Sunday marked the half-way point of my marathon training and the Yonkers Half Marathon. When coming up with the marathon training plan, I had specifically chosen this race as a way to gauge progress and an opportunity to run with both distance and speed taking equal priority. Over the past couple of weeks, I had completed long runs of 14 and 16 miles, and felt really good on both occasions. I was excited for the half marathon, it was only my third time racing over the distance and I felt confident that I could run close to or better than my previous personal best. In the week leading up to the race I curtailed my activities, as a way of conserving energy and because my new schedule was forcing me to make some compromises in relation to my training.
The forecast for Sunday was clear skies and warm temperatures, ranging between 65 and 70 degrees for the duration of the race. I was up at 5AM to start my pre-race routine; oatmeal to line my stomach and coffee to provide the early morning jolt. Because of the early hour, the drive from Brooklyn took about 40 minutes and we arrived at the starting area in good time.
I wasn’t familiar with the course at all. I had mapped it on RunKeeper, so I knew there was a tricky hill around the 5/6 mile point. Otherwise my web-based GPS reconnaissance didn’t show a lot of significant hills along the route, so I was feeling good as the horn sounded to start us off. Once we got going, the road travelled north along the Hudson river and true to form, the early portion was relatively flat with some undulations as we wound our way toward Hastings-on-the-Hudson. I had started toward the back of the field, but was moving my way through the back over the first mile. At the marker I checked my time, to find that I had been cruising at a comfortable 9 minute mile pace. Over the next 3-4 miles I purposely upped the pace, with the intent of providing myself a buffer for the hills to come and the latter stages when fatigue would set in.
By the second mile marker I had increased to an 8 minute mile pace, and from that point on I was ticking the miles off at a relatively consistent 8:15-8:20 pace. This gave me a lot of confidence, as I was aiming for a time of under one hour and fifty minutes and that pace meant that I was on course. I would have settled for anything under 1:54 (my previous best) but I kept telling myself not to ease off if I was going to realize my target.
At about the 8/9 mile point I started to feel the pace affect my legs, specifically around the IT band area. On the positive side, my knee, which I was still concerned about post-injury, was holding up fine to the rigors of the course. Right around the same time, I passed Jess, who had travelled up with me that morning to cheer me on and provide support. The mental boost from seeing her was enormous as I cruised past the 10 mile marker in a time of 1:22. It was at this point, with a little over three miles to go that I knew my target was a distinct possibility. The final couple of miles involved some long drags, but I battled the mental fatigue and upped the pace again – determined to cross the line in under 1:50.
As I hit the start finish area, I glanced at my watch and knew I had it in the bag but I never let up. Taking the final bends at full speed and employing my new home straight kick, I was going all out as I cross the finish line in front of Jess and the rest of crowd. I knew I had gone fast – faster than I had hoped and faster than even my most optimistic of targets. My watch provided me an unofficial time of 1:48:33, but an hour or so later the race website displayed the news I had been waiting for – an official finish time of 1:48:30.
I had absolutely shattered my personal best by almost 6 minutes. I had also run thirteen miles at the a pace that previously I had only produced on a much shorter course. It seems to me that my training plan, combining long runs with speed work, is making a difference. I’m half way to the marathon and if I can replicate or get close to this kind of performance in Philadelphia then I will be the happiest debutant marathoner of all time.