9 Tips to Running the Race of Your Life

"Suck it up buttercup"
This was the racing mantra I used for the 2011 Oxnard Santa-to-the-Sea half marathon. I wrote it on my hand on the drive down to Oxnard for the race. Every time I felt tired, or wanting to slow down, I would think to myself, “Suck it up buttercup.” And push forward.
This race was particularly special because it was the first time I ran relaxed, strong, and was extremely happy with my performance. I raced better than I could have ever dreamed. Here are nine ways that made the race so special for me (written as tips for your next half marathon).
1. Sign up for a race last minute… spur of the moment.  I signed up for the race last minute, just three days before. I didn’t have any grand expectations. I didn’t know much about the course, except that it went from the Santa to the Sea. All I knew was that it was time to race…I hadn’t raced since Boston, but had been training hard. I wanted to run a 1:35, to qualify for the New York Marathon. My best time was 1:36, so I really needed a PR.
2. Pick a course that is flat. The course was flat, and slightly downhill. I didn’t know much about the course, so I was really happy when there weren’t any hills.
3. Use pacing groups as a bench mark. After the gun went off, I held back, ran with my music, and took it slow. I didn’t know my pace because I wasn’t wearing my Garmin GPS watch. But I could see the 1:30 pacing group ahead of me…”Oh shoot!” I panicked. I need to slow down… I’m going to burn out… I did my best to pull back a little. But I was feeling really good, so I just tried to maintain my pace. It’s only a half marathon, I thought… You can’t burn out during a half!? Right?! Just try to keep behind the 1:30 group… you’ll break your 1:35…
4. Bring a spectator.  Even with a perfect flat course, and gorgeous weather, nothing beats having someone you know out there cheering you on. For my race, my father in law came along… Every time I saw him, I got a bust of energy to go faster. I saw my father in law at the bottom of this overpass…
5. Make the decision to break your PR or not… during the race. I didn’t go into the race with any grand expectations. I wasn’t trying to keep any particular pace, except what might help me qualify for the NYC Marathon. But suddenly, half way through the race, I decided wanted to break 1:30. I saw the 1:30 pace group a head of me, and knew that if I caught them, I could at least finish in 1:30. I thought about what Chad said to me… “Rusty told me to just real them in. Just keep your eye on them, relax, and soon they’ll come to you.  I did it, running 8:30s, and soon I was running 6:30s.”  I wanted to replicate this so badly… My husband would be so proud of me if I broke 1:30!! I love making him proud.  After several LONG, boring miles… I caught the 1:30 guy. It was about mile 10, and I could-not-believe-it. I was running faster than them to catch them, so I just kept up my pace. Just 3 miles to go… I got this…

6. Know the last two miles before the finish… backwards and forwards.  The last 2 miles, it felt harder and harder to keep the pace. Felt like vomiting, the lactic acid was setting in, I was t-i-r-e-d. I wanted to stop, and had no idea when the end was coming. I wished I had studied the course better, or walked the end of the course… I was so grateful for that 1:30 pacer… Just tried to stay ahead of the 1:30 pack. Gotta love those pacers!! I used my new mantra: “Suck it up buttercup.” :-) I was definitely tired, but my legs were fine.

We made our final turn for the home stretch, and I heard the 1:30 pacer say, “Almost there. You are going to break 1:30.” I couldn’t believe it, I was sort of in shock. I was gritting my teeth, hurting in pain, but didn’t want to miss breaking 1:30 because I gave up. I sucked it up, and picked it up for the last 300 meters or so. I turned the corner and sprinted to the end. I couldn’t believe it! 1:29:23!! 

I saw Doug and started jumping up and down. He gave me a BIG HUG. Love that guy so much.

Four more lessons learned from this race:

5. Be patient with your threshold training. It will take time to build up, but enjoy it. It will pay off… I paced a marathon at 9min pace, and it brought me strength. Run 26.2 as a fun run leading up to your next race. You’ll be surprised how much fun you have, and how much it will help you improve.

6. Don’t eat beats the day before the race. I didn’t mention this part during the post, but we ate beats with our pasta the night before. I didn’t feel sick until after the race. I DEFINITELY don’t recommend it!

7. Run with a mantra. I’m surprised how well this worked for me. Focusing on one quote, saying, proverb, verse… it can really help you make it a reality. Tell yourself to “Suck it up, buttercup,” or “it wouldn’t be a marathon if it wasn’t hard.” Google them, pick one, and write it on your hand. You’ll be glad you did.

8. Run with music. If you haven’t done this yet, you really don’t know what you are missing. Every time a good song came on, I felt like dancing. Pick music that has a good rhythm, beat, and/or makes you want to dance. I normally feel distracted by the music, but it really helped me relax. When I wanted to slow my pace down, I told myself to just keep moving my legs to the beat of the song, and it really helped. Songs came on that I LOVE to dance to… it felt like a dance party out there!

9. Suck it up buttercup. You will feel tired, but for a half marathon… if you have been putting in your long miles, don’t worry about burning out. You’ll be fine, you won’t hit a wall… Or at least you won’t hit it until nearly the end, so you won’t have to run too long on tired legs.