No Joke to this Slow Poke

This past Saturday, my marathon training plan – developed by Runner’s World Chief Running Officer and bad-arse running extraordinaire Bart Yasso himself – included the Winter Park Half Marathon in my eighteen-mile “long, slow, distance run.” Well, the two-mile warm up and three-mile cool down were slow efforts, at least.

I decided to ‘up’ my running game this year, meaning I took Yasso’s intermediate marathon training plan and shot it up with a fair amount of crack cocaine a la winged feet, so to speak – incorporated speed workouts and additional mileage to make the plan more difficult from week one.

The event website claims that the course “will be sure to push your limits” and seemed a good test of my training adjustments thus far. The verdict? They weren’t lying.

I studied last year’s field and finishing times to try to determine where in the pack I might aim to fall. Optimistically, I aimed toward the front of the female pack. Stupidly, I actually thought I had a shot to do just that.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: I am educated, but I never once claimed to be smart.

I got a good warm up in before the start, and the first mile felt pretty good. There were just a few girls ahead of me; and I was OK with my first mile time, as it was just about thirty seconds off the third overall female finisher’s pace for the same course the year before. Perfect. I’ll make up time on the downhill.

The second and third miles, however, were an entirely different story. The long and visually notable incline continued, but my legs did not. I suddenly felt fat, awkward, out of shape, and quite the bit foolish. I swear, if one more girl passes me. . . And then, one did. And then another. And then a guy. Damnit!

I always think my inner monologue at difficult times during a race interesting. This time, it was a bipolar hot mess ranging from ‘Don’t you DARE think about walking!‘ to ‘It’s OK. It’s still early in the season, and you’re running at a higher elevation‘. . .from ‘Who cares how fast these next few miles are? This is a training run‘ to ‘Keep this up. You’re in a RACE!

At this moment in the race, my internal monologue was a bit more creative. Mmm, humble pie. Nom nom nom!

I managed to keep pace with the guy for those few miles, then found myself playing ‘leap frog’ up a steeper incline with him and two of the girls that passed me earlier. Then, the dark skies of my mind’s eye opened up, and glorious, beautiful sunshine poured down – the climbing was OVAH! The rest of the course was either downhill or flat. Maybe now I can actually run.

The next mile or two were a welcome change of pace. Literally. I pushed forward until the two girls and guy left my peripheral view, caught and passed two more girls toward the first hill’s end, then one more guy along a straight away before hitting an aid station at a sharp right-hand turn. “Be careful, this part is steep and technical.”

I grinned to myself and picked up my pace. I ran as hard as I could down the trail – which, just as I had suspected – was mere child’s play compared to what I call “steep” and “technical” and traverse on a weekly basis. Mmm hmm!

Soon, though, the road got lonely and just felt plain ol’ long. Few thoughts came to mind as my body – and will to race – started to fatigue. Just get to seven. . . Just get to eight. . . Just get to nine. . .

Even with much appreciated cheering and encouragement from the occasional camper sitting on the tail gate of a pickup truck nearby or resident yelling “Good job! WOOOO!” out the window as they drove past on the dirt road, the all too familiar thought when fatigue and the realization that I was miles from civilization hit. I’m gonna die out here.

At the same time, the breathtaking scenery – also noted on the event website – showed up. The verdict? They were right on:

Photo compliments of the Winter Park Half Marathon. View compliments of Mother Nature.

Photo compliments of the Winter Park Half Marathon. Gorgeous blue sky compliments of Mother Nature.

Oh, wow, beautiful! . . OUCH! It’s an interesting phenomenon – feeling such bliss and such pain simultaneously. I wish I were hiking and had my camera. What a gorgeous view. . . So. . .tired. . .UGH!

I held a steady – and quick – pace for all but the last two miles of the course when my legs forced my brain to shift from sunny self-talk – Good, keep it up – to worry lines and sheepish encouragement – Good girl, just keep going – as signs of life at the parking lot near the finish slowly and steadily crept into view.

My gaze was so focused on the dirt just ahead of me as I willed myself forward for what I thought was going to be just over another quarter mile that I didn’t notice it at first. I came to the last set of volunteers along the course and finally looked up as they cheered me on. Just behind them was the finish line.

“Is that. . .the finish?!” “Yep, you’re almost there!” “OH. . .THANK GOD!” I managed to huff.

Feeling like you’re running as hard as you can toward the finish line – even when you know you look like death creeping toward an open grave patiently awaiting your stanky, depleted carcass – is a feeling of accomplishment. It’s a good feeling.

I finally made it to the finish, and, more importantly, to my car for my camera to properly document the view:

DSC07211

SOOOOO much more stunning when you’ve earned it!

The verdict? The Winter Park Half Marathon is no joke, not for the faint of trail running heart. I highly recommend it. And if everything I’ve told you thus far isn’t convincing enough, maybe a Bullwinkle look alike for a finisher medal is:

WHAAAAA?!

WHAAAAA?!

The course kicked my butt, and reminded me that I have a long way to go – and not much time to get there – before my next challenge, the Barr Trail Mountain Race – covering a few of the first miles of the Pikes Peak Marathon course – in mid July. Judgment day.

That verdict? We shall soon see. . .

Melissa Mincic, Ph.D., a long-time road and trail runner, conducts applied child development research and works to influence child development policy and practice at the University of Denver. Follow Melissa on Twitter at @nerdinrunshoes.

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