On Saturday, I ran the Rock ‘n Roll half-marathon in Philly, my first-ever race wearing the full Santa Claus suit (hat, fake beard, coat, and pants). All week I’d been stressing over the race, and I found myself more nervous for this one than any race that I could remember. After a little reflection, I realized that the source of my anxiety was the fact that I was running a different kind of race than I had ever run before. Before any race, I create a goal of exactly how fast I think I can run, and a gameplan of exactly what pace I need to run at in order to achieve it. That gameplan is created from many data inputs from my recent workouts and previous races, but this time was different. This time, I didn’t have any recent workouts in the full Santa suit, and definitely not any races, so I actually had no idea what time or pace I could run. I landed on a target pace of 6:30/mile because that was exactly the pace I’d need to run on November 22nd in the full marathon in order to break the 2:55:50 Guinness World Record for the fastest marathon wearing a Santa suit. So I set out looking to run 6:30/mile for at least half of the race, and then hopefully I’d be able to drop the pace down a bit for the second half. Not knowing whether this target pace would be easy, just right, or impossible took its toll on me, and by Friday night (the night before the race) I had myself pretty worked up over the whole thing. I started to doubt my own fitness relative to the goal – even questioning whether I underestimated the difficulty of running a long race in a full Santa suit. What if I couldn’t even finish the half marathon? Yet here I was, telling the whole world that I was going to not just finish, but run under 2:55! I think that envisioning those “worst case scenarios” is normal, something that everyone does whenever taking on a challenging goal. So I decided to ignore it, since it wasn’t going to do anything to help my situation. All week, the waiting was the worst part – I just wanted to run the damn thing and get it over with so that I’d know once and for all if I was in shape or not!
Finally, Saturday morning came. I woke up at 5:45am, which was definitely too early, but I couldn’t help myself. I put the suit on, and upon leaving my apartment, was greeted by a chilly, fall morning. Awesome. I checked my phone, and it was 45 degrees. Perfect. Praying that the temperature would stay right where it was, I headed over to the race and made my way to Corral #1. I can only imagine what people thought as I lined up next to runners whose target half marathon times were in the 1:20-1:30 range. I’m sure most, if not all, thought I was doing it to be funny or get attention. They were half right – while at the time my top priority was to run a controlled, fast race, there was still part of me that was conscious of making as big of a spectacle as possible in the process to create more buzz around my cause, raising $26,200 for Mighty Writers in Philadelphia. I found a guy next to me who said he was targeting 6:30 pace, so we created an impromptu racing pair and got ready to go. The race kicked off and I immediately realized that I was running too fast, and had already distanced myself from my new friend. “Oh well, not much I can do about that. Time to find another friend.” Cheers for Santa continued to flow along the Ben Franklin Parkway as I settled in with a small group of runners and came through the first mile in just over 6:00. Whoops. It’s definitely not the first time I’ve done that, and, to be honest, probably won’t be the last. I then proceeded to run the most inconsistent 4-5 mile stretch that I’ve ever run in a race, ranging from 6:02 to 6:36. Not how I wanted to run my half-marathon, and certainly not the most efficient use of my energy. But there was some good news from this first 1/3 of the race – the runners around me started to take me seriously. I’m sure they all expected me to drop after a mile, so when I was still beside them (or passing some of them) at mile 5, they knew I was legit, and that pumped me up. I also got a big boost from the spectators on the course, who didn’t miss an opportunity to cheer on jolly old St. Nick. I felt kinda bad for the runners around me, who didn’t seem to get any love from the crowd as long as I was around them. We heard “Go Santa!” like a broken record, but not a word about anyone around me. If you’re reading this and you were one of those people, I’m sorry! (and thank you for pulling me along)
I came through the half-way mark on pace for a 1:21, which was well ahead of my 1:25 target time, but I didn’t panic for a few reasons. First of all, this race was always a practice run for the “main event” on November 22nd, so it wouldn’t be the end of the world if I messed it up. I also think that part of me wasn’t concerned about being too fast because I knew, deep down, that my body was, in fact, in great half-marathon shape. That wasn’t my concern. The big concern was whether or not I’m in great full marathonshape, which I don’t really think I’ll know until I go for it on race day. Perhaps the biggest reason, though, that I didn’t panic when I came through the half marathon mark well ahead of my target pace was my realization in that moment that my target time of 1:25 was totally arbitrary – I had made it up – and I could just as easily make up a new goal time in the moment, which would validate the pace that I’d been running. So that’s what I did, and 1:21 became my new target goal, and 6:10 became my new target pace. Amazingly, I got even stronger as the race went on from there. In addition to keeping my individual mile splits, I also kept track of my 5k splits (a half-marathon is roughly 21 km), and each one was about 20 seconds faster than the one before it. I felt amazing, and I think a major reason for that was that I nailed my hydration/re-fueling plan. I had water mixed with Nuun (electrolyte-enhanced tablets) in bottles attached to my belt, and I took a GU energy gels every half hour, and they worked wonders. I must have passed over 50 people in the last half of the race, which is a fantastic feeling (“going fishing,” as we call it). I sprinted up the small hill that leads to the front of the Philadelphia Art Museum, with the crowd going wild, and crossed the finish line in 1:20:27 (6:09/mile average). I was soooooo pumped, not just from the crowd, but because I knew that I had run an incredible race. Most importantly, I was officially on track to break the marathon record in three weeks. The equation that many people use to predict a marathon time is to take a half marathon time, double it, and add 10 minutes. Using that equation, my 1:20:27 half marathon time equates to roughly a 2:51, which puts me about 5 minutes under the current record. Now you can see why I was so excited!
And, at the same time, I know better than anyone that nothing is handled, there’s still a lot of work to be done. The second I stop respecting the immense challenge that lie ahead of me, I’m done. So for now, all I can do is stick to my training plan, and trust that it will be enough come race day. Right now, I’m feeling like it will be. 17 days until we get to find out…