I have done a fair amount of running over the years, but I have never been that much of a runner. A good day for me is one where I keep up with my wife Nichole. She has been injured lately, and so I have not been running nearly as often as I normally would during the spring (since I normally run with her). I had also not run any races yet this spring, mostly because I would normally hop into a few of the races that she would run, and she has had to cancel a few planned races. Saturday was the Fargo half marathon, and I would not otherwise drive 4+ hours to North Dakota if Nichole wasn't planning on running the marathon there (she finished 2nd and won $1200 last year). Unfortunately she is still unable to run, but I had signed up for the race before she got injured, and so I was already committed.
We got to Fargo on Friday around noon. My mom and both of Nichole's parents were running the 5k in the evening. It was the first road race that Nichole's parents had ever done, so it was a pretty big deal for them (they have never been runners). Nichole and I did 7 minutes worth of jogging around the Fargo dome while waiting for the 5k race to start, and then we watched the 5k - (Interestingly it was an out and back course, and there were over 5,000 people running/walking so it took 12 minutes for the last people to cross the START line, and the winner came in in 16 minutes, so there was very little break in the action).
On race day morning I (along with my dad, Nichole's brother, and 2 of his friends) got to the Fargo dome to get ready to run the half marathon. As we are waiting it starts to rain. I love running in the rain, but there is nothing more miserable than standing around in the rain waiting to run. As we lined up at the start and the singer starts the national anthem it starts to POUR. By the time we start the race there are pretty big puddles in the street. The good news is that it was not 90 degrees and sunny like the forecast said it could be.
I really did not know what to expect for this race. As I mentioned, I really had not done that much running this spring. The fact is, I have not done as much of anything this spring as I would have liked to, and although I haven't felt particularly out of shape, I certainly have not felt in great shape. Plus most of my running has been on the trails in Red Wing, which has meant lots of hills and lots of sand and mud, but not much sustained pounding on the roads. It is also hard to gauge how fast you are going on the trails. Last year at Fargo I ran 1:28:13 (which was a personal best), but I had already raced 3 other times that spring including another half marathon. By the end of last summer I got my personal best in the half marathon down to 1:27:08. My goal for this year was just to get under 1:30.
The gun went off and I felt good. I was trying not to get caught up in all the people taking off too fast (like I often do in a running race), but I still came through the mile in 6:30. Considering a 1:30 is 6:52 pace I was a little worried. I felt good, but I certainly was second guessing my preparation. I backed it off a bit and came through in 6:40 for mile 2 and 6:49 for mile 3, still feeling very good. At that point I was wondering if I was going to really regret my fast start by mile 10, but at the same time I couldn't help recalling an interview that I had read earlier in the week. The part that stuck with me was about how often the only limitations that we have are the ones that we place on our selves. I was feeling good, and with this positive mindset I picked up the pace a little bit (6:40 for mile 4, 6:39 for mile 5). After two more miles at 6:40 pace I picked it up even further and ran a 6:30 mile for mile 8. My legs were starting to feel the pounding at this point, but I figured at this stage in the race I was committed to trying to keep pushing the pace and would either have a great race or would blow up spectacularly. Miles 9 and 10 were in 6:35 and 6:36. Mile 11 is where I made a surge last year, and so even though I was way ahead of last year's pace I tried to get my legs to do the same thing again this year. Mile 11 was 6:29. Now I was really hurting, but I knew I was on pace for a great time, and I wouldn't let myself lose it in the last 2 miles. Mile 12 was 6:33. In the last mile I was focusing on keeping my tempo up. My legs were hurting enough that I couldn't really tell if I was going faster or slower, but I was pushing hard. Mile 13 was in 6:24, and the last .1 miles was at 6:15 pace to put me across the finish line in 1:26:29. It was a 39 second personal best.
I really don't know where this race came from. I have raced at least a dozen half marathons in the past, many of them feeling much better prepared and with much more running and training in general under my belt. The only 3 explanations that I have come up with for my unexpected performance are: 1.) it rained for the first half of the race, which really helped keep me from overheating; 2.) The trail running that I have been doing at our new house in Red Wing has left my legs strong (even if I have not put in as many miles); and 3.) I found myself with a completely irrational positive mindset for almost the entire race. Based on my training I had no logical reason to think that I should have been able to keep up the pace that I was running, but I kept telling myself that slowing down would only limit my potential, and so I kept pushing. This could have completely blown up in my face but the result was a very good race (at least for me).