From 0 to PR in 48 Hours: Adam & Eve Half Marathon Recap

I don't really have a strategy when it comes to registering for races. I know some people like to take advantage of early bird discounts, while others wait until the last minute to make a decision about whether or not they'll join the party.  I tend to fall somewhere in the middle....I like to be on the early side for races that I think will sell out, which is why I registered for an Ironman over 10 months in advance. I'm not usually swayed by the discounted prices, but the 2016 Richmond half marathon early-bird price was tempting enough that I registered 363 days in advance, which I think is my personal record. But typically what happens is that I'll get an idea that I want to do a race a few months before it actually takes place, then I'll wait a bit before mentally committing, and then I'll wait a little longer before I officially register, but not long enough that it's like, you know, a day or two before the race or anything.

Until now.

For months Alyssa and I had been tentatively, then officially, planning for her to come down to Virginia last weekend to join me in a local 10-miler, the Blacksburg Classic. That was the plan, and the plan was good. Then out of nowhere last Wednesday I got a text from her asking, "Did you get that email?" and I didn't know what she was talking about but since we'd been trading emails back and forth all week about our plans, I thought I had missed one from her. Instead I found an email in my inbox from the director of the Blacksburg Classic, and as I scanned it, the words "windchill of 0," "postpone," and "February 20th" (I already have a race on that date) were all I needed to read. And just like that, a weekend of plans fell through.

Since I only (these are the words one grows accustomed to using when marathon training) had 10 miles scheduled for the weekend, it was no problem to do them on my own without the camaraderie of friends and support of a race. But then all of a sudden I found myself on the bus on Friday morning, and maybe this is all due to the fact that I actually got a seat instead of having to stand and therefore could actually use my phone on the 10-minute ride, but I started to wonder if there were any races within a reasonable driving distance I could run instead. For the record, Running in the USA is my go-to site for finding out-of-town races!

I was looking for something in the half marathon distance, give or take a few miles either way, when I stumbled upon the Adam and Eve Half Marathon in Charlottesville, VA. I know the location well - it's the halfway point on the drive from Virginia Beach to Blacksburg, as well as the home of my beloved VT's rival school/Virginia's inferior state school. I did a little bit of recon on the race and the course, and by Friday afternoon, I had registered for a race taking place in under 48 hours, whose existence I had only been aware of for approximately 6 hours.

As you'll recall from your diligent reading of my Sunday Sweats, I've been training for the Big Sur Marathon in April while hoping that all that distance and hill training that would catapult me to a PR at the Shamrock Half Marathon in March. I was actually out on a tempo run last Wednesday when I found out the Blacksburg Classic was postponed; it turned out to be a great run where I managed 4 tempo miles and an average pace (8:17) at my goal half marathon pace (8:15-8:20). At the time I half considered running an additional 5 miles just to see if I could run a half marathon PR, but alas I had to go meet someone and really didn't have the time. BUT! The seed was planted. I was feeling more confident than ever about reaching my PR goal at Shamrock. If I could run 8 miles at that pace, surely I could run 13.1?

So after I found out about and registered for the Adam and Eve Half Marathon all within a 6-hour span on Friday, as I thought about my great run on Wednesday, I got it in my head that I might like to try for a PR. The race wasn't until Sunday, so on Saturday I worked and Ben also worked and went to boxing, and then that night we made an appearance at a Mardi Gras party before heading out of town for my Sunday morning race. Please note that this is not how I would prefer to spend the day before a race, especially one I want to do decently well in, but I wasn't married to a PR attempt. I figured if nothing else, it would be a great dress rehearsal for Shamrock, a trial run to see what I could realistically expect (since I pulled my goal out of a half marathon I ran over a year ago and haven't come close to since).

The Adam and Eve Half Marathon was a small (only 51 people in the half and local race that was, overall, just fine - no complaints but no raves either - and probably not really recap-worthy if I hadn't PRed (you read the title, right?). Ben drove me to the start from the hotel we stayed at the night before, and packet pickup was a breeze except for the fact that my bib was incorrect. In keeping with the Valentine's Day theme, bibs were color-coded based on relationship status. I know I signed up for the in-a-relationship one (red) but I got a single (green) one on accident. After I picked up my bib I still had about 20 minutes, so I waited in the car. I finally got out with 5 minutes to go, and I had to make a porta-potty stop on the way (there was like 50 yards in between the car and the start line - like I said, it was a small race), and I heard the countdown right as I was walking out of the porta-potty. I walked over to the start and put my gloves on as fast as I could so I wouldn't get totally left, and then I was off!

The temperature at the starting line was 10* - it was so cold that the race directors had offered deferrals on the website for next year, and I'm sure that that thinned out the field this year even more. I wore two base layers and a thermal top, thermal tights, a fleece-lined headband, and fleece gloves, and I was still cold. It wasn't unbearable and I've definitely run in worse conditions (the good news is it wasn't windy at all), but I think this might be my new record for coldest race. I was never really warm, but I did start to warm up after a few minutes - thankfully the sun was out!

Okay, we're talking about running, not weather, right? Sorry. So we started in a park and for the first half mile made our way down a gradual descent to exit the park. I was really focused on letting gravity do its thing at that point, but when I realized I was at a 7:55 pace after the first half mile, I knew I needed to dial it back a bit, maybe even a lot. After that initial stretch leading out of the park we hopped onto a riverside path, where we'd stay for a quite a while, and something about it reminded me of a 5k that I ran on New Years Day last year. I ran a hard race that day so I had to snap out of reminiscing about that race because the one I was in was a totally different animal. I actually said to myself in my head, "Tracy, this is not a 5k!" Because talking to one's self is totally normal.

Honestly, the first several miles were a bit of a struggle for me. The first mile flew by, as it always does, but the second felt like it took quite a while to get through. When I was only at 2.5 miles in and already starting to feel tired and wonder what I had been thinking to sign up, I knew I was in trouble. In the back of my mind, I knew I had 10.5 more miles in me, I just wasn't sure what they were going to look like. (Miles 1-3: 8:17, 8:20, 8:15)

Close to mile 3 we made a turn to head back on the riverfront path, and close to mile 5 we finally exited the path. At that point thing were finally starting to click, and I was feeling good. I knew it was an out-and-back course, so I only had about a mile and a half left of uncharted territory before I'd get to head all back the way I came. I could handle that. This course was advertised as a flat course with only one big hill, leading from the path up to a neighborhood. I got to it and thought, "Oh this is the hill? This is nothing!" Except when I got to the top there were volunteers pointing me across a parking lot, at which point I made a point onto the street, and then I saw another steep hill that was probably only like a quarter mile long, but it looked never ending. I climbed and climbed and climbed some more, until I could see the top, and I thought I'd made it! Until I turned that corner and saw that there was still a little more climbing to be done. (Miles 4-5: 8:14, 8:20)

Luckily there was a water stop right at that corner, and I had forgotten my water bottle at home, so I stopped to grab a cup and catch my breath (sucking in ice cold air on that uphill had really done a number on my asthma). At that point I decided to finally turn on my music, which meant fishing my phone out of my too-small, too-full belt, and then I spent a solid minute trying to shove my phone back into said belt. I watched my average pace shoot up and wasn't happy to have wasted so much time, but I felt confident I could get it back. (Mile 6: 9:01)

The next few miles were and out-and-back loop through a neighborhood of what I would call rolling hills. After climbing what I was sure was the one big hill, I thought I was done with anything remotely resembling a hill - remember the "flat" advertisement? At this point I would like to revoke the right to use the word "flat" from anyone who is not from the beach. Sorry, non-coastal dwellers, but I don't think that word means what you think it means. Anyway, the neighborhood wasn't all that bad aside from what I thought was false advertisement. My only solace was knowing that I only had to get through a mile or so before I'd loop back and be on my way back down all that soul-sucking crap I had just climbed up.

So of course this whole time I was pretty much doing mental math to gauge how close I could come to my PR. I knew my PR pace was 8:21 and when I was getting close to mile 7, my average pace was 8:25 (thanks to the phone debacle) but dropping since I had reached a downhill portion. It was a little depressing at that point to realize that I couldn't slow down, but in fact needed to speed up, in order to PR. Like I had to run the last 10k of the race at 15-20 seconds off my 10k PR (which is over a year old and not something I've come close to running since then) - not exactly encouraging! The only thing giving me hope was knowing that I still had that huge ass hill to run down instead of up, and then I'd be back on the path which, while not pancake flat, included no hills and was more or less flat. (Miles 7-8: 8:07, 8:00)

I remember running past the 8 mile marker, meaning I had 5 miles left since I had to go back the way I came, and telling myself it would be just barely over 40 minutes if I could just hang on to my pace. That became my mantra for the last 5 miles, really: just hang on. I got to mile 10 and was relieved to only have a 5k left, but then almost immediately disappointed to realize I had to run like a 26-minute 5k to finish with a PR. My pace hadn't really wavered and may have even been getting faster, but I didn't like the thought of not really having much cushion. In races I constantly calculate how far I have left to go and try to figure out how much I can slow down to still meet my goal time. The point isn't to *actually* slow down, but to make myself feel better in case I want to. Unfortunately, this time, I never reached a point where I could slow down to 9 or 10 minute miles and still PR. I was still too close to my old one, and if I wanted it I had to fight for it to the end.  (Miles 9-10: 7:57, 8:29)

And fight for it, I did. At some point my mental math told me I could run the last couple miles comfortably at an 8:30 pace, but I was so close to the end I couldn't give up. I'm not sure when I knew I had the PR, but I think it was somewhere around mile 11. But I knew that in order to get it, I had to keep up the pace and not let the wheels fall off (which thankfully, I didn't feel in danger of happening but you never really know). I also knew that last half-mile climb up to the park was coming, and I wanted as much as I could get in the bank so I wouldn't crash and burn before the finish. I was cruising along and somehow watching my pace continue to drop, and still bracing myself for the last half mile. (Miles 11-12: 7:59, 8:16)

I emerged from the path onto a main road with a little over a mile left, and I saw a highway sign that said "Don't Stop. Keep Moving." That had been the name of the game the whole day. Soon I was seeing the mile 12 marker, and then I was entering the park and starting to head back up to the finish line. The 4% grade wasn't fun at nearly 13 miles in, but it wasn't as bad as it could have been. I could see the parking lot where I knew Ben would be waiting, and just beyond that was the pagoda next to the finish line. Don't stop. Keep moving. As I rounded the last corner I saw Bane's tail wagging at the finish line. I kept moving, kept pushing. As I got closer to the finish clock I checked my watch to see that I was in the 1:48s. In those last few seconds I became committed to beating my PR by a full minute, and I gave it one last surge. (Mile 13: 8:11)

Official time: 1:48:33
(1 minute and 1 second faster than my PR from Richmond 2014)

As happy as I was to cross that finish line and chip away at my old PR, my feelings about the time on the clock were quickly eclipsed by my feelings from being out on the course for almost 2 hours. For the first 23.5 years of my life, I was not a person who believed I could do hard things. I did things that came easily and naturally to me, and while I excelled at some things and have achievements I'm proud of, I know I only accomplished them because I knew that trying wasn't a significant risk. That changed when I became a runner. For the first time ever in my life, I sucked at something and kept going anyway. I learned to take chances. I failed and I tried again. The thing I'm most proud of about the race I ran on Sunday isn't my finishing time, it's my how I got there. I've shared before that before I started running, I was in an unstable and fragile place, and I credit running with giving me the tools to take control back over my mind and over my life. I made a commitment to myself last month that I wouldn't let numbers define me or my running, but at the end of the day PRs aren't really about the numbers anyway. Running 13.1 miles at any pace is an achievement, but to have had the willpower, the simultaneous mental strength and calmness that it took to convince myself to hold on, to believe that I could run faster than I have in 15 months, that has meaning. That has power. That's why I chase PRs. That's why I run.


  1. Amen to that whole last paragraph! 13.1 miles is always (always, always, always!) an achievement but knowing that you did it better & faster than you ever thought you could? Best feeling ever. Congrats on your PR!

  2. Congrats on the PR and the AG award!!

  3. Way to go!!PS - I also signed up for the 2016 Richmond Half 363 days in advance haha.

  4. Holy speedy! You are awesome! Congratulations :)

  5. i love this so much! first off, talking to one's self is totally normal haha. second, congrats on the PR even with stopping and phones and whatnot. lastly, you are amazing! i love the entire last paragraph. seriously, congrats!

  6. You are so amazing!!! Congrats on the PR!!!! I love that you decided in the last minute that you were going to do it. That is so awesome!

  7. I am so, so, so proud of you. And happy for you. And envious of you, if I'm being fully honest! Great job in this race, my friend.
    Oh, and as for "flat"... yeah, I concede—I have no idea what that means. I actually just looked up what I consider my "flat" 3-mile standard loop, and it has a 36 ft. elevation gain. Not a lot, but that's not flat. (On the bright side, it's got 59 ft. loss, according to Garmin.)

  8. This makes me feel so sad for being miserable walking outside for like thirty seconds when it's cold outside-- what an amazing PR! Also, it made me laugh about the bib coloring! I loved reading about how you were able to push yourself a little bit at each mile of the end!