Wednesday, October 5, 2022

 2022 Rockfest Half Marathon

13.1 Miles of Mind Games

    In early June of this year, I began running seriously, and by "seriously" I mean buying new sneakers and tracking my runs on Strava. Lacing up my new Hoka Gaviota 3's proved life-changing as they virtually eliminated the shin splints that have plagued me for years. Upon completing my first run and the accompanying mid-sternal chest pain, I took in all the data that Strava had provided.  The 2.5 ish mile distance at a nearly 12 minute mile pace was all I needed to see. 

    I progressed much faster this Summer, far beyond what I had imagined. My runs got longer, my times shorter, and my pace quicker. My first 5k came and went and that felt like a huge accomplishment. A few more 5k's ensued before I accidentally ran a 10k from my apartment. This milestone triggered a few more purchases like better running shorts, speed goat socks, and the Garmin Venu 2 watch. Time for more data collection. 

Hooked I tell ya, hooked! I was all in as Fall rapidly approached having completed numerous 5 and 10k's, mixed surface runs, and a very humbling ECTA 10-mile trail race. The Garmin stats were fascinating. And what the hell is this VO2 Max thing? I think I now understand it, but I do know that it went up to 46 from 45 in a month and Garmin is telling me my fitness age is 38.  This has to be a sign. My good friend Scot, spelled with one t, and my trainer Drew both echoed "Dude, you're ready."

    As fate would have it, my long-time friend Teri Moore could not attend the Rockfest Half Marathon at Hampton Beach, so she was gracious enough to have transferred her registration to me free of charge! The gods have spoken. Wendell agreed to cover my weekend shift, so it was time to throw down...and maybe even throw up. 

    Race day forecast served up cloudy skies, 30 mph winds, and temps in the low 50's, thanks to remnants of Hurricane Ian. Let the mind games commence! "What do I eat?" "What do I wear?" "What the hell am I doing?" " Am I even ready?" "You're gonna chafe and you WILL have to go to the bathroom!" "You can't pull a Uta Pipigg!" These were just a small sample of what was running through my mind. 

    The morning before the race, while training with Drew, I confessed that my goal was to finish in under two hours and he had no doubt I could do it. We discussed nutrition, and race day logistics, all while working on flexibility/stretching. His wisdom was welcomed and proved vital in helping me with the mind games.

    Executing the pre-race plan, I woke up at the crack of dawn to make it up to the beach to snag some primo parking and race swag. After my morning constitutional, I sat in my car driving myself nuts while the wind howled and the car shook. The crowd of over 1800 runners finally descended upon C-Street and we all stood there freezing our asses off waiting for the 8 am gun. My final race kit included the Hokas, Speed goat socks, REI shorts, REI long sleeves, REI Swiftland running vest, Aftershokz headphones, and Outdoor Research hat. Not to mention the DZ Nutz, Glide, and bandaids strategically deployed in all the right places. Again, mind games.

    The DJ fired the shot and off we went. As anticipated there was some early constipation as the runners scrambled to find their sweet spots and preferred paces. Once things evened out I found myself settling into an 8-minute/mile pace. It felt comfortable for the first 3 or so miles and then I received a collect call from Mother Nature. Mind games...and nightmares of incontinence.  I hammered through miles 3, 4, and 5 turning around at the Seabrook bridge praying for a Jiffy John. By the grace of God, I spotted one on my right and made a B-line to do my business. Like a pit crew at NASCAR, I got the job done and was back out on the causeway in under 2 minutes. 

    Now reinvigorated, I forged on with brutal headwinds and beach sand to the face. Miles 6, 7, 8, and 9 were not strangers to me. My stride felt appropriate and the lungs were in good working order. I was maintaining a threshold pace with my heart rate in the high 140s. Keeping this high 8/low 9-minute mile pace I could certainly finish the race in under 2 hours. 

    Then more mind games...My quads and hip flexors began to revolt as I approached mile 10, my longest run to date. My pace suffered a bit and I worried that I wasn't going to do it. All kinds of chatter and static flooded the airwaves but I kept putting one foot in front of the other. Prior to the race, Scot had offered up some perfectly timed motivation. "You got this brother," and "Don't take no for an answer." I replayed these words in my head and suddenly found myself running faster. 

     I reached the turnaround point of the race which was the final 5k with my legs suddenly feeling far less pain. Endorphins, runners high, or mind games of the motivating persuasion? I consulted Garmin one last time and knew that if I kept the current pace I was going to finish in under 2 hours. I could see the finish line way up ahead and suddenly remembered what Drew said about the Oasis Effect. I quickly put my head down, talked dirty to my mitochondria, and ran like nobody's business. 

     Just before crossing the finish line, I took inventory of the live band and the cheering crowd. I'll admit, I got a little choked up. I had just run a half marathon in 1 hour and 56 minutes at a pace of 8 min 52 sec per mile. It felt amazing putting on that medal after crossing the finish. 

    Time for some cliche wisdom. Yes, running is hard and the games that your mind plays only make it harder. There was pain, there was fatigue, and even some chaffing to keep things spicy. In the end, by flipping the script and silencing the noise, it was pretty awesome what I was capable of when I set that goal and actually achieved it. Will I run another or run longer distances? Maybe...probably, but for now it's back on the mountain bike for some much-needed singletrack.

Until then my fellow Racer-X'ers...

Keep it Classy and Keep it Real,

Jason (J-Bone) Fitzgerald



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