So, I had an AWESOME weekend in Portland, Maine…and not just because I earned a new PR running the Old Port Half Marathon on Saturday.
As I said in my last post, Portland has a special place in my heart. It was one of my favorite places to visit during my summers working up in Maine during college, and I still consider those summers to be some of the best, most impactful months of my life.
I signed up for this race with a few friends from my Stepping Strong Boston Marathon team and set my sights on a new PR back in early May. I’d logged 150+ miles through some pretty brutal Boston winter days with these amazing ladies, so I knew that they’d make an awesome race-day squad.
We arrived on Friday afternoon and started sightseeing straight away. First stop was the Portland Head Light, a historical and STUNNING lighthouse in the Cape Elizabeth section of Portland. If you’re ever visiting, you’ve got to pay the Head Light a visit.
I’m not great at remembering to take pictures, but my friends are amazing at it and we basically had a photo shoot:)
Then we headed into the Old Port area of Portland to do a little exploring. We picked up our bibs and race t-shirts first, then walked around the cobble stone streets, taking it all in. We had a blast wandering the boutiques (that’s where I met the below pirate statue!) and picked up a few souvenirs.
We got some awesome pasta for dinner at a place called The Corner Room. They had home-made gluten free pasta which was SUCH a treat for me. Usually when I am traveling for a race I end up eating hot food bar items from the local Whole Foods in my room the night before. But this was awesome!
We followed up with some Beal’s Homemade Ice Cream, which I was able to get in a gluten free cone!
Then it was back to the hotel for a dip in the jacuzzi, a little stretching, and a lot of sleep. I went to bed at about 8:45pm and woke up at 5am to get myself going. I had come cheerios, coffee, and a banana for breakfast.
I’d been going back and forth about what to wear for the race; weather reports varied from site to site; some said sunny, some said showers. Some said 55 degrees, others said 65 degrees. I opted for my favorite pair of Lululemon spandex running shorts and my Brooks “run happy” tank, along with my trusty pink compression calf sleeves. I brought along a throwaway sweatshirt, but ended up ditching it my car before I even walked to the start.
We were out the door before 6am, and I sipped some gatorade in the car on the 15 minute drive from our hotel to the starting line. The race website had provided us awesome parking instructions, which was so, so helpful. I was able to park, use the bathroom, and get myself all situated before heading to my corral around 6:45am.
My friends and I had talked strategy the night before, and decided to line up between the 1:50 and 2:00 hour pacers. Our goal was to run consistent 9 minute miles so we could get a sub-2 time, and we knew we couldn’t let the 2:00 pacer pass us. We took a quick start line selfie, and then the 7am start was upon us!
My garmin beeped at the first mile marker and I saw 9:00 flash across the screen; we were perfectly on pace and feeling great. It started to rain a bit during miles 2-4, which was actually really refreshing. It wasn’t a heavy rain at all and we’d all (thankfully) worn caps that kept raindrops out of our eyes, so during this time our paces actually got a little quicker. Miles 2-5 all flew by with times between 8:38-8:43 min/mile. We his a big hill around Mile 6 that slowed us down a bit, but overall we were maintaining speeds in the 8:40s for most of the race. I took one gel at mile 5. I also alternated between water and gatorade, pausing at almost all of the 8+ water stations.
At mile 10 things got HARD. My muscles were still feeling strong, and nothing in particular was bothering me, but there was a series of steep hills that just kept. on. coming. Like, we’d climb one hill and I’d be telling myself “once we reach the top, we’ll have to go downhill on the other side and it’ll be fine! You’ll be able to catch your breath!” But NOPE! We’d reach the top, turn, run on a flat for a few steps then head up another steep incline. I was lightly dying by the time I hit the Mile 12 marker. But there was a volunteer there to direct us runners around a bend, and she shouted “Downhill that way! Home! Home! Home!” and for some reason that kicked me in the right direction. We were still on an uphill at that point, but soon we found ourselves on a steep downhill leading into the final mile.
Our final mile was our fastest mile. We went from a painful 9:12 min/mile on that terrible Mile 11-12 incline to an 8:12 min/mile into the finish. This was helped by that downhill, for sure, but we were also really pushing it. However, we had to slow down a tad through the last .1 miles because just before the finish line we had to run over a section of antique cobble stone street that was VERY uneven. Like, WHAT?!? This should not have been a thing. I practically tiptoed that last 10th of a mile, worried I would roll my ankle and tear yet another ligament. This finish line/cobble stone placement is the only complaint I have about the race.
As we came up to the finish line, I saw that the clock said 1:55. I was stunned. My PR had been a 1:58, and I know I’m capable of some pretty great times… but this was unexpectedly positive. As anyone who actually reads my posts knows, I haven’t been pushing my pace too often lately. So I’d been expecting a 1:57, maybe. But a 1:55…I’ll take it!
The finish line area was AWESOME. The chute wasn’t too long, and the bathrooms were right there (I have a bladder the size of an almond and had been needing to go since, like, mile 9). Also, there was a great DJ and a beer garden for runners! The food available to us was also great; As a gluten-free person, I often end up with like, one orange slice and a mini bottle of gatorade to refuel with while my running buddies down pizza and bagels and wheat-based nutritional bars. But the Old Port Half had kind bars (which are always gluten free) chips, watermelon, bananas, seltzer waters, and my favorite Beal’s ice cream! I took one of everything and my friends and I went and sat by the water, feasting until the ocean breeze chilled us.
We took a bunch of pictures to celebrate; all three of us had PR’d, and we were insanely proud of ourselves. We’d chatted a little during the race, but mostly we just listened to our pump-up playlists and communicated with one another non-verbally. So after the race, we talked about how at different points all three of us wanted to slow down, but made the choice to push through it so we could stick together and not hold one another back. So we all kept pushing. Just running together and our unspoken determination to keep up with whoever was feeling strongest at any given moment in time made all three of us faster and stronger.
This race was a 10/10 in every way possible. Not only did I run well, the race itself ran well. From bib-pickup to afterparty, all 3000 of us runners got exactly what we needed, when we needed it. And the medal was really pretty!
Okay, now for some personal reflection….
I’ve been thinking a lot about how this PR/sub-2 finish compares with last year. See, last year’s sub-2 was painful and bittersweet. Because while I had absolutely built the speed to earn that first sub-2 finish time last May, I’d also gone off the rails with my nutrition during that training cycle.
I am an educated, functional, successful adult woman. I didn’t exactly expect it to struggle with a negative self-image and disordered eating at this point in my life. But for months last year, I hid my highly restrictive, completely un-healthy nutritional choices under a shroud of “wellness.” I tracked all my calories obsessively and only let myself have grains and fats before 10 mile+ long run. I logged hard workouts, sometimes twice a day, because I felt like I had to. Like it was some kind of obligation for me to push myself to my limit over and over again. I ignored so many signs that my body was totally out of whack, and pretended like the pain in my left leg couldn’t possibly be a stress fracture; I told myself I wasn’t fast enough, thin enough, unhealthy enough to have that kind of injury.
I am ~15 pounds heavier than I was last spring (I don’t know this for sure, as my doctor suggested I throw away the batteries for my scale) but I am for sure stronger and faster and happier than I was last year. I know now that my best self has imperfections, and my best self doesn’t beat herself up about said imperfections. Does that make sense? I hope it makes sense.
So this PR feels like a lot more of a victory not only because, um, it IS, but because I did it the right way. And doing it the right way was not at all an easy road. It took a lot of time and patience, and I’m not totally done yet. But I’m working on it, and I’ll keep working on it.
Thanks for reading!!