Friday, July 8, 2011

How a PR Really Feels

My first year of running was 2009. That year, everything I did was a personal record (PR) because I was always running a distance for the first time. The following year, I PR'd at nearly every race simply because I was getting stronger and learning more about running, so there wasn't a huge sense of accomplishment at getting better because the original bar was set so low. This year, after an injury set-back, I had not PR'd even once, though I was already half-way through my season. I kept getting close, but could never quite grasp that brass ring. I set an ambitious goal for the Seattle Rock and Roll half marathon to not only break my personal record, but also to finally break two hours in a half marathon.

As the race day wisdom goes, no new is good new, that is, don't muck up your race by wearing new shoes, trying the sponsored sports drink for the first time on the course, eat cereal for breakfast if you always have toast, or otherwise mess around with your routine. With that in mind, I set out to find a way to get coffee at five o'clock in the morning since I am now so beholden to that caffeinated mistress that I am afraid I will cease to function without her favor by mid-morning. The hotel where we were staying (The MooreI highly recommend it) has neither coffee makers nor microwaves in the rooms (The MooreI highly marginally recommend it). One would think it would be easy to get coffee in Seattle, what with all the Starbucks within Starbucks, but that proved not to be the case. After an exhaustive Yelp search and several phone calls to downtown coffee shops, it turned out that downtown Seattle is a coffee wasteland on Sunday mornings. I actually thought about purchasing an electric coffeemaker to bring along because the one we use at home requires boiling water. Aaron suggested canned coffee, but that only comes pre-mixed with cream, which I do not take in my coffee and do not want to start, especially on race day. I settled on iced Via, a specialty instant coffee meant to be mixed with cold water. It comes pre-sweetened and tastes like coffee-tinged ass, especially mixed with tap water in a plastic hotel cup. I choked it down anyway.

This whole coffee thing feeds into my race strategy: Start slow, never waste a downhill and avoid port-a-potty stops. I am sure I am not the only person who relies on caffeine to get things moving (you know what I'm talking about). The Via worked, though not necessarily efficiently. I ended up getting the job done, but in drop-cookie fashion (two tablespoons at a time); fortunately, the batch was complete before the start of the race.

Chilly race morning.
The weather was forecast to be cool, but it turned out to be quite chilly and the sky looked ominously like rain. Our group of twenty or so Portlanders battled the cold by wrapping ourselves in blankets while huddling on cardboard boxes, hobo-style. Some of us <casual whistle> may also have nabbed a sweatshirt from the donation bin to wear until our coral got to the starting line. I am a big fan of coral starts, especially in races with so many people, but it does make for something of an anti-climax when you hear the gun go off and then have to wait 17 minutes before you can start to run. It never did rain, but the overcast sky, while making the temperature nice for running, did lend a gloomy cast to the course, which made it seem not quite as pretty this year.

I started out with my fast friends (whom I rarely run with) for this race, like I had somehow been promoted. It was nice, but a little disconcerting because I felt some performance pressure along with the loss of comfort from having my regular running buddy at my side. I did a pretty good job of keeping up with them until my left arm went inexplicably numb around mile 2.5 and I slowed down to eat a gel and assess the situation. I finally decided it didn't matter since I don't run on my arms and the numbness didn't appear to be spreading. I wasn't really feeling my best and said as much to my friend Gayla right before a downhill (which, according to my strategy, I did not waste). That downhill (around mile five or so) got me into a groove and I was able to get back to a pace that would put me near my goal and that I thought I could sustain. However, my Garmin was getting more and more inaccurate (according to the course markings) so I couldn't rely on my average pace display. I tried to do math in my head according to my elapsed time but kept getting distracted by the teenage cheer squads along the route who got progressively more slutty-looking until I was worried they would be down to thong panties and pasties by the end of the race.

As the miles fell away and I got closer to the finish line, I knew I was close to two hours but couldn't be totally sure because of my Garmin issue, which was exacerbated by the long tunnel around mile ten. I picked up the pace to be within my margin of error and crossed the line at 1:57:15. Finally a PR!

Oddly enough, I have mixed feelings about meeting my goal. I didn't leave everything on the course as they say, and so I am left with the feeling that I could have done better. Surely this is why running is so addictive. Initially it was enough to see big gains; now as I pursue ever smaller increments of improvement, I feel like I am also pursuing this new, more elusive goalto not just go faster, but to go as fast as I am absolutely able. I want to find my limit, to know without a doubt that I have reached it, and then find a way to push that limit further; to know how a PR really feels.


  1. Caffeinated mistress - loved that metaphor. Congrats, Amy!

  2. Thanks for the comment Clark, sometimes I think there are just crickets out there in the blogosphere.