Two weeks out from my target autumn marathon, I flew cross-country to meet-up with my mom, sister, and sister-in-law and run ZOOMA’s Amelia Island half marathon in AI, Florida. (The short version: it was great). If you’ve been reading here for a bit, you might recall that in 2014 and 2015, I was a social media ambassador for ZOOMA’s Napa Valley half marathon/race weekend. Unfortunately, ZOOMA nixed their Napa race, but due to me being a social media ambassador again for them this year (even though all their races were on the east coast), and the very cool fact that based on last year’s Napa ambassador gig, I won myself a race weekend, I got to run a ZOOMA race again this year. It was a pretty sweet deal, for which I’m grateful.
Before I get too far into my race recap, I’ll preface this by saying that generally speaking, I’m not really into all-women’s races (or rather, “races that are heavily marketed to women”). It’s not my thing. Aside from the now-defunct Napa race and the she.is.beautiful Santa Cruz race (the latter I do pushing my daughters), I don’t typically run women’s races. The short version: I take serious issue with the way race orgs. typically market their “women’s races” and the absolutely absurd (and ludicrous, if not also insulting and misogynist) bevy of assumptions they make about women runners. ZOOMA/s.i.b. fortunately don’t do the things that I find most infuriating about most other women’s races I’ve seen. What has kept me coming back to race a ZOOMA race, besides the obvious camaraderie element (and comped race) that I get from being a social media ambassador, has been its very supportive and empowering atmosphere; many runners at ZOOMA races are running their first endurance event ever, so it’s cool to be a part of that. Plus, ZOOMA treats its race as an actual race: a chance for you to perform at your very best. It’s not “dumbed-down” in the slightest, nor are there some naked-ish males waiting for me to come up to them for a photo opp, both which happen at other women’s races.There’s no bullshit. It’s running. It just happens to be with a bunch of other women.
Going into the race weekend, my plan was to use the race as part of what would be my final 20 mile LR. I planned to run 2 miles to the start, the 13.1 race, and 5 miles back to the hotel, which would basically be perfect because our hotel was situated more or less two miles from the start and then five miles from the finish at the Ritz. The weather on race morning was wonderful: a little cloudy and windy to start, maybe in the low 50s, and very little (if any) humidity – a far cry from the day before’s 80+ and super-humid temps. I didn’t want to all-out race the HM with my marathon being two weeks later, but I thought I could at least maaaaaybe go for a lot of GMP miles for the front half/half-ish and then cut it down on the back-end and go for a big negative split. That was the extent of my goal for the day. My time goals – things I am usually so hung up about – also basically didn’t extend much beyond “hopefully I can at least average GMP for the duration of the race.” I guess if your expectations aren’t too high then you won’t be too disappointed with the outcome, eh?
More than anything though, I wanted to have a good race, though “good” was admittedly a bit nebulous and flew in the face of everything I know about setting goals. I wasn’t interested in going for a PR attempt (remember, 26.2 is looming), but I still wanted to have a “good” half, one where more things went right than wrong for once, and one that I could finish knowing that I ran well within my means. My running has been solid lately and I’ve been feeling strong, but my stomach and all the ongoing GI nonsense I’ve been having throw a wild-card into the mix each day. Plus, realistically, and rather unfortunately, my HM track record from the past three years has been haphazard at best. There’s always been something with me and HMs: my stomach blowing up (Kaiser ’14; Jungle Run ’14); going out way too fast and just dying a slow, painful death (ZOOMA Napa ’14); or that the runs were either for fun/pacing/part of a longer training run that day for a marathon or an ultra/I’m pregnant/I’m freshly postpartum and give no fucks about how this will go (Nike Women’s SF ’14; RNR SJ ’14; Trail Hog 13+ ’14; Santa Cruz ’14; Western Pacific ’14; SLO ’15; Berkeley ’15).
Suffice it to say then that I hadn’t run a HM well in a while, so it made it a little challenging to know what to expect or anticipate at the line. Add to that drama the fact that a) I wanted to get in a “good” workout/solid LR two weeks out from 26.2 and b) I wanted to reaaaaaally focus on the pending 26.2 and not jeopardize myself at all by running irresponsibly in the HM, it basically seemed like I had this mental cacophony that was at odds with itself. Don’t waste this racing opportunity (supported LR!), but don’t go all out; this should be faster than your usual LR, but don’t finish feeling gassed; go in expecting nothing, but if you don’t achieve (_________), then it’ll be a huge let-down. Yeah. Lots of competing interests, to say the least. Surely I can’t be the only one out there who has this intricate of a monologue pre-race…
Come race morning, I took a gamble and didn’t pump before I ran – figuring I wouldn’t be gone too too long – dutifully ran over to the starting area, met a couple of the other social media ambassadors, introduced myself to Brae (the ED of the ZOOMA race series), threw my gear into the back of a jeep (easy gear check FTW) and basically toed the line. I managed to screw up my watch, so it didn’t kick in until I had been running for about 5-10 steps, and it took until about mile 8 for my GPS to align with the course markers – no big deal. I usually hug the tangents hard during races, so I figured it’d take a while for things to finally more-or-less match up. The first mile took us through quaint little Fernandina Beach’s downtown, before we picked up a side road that eventually led us into Fort Clinch State Park, where we spent a lot of our miles before picking up A1A, the road parallel to the beach, that would ultimately dump us at the Ritz and the finish line on the sand (!!!).
Fernandina Beach is part of Amelia Island, the latter being only two miles wide and thirteen miles long, so there’s really not a whole lot there. I think I read somewhere that it’s the geographical size of Manhattan but a whole lot less dense.Once we left the downtown area and the side street that adjoined to Fort Clinch, we had a beautiful tree canopy over us. There were little bike-path trails on either side of us, and the winding roads (along with a bicycle race taking place simultaneously as our footrace, though fortunately going in the opposite direction) made for some pretty and relaxing scenery. Going into Fort Clinch, I was third OA, having caught up to the third woman after mile 1, where we commiserated over the weirdness of the aid station being unattended and self-serve – fortunately, the only real hiccup of the day – and though I couldn’t see how far ahead first OA was (Jenn), I could see second ahead of me by less than a minute. We did a little out-and-back around mile 5 or 6 in Fort Clinch, which allowed me to see how far ahead the number 1 and 2 women were, and later allowed me to both be cheered by and to also cheer for all the other runners behind me. I kinda love OAB races for this reason. I will always cheer for other runners when I see them; it makes me really freakin’ happy.
I eventually got my mental competing interests to settle with running GMP for the first 7-8 miles and then going for a big negative split home; what those “negative split” paces would be would remain to be seen and would be determined entirely by feel. I’ve listened to a fair number of running podcasts lately, and I recalled listening to a few whose speakers basically harped on the messages of a) trusting your training when you’re in a race and are intentionally holding back early, in the plan to negative split and b) focusing your training on one goal/one goal race at a time. Admittedly, it was a bit challenging to feel like I was running along very comfortably and around 3/4th overall – like I should have been working harder and shouldn’t have been wasting what was essentially perfect race weather – but I constantly reminded myself that I needed to follow my plan for this half – something I apparently haven’t done/haven’t done well in quite some time – and that I had to keep my eye on the marathon prize in two weeks’ time. Again with the mental back-and-forths during a race…
Once we got out of Fort Clinch, right around mile 7.75, we passed our hotel, and just as she said she would, my sister was on the sidelines! My sister! I never get to see her (or really, anyone in my family) since we live so far away from each other, but she told me that she’d be standing outside cheering for me and would be ready to give me some “real water” if I wanted it. For as lovely as Fernandina Beach is, the island water is downright disgusting. The best way I can describe it is that it tasted how cigarette butts smell. (Fucking disgusting, right?!). Fortunately, the ZOOMA crew must have realized this as well, and the water and electrolytes on course were totally fine. I passed my sister shortly before mile 8, got a ton of feel-good vibes from her, turned onto A1A, parallel to the beach, and decided that it was time to finish executing on my plan and to go for a respectable negative split, whatever that was.
When my sister wasn’t telling me she had “real water” for me, she yelled that I was third and that I should GO-GO-GO! to catch second. Right before or after mile 8, I had caught up to second, said some encouraging remarks (as is totally the norm at ZOOMA races I’ve run – everyone supports everyone else), and I was off. I’ve run many small races before where you’re essentially running blind if you’re in the front because you can’t see or hear anyone before or behind you, and it’s shitty. When I’ve been in those places before, I’ve constantly wanted to look behind me, but it’s obviously counterproductive and a waste of time. Just like in any other race or training run I’ve done, I had to tell myself to not worry about who was behind me or how far behind he/she was; I had to trust in my training, run my own race, and concentrate on the mile I was in.
Miles 8-13.1 went by in a blur. My family and I had driven/run A1A on Friday, so I was familiar with the road and the territory and knew what to expect (flat roads, beach houses, too many godforsaken Trump signs, a golf course). I concentrated on the road ahead of me and began to think that if the rest of the race ran as smoothly as it had been, that there was a good chance that I could end in about a 1:34 and change – what would be my second-fastest HM time and the fastest I’ve run one since leaving Chicago. I felt fantastic, and I reigned things in a little when I’d begin to see my current pace creeping into the 6:40s (again: marathon). I know it’s so unhelpful to compare races and training cycles, but I couldn’t help but laugh at how much better this race was going than the other times I had run a 1:33 or 1:35, wherein I started out like a bat out of hell and just faded. At ZOOMA, I felt like a million bucks during the final portion, and I couldn’t get over just how good I felt, given the distance I had already covered and the considerable uptick in pace. Miles 8-13.1 basically mirrored what I had been doing for my tempo runs – something in the 6:5x-7 flat range – though it was a lot easier to do that in the heat of a race than by myself in a workout. (Race day magic is real).
We HM runners eventually got onto the heels of the 12k runners and walkers, but it was basically without consequence; like I said, I love the encouraging atmosphere this race series provides, so I was all about the “good job!” and “yea girl!” and the like. When we made our final turn onto the Ritz-Carlton property, where the race ended, I began to mentally brace myself for the final .2 that’d be on the sand. I’ve run on sand exactly one other time in my life and swore I’d never do it again because it sucks. It was annoying and frustrating to be slowed down by the super-soft sand at the very, very end of a HM, but I get the novelty of it. Not far from the finish line, a boardwalk appeared, so we got a momentary reprieve and one last chance to pick up speed again. For as much as I mentally bitched about the sand, though, it sure made for a pretty and memorable finish line. Point taken, ZOOMA.
I was thrilled and so happy to finish how I did – second overall, 1:35:09, my fastest HM in a while and second-fastest ever, and perfectly executed my GMP-then-negative-split-plan – but more than anything, it was honestly such a huge mental relief to a) not have a GI catastrophe ruin the run and b) have a bit of a confidence boost two weeks before my marathon.
I’m almost 15 months out from having my baby, and while my postpartum running has been fairly smooth, it’s still pretty challenging for me to know what I can do or the paces I can expect on any given day. Now that I say that out loud, that’s probably true for everyone though; we often don’t know what we can do until we just show up and try. This distance stuff is just really unpredictable, which is what makes it so frustrating but also so enticing. So many times, you just have to deal with what the day brings. You can’t change the course; you can’t change the weather; you can’t change if your stomach is going into meltdown mode or if your legs are suddenly leaden; but you can change your perspective and outlook. I went into this race expecting virtually nothing, and while that may not be the best way to approach things, it was also something of a relief to get outside my own head for a while – to get outside the confines of a hard-and-fast time goal for a race – and to just run more or less on feel. Deep stuff, guys, I tell ya what.
After the race, my sister drove down to the Ritz, so we hung out, had some wine samples, jammed to the very awesome cover band, and I eventually got a massage and some chiropractic stuff done on my TFL. The very-sweet first place finisher Jenn, my sister, and I chatted for a while before the awards ceremony before heading back to our hotels.
I never finished those final 5 miles that’d get me to 20 for the day, but I didn’t mind. I chased the morning’s race with more quality time with my mom, sis, and SIL at the beach, where we took fantastic glamour shots, and felt such a deep gratitude that I kinda can’t explain it well without sounding ridiculous. Running can break our heart, no doubt, but god can it ever make us feel so fucking amazing, too. Add a satisfying race to the already lovely weekend that I got to spend with people I rarely see but care so much about, and my heart was pretty full (and my legs felt pretty fantastic).
Next stop: 26.2 on 11/6!