Pilk’s Points: Race-Day Lessons Learned

Associate editor Caitlyn Pilkington, right, and her sister are all smiles after their respective half-marathon PR and Boston qualifier on Sunday.

Associate editor Caitlyn Pilkington shares a few of the things she learned this past weekend at #RunCarlsbad. 

On Sunday, I surprised myself by crossing the finish line of my thirteenth half marathon in 1:36:16 — a PR by 4 minutes and 23 seconds! I wasn’t going for that type of performance at the Carlsbad Half Marathon; in fact, I had pain in my left foot in the morning, I was running watch-free for the first time, and I already had thoughts of just dropping the race and waiting to see my sister finish her first full marathon instead. Looking back now, Sunday turned out to be one of my best race days for more reasons than just a smashing time. And I think it’s because I actually took a look around and learned a few things:

1. Running without music can get loud. For someone who generally zones out to her favorite tunes, running without music was music to my ears. I heard conversations about boogers, tight butt muscles, bad hangovers and a plethora of other rather humorous topics. If you’re a music runner, I highly recommend unplugging the ear buds and listening to the sounds of banter.

2. Water is important. In the spirit of being smart versus stupid, I grabbed some water at every station except the first one. Sports drinks don’t agree with me, but that extra splash of H2O had a definite positive impact on my ability to remain chipper during the darkest miles.

3. You can get hit on during a race. My boyfriend, Ryan, and I looked at each other at the same time for the same reason: Did that just happen? I generally don’t ask a random stranger a personal question in the middle of a half marathon; props to that mile-6 girl for actually humoring him and clarifying that, yes, she did work for Kaiser, and yes, that’s the same as Kaiser Permanente.

4. Out-and-back courses are actually not that bad. For all you haters out there, out-and-back courses offer the fun opportunity to cheer on your fellow runners. I purposely ran along the center in order to spot my run buds and scream at them. (The screams at mile 7 were much more enthusiastic than at mile 12.)

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5. Spectators are stupendous. I love Carlsbad. The large feeling of community in the small beach town doesn’t stop on race day; the entire course was lined with cheering crowds and people who clearly come out every year to support. (Tequila shots, anyone? What about beer?)

6. Sometimes it’s OK to fall behind. Several people asked me if I was pissed that Ryan ran in front of me for a good part of the race. Sure, I was pissed, then I was happy, then I was determined. I later learned that he did it for the specific reason of “keeping me going.” Well, it worked.

7. Study the course. I’ve ran the Carlsbad Half Marathon course over 30 times. It does work to your advantage to know the dips and turns before race day, allowing you to plan when to turn on the heat and when to settle into a comfortable groove.

8. It’s OK not to acknowledge people on the course. I passed a few people that I knew but did not disturb their concentration. In unspoken runner terms, this is OK if either of you appears to be “in the zone” to save the casual introductions for the finish line festival.

9. Go watch-free. I didn’t discover the full benefits of this tactic until mile 11, when I caught up with Ryan, and he told me just how fast we were moving. “If we keep an 8-minute pace for the rest of the race, we will be under 1:40.” Even he didn’t believe it! Leaving the digits at home and running solely by feel and fitness taught me to trust my training more than any watch ever did.

10. Do not set expectations. I really had no intention of running any particular time. Signing up only to check off the first box of the Triple Crown Series, I was open to pretty much anything. It’s amazing how much faster you are when you don’t have the weight of performing on your shoulders.

11. Mental talk is a real strategy. I’ve always had to talk myself through the final two miles of a half marathon. This race was no different, except this time, I actually started to believe myself. If you’re ever in a rut during a race, start a conversation. You’ve done the training, so all that’s left is crushing that little voice of doubt.

12. The Rocky theme song does have a place. That’s all I could hear during the final mile of the race. That was a new one for me.

13. The dramatic silence in movies is a real thing. Once I saw my GUN time would even be a PR, all noise fell mute. I faintly heard my name announced as I approached the finish line, but the rest was a blur as I stared in emotional confusion at Ryan, wondering if that…just…happened. I was exhausted, yet I felt incredible after doing something I thought would put me in medical. There was so much commotion in the secure zone, with officials shuffling us toward the exit, but all I remember thinking was, 1:35 at AFC in August.

13.1 Cry, laugh, then scream. I did all of those things. When you achieve a goal that’s been unattainable, revisited, revamped, changed, given up on and almost achieved, it’s OK to do all of those things. When your sister qualifies runs a BQ time of 3:30.25 in her first full marathon, it’s OK to do all of those things. Running is nothing without emotion, even if the screaming includes F bombs of joy.

Did you run on Sunday? Tweet @caitpilk and let me know how your race went!

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