Race Report: Saints and Sinners Half Marathon

Flying down the final 5K or so. You can see how low the finish line was!

It’s been a hot second since I’ve released a new blog. It’s not that I haven’t been writing, but most of my writing lately has been for other platforms – Daily Burn, Under Armour, Runner’s World, Shape, and a few others. I’ve also been very busy preparing my private roster for their Spring race goals, and working my butt off training for my own race goals too!

Before I share my recent race experiences, I want to brag about my runners. So much hard work, and some incredible PRs outdoors in Winter conditions, at races around the country, and indoors and on the track. I am blown away month after month by the passion for running, the focus and the big goals my runners set and work towards with so much dedication. My runners inspire me to be better and try harder for my own running goals.

I do my best to lead by example as a coach, and have been working hard towards my ambitious Spring goals. While the Boston Marathon (April 17th), is my focus for Spring, I had set a half marathon race on the calendar to assess fitness, practice racing, and to set a new Half PR. I decided to look for a fast race – good weather and mostly downhill. With Boston as the goal marathon, I have been preparing for months for cruising up and down hills, and so a net downhill course sounded like a sure thing for a PR and a great opportunity to test out my legs. After some digging around a research, I settled on the Saints and Sinners Half Marathon, in Las Vegas. The course seemed beautiful and incredibly fast – with a point-to-point, 1200+ foot decent. The course is also a combination of paved bike path and incredibly soft and manicured gravel trails, taking you through the desert, numerous tunnels, and finishing at the base of Lake Mead. I was confident that between my training and the downhills, I had a 2-3 minute PR in me. I haven’t had awesome conditions for the last couple of half marathons I have attempted to race (including my previous PR), so I knew that the odds were really good I could drop my time a bit. And honestly, I knew going into it that I was perhaps at my fittest, fastest and healthiest for this kind of goal than ever.

Despite a few hiccups in Las Vegas, including a broken ankle on our shake out run on the Strip and 3+ hours in urgent care with Chris, and chilly and rainy conditions in the forecast for the entire weekend, I tried to stay calm. In years past, this would have thrown my confidence and quite possibly my race. But I now have become pretty decent at focusing on the task at hand with running, and knew once I got to the starting line I’d be okay. Even when Google maps made an update and sent all the runners to the wrong point for the starting line, I tried to not lose my cool. We parked literally 30 minutes before the gun went off, which in the past would have made me a wreck. While I didn’t love feeling rushed in the rain, I didn’t let it ruin my morning.

At the starting line I took a breath, relaxed and let go of everything around me but the race. The first 3 miles were incredibly fast. I was hitting 6:00 minute miles, which is typically around my 5K race pace. However, it was simply the drop in elevation and the course was doing the work, and so I tried not to freak out by the hot pace. About 10 runners were ahead of me for the first 5 miles, including one female for the first 3 miles. I then passed her and never saw her again. Between miles 4-7 there are some gradual declines and flat portions, so I was able to settle into a pace that seemed more acceptable: 6:15-6:25s. I ran miles 4-8 with a runner from Arizona, and we chatted here and there. He mentioned he had just recovered from brain cancer, and was looking to finish in under 1:30. I told him that his goal seemed incredibly attainable, as we were on our way to the half way mark way ahead of that pace. (Turns out he crushed his goal and finished in 1:22!!!!)

It was raining pretty hard around mile 5. Sharing miles with Josh, from AZ.

Coming through the 10K mark and an aid station, he and I were #8th and #9th. At mile 7 there was our only climb worth mentioning, and I said that now, on this climb and during the second half is where the work happens. I felt strong on the uphill, and the views of the lake, even in the rain, were beautiful. We passed a few men on the course, and began going through the tunnels. Around 8-9 miles in, I slowly pulled away from Josh and began gaining on a few other men. Each one was incredibly nice, and I tossed positive tips and comments their way.

The aid stations and volunteers at the turnaround (a small part of the course was an out-and-back) were the highlight of the race for me. It was at the end of a big tunnel, and the kids at the aid station were so excited to see the first female come through. I couldn’t help but feel like a role model for the young girls watching and volunteering. On the “back” portion, Josh and the few men I recently passed gave thumbs up, words of encouragements and cheers. Glancing at my watch around mile 9-10, I knew a big PR was in my hands if I didn’t do something stupid like roll and ankle, and continued to feel as smooth and strong – it was a little surprising and I kept waiting for the blazing early miles to catch up and compromise my pace or effort – but that never happened. I now knew the win was mine, as the next female was a good 5-8 minutes behind me at this point.

I had to stop at the mile 10 mark to tie my shoe. I couldn’t believe that with a double-knot and tucking the laces under themselves that my right shoe was untying! At first I thought maybe it just felt heavy and loose because of the rain and puddles, but a quick glance down and I could see loose laces! So I stopped, took a deep breath, focused on having my somewhat chilled fingers work, and then get back to running. The final 5K was incredibly fast (thanks, elevation drop!), and I was able to drop pace to 6:05-6:15 minute miles. With 2 miles to go, I was doing the math in my head and it all felt unreal. The thrilling part was that I felt awesome. Really awesome. Form felt smooth, breath felt controlled, and I simply worked with the race course.

Coming through the finish line in 1:21:13 was surreal. I never in my wildest dreams thought I’d ever see that number for a Half Marathon. It’s funny how we all tend to define ourselves and our potentials. It isn’t until we prove our limitations wrong that we see ourselves in a new light. Unlike Berlin Marathon, where I struggled so much for that PR and to keep my body and brain on board, this race felt easy and in control from start to finish. The only bummer: no finish line tape. I find it sad that women don’t get their moment of glory the way men do. I finished 5th overall, and 1st women by 10 minutes. And while there was no real prize other than a water bottle, the PR and strong race experience was all the winnings I wanted.

Now, here’s the thing: there’s absolutely no way I could run a 1:21 Half Marathon on a course with less hills. No two courses are created equal. This course handed me that time. I’m not saying I didn’t work for it, but that time would not translate the same to say NYC Half Marathon. My guess is that same performance would give me more of a 1:24-1:25. But that’s why it’s important to choose your races wisely. What’s your objective? What is your ace? Your weakness? I don’t need crowds and tons of people on the course to run well. Others do. I know how to run hills perhaps better than flat courses. Others don’t. You are different from the next runner. Learn what works for you.

And so this past week as I focused on easy miles (my legs were pretty trashed from the course!), I tried to let my big breakthrough of a 6+ minute PR settle in. I’d like to go back and race this course and/or the Poconos Half in 2018 and aim for 1:19. Both are incredibly fast. And I think I can do better. I am also transitioning all focus towards Boston. I know what I have to do to get the job done. And while aiming to break 3 hours won’t be easy, I am more confident now than ever that there’s the potential for it that this April.

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