The Casual Runner

Chasing the Rabbit: Pursuing a PR

When it comes to running races, every Casual Runner knows that we have good days…and bad days…and going half mad days. While it would be nice to think that every time we toe the line at a race we will have a great race and set a new PR, the reality is, it just doesn’t happen that way.

First of all, for those who don’t know, PR is runner jargon for “personal record.” Some like to use the term PB, for “personal best.” I like this milestone because, truthfully, I never measure my running against anyone else. I know that I am not a fast runner, and I don’t care. I run at my pace and I enjoy being the runner I am. Thus, when I toe the line, the only one against whom I am competing against is myself. But, make no mistake about it, I AM very competitive with myself. Hence, my confession is that yes, I do want a new PR.

We are coming up on the 1 year anniversary of when I set my half marathon PR at the 2014 Erie Half Marathon at Presque Isle. I recognize that it was kind of the perfect race (for me at least), as it was a flat, fast course which I lucked out and ran on a day with perfectly cool race-day weather.  The thing about a PR is, once you know that you can run a race at that speed, you want to run it again.  But that is why races are challenges – personal challenges

Also, I love runDisney races. While they are open fields (anyone can run them), they do seed the corrals by speed/pace, and for that you need a proof of finish time from a recent chipped race. The better your time, the earlier the corral, the sooner you get to start your race, and the less congested your on-course experience will be (plus shorter lines for character pictures, you get to finish before the Florida heat gets too hot, and you get to celebrate longer at the Wine and Dine Half Marathon after party!). Yes, you can set a PR at a runDisney race, but I knew coming into 2015 that a proof of time from a 2014 race would not last me much longer for runDisney corral seeding purposes. So, one of my goals for 2015 was to set a new PR in my favorite distance, the half marathon. Hence, I would be chasing the rabbit!

Chasing the rabbit is a term that simply means to chase down a pace that will get you a goal time. Admittedly, some times I have used other runners and official pacers as physical substitutes that I force myself to chase down on the course.

There are two things you should know. First, chasing the rabbit does take a certain mental state. You have to conscientiously force yourself to run at a certain pace even when you body says to slow down. Since I HATE speed work, this is a big mental hurdle for me to overcome.

Second, Team Casual Runner does not believe in sharing actual race times (in case you never noticed, you won’t see finish times in most of our race reviews).  We believe that every Casual Runner has a story to tell, and that story can be shared with and enjoyed by fellow Casual Runners, whether they run at a 6 minute or 16 minute mile pace, or anywhere in between.  So, for this story, I won’t actually tell you what my PR time is, because that number really does not matter to anyone other than me.

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When you cross the finish line, will it be with a PR?

Great, are you ready to chase the rabbit with me? Here we go!

Race #1: 2015 Walt Disney World Half Marathon (“the Donald”), Walt Disney World, Florida (January)
Running Buddies: Jennifer & Jake, though we started in different corrals.
Course description: pretty much flat.

Ok, there is not much to say about this race. As this race was day 3 of the 4 day Dopey Challenge, when I toed the line I knew that I was not going to even try for a PR (which is why Jake destroyed me!).  I just enjoyed the race and logged a time that was dozens of minutes faster than my PR so I could rest up for the next day’s Walt Disney World Marathon. Jake on the other hand DID get his PR!

Race #2: 2015 Pro Football Hall of Fame Half Marathon, Canton, Ohio (April)
Running Buddies: Steve & Candace.
Course description: downhill at the outset, then rolling hills.

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You may not be able to get a PR in the finisher chute, but you can certainly lose it if you are not careful

Steve and I discussed chasing the rabbit at length heading into this one, and Candace started thinking PR as well. All 3 of us started together in the mass start and pinned ourselves to a great pacer.  Candace hung with us for the first few miles but knew she would run a slower pace overall.  I did set a PR in the first 5k, but found the next 5k to be a bit taxing when the hill climbs started. Steve was much better conditioned for this pace and the hills, so I let him pull away and tried to hold my own, which I could not. I eventually lost pace with the official pacer and gave it all I could at the finish, but missed my PR by about 90 seconds. Not going to lie, coming so close and missing is both disappointing and tantalizing, as it made me want a new PR THAT much more. Oh, and I had one short bathroom stop, which I knew would not have made up all 90 seconds of my shortfall, but is still something to think about for future race plans.

As for my buddies, Steve just missed out on a PR, but Candace got hers, and we even managed to find her a makeshift PR bell for her celebration!

Race #3: 2015 Run and Ride Cedar Point Half Marathon, Sandusky, Ohio (June)
Running Buddy: Candace.
Course description: flat.

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At some finishes, the time on the clock matters far less than the journey.

Knowing that this was a flat course, I had my eyes firmly set on a PR even though I knew that it was going to be a fast warm up on the thermometer. I set my sights on a pacer whose marked pace should put me within 2 minutes of a PR – all that I had to do was just stay ahead of the pacer and have a strong finish (it was a mass start and she actually crossed the starting line about 10 seconds ahead of me).  I started out way too fast and actually passed the pacer before the 2 mile mark, where I noticed that she was WAY ahead of her marked pace.  Once inside the amusement park itself, I stopped not once, but TWICE for bathroom breaks, which I knew would mean lots of time to make up. The pacer actually passed me before my second stop even though I was running ahead of both her marked pace and my planned pace by my watch. I never saw her again the rest of the race.

In the end I did not have it in me that day and I could not keep up with the chase. I knew it was a lost cause but still did my best to finish with a good time. To my surprise, when I crossed the finish, I was not that far off of my PR time. I had indeed been done in by the bathroom stops, which is disappointing.

As for the pacer? To make a long story short, I did see her after the finish and can only conclude that she finished several minutes ahead of where she should have for her stated pace.  I point this out only to remind other Casual Runners that good pacers are invaluable, but pacers are not infallible. Thus, Casual Runners need to be responsible for their own pacing and results and not rely 100% on anyone else to get them to the finish line in the time that they want.

Race #4: 2015 Goodyear Half MarathonAkron, Ohio (August)
Running Buddies: Steve & Melissa.
Course description: flat – right Steve????

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The moment of truth: the decision whether or not to chase the rabbit is made at the starting line (or in the bathroom line before the starting line).

Get the bus ready, because I am going to throw Steve under it big time. Steve told me that this course was flat and that we should both chase the rabbit. Because I let my running buddies talk me into anything, I said “SURE!” and did not bother to check out the course map myself. Melissa was using this event as marathon training, so she laughed at us and let us do our thing. We all started separately in what we thought were our target pace groups and wished each other luck.

I cruised through the first 4 miles, again setting a PR in the first 5k. But then the hills began. Ok, I know these may not be as big of hills as what others are used to, but they did me in. Its not even that I was not expecting them, I was not trained well enough for these hills, period – but it is still fun to tease Steve about it.

The challenging features of the course, coupled with the fast rising temperatures, and I was in for a challenge. But I hung on and pushed my way through. In the end, I only missed a PR by 10 seconds per mile. To be honest, given the challenging course and conditions, I was thrilled with this result even if I did not get my PR. And the post-race refreshments tasted so much better because of it!

Race #5: 2015 Rock Hall Half MarathonCleveland, Ohio (August)
Running Buddy: Candace.
Course description: some very small climbs, long flat sections, and a significant long downhill portion.

You can already see where I am going with this one. Eight days removed from my last half marathon, I was spent and had zero intention of chasing the rabbit again.  Even when race organizers advertised this as a flat and fast course in the final instructions, I still was not interested in chasing the rabbit. But it does not hurt to look, right? I learned my lesson from the week before and actually checked out the course for myself and…no, I shouldn’t try for it, should I?

Candace and I discussed chasing the rabbit at length and decided that it would be a game time decision for both of us. Turns out, temperatures at the start of the race were great.  What small climbs we had to overcome were in the first half mile, and I dispensed with them with no problem. At the 1 mile mark I was 10 seconds ahead of PR pace. Knowing I was entering a long flat section, I started to wonder….

As the mile markers passed away, I kept doing the mental math, and I was consistently 8-10 seconds per mile ahead of my PR pace. I did take one quick bathroom break, but even that did not throw me off as it came in the middle of a fast mile. Then we hit the long downhill portion in the cool shade of the parkway and my miles kept speeding up. By mile 10 I was 24 seconds per mile ahead of pace (according to my mental math, so don’t quote me on that, it was mid-race!). At this point the course flattened out and we lost the shade, so I knew that all that I had to do was hold on for the last 3.1 miles and not let the sun or exhaustion defeat me.

As the last few mile markers passed by I saw my pace lead erode, but I was still holding on. There was one small climb before the downhill chute to the finish, if I could just get to that…I did, and once I did so, I learned what it means to leave it all out on the course! When I crossed the finished I paused my GPS watch but did not look at it. I did not have to, I knew that I had my PR! 

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You get a PR! You get a PR! You get a PR! Everybody gets a PR!

When I finally did check my results a few minutes (and several bottles of water!) later, I learned that I had beaten my old PR by 2 minutes and 11 seconds, 10 seconds per mile faster! To say that I was ecstatic is an understatement.

I chased the rabbit, caught him, and passed him. And no one can ever take that away from me.

Because my day could only get better, I soon learned that Candace grabbed her half marathon PR as well, and my oldest nephew Andrew finished his first ever 5k, grabbing his own PR in the process! It was a great day all around.

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  1. Pingback: The Casual Runner | Rock Hall Half Marathon (Cleveland) - The Casual Runner

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