As I ran the OCMD Island to Island Half Marathon on Saturday, holding my 2:30 pace sign, I ran up to a runner who said something like, “I didn’t want to see you.”
That’s how I feel about this blog post. This wasn’t the blog post I wanted to write. The blog post I wanted to write was about how I helped people meet their goal of running a half marathon in under 2 hours and 30 minutes, and how it was a rewarding experience. That’s how I felt about the pacing experience last year, when I paced the 2:50 group at the same race.
This year was different. I am still grateful for the experience, but it was much more difficult than I expected. I agreed to pace the 2:30 group thinking it would not be a tough pace for me to keep up. I ran a 2:07:27 half marathon at the Rehoboth Beach Seashore Half Marathon in December. I ran a 2:19:21 at the United Airlines Rock ‘n’ Roll Washington D.C. half marathon in March, and that was with a huge hill and with taking pictures during the race. I even ran the Louisiana Marathon — a full — in a faster per-mile pace in January.
But I couldn’t keep up the 11:27-per-mile pace at the race on Saturday, April 29. I gave it what I had, and I came in a minute and 39 seconds over.
The morning started out well. I’m normally not much of an early riser, but my boyfriend Mike, friend Veronica and I were on the road before 5 a.m. to make it to Ocean City to catch the 5:45 a.m. bus to Assateague Island. The race goes from Assateague Island to Ocean City.
We got on the bus without a wait, and I was able to use the bathroom before the race started. If you’ve been reading this blog, you probably know I have experienced heat issues in the past. There have been two races in which I have gone to the hospital for heat-related problems after a race. I always have that in the back of my mind on a hot race day.
I have been tracking my water intake this year, and I was sure to hit my water goal Friday (I also hit my goal Monday and Wednesday and drank water on Tuesday and Thursday as well). I drank a full liter of water the morning of the race, and planned to stop at all the water stops. I also brought along a pack of Clif Shot Bloks.
I knew from last year that my watch would likely not match up with the mile markers, and I knew I would have to match the times on the pace band with the mile markers. For example, I was supposed to hit Mile 1 at 11:27, Mile 2 at 22:54 and so on. The pace band that I received at packet pickup listed cumulative times that I was supposed to be at each mile marker.
It took me a little bit of time to be exactly on track, but I was doing well. I recall thinking early in the race that I knew it was going to be hot and I was surprised that it wasn’t affecting me. That would change.
I ran the first few miles with my friend Jill, and she was saying it seemed we were going a little fast, so I turned on my Strava as well so I could see my average pace. However, I knew I had to hit the mile markers, and at the end, I did end up with 13.22 miles on my watch.
There was also another woman who I ran with pretty much the entire time. We were never far from each other, and she even caught up to me after taking a bathroom break during the race. As I struggled near the end, she motivated me and said she was going to stick with me even when I told her to go ahead.
After leaving Assateague and going over the Verrazano Bridge, the race route goes up Route 611 toward Ocean City. There is a loop in a neighborhood a little before reaching the Mile 6 mile marker. As I was going into the loop, I saw Diane, the pace team leader who was pacing the 2:10 group, heading the other direction, and she asked how I was. I told her I was feeling good, as I was at that point.
I believe it was during Mile 6 that my knee started to hurt a little. My knee never hurts on a run, so I wasn’t sure what was up. That dissipated, though. At some point, I felt like I was having the breathing problem I’ve experienced a few times.
But it was the heat and humidity that really did me in. According to this information on Weather Underground, the humidity was at 93 percent in Ocean City at 6:53 a.m., shortly before the 7 a.m. start of the race. At 7:53, it was at 90 percent, and at 8:53, it was at 83 percent. According to the site, the temperatures at those times, respectively, were 72 degrees, 75 degrees and 78.1 degrees. That’s pretty hot and humid, particularly for April.
I was definitely struggling around Mile 8-9. I remember thinking sometime around an hour and 30 minutes into the race that I still had an hour left. I wanted to stay positive as a pacer, but I am sure others around me could see me struggling, as I felt like I was having trouble breathing at points and was coughing at times. Other runners actually helped motivate me. I was supposed to be the one motivating others!
By those last few miles, I was not walking for the benefit of people I was pacing — I was walking because I had to. Although I knew I might not make it, I was thinking there was still a possibility. But before we reached Mile 10, I was telling other runners around me that I thought I was behind, and they should go ahead. I was carrying the 2:30 pace sign and didn’t want people to think they would reach that time if they stayed with me.
Other than the one woman I mentioned earlier, I didn’t really feel like I had one group I was with the whole time. There were definitely familiar runners around, though. Mile 12 was my worst mile. It was the only mile that was way out of the range I should have been in, at 13:14. I got to points where I just could not go on running — I had to walk. I was visibly frustrated with myself and my body for not being able to do this.
A Coast Guard member or maybe an EMT somewhere during that mile asked how I was doing, and I remember mentioning that I felt like I was letting people down. I saw Mike, who was pacing the 2:40 group, a little later in the race, and he pleasantly said hi or something positive to me and I basically barked at him that I was behind.
Near the end, I saw my friend and fellow blogger Kristen (Jonesin’ for a Run), who was able to get pictures of me giving high fives to some young spectators. Even though I felt like I was dying at that moment, I was pleasantly surprised to see that I don’t look like death in the photos.
The end of the race is difficult because runners get pretty close to the finish, but then there is still a mile or so left in which runners have to go up the Boardwalk — away from the finish — and then around in a square-like shape before reaching the end.
I knew I had not made my pace, but I didn’t find out until Saturday night that my official time was 2:31:39. (My watch had 2:32-something, but I must have not turned it off right away.) I felt like I was sprinting and using whatever energy I had in that last mile, which my watch logged at 10:59. When I reached the end, I felt off.
I received my finisher medal and was sort of stumbling, I think, and ended up sitting down in a chair by the medical area. Veronica and Mike gave me ice to help cool down my body and I also drank a bunch of water (which, hopefully this isn’t TMI, but I did actually throw that up). I knew that I didn’t want to have to go to the hospital again — my last dehydration issue was in 2014, and I thought I’d been doing pretty well since then with not pushing my body past its limit. I was frustrated at myself that the heat had affected me in this way and that I wasn’t able to run the 2:28-2:29:59 that I signed up for.
Mike also took off my shoes as I sat there. The rest during the time I was sitting there, the water and the ice helped me, and I felt normal by the time I left. I was able to have some food at the post-race party and then enjoy brunch at the Bayside Skillet with Mike, Veronica and another friend who had run, Megan.
If you were near me in the 2:30 group and you did not meet your goal, I apologize. I want you to know that I tried to meet this pace. When I signed up, I thought I would be able to do it. I did feel like I was letting people down, and that was really what pushed me through to the end. If I were not pacing this race, I probably would have come in at a much slower time, at least by five or more minutes.
I posted about not meeting the pace on my blog Facebook page and Instagram, and people were very supportive. The pace team leader was also understanding and when I saw her after I finished, she was not disappointed in me for not reaching the finish in under 2:30 — I think she realized that I tried my best given the conditions.
I thought about what I might have been able to do to meet the pace, and there were plenty of people who came in well before me, even on this hot and humid day. I don’t want to make excuses — maybe there is something that I could have done beforehand. But from what I can recall, I think this is the most hot and humid half marathon race I have ever run. (I have run some hot 10-milers and shorter distances.) I do think I could have met the just-below-2:30 mark if not for the hot and humid conditions, given my other recent race times. I saw other posts about the tough weather conditions, too.
During the race, it seemed like people around me were looking for the next water stop. I know I was, and I should have looked at the course map beforehand so I knew when to expect them. Of course, I could have carried water, but on such a hot day, I would have appreciated even more water stops. I stopped at all of them and by the end I was taking three to four cups at each, drinking some and pouring some on my head.
I hope that despite not meeting the pace I signed up for, I was able to motivate some fellow runners. It really is a valuable experience to have. I also hope this doesn’t scare people away from using pacers — I am just trying to honestly share my experience.
Splits (according to watch):
Mile 1: 11:36
Mile 2: 11:07
Mile 3: 11:27
Mile 4: 11:16
Mile 5: 11:27
Mile 6: 10:59
Mile 7: 11:27
Mile 8: 11:24
Mile 9: 11:23
Mile 10: 11:41
Mile 11: 11:41
Mile 12: 13:14
Mile 13: 10:59
Last part (my watch had .22): 2:55 (see note below)
My watch had 2:32:36, but I didn’t stop it right away. My official time was 2:31:39.
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