The half marathon I raced in Maine this past weekend ended with one of my slowest recored times.
It was the best race I have ever run.
The race was a small part of the inaugural Rise.Run.Retreat co-hosted by Sarah Canney of Run Far Girl and Jesica D’Avanza of runadylike. I will be dedicating another post to the overall experience and greatness of the event itself but, if I don’t write about what happened to me during the half, and the experience of running with elite Tina Muir, I may explode. That would be messy so let me do this first…
Tina Muir is an elite runner for Saucony. Her PR’s are 16:08 (5k), 33:24 (10k), 1:14 (Half Marathon), and 2:41 (Marathon). She is a very serious, dedicated athlete who was born and raised in England. You can read her story on her blog Fuel Your Future with Tina (and I highly recommend that you do) but I’m hoping you will learn more about who she really is, right here in this post.
I have been reading Tina’s blog for about two years but this past weekend was the first time I had met her in person. We definitely had a great virtual relationship (that sounds a lot creepier then it is!) and would often text and email each other.
To say she is down to earth is an understatement. If you didn’t know how lightening fast she is, you would never know, because she would be the last one to tell you. Her posts are always honest, genuine and she shares her worst days along with her best. She is the real deal.
Tina had mentioned that she was willing to pace someone through the half marathon prior to us meeting in Maine for the retreat weekend. I have to admit, my heart skipped a beat at the opportunity but I thought it would make me way too nervous and do more harm then good.
The night before the race we were all sitting around chatting nervously mostly about our non-expectations for the race, as runners do on the eve of a half marathon. My thoughts were mainly this:
- I’m deep into training for the NYC marathon and did 19 miles four days prior to this race. #NoTaper
- I knew I wasn’t in PR shape (1:28) but my range was 1:28 – 1:32 for the half. Because a girl can dream.
- I had run a 20K (12.5 mile) race four weeks prior and finished in 1:31:54 which is 7:26/mile which would translate into a 1:37 half marathon.
Tina looked directly at me and asked if I wanted her to pace me. Her coach (and husband) had given her permission to run between 6:48 – 7:10 pace for the race as she is training for other greatness. She was also doing this as only part of the 19 miles she would run that day. #ForReal
I was still hesitant because part of me was freaking out but, the other bigger part of me thought: when will I ever have an opportunity again to race with an elite runner, and my friend, Tina? It was too good to pass up.
I agreed and was immediately scared shitless.
We talked about going out at a 7:10 pace to see how I felt. Let’s see, how did I feel? Scared. Nervous. Anxious. Not great things at the start of the race but I tried my best to calm myself down as we warmed up for about 10 minutes prior to the start.
And we’re off…
We started out too fast. By mile two (two!) I was breathing heavy, thinking all the wrong things and Tina could sense it. She told me to slow up and, even if we ran the first two miles in 7:30, I could still make up the time. It was in that moment I started to relax, listen to her voice and just let go.
This is the part that is so hard to put into words. As Tina ran with me she started telling me everything that was already in my head but in her confident and soothing British accent. She was my friend, she ran much faster then I ever could, but she had been where I was. She knew exactly what I needed to hear and when I needed to hear it. She literally guided me though the entire race.
It was windy…
At many points in the race, she ran directly in front of me, to block the wind. Granted she is a little wisp of a thing but it helped. All I needed to do was follow her footsteps. I could handle that.
It was hilly…
Before each hill she would tell me: “This hill is going to cause you to breathe a little harder and it’s totally normal. You will get your breathing back at the top of the hill, like you always have. Pump your arms, look up, you can do this.”
And I did.
It was a fast pace…
I went out fast (6:52) and only dropped it back to 7:00/mile average over miles 4-6. I was pushing with each step. I was doubting, but then I was listening.
You’ve done this before. You’re strong. Your form looks good. You can do this.
It was hard. Really, really, really fucking hard.
Around mile six I was thinking: I went out too hard. I can’t hold this pace. I suck. I’m going to let myself, Tina, and everyone else at the retreat down. What was I thinking?
Then Tina said: “This is the hard part. It’s supposed to feel hard. Everyone is feeling this. This is where all your cross-training comes in. This is what separates you Allie. You are so strong! You are running a great race. All you need to do is keep this going and you will be so proud of this effort later today.”
I took it all in. I believed in her and I started to believe in myself. And, as soon as I thought that she said…
We chose those Momentum bracelets for a reason (we both chose “Believe in Yourself”) this is your time to believe. You can do this. You can.
I was wearing my Oiselle tank and lots of people noticed…
Do you hear that Allie? People are cheering for you. For YOU. You have a lot of fans out here. Take their energy and use it.
Spectators were cheering and telling me I looked strong…
Yes Allie! You look strong because you are strong. You have trained so hard and you are tough! You are getting faster as we get closer to the finish and you are handling this pace. “THIS IS HOW YOU RUN A RACE!”
When she said that, it hit me hard. I was laboring harder then I ever had. I felt like I was running a 5K because I was literally going as hard as I could each and every mile. I listened to my Tina metronome and I believed!
I ran the following paces miles 7-10:
6:47, 6:58, 6:41, 6:39
She had to leave me at mile 10 to do the rest of her workout. As we approached the 10 mile mark she was just as encouraging as she had been the entire time.
Did I also mention she got all my water for me? I cannot tell you how fantastic that one little thing is. I kept running straight though the water stations and she would just had me a cup on the other side.
As she took her leave she reminded me that, by mile 10, I already run this race and all that was needed was the last three miles of endurance.
Endure. Believe. Achieve. < – – – I also have a Momentum bracelet with that on it
At mile 10 I knew I could do it. I was hurting but there was no way I was giving into the pain now. The first mile after she left me, I slowed to 7:00 but I picked it right back up. I kept thinking that YES, this is how you run a race and I realized I had never really even raced a half marathon before.
I thought about how much potential I have but was so afraid to go for it. Tina made me see that you have to face that fear, look right at it and tell it you’re not afraid. Not of pain, not of chafing (of which there was a lot!), not of failing, none of it.
The best part was, after about mile four, I didn’t look at my watch again until mile 13. I ran by feel and ultimately, this is is what 13.1 felt like:
I crossed the finish in 1:32:24 which is a 6:58/mile pace. I couldn’t have cared less about my time because I have never been more proud of myself nor more grateful to another human being for literally changing my running life. Words could never express the gratitude I feel for Tina and what she taught me about racing and about myself.
I have accomplished many great things though running and racing but this is the single best experience I have ever had, and I will never forget it.
This text exchange I had with Tina afterward pretty much sums everything up:
Of course, when I realized I won my age group and placed third in the Master’s division, I was ecstatic!
Overall place: 65 out of 1765
Female overall place: 17 out of 1132
Masters: 3 out of 485
Age group 40-44: 1 out of 152
The other best part? Cheering in my friends, seeing Carrie complete her very first half-marathon ever, and having Angela, Christine and Sarah waiting for us at the finish. It was really a dream come true day for me.
And then there were donuts…
I now know I am capable of so much more. I have a renewed belief in myself, my training and my abilities. Just reading what Tina wrote about having great things in my future makes me pause.
Since I turned 40 I’ve been so caught up in my age. I dismiss my age group wins because I’m “old” and I keep thinking “is this the last PR?” every time I race. It’s all garbage and I’m getting rid of it.
When you think you’re doing all you can, do a little more. Take chances. Believe in yourself.
Have you had a breakthrough race or moment like this?
What is holding you back from your goals?