Cox Rhode Races Providence Half Marathon – Race Recap Part 2

by Sara on May 8, 2015

IMG_1686If part one is subtitled, “All the Details.” than part two of last weekend should be subtitled, “All the Feels”.  I had low to zero expectations for this race, and was partly only going because I didn’t want to waste the money on registration.  I was not going to come back to work with glory stories about the BEST. RACE. EVER. and I imagined when people asked how it was I would simply say, “It was fine,” and move on with my day.

As it turns out it was better than fine.  It was amazing.  It was the day that I had been waiting for all winter, through every snowy run, through every set back, through every moment that I had to tell myself, “Trust the process.”  It was the race that proved that every decision I have made for the past 6 or so months has been the right decision.  The race that proved to me running must be patient.  It was, SO much better than fine.

Of course it didn’t start off that way.

Pre Race


The drive from New Jersey was pretty uneventful with Ralph at the wheel and me resting my feet most of the way.  I fiddle with my phone, checking my Garmin Connect app looking for data that will back up the idea I have that I can totally and completely run this race in under two hours.  “Oh here’s a run with a similar hill, I felt ok on that run.”  “I swear I ran one of my long runs close to 9 minute pace, was it last week?  No.  The week before? No.  Was there any at all?  Can I even do this?”  I went back and forth between being completely confident to worried I was biting off more than I could chew.

We finally arrive though, check into the hotel with no issues and collect my number and then try to decide what to do with the rest of the afternoon.  It’s too early for dinner and too late for lunch but we decide to walk around downtown for a while anyways and end up in a bar not far from the hotel.  This happens frequently when we travel, we intent to go out to dinner at one place and then end up having drinks and “just snacks” at another and before we know it we’re full from the first place.  I had my heart and mind set on pizza for dinner so we decide on nachos to which I think, “I hope I don’t regret this decision tomorrow.”  I don’t regret the decision, the nachos are delicious, but they do leave my stomach a bit unsettled and I am starting to get nervous.

Back at the hotel I realize I am not really up for going out to dinner, especially so late.  The idea of laying in our plush hotel bed, feet up, TV on, and enjoying dinner in our room is gradually starting to gain appeal and we decide to order a take out pizza from a place not far away instead.  That was one of the beauties of being in Providence, everything we needed was within a 2-3 block radius from the hotel.  While Ralph went to pick up the pizza, I walked to CVS to pick up some drinks via the sky-walk that connected our Hotel to the Mall across the street.  I didn’t even have to go outside for crying out loud!  My race outfit was laid out, my belly was full of cheesy pizza and I was snuggled into bed with the lights out by 10pm.  I was actually starting to feel like things were going to go well the next day.


I slept terrible, if you can call what happened between 10pm and 6am sleep.  I call it brief periods of being unconscious interrupted by sugar high adolescent cheerleaders running up and down our hallway yelling as they decided which friends room they should loudly bang the door to.  More girls would come out.  More running.  More Screaming.  Every hour.  I finally lost it sometime after midnight and opened up my door to tell them to be quiet.  I could have probably been nicer about it, but they also probably could have been more respectful.

So when my and Ralph’s alarms went off in un-harmonized stereo from opposite sides of the bed at 6am I was not feeling particularly rested.  I peaked out the hotel window hoping to see bright sunshine and instead saw mostly clouds with some sun rising in the distance.  Maybe the clouds will go away, but we are high enough and my view is vast enough for me to see there is no way that is happening.  Given my previous history with races that ended up being colder than I wanted I was not feeling very optimistic either.  I do the usual pre-race things, make coffee, eat breakfast, put in headphones and listen to get-pumped-up music while I braid my hair.

Let me just stop right here and share a little piece of advice I learned this past weekend.  The secret to running your best race ever? Pop Tarts.  Yes, sugary, artificially flavored, artificially colored, processed Pop Tarts.  S’mores variety if we’re being specific, and in the interest of improving your race abilities I think we should be specific.  Pop Tarts for breakfast on race morning is now officially my good luck charm.

I started to give myself the pep-talk.  That internal monologue that you recite that determines whether you are going to start the race with positive mindset or a negative one.  This one was going to be positive, I was determined to make it such.  Negativity is one of my biggest downfalls and I needed to prepare myself for how I was going to deal with things when they got hard.  “You are going to do amazing.  You are going to rock this race so hard, and when it gets tough you are NOT going to quit.”  I kept all these thoughts on repeat in my mind, “When it gets hard at the end, you are not going to give up, you are going to keep pushing.  Think of Kara, think of that moment when she says she’s not even trying, don’t forget that moment and make sure you are always trying.”  The fact is it takes a lot more than a smile to race your best.  Most people distract themselves with motivating music and when things start to fall apart the songs are there to keep them going.  I however like to make life harder on myself, what’s the fun if there is no challenge?  This would be my first half marathon in years without having any music to push me at the end, and I didn’t want any excuses to slow down.  I wanted my mind to be ready.


Finally around 7:40am Ralph and I headed down to lobby which was crowded with other runners in various amounts of layers.  Some in only tanks and shorts and some in full on sweatpants and sweatshirts.  There were three distances racing that morning, each with their own start time and the half marathon was set to start smack in the middle at 8am.  The race was small, just under 4,000 registrants, and there were no waves or corrals.  The start was only 2 blocks from the hotel so I was in no rush to get outside just yet.  I took advantage of some empty space to do some warm up drills, high knees, grapevines etc.



The Race

The full marathon, which was slated to start at 7:30 had gotten off to a late start, and so affected the half start time.  I was ready to go just ahead of the 2 hour pacer and fidgeted in place to the music playing over the massive speakers.  I just wanted to start already.  My watch kept beeping alerting me it was going into powersave and each time I quickly told it, no! I am not ready yet! with the swift click of a button.  Finally we were off.


As usual the beginning of a race feels like I am moving backwards as runners all around me pass me high on adrenaline, and I let them go by confident in my own race plan.  Steady, I tell myself as I watch the 1:45 pacer get farther and farther away from me.  We are very quickly out of downtown and a quick glance at my watch tells me it is going to be completely unreliable for the first mile, it is showing me 7:30 pace.  My legs feel ok, not tired but not fluid and as fresh as I would have liked but it’s early still.  Not even a mile has gone by and I see the 2 hour pacer come into view on my right side.  This can’t be right, I cannot let the 2 hour pacer pass me this early in the race!  Determined to stay just ahead of the group I quicken my feet just a bit and the pacer stays just to my right.  When we pass the 1st mile marker my watch beeps with an 8:30 pace and I am surprised to see the 2 hour pacer is still sticking very close.  At that point I made the decision to let him pass by, and trust that my instincts were right and his pacing was off.  That might have been one of the smartest choices I made all day, although it was hard to do in the end my instincts were right,I was running too fast and I needed to save energy for the end.

Somewhere around mile 2 I noticed photographers in bright orange and they almost caught me in the middle of a yawn {trying to catch my breath} and then I realized, “These photos are FREE, perk it up girl. When are you ever going to get the chance to have decent race photos again?” I flashed a smile and a thumbs up and it set the mood for the rest of the race.

image3I high fived every small child with their arms eagerly outstretched into the road.  I high fived adults.  I high fived police, because I was just feeling that good, I wanted to have fun.  I thanked volunteers.  I told people I loved their signs, thanks for cheering, and other things I can’t even remember anymore.  There were so many points when I felt tired but the simple act of a high five put such a smile on my face it carried me through even if it was just for a moment.

Mile after mile ticked by and my watch showed sub 9 splits and they didn’t feel hard.  I kept making myself slow down, taking full deep breaths and still the numbers stayed below 9.  I kept thinking how impossible the whole thing felt, how effortless.  I use the term “effortless” very loosely and very relative in this context.  It wasn’t like I was sitting on my ass drinking daiquiris kind of effortless, but it wasn’t hard.  It was work, but for how good I felt I was expecting more like a 9:15 or 9:30 pace.  I let myself take it easy on all the uphills, and recovered on the downhills learning from experience finally that consistent effort not consistent splits is how to survive a race with terrain like this.

There was a point about 9 miles in that I looked down at my watch and realized how close I was to my PR, if I really gutted it out for these last 3 miles I could come close, maybe even catch my best time.  I know it sounds stupid to talk myself out of something like that but I was already SO ahead of where I thought I would be.  I knew I was not in PR shape, and pushing now might feel good for a mile or so but I honestly didn’t think I had it in me to push for 3 miles.  I knew I was going to meet my goal if I could just run a steady consistent 4 miles to the finish.  4 miles, I can do that.  1 mile and then a nice 5k.  Mile 10 is where it finally started to feel hard, my feet felt heavy and I could feel myself slowing down a bit.  I was full of all kinds of mixed emotions, the excitement that I was going to crush my goal, the overwhelming weight of my own body moving forward, the mental energy you have to muster up from deep inside in order to keep going.  I was miserable and happy all at the same time.

The end of a race had never felt so hard or slow even though according to my watch I was still running sub 9 minute miles at that point.  I knew there was less than a half mile to go, made the final left turn and I could see the finish line.  I knew I had nothing left in me to sprint through to the finish {plus I really REALLY didn’t want to throw up} so I just let it all sink in.  I thought I heard someone calling my name, I glanced over just in time to see Ralph on the sidelines.  I pulled together enough energy to flash a thumbs up, and then tried to switch to a peace sign, or something which just ended up with me calling out, “I don’t know what to do with my hands!”



As I approached the finish I thought of what I was going to do as I crossed.  Would I throw my arms up in victory?  Try to jump in the air and click my heels?  Just try to jump in the air?  Or would I just high tail it as fast as I could across that final mat just so I could be done.  I actually jumped in the air, I surprised myself I wasn’t even sure what I was doing one second I was running and the next second I was jumping. {perfect #jumpshot}

image1I high fived the volunteer who handed me my finisher’s medal, that’s how psyched I was to finally be done.  My watch beamed up 1:54:46 at me and I was completely overcome with emotion.  I never imagined that was possible, I figured 1:58 was doable and a 1:56 was a long shot.  1:54 and I would consider myself undertrained right now.  Maybe that’s the key right there, I am finally giving myself a break.  I collected a water bottle, not really stopping jogging as my stomach settled, and found Ralph right away.  As soon as I saw him I started crying big giant ugly cry tears and just wrapped my arms around him.  {Note to self: don’t do that until Ralph knows you’re not hurt, you’re just happy.}

“Are you ok?  Are you hurt? What’s wrong?” Ralph was probably not expecting to see me in tears at the end.  I pulled him to one side of the sidewalk and leaned up against a building, shoving my watch in his face so he could see the time.

“It was just, so hard,” was all I could come up with, “I just, I mean, it was SO hard.”  People walking by were starting to stare at me though so I pulled it together pretty quick and gave Ralph another sweaty hug.  I have run lot of races that I thought I would cry at the end of.  I imagined the finish and would get so emotional in training, but when race day came I was too tired and there were no tears.  This day was different although I have no idea why.  I had surprised myself so much, I had fought so hard at the end just to keep moving, and I was elated to be done.

Emotional outburst out of the way we went off in search of food and beer.  The sun was finally shining and it couldn’t have been more perfect timing.  The clouds that I had been so worried about earlier that morning were actually the best race weather I could have asked for.  I was never too hot or too cold, the arm sleeves the perfect compromise between shirt and tank top until mile 7 when I rolled them down to make awesome wrist bands.  There wasn’t even wind when we ran along the water which I had been worried about as well.  It was, for all intents and purposes the most perfect day for the most perfectly executed race.


Official Stats:

Chip Time: 1:54:44
82nd of females 20-29

If you’ve stuck around long enough to read this whole post and get to the end congrats.  It’s Friday and no one really does any work on Friday’s anyways right?  If you skimmed the post and jumped down here to the bottom, well, that’s ok too.  Cliff notes version is I ran MUCH better than anticipated on what I thought was not enough training.  This may be the thing that finally teaches me the lesson, “less is more” and this may be the first summer than I don’t beat myself into the ground with speedwork trying to force myself to get faster.  The proof is right in front of me, I need to trust the process, have lots of patience, and stop overdoing it because I have a lot of untapped potential and I keep ruining it by over training.  I guess it’s a trap we all fall into at some point or another.  Let’s just hope I’ve learned my lesson once and for all.

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