This won't come as a surprise to anyone who follows me on Instagram, but this year's Hy-Vee Road Races half marathon was the polar opposite of my 2013 experience.
The short version: Race-day weather was perfect, I didn't stop to walk once, and I finished with a milestone personal record that far exceeded my goals.
The numbers: 1:58:59 (9:05 pace) overall; 56:32 (9:08 pace) at 10K; 1:02:27 (9:03 pace) for the final 6.9 miles.
I did Bulldog Hill in 4:19:54, which because I never bothered to time myself during training doesn't mean a whole lot. My preliminary results sheet says that was good for 17th in my division (in comparison, my 10K rank was 38 and my total race rank was 25).
So, to back up, for anyone who cares. Cory and I both decided to keep the 2:00:00 pacers within our sights for as long as it felt OK. That turned out to be the entire race, though how close they were did vary. (We figured out eventually that they went out a bit fast to bank time on the hills.)
I didn't feel fantastic starting out, but by mile 2 it became apparent to me that it was simply a matter of warming up. Everything felt springy and good until close to mile 7.
At that point, we'd changed directions, and we both actually started to get a little too hot. I even had a moment of light-headedness, so I made sure to get some water at the next aid station. That, plus a light breeze and more shade along the route, seemed to do the trick.
Somewhere after mile 8, Cory and I made a friend whose name we forgot to ask and for whom we later wished we'd waited at the finish line. We chatted with Mr. Quad Cities for nearly three miles about beer, pets and careers (as well as running) — a really nice way for us to keep our minds off the hills ahead.
Speaking of hills, the worst one for me was actually up Fleur Drive back to downtown. Not only was it the only one I hadn't practiced, but also it was very exposed to the strongest winds we'd felt yet that day.
After that, Cory and I were feeling much more confident: We'd entered our home turf. Up Grand we went, trying to encourage all the walkers (in an honest, voice-of-experience way), and turned onto 28th ... at which point I got butterflies.
We were so close at that point. I knew I had locked down all my safe goals, but only Cory had a sense for just how well we were doing. But so close didn't mean so easy.
Just as we got to the intersection of 28th and Ingersoll, I glanced at the spectators and saw co-worker Chris, there to cheer on his girlfriend with their beautiful dog. He recognized me too and yelled some encouragement, and I shouted back that I'd practiced on Bulldog Hill, I had it in the bag.
And maybe that was the pep talk I needed — not from him, but from myself — so up I went, passing quite a few walkers on the way. (What a jerk, right?)
Not long after we crested the hill, Cory turned to me and said he was gonna step it up. This came right as I felt the worst, far enough from the hill where we'd both caught our breath, but close enough where the fatigue had suddenly all settled into my left quad.
"Go ahead," I said. "I don't have anything extra." He tried to be encouraging, but I let a little whine creep into my voice as I insisted I really didn't.
I'm sure I slowed up some, yet I never lost sight of Cory. And once I was within sight of University Avenue and had about a mile left, my legs found a second wind.
I have never, ever, felt so strong during mile 12 of a race. Not even during the 2013 Des Moines Half Marathon, when I PR'ed by eight minutes. I did pass a few people and gained some ground on Cory, and my revival was rewarded when I entered the stadium ...
... this year, you barely had to run around the track. Instead of a quarter-mile left, I had not even a quarter of the track!
My spirits went from great to over the moon. I think I yelled "f--- yeah two hours!" as I sprinted that final leg, arms in the air, tossing that monkey off my back with conviction.
Once more: 1:58:59. I cleared 2:00:00 with a whole minute to spare. There is literally nothing I can think of, from my taper week through mile 13.09, that I wish I'd done differently or better.
Time to kick back for a week and bask in my glory before deciding what's next.