Oh Shiner. What do I say?
Let’s start by talking about what the race was like last year. Last year, it was cold. 38 degrees and super windy. I ran a 1:37. It was a 2 minute PR and I won my age group. It was a great race and an awesome day.
This year, apparently, wasn’t last year.
This year, I ran a 1:46, 10 minutes slower than my PR (9 months ago), and placed 4th in my age group, I missed 3rd by nearly 5 minutes. If you could illustrate the word BLOWUP this would be it. I haven’t finished a half north of 1:45 since Rock ‘N Roll San Antonio in December 2014 (at the time it was a PR, and I was thrilled).
I’ve never had bad race. I’ve had some that didn’t go quite as planned but I could always pinpoint the reason afterward. I couldn’t do that after Shiner. I left Shiner with my tail between my legs, having no idea what happened. No clue what went wrong.
But you can’t have improvement without the occasional failure so the most important thing I can do now is to dissect the race, and learn from my mistakes. This race was unique for a few reasons and I think several factors each influenced the outcome. No one of these factors was the sole reason for failure but I think they each had their own, albeit small, role in the resulting meltdown.
Factor #1: The Heat & Humidity
It was HOT and HUMID. 73 degrees when the race started and that was BEFORE the sun came out.
Factor #2: The Wind
Even though Weather Underground said the wind was blowing at 5-6 mph, all the flags and trees seemed to think otherwise. I don’t know what the wind speed actually was but it had to have been in mid teens.
Factor #3: The Course
Shiner is a HILLY course. I mean HILLY. The first five-six miles are all up hill. The hills are steep, short and compact with little room for recovery between them.
Factor #4: Music Malfunction
For some unexplained reason, the music on my phone stopped working at mile four. Trying to maintain my pace, I dug my phone out of my belt and reset the app, started and stopped the playlist over and over to no avail. I decided that I didn’t feel like dealing with it, so I shoved the phone back in my belt and took out my earbuds. I did the rest of the race without music.
After a week of thinking about it, and talking it over with my running partner, I think I finally have a handle on what went wrong.
It’s no secret that I train by heart rate. I’ve talked about it here before. But for some reason I went into this race with the hair brained idea that I wasn’t going to run by heart rate. Instead I was going to run by pace/effort and see where that took me.
I can tell you exactly where it took me. Into the seventh circle of Hell.
I spent the first five miles sticking as close to pace as I could, even with the heat/humidity and while climbing that hill. I occasionally glanced at my heart rate which was 178-180 (I normally race at 170). I pushed myself hard going up the hill, thinking that I could use the downhill to my advantage later in the race to give my heart a break and relieve some of the effort. If you look at the heart rate graph you can easily see exactly how much time my heart rate spent above my normal 170 racing heart rate.
When I got to the downhill portion we turned straight into the wind, AND the sun came out. The combination of the two effectively cancelled out any advantage the downhill provided. I was banking on that reprieve in effort and it never came. It was defeating. And the defeat happened in silence because there were no spectators and I didn’t have music.
The further into the race I got, the more I slowed down. Around mile 7, I got wise and went back to watching my heart rate but the damage was done. I was gassed. My normally controlled heart rate was out of control, spiking easily above that 170 mark despite slowing my pace.
I tried to race a half at 95% of my max heart rate when I’ve been training at 87-90%. Unsurprisingly, it didn’t work. Shocker, right?
The lesson is: Race day isn’t magic.
Yes, you can count on a certain amount of adrenaline to gut out the last couple of miles but it can’t carry you through an entire race. Getting a PR is hard and requires almost perfect conditions. Shiner wasn’t a PR day but I failed to recognize the non-ideal conditions and therefore didn’t slow my pace and expectations to match.
Going into a race with high expectations is hard. I put a lot of pressure on myself to perform at a certain level and it caused me to abandon my core racing strategy.
That’s the mistake. That’s where it all went wrong.
Notice I haven’t mentioned anything about my toe.
Three days before Shiner, it was so swollen I could barely walk on it, and I was really beginning to question if I could even race.
But desperate times call for desperate measures.
I unwound a paperclip and using the flame from my stove, performed a little DIY surgery on my foot, burning four holes in the top of my toenail to relieve the pressure. It was disgusting, amazing, and incredibly effective.
Did it work? Yup. Improvement was almost immediate. I was able to run on it, gingerly, a few hours later and by race day it was still noticeably tender but much better.
Though I would LOVE to be able to blame my failed race on my toe, I can’t. It didn’t bother me much during the race. I may have been subconsciously altering my stride/form to avoid putting pressure on it, thereby adding to the already increased heart rate but any difference that may have made pales in comparison to the enormity of the strategic error that occurred. The toe didn’t help any but it wasn’t the real issue.
My sock WAS bloody after the race though. Fun times.
Where does that leave me? With a massively bruised ego. I wallowed in defeat for two days but I was reminded that I need to shut up and suck it up. Bad races happen. BCS is in a couple of weeks and if I don’t want BCS to follow in the footsteps of Shiner, I need to evaluate, regroup and move on. There it is.
I can tell you what I WILL be doing at BCS…running by heart rate. Lesson learned.