, where you are supposed to check things like how your feet feel in their shoes.   Unbelievable.

Going back over the Golden Gate southward with two tightly tied shoes on my feet, I allowed myself to take in a few looks over the Pacific Ocean, a vast expanse a blue dotted with a few scattered boats on that clear, cloudless day.  Most people will marvel at the beauty of such a scene.  Others will feel blessed to take in this magnificent vista while running over an iconic national landmark.  But all I was thinking was "How soon can I get off this damn bridge?" as I struggled to keep pace 8 1/2 miles into the race.

I could tell how the last 3-4 miles were going by what I wasn't thinking.  Usually I'm thinking "Get this guy!" or "Keep your legs moving!  Work your hands!" but instead, the last few miles were spent mainly in numb contemplation of what went wrong.   Was it the perfect storm of several extended work, family and personal commitments over the previous week?  Or maybe that crash and burn 12-mile run nine days ago, even though I seemed to fully recover from it two days later.  Did I blitz last Tuesday's tempo run too fast, and leave some of my race on the track?  Have I not recovered from that sore throat I had last week?

You do your best to avoid them, but off days happen despite your best efforts.  It would be easy to blame going out too fast on the inaccurate mile markers, but that's a poor excuse.  Pacing involves basically zoning out all the runners around you and concentrating on form and breathing, and I wasn't doing any of that.  And besides, everything else about the race organization was near perfect, and they organized the race a lot better than I ran it.  No, I just wasn't sharp, didn't concentrate well, made a stupid mistake with the simple act of tying my shoes,  and didn't do the little things that really add up over the course of the race.  Yes, I am proud of what I accomplished that day and finished in a time most people would think was pretty good, but complacency is the enemy of any runner.

Seconds after I crossed the line, the announcer bellowed, "You just completed a half-marathon!".  Oh, that's what happened.
The picturesque finish line area.  Trust me, there are runners finishing the race down there.
Look closely off in the distance and you can barely make out the Golden Gate Bridge.

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