Why, why, WHY didn't I break 2:00 hours? That's the question I've been asking myself the most often since I ran the Dublin Half on Saturday.
I know I shouldn't be disappointed. This was my first half since my injury, and I got a PB by about 6 minutes. But I thought I had done more than I needed in preparation for this race. More total miles. Highest weekly volume. Longest ever runs. I'm pretty sure I had that sub-2:00 in me, but where was it on the day?
I've had some time to reflect, and I think it comes down to 3 simple mistakes on race day:
1. I didn't have a race strategy.
This seems elementary and I'm not sure why I didn't....but I just didn't. I remember thinking that I would just run and listen to my body. Settle into a comfortable pace. Maybe it stems from my first two races where I didn't even wear a watch! And part of me just wanted to run and enjoy, not keep looking down at my pace (which of course, I did anyway). Maybe I thought that I had trained enough not to worry about it. Whatever the reason, I just didn't think this through. I didn't have a plan for the start. I didn't have a plan for what I would do if I wasn't on pace. No plan.
2. There was a big hill.
My friend told me that the race was in a park, mostly flat. The race website also didn't talk too much about the course. So I just assumed it was flat and didn't train for any hills at all. Boy, was I surprised when I noticed around mile 4 there was a hill ahead. It wasn't especially steep, but it was massive. At least it was in two parts, where it leveled off for a little while before climbing again. I wasn't prepared for this hill in so many ways--I didn't train on hills, I didn't know the best way to run it, I didn't know what I was supposed to do now that it was here. I panicked. In the end I tried to push and keep pace on the hill. Wrong move. It totally zapped me and I really struggled during the middle of the race. There was also a cheeky hill in the last mile to get to the finish line. It destroyed my chances of finishing with a strong final mile.
3. I ran the first few miles too fast.
An amateur error and I should have known better. I thought I had learned this lesson long ago when I was running a lot of 10Ks. In one of my early races, I started off way too fast at someone else's pace and just died at the end. From then on I knew I had to just keep a steady pace at the beginning. Even when I train, I always do better when I don't go too fast the first 3 or 4 miles. I then find it much easier to pick things up.
After mile 3, I looked at my watch and saw my pace: 8:40/mile. Not fast for most people, but that's like light speed for me! I should have slowed down then, pulled it back. But I didn't. I was feeling good, and I had trained so much. And a small, little voice in the back of my head said, Maybe I've done it! Maybe it's happened! I've morphed into an amazing runner and this is my new pace now. This is easy. I'm going to get faster and faster. Hooray! For a few glorious miles, I believed! Of course, reality hit in the second half of the race.
So what have I learned?
Have a race strategy. No matter how simple, I should have a plan and stick to it. I should also have an idea on what I should do if things go wrong.
Know the course and train for it. I was too lax about it this time, and I didn't even think there might be a hill. From now on I'll take time to research the course, get thoughts from other runners, and then train for whatever obstacles are there. Oh, and I should probably be doing hill training anyway!
Don't start off too fast. In fact, err on the side of being slightly slower. This has been proven to me time and again, both in training and races. Resist the temptation. Don't do it.
So Dublin has been the key to helping me understand what I need to get right for my next race, in fact--for all the races I'll be doing in the future. And I've quelled that little voice and accepted the reality. No matter how hard I train, I won't magically turn into a fast runner overnight. I will have take it a step at a time by doing things the right way--including running smart races--and hopefully one day I'll get there.
I still have dreams of running a sub-2:00 half marathon, and my next chance will be in 7 weeks at the Poppy Half Marathon on 13 November in Bexhill-on-Sea.
I'll be there and this time....I'll be ready to race.