Goal-Smashing Half Marathon

Race #16: My toughest challenge yet. The Naples Daily News Half Marathon. 

I’ve never run a half marathon before. I’ve never run more than 11.5 miles before. 
The weather was a very useful (albeit slightly chilly for Florida) mid-40s, with clear skies and sunrise arriving a few minutes after the 7am start time.

Music selection: A carefully curated playlist featuring The Hood Internet Mixtape Volume Four and Volume Seven plus a few extra tunes to bump late in the race.

Clothing selection: Badass new 30@30 custom Nike singlet, Run Gum headband, Brooks Launch 4 sneakers (thanks, Henry!).

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I’ll give a full recap of the morning, but first:

Race Goals:
1) Start Slow: Run the first 5K at 7:47-7:50min/mile pace (/X)
2) Baseline Goal: Break 1:45 (8min/mile pace) (✓✓✓)
3) Stretch Goal: Break 1:40 (7:37min/mile pace) (✓✓✓!)

Pre-Race:

4:40am: Alarm goes off. Roundball Rock by John Tesh & orchestra. Gets me going every time. While the gun fires at 7am, I had to wake up early enough to eat and sufficiently digest breakfast. Wheat toast, peanut butter, banana, orange juice. Standard. Then it was time to pound some water and make sure I was reasonably hydrated by race time. 

5:00am: Snuck down to the empty hotel gym to stretch and hop around. Stepped outside for a minute to check the weather: chilly and windy, but decent for distance running. 

5:45am: After trying to distract myself for about 45minutes, my stomach starts to rumble. Nerves or insufficiently-mixed peanut butter? Probably a 3:1 Nerves:PB ratio. Classic pre-race ratio. 

6:00am: Back at the room now, Jess’ alarm goes off, which means I can feel less-guilty about rummaging around and making noise. Six o’clock is my liquid-cutoff – no more drinking. Don’t want to have to pee mid-race! 

6:30am: Jess and I head down to the gym for some last minute stretching. Jess is planning to jog over to the starting line with me (about 0.5 miles from our hotel) so that I can hand her some of my warmup gear before she heads out to where she can post up and cheer alongside my parents. She is just the best.

6:45am: We begin to jog over to the start… my legs feel pretty good. It’s chilly, but I know that I’ll warm up once we get started. I am nervous.

6:48am: I stop to pee in a bush.

6:54am: I re-tie my shoes, hand Jess my warmup shirt, and throw on my Run Gum headband and earbuds. Jess jogs off to meet me at the 2.5 mile mark. I am alone. 

6:55am: PANIC. My wireless earbuds won’t connect to my phone. They’re showing up as “Connected” and the phone responds to my pushing play/pause commands on my earbuds…. but the sound continues to play through the phone’s speakers! This has happened once or twice before…. now it’s moments before the longest run of my life and I can’t get them to work. Frantically, I turn the earbuds on/off several times. I put the phone in airplane mode. I try again and again. Realizing that the start is about a minute away and the National Anthem is about to begin, I give it one last shot before I’ll just opt to run without my perfectly cultivated playlist.

6:59am. FINALLY. Connected. That was slightly terrifying. 

7:00am: Gun sounds. I begin about half-way between the 7min-8min pace start group markers. We shuffle toward the start line behind the faster runners and we’re off.

The Race:

Mile 1: Don’t go out too fast. Don’t go out too fast. DON’T. GO. OUT. TOO. FAST.

Luckily, I don’t really have a choice, as the crowd is moving pretty slowly and I definitely don’t want to waste energy darting around too many runners. Still, it feels slower than ideal. I’m hoping to split about 7:55 for the first mile.

My focus is on effort perception and making sure that I don’t FEEL like I’m running too hard. Coach Matt writes a lot about the psychobiological model of performance which finds that perception of effort is absolutely critical. I feel good. 

I finish the first mile in about 8:10. Okay, not great, but not bad. “Don’t overcompensate!” I repeat to myself. I want to run the next mile faster but not overdo it, as I usually do. 

Mile 2: Feeling good at a slightly faster pace. I focus on staying in the very middle of the road, as the one-lane-each-way street is somewhat crowned and I don’t want to run on a slope.

Now it’s time for a little racing strategy: Find someone who seems like he/she knows what they’re doing (someone who is probably around my target pace and also looking to negative split) and cue off of them. I find my guy – an old dude with an efficient stride running in the middle of the road about 15 meters ahead of me. Perfect. 

Second mile: 7:54. Getting better, feeling good. Don’t overdo it, Jake.

First Gatorade Stop: Drinking out of cups on the run is apparently pretty hard. I basically dump the cup of Gatorade on my face.  

Mile 3: An older gentleman who wore too many layers stops just after the second mile mark to puke. Interesting. 

I see Jess and my parents for the first time at about the 2.4 mile mark which gives me a boost. I’m feeling good and picking up the pace slightly, hoping to average about 7:50/mile for the first 5K. 

Up ahead, the leader has clearly passed the first turnaround point and is running back toward the rest of us mortals (on the other side of the closed-off street). This dude is FLYING. He’s already 200m clear of all competition. 

Meanwhile, I’m trailing my pace-target-guy by about 20m when he suddenly stops, turns around…. and starts running back the other way behind a few of the leaders. Is this dude….. cheating?! Was I following Kip Litton (inside running joke, sorry)?! The turnaround isn’t for another half-mile, so what’s this guy doing? (Should I turn around and follow him!?). I couldn’t see his bib number – or if he was wearing a bib – and I never saw him again. Odd. And honestly, rather rude to mess up my pacing strategy.

Third mile: 7:35. Quick, but feeling pretty good. I’m now averaging about 7:53/mile for the first 5K. Good enough. One more mile at a cruising pace and then we’ll see if I can pick it up.

Mile 4: Feeling strong, I slowly begin to target people to pass. One great thing about a large race is that there are so many runners to focus on passing. There are also so many runners around me whose form is already deteriorating, making me feel faster. 

I haven’t really noticed my music much so far, which is a good thing. My mind has been on the runners around me and the course. So far, it’s been almost entirely on one road out and back. That’ll change soon. 

The fourth mile clocks in at about 7:28 and I am pleased that my overall average pace is closing in on 7:45/mile. Time to take stock: I am feeling smooth and strong. I make the decision to try and pick it up ever so slightly over the next four miles… maybe I can get to around 7:39/mile average with five miles to go? 

Second Gatorade Stop: I remember to bend the cup as I drink (thanks, Coach!) and yet I still spill it everywhere. My hand is now observably covered in lemon-lime sugar-water. I see a trash can ahead and yell “Tatum!” as I try to toss the cup into the bin as I run past.

I miss by about four feet. 

Note: I haven’t been thirsty, but coach instructed me to make sure I drink Gatorade at every station (every two miles) so that I get about 50g of carbs during the race. 

Hoping for a boost as I continue to push my pace, I whip out a bag of Run Gum that I had stored in my back pocket (which seems to have been constructed entirely for mid-race Run Gum) and pop two pieces. Mmmm, minty! 

Fourth mile: 7:28. Solid! Let’s go!

Miles 5-8: I pass Jess and my folks again just after the fifth marker and try to pose for a photo that my mom is taking. I chuckle as I’m convinced she’s actually taking a selfie by accident. 

At this point, the race enters a series of twisting out-and-backs down a series of inlets. This means one thing: Tangents!

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(For the uninitiated, “running tangents” refers to running as many straight line point-to-point tangents across a winding course as possible, so as to minimize the total distance covered. Sort of like finding the hypotenuses (hypoteni?) on the course.)

I pick points ahead in the distance that would make my route maximally efficient and run toward them, passing runners along the way that aren’t taking advantage of the tactic. 

Third Gatorade Stop: I startle a woman holding cups when I yell “YOU!” as I point to her so she knows that I’m coming. Slightly better! I am getting the hang of this! 

I pass my family again and it gives me another boost. I am cruising now and am confident I can get to an average pace of 7:37/mile by the end of the eighth mile and still have enough in the tank to beat my stretch goal of a sub 1:40 time. 

My body had been feeling very strong up to this point. 

Then, just before the eighth mile marker, my right foot speaks up: “Dude, do you realize that you’ve been slamming me into the pavement for an hour? Not cool.” 

The top of my foot starts to hurt as if my shoe has been tied too tightly. This is odd… usually my shoes feel looser as a run goes on. It hurts, but it’s not unbearable and there is no effing way I am stopping unless I absolutely must. 

Fourth Gatorade Stop: Disaster. I am definitely not any better at this. In fact, I barely take a gulp before I decide I’ve had enough. There’s a guy holding a garbage bag in front of his waste and I shout “Kyrie!” as I try to toss the cup inside.

It hits him in the groin and spills a decent amount. 

Aside from mile seven, which was a bit slower due to a headwind (I think?), I am continuing to negative split and feeling light. My stride is smooth. My shoulders/back ache a bit and my IT band is beginning to remind me that it’s there, but I can manage this. I am in control.

With eight miles complete, I’m averaging right around 7:37 pace and feeling confident I can continue to pick up the pace. I decide that I’m going to inch up the pace and see where I’m at when I reach the 10th mile marker (with 5K to go). 

Mile 9: Pick someone, run them down (cautiously). Pick someone else, do the same thing. Rinse, repeat. I’m running the tangents and often near the middle of the road, at times playing chicken with slower runners (smartly running tangents themselves) still heading toward the inlet turnaround that I just completed. 

My foot seems to have dealt with its discomfort, for now. I notice that my breathing is a bit elevated, but not unexpectedly at this point. I’ve only run this far 3x in my life. 

Ninth mile: 7:24. About my fastest yet. Time to open things up and leave it all on the road. 

Mile 10: Let’s go. I decide to pick up the pace and see how my body reacts. My foot is annoyed by this (sorry, bud), but the rest of my body complies. 

I see my family again and motion to Jess that I want her to hand me another piece of Run Gum. One of the nice things about being a mediocre runner is that there’s no reason to care about committing a technical ‘violation’ like this one. We execute a near flawless baton-style pass (Team USA: take note).

Fifth Gatorade Stop: I don’t expect to stay dry, and I don’t. I splash some Gatorade on my face and spot an easily accessible trash can. No way am I messing this up. I run right next to it and yell “JAYLEN!” and slam that thing home. I get a weird look from two people cheering. 

5K to go and I am determined to push it. I know I can break my stretch goal, it’s now just a question of by how much. Okay, Jake, forget your foot.

My playlist has my back. My earbuds bump Kid Ink’s “The Movement” and I start to pick up the pace. Good timing. 

Tenth mile: 7:11. 

Mile 11: At about the 11.75 mile mark, my body first really begins to feel fatigued. I’ve never gone this far before! I know I have more in the tank so inch up my pace, picking out competitors and running them down. Now it’s time to gut it out.

Miles 12-13: Somewhat of a blur, but I know I am moving faster. 

Final (sixth) Gatorade Stop: I grab a cup, take a swig, and just toss it down. All business now with about a mile to go. 

Home stretch: I am really pushing it and feeling tired. I’m consciously using my arms to power myself and thinking that the faster I run, the sooner I’ll finish. I am ahead of pace now and I am chasing every last second.

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I see my family at the final turn and can’t wait for the finish line about .1 ahead. With a final surge, I pass one more runner and begin to fade at the finish.

1:38:18.48. Average pace: 7:29.91/mile. Sub 7:30 pace!!!

The last three miles were 6:59, 7:01, 6:46!

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The result is good for 153rd overall out of 1,387 (114/657 men, 16/57 division). 

Post-race:

Quite exhausted. I find Savi and he helps me stumble out of the area. My foot is now completely furious with me but I don’t care. 

I loosen my shoes, grab some Gatorade, and meander around. My legs really hurt but surprisingly my breathing calms down fairly quickly. 

I am thrilled. I smashed my goal time and ran much faster than I had even (secretly) hoped. Coach Matt really knows what he’s doing

We take a few pictures and I opt to hobble the half-mile back to the hotel on (one) foot.

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A quick shower, breakfast, and then 30 minutes in the hot tub. Maybe the best hot tub session ever. 

I am pleased and relieved. I’ll definitely run this distance again. Not anytime soon, though. 

Next up: Gridiron 4-miler in Central Park on Super Bowl Sunday. Should be a great test of my speed. Join me if you’re in the NYC area!

 

 

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