I have never wanted to quit a race so much in my life, and I wasn’t even a mile into the half-marathon segment of today’s Patriot Half 70.3 triathlon. My swim was really good—my best at this distance that wasn’t aided by a current—and I was really strong on the bike. So what was going on? Why was “DNF” crossing my mind after having what would have been a kick-ass aquabike?
After a few races where I wondered after finishing if I had given enough (including Hopkinton last month), I decided that I needed to work on strength—in particular, my mental strength. I had been finishing a bit too fresh, even though I felt like I just couldn’t go faster, and the gran fondo a month ago showed that I could bike faster. Either I needed more physical strength to get the job done, or (just as likely) I had untapped potential that I could draw upon. Either way, I sensed that I could go faster and needed to work at it; I just needed to be a little more willing to suffer, to be willing to go into the pain cave on the run and know that I would come out of it a couple hours later very satisfied with the result.
When I visualized the race last night and this morning, I could see myself focusing on my technique in the swim, working hard, and finding myself in a group of people with a good pace. After riding the bike and run courses last weekend, I figured I could put in some good effort on the bike and possibly set myself up for a PR. I also visualized myself being more deliberate during the transitions, attempting to speed them up. And that’s pretty much how the first three hours and 41 minutes of the event went today.
I was having more trouble getting excited about the run. I’ve run half-marathons (and longer) before, and I find them difficult but doable. Almost all of my long races have been urban—with lots of landmarks to show progress—but this course was extremely rural, yet it had very little shade. I tried to put that in a little box and just think about digging deep to go hard, but when I started out on the run course, it felt incredibly difficult—mostly mentally. Usually, I don’t have trouble running off the bike, but today felt slow, and I had some trouble believing that I could perform at the level I wanted/hoped. I wasn’t having fun, and two hours of running seemed like a very, very long time. The thoughts of a DNF started early, well before I started walking at the first aid station . . . right at the first mile.
But I knew I wasn’t going to quit. On Thursday, I decided that I would be racing hard in my TeamWILD kit for Mari Ruddy, the founder of TeamWILD and the Tour de Cure “Red Rider” program for people with diabetes. She had been missing since Tuesday, and I didn’t know whether I would be racing in her memory. Fortunately, that was not the case, and she’s recovering now. No matter how bad I felt—and I didn’t feel very bad, just soft—I couldn’t give in. Plus, I would know that I could have finished, that I should have done better. It was never really an option.
So, as I was walking out of the first aid station, I came up with “Plan B.” I would run to each aid station and then walk for two minutes before starting to run again. Coming out of the second aid station, I briefly talked to a guy in my age group who was also walking: “A run/walk is the only way I’m going to get through this half marathon,” I said. “You and me both,” he replied. Shortly afterward a funny thing started happening. I started passing people and making better time than during my previous 70.3. Of course some people passed me on the run—they were running, after all—but I caught most of them when I started running again. I was actually kind of amazed at how effect the technique was. By the time that I got to mile 6, I had a good thing going, and I was pretty confident that I was in a good place for a PR. I decided that I could run through the last three miles, cultivating some of that toughness that I wanted.
When I crossed the finish line in 5:38:42 with a new PR by almost 20 minutes, I felt like I actually had given almost everything I could access today. I wish that I’d had the strength to run the whole thing at a respectable pace, but I’m not sure that I would have been able to do better than today’s 8:56/mile (5:33/km) if I had tried to run the whole thing anyway. Thinking about the run/walk, I see a clear area for improvement, but I definitely see the value in it and will keep it in my arsenal for tough days like today.
I’m doing my next 70.3 (the Timberman 70.3) in August. This race promises to be much tougher because of all the hills. Hopefully I’ll be tougher, too.
Oh, and of course Lisa took some great photos, despite Patriot being a difficult course for spectators with cameras.