OK, good, I have done my last half-marathon for 2007 with a really satisfactory PR of 1:54:14 (mile pace 8:46).
It was an interesting and illuminating run. I was aiming for just under 1:57, and spent much of mile 3 and mile 4 mildly berating myself for going too fast. (Like: "You are never going to do a good marathon next fall if you cannot learn self-discipline on pacing!")
Why was it so acute? Well, the half-marathoners and marathoners started in two separate corrals and then fed back in together; there weren't really pace groups in the half-marathon corral but when we came into a single stream I found myself roughly with the 3:45 marathon pace group, and I felt like that was actually a very comfortable speed.
But the numbers on my watch were rather alarmingly speedy--I tried to slow down--I didn't do a very good job.
So I started thinking like crazy--trying to come up with useful mental strategies along the lines of "Well, you cannot just run along with these other people, run your own race, think of it as a challenge like playing a piece that is scored for two different time signatures or something, just concentrate." I thought a lot about how stupid it would be to blow it by going out so much too fast. I thought about slowing down, and I did, but then I would pick it back up again...
Suddenly around mile 4 (mental wheels still churning) I thought a series of thoughts very quickly and then my mind was at rest...
1. I had after all decided in advance I didn't need to pace this race conservatively--I had already made my sub-2:00 goal for the year, so it was really worth experimenting.
2. I felt pretty good: HR still in the lower 160s, not really working that hard, quite tolerable.
3. A half-marathon is after all NOT a marathon, not nearly the same pacing hazards (at least insofar as I have been training very steadily and fairly systematically exactly for this distance, which also I think happens to suit me particularly well--I do not have an affinity for running short distances very hard, I like running medium distances at medium-hard intensity).
4. I felt absolutely certain I could comfortably maintain this pace for 10 miles. After that, who knew--but even if I then fell back on something as slow as 10:00 pace, I would still finish under two hours...
In conclusion, I was neither having an on day nor an off day, I was just running solidly in more or less ideal conditions at what is clearly (based on effort) my current comfortable half-marathon race pace. I had a very good taper and sleep week for the Grete's Great Gallop half in the first week of October (this week's sleep was not fortunate), but the heat and humidity were awful, and the course was hilly, so my time of 1:59:07 felt like a triumph--it was a triumph. But it was also, I think, rather slower than I would have been capable of that day under different conditions.
So I stopped thinking so much and just concentrated on keeping effort steady and tweaking the speed back down any time I saw it go into the 8:10s rather than, say, 8:30s, and the time frankly passed by in a flash, I could hardly believe when it was over...
The last couple miles were hard--my leg muscles particularly in the hip flexor sort of area had gotten very tight (I am not used to running on such a long flat course, you get used to having more varied terrain), and I was definitely ready to stop running at the end. But there was never the kind of aerobic load on the body I felt in the August and October half-marathons--the temperature really makes a huge difference...
Splits (the distance on my device is clearly off, it is only counting me 12.9 rather than 13.1, so adjust paces accordingly--dramatic mile differences have more to do with hills, I think, than with dramatic speed adjustment of any other sort):
1 9:23 (HR 152)
2 8:40 (160)
3 8:32 (161)
4 8:50 (162)
5 8:45 (163)
6 8:48 (164)
7 9:26 (165)
8 8:49 (167)
9 9:15 (167)
10 9:25 (166)
11 8:18 (168)
12 8:22 (171)
13 [8:13/176: not counted as a whole mile, plus I forgot to turn the stopwatch off at the finish...]
Two more things:
1. It seems about a million years ago now, but I had a lovely swimming lesson yesterday morning! About halfway through I. was making fake crying gestures (i.e. rubbing eyes with hands in cartoonlike manner) and saying I would be sad at it being the end of our swimming lessons as clearly her work was done... REALLY I can swim the butterfly now, that's crazy! MUCH room for further improvement of course... Note to self: it is very good for the breaststroke if I do alternating lengths of fly down breast back (though as I. also observed, the breast is very decent if one doesn't attend to its being in the style of twenty years ago--which is funny, because I never learned breaststroke when I was a kid, just freestyle, but I suppose flat swimming is flat swimming and we keep our memory of flatness even if it wasn't stroke-specific!).
2. The thing I especially like about this race result is that it makes me think about marathon goals for 2008. I am going to be conservative in choosing pace goals, I am not I think on the whole a hubristic person, but I do believe in having a vision. And my vision is that if certain things happen, I would not be crazy to think of a sub-4:00 marathon goal. (That's a 3:59:50-type sub-4:00, nothing more ambitious!) The three enabling conditions I envisage:
(a) A couple of Olympic-distance triathlons in June and July which for me will be a roughly 3:00+ race, with particular attention to the problem of getting used to that intensity and duration (I will of course keep racing half-marathons all year, I just love that distance, and I will also of course continue to do a lot of swimming and some biking through the marathon-heavy training season of August-November, so my general fitness will be good though I will certainly be using a relatively low-mileage training plan)
(b) Philadelphia as my race--flattish, fastish, late enough in the season that temperatures are likely to be cool and without the mental challenges (i.e. adrenaline, irrational excitement, mentally demanding course) of New York, which I will wait to do the next year
(c) At least one sub-1:50 half-marathon. A sub-1:50 half will really make me feel that a 4:00 marathon is a sensible goal and not a first-timer's insanity. So this race today takes me significantly closer towards seeing how that might happen in 2008.
(Not that I know--but it is really my opinion that I should be able to get my half-marathon mile pace down to about 8:00, further than that I am not sure I will be able to go--though who knows, maybe it's possible?!?--but 8:00 seems to me a reasonable guess at something challenging yet attainable. I've been running only a bit more than a year, I run only three days a week [sometimes four, but the fourth run is only ever very short] and I've never done more than about 25mpw mileage--currently I'm triathlon-obsessed so I won't have a run focus in the next six or eight months, I'll just keep up as I've been doing, probably around 20-22 run miles per week over the winter--but I think that raising mileage at some point for a run-specific season should get me rather faster...)