This year was my seventh time running the Buffalo Half Marathon. It was my first half ever back in 2012, when I really didn’t know what I was doing and just decided to sign up for a half marathon at the beginning of my running journey. I ran/walked my way to a 2:13 and got hooked on running half marathons, running a 1:58 in September and a 1:57 in November of 2012. I ran a 1:45 at Buffalo in May 2013, and sort of flattened out from there. I was able to chisel my PR down to a 1:44:27 in October of 2014, but after that I couldn’t seem to break 1:45 again. I did a lot of half marathons since then, but they never seemed to go right.
A lot was mental. I started doubting myself, pulling back when it seemed hard. If conditions weren’t perfect, like the weather wasn’t the best or if my training was subpar, I would stand at the start line overanalyzing the details. This of course led to disappointing results and leaving the race bewildered. I started running half marathons for fun, enjoying the sights and the experience, which isn’t a bad thing, but made my times slower than they normally were. Then, when I registered for the Wine and Dine Half Marathon in Disney for this November, I realized I had relaxed so much that I didn’t have a decent proof of time to submit for corral placement. Things had to change.
Progress Since January
After the high of the marathon, my PT pulled back my mileage for the rest of January and I was doing a max of three miles a day for a few weeks. However, he didn’t mind if I pushed the speed on these runs. So between PT, joining the RunSmart Online community and getting even more strength and functional training, and running shorter, faster runs, I started to see my 5k times drop.
I entered a 5k in February. It was my first one since August, where I had had an abysmal performance and stopped racing them. I was ecstatic with achieving a 23:20, over two minutes off of my time from August. A few weeks later I got a 23:40 at a windy race, coming in as second overall female.
In April I stood at the start line of a chilly 5k and a friend looked at me and told me he thought I could win this thing. I laughed and told him no. I had never won a race before! I had no confidence in myself when the gun went off, but he was right (thanks, Paul, for having confidence in me when I did not). I ran a 22:40, not far off from my 5k PR from 2015, good enough to take first overall female. It was really exciting and I was overwhelmed. I had always wanted to experience winning a race, and I was blown away that I finally had. The next day I was at another 5k starting line, this time running a 22:53 and taking second overall. I was pretty excited to run two sub 23:00 5k’s back to back and started to feel my confidence grow.
Two weeks later I won another overall female award at a hilly 5k with a 22:22, a new PR, finally breaking my PR from 2015. I was a little nervous that I had run so fast because I had a half marathon the next day that was also hilly, the Flower City Half Marathon in Rochester, NY. I wasn’t planning on racing it, but I was hoping for around a 1:50. Luckily the weather was perfect and I felt pretty good, running a 1:44:49. I ran by feel that race, only occasionally looking at my watch. I was shocked as I neared the end and began to realize how fast I was going.
I ran the Seneca 7 relay race around Seneca Lake the next weekend, which left my knee angry, but I continued on with my planned races. I had my goal 10k that next weekend, wanting to take down my 46:55 PR from 2015. Again, perfect weather conditions helped me along the way to a 45:52, good enough for third overall female. I did a 5k the next day that my husband wanted to do and was shocked to get my first sub 22 5k, earning a 21:58 and taking second overall female at that race. The following Friday I entered a 5k that I REALLY wanted to win because the award was a gold plated laurel wreath brought here from Greece, which was really enticing because I married into a Greek family. I ran that race hard, and was blown away when I crossed the finish line in 21:17 and was told I was first overall. I couldn’t believe I had done it! I ran another 5k the next morning, getting a 21:52 and another first. I was feeling overwhelmed by how well I was running, by how my running had changed from the year before.
The next weekend, the weekend before the Buffalo Half, I ran the Kelly Tough 12k, a hilly race in Orchard Park, NY that supported the Hunter’s Hope foundation. It was exciting to see Jim Kelly speak to the runners, inspiring to see a man who was fighting so much adversity come out and continue to persevere and even start the race and walk it. I ran too hard in the first two miles, underestimating the hills, and struggled through the rest of the race. It was the first rough race I had had this year. I finished in 56:21, 11th overall, 3rd female, but didn’t feel great about my performance and hoped I would turn it around for Buffalo.
The Goal: Buffalo Half Marathon
Like many runners, I anxiously watched the weather forecast for race weekend. At first it was calling for rain and potential thunderstorms, though that forecast diminished and was replaced by heat and humidity. This left my anxiety elevated as we hadn’t had that kind of weather going into that race. We had been cool for most of the spring, so this was going to be a shock for local runners.
The hubbie and I decided to splurge and stay in a hotel close to the start line to help alleviate some of the morning stress. We left the hotel a little after 6 am and were lined up ready to go for the race start at 6:30 am. I lined up around the 1:40 pacer and took off at the start, pacing around a 7:27 and 7:12 (downhill during that mile) for the first two. I stayed around a 7:30 pace for the next two miles, but noticed that I was already starting to struggle and that I should back off a bit. I started inserting 20-30 second walk breaks during water stations, and a few when I was feeling particularly rough. Knowing I have another half marathon in a week, I didn’t want to do anything too stupid during the race.
I was mentally beating myself up a bit. I couldn’t believe that this was how my race was going. I had a ton of support along the sidelines and during the race. That’s what is amazing about the WNY running community, they are incredibly supportive of everyone. I had friends cheering me on from the sidelines and a few runners cheer me on and check in with me during the race, which definitely provided me with a bit of a boost, but I was still extremely disappointed with myself. When I hit mile 8, which is a major water stop that I knew a bunch of people were volunteering at, I started doing mental math and trying to decide what time I would be happy with. I thought a PR was out the window at this point, and I definitely wasn’t hitting my low 1:40 like I was hoping for, so I started bartering with myself.
I oddly started feeling a bit better at this point and threw down a 7:36 and a 7:45 mile after some 8:10-8:20 miles. I noticed that I had a shot to still PR if I could finish relatively strong. I made the final turn and saw the finish line, which in reality was really still about a half mile away, but that propelled me forward. I ran the last part at around a 6:48 pace, pushing to the finish line and being relieved that I finished in 1:43:07. That wasn’t near what I had been shooting for, but it was still a PR of 1:20 and salvaged a bit of the race for me. Later I looked at my data from my Garmin and noticed that my heart rate was high for most of the race, which is why I felt so physically off during the race.
Using the tracking app, I was able to cheer my husband into the finish and locate a friend on the course to support and run in. Then we all stood at the finish line, cheering in friends as they crossed, again showing how supportive the running community is here. We hung at the after party for a bit, touching base with friends, celebrating victories and lamenting set backs. I think that’s one of the best parts of running, is all of the amazing people I have met while pursuing my goals. We all push ourselves to the limit and struggle together, therefore we can relate and understand each other. We build friendships and comradery based upon this little past time of ours, which only helps make each of us stronger.