32 days ago I was in the best shape of my life. I weighed 179 pounds and had just won my first 5K ever, in PR fashion. Then I fell during my cool-down run, and the resulting injury took me off my feet for nearly two weeks. I wasn't able to run hard for another week after that.
Today I weigh 185, and while I'm still in excellent shape, I'm definitely not as fast as I was then. My goal for the fall racing season was to run a fast half-marathon -- fast enough to qualify for guaranteed entry to the New York Marathon -- at the Kiawah Island Half Marathon, which I'll be running in three days. To qualify, I need to run the half in an hour and 25 minutes. 32 days ago that seemed eminently doable; I was even thinking I might be able to qualify at the local Thunder Road half marathon, on a very hilly course. The injury forced me to drop out of Thunder Road, and now, I'm not so sure I can do it on the flat Kiawah course.
If you plug my 5K PR into the McMillan Running Calculator, it predicts I should be able to do a half marathon in 1:22:29. But that assumes I'm equally fit and have properly trained for a half. Instead, I missed a critical three weeks of training. In three weeks when I should have been running 56, 63, and 56 miles, I actually ran 0.5, 6.2, and 46 miles. Last week, when I was finally close to full strength, I needed to start tapering, and so only ran 41 miles.
To give you a sense of where my fitness level is now, 6 weeks ago I ran 6 * 1,000 meters at about a 5:30 per mile pace, and felt good doing it. Yesterday I ran 4 * 1,200 meters at a 6:30 pace, and struggled. The earlier workout was on the track, but that alone doesn't explain the drastic difference between the two paces.
So how am I planning on attacking the Kiawah Half? To run a 1:25 half requires a 6:29 per mile pace. When I was in better shape, the plan was going to be to start at a 6:20 pace, banking time in case some incident during the race slowed me down -- a bathroom break, whatever.
Now there is really no margin for error. Starting out too fast would definitely be a mistake, so I plan to start at a 6:30 pace -- actually a little slow -- and then reassess how I'm doing once I hit the halfway mark. Maybe the adrenaline of race day will kick in and help me finish strong, and I'll just squeak in under the 1:25 goal.
I realize this doesn't sound very confident, but at this point I feel like it's the only realistic plan. I do have some advantages: I've run this race before -- years ago, when a sub-7-minute pace for any distance was inconceivable. I know that the course is pancake-flat and mostly sheltered from coastal winds, so if there's anywhere I could do it, it'd be at Kiawah.
I know from recent halfs that I won't need a lot of fuel during the race. I'll carry a small bottle of water and a gel to eat at the start line, then discard them. I'll have a couple of gels that I may or may not eat on the course; otherwise, I'll rely on water stops.
Currently the weather forecast is a little up in the air. Weather.com gives an overnight low on Friday of 46 degrees, which would be ideal. The National Weather Service already has an hourly forecast for Saturday, and puts the starting temperature at 54 degrees, rising to 58 by my projected finish time. That's not so ideal. There's also rain in the forecast -- about a 70 percent chance, starting right about when the race starts. Also not ideal. But in three days, a lot can change. If we get 46 degrees, with no wind and not much rain, that works in my favor. 54 and rain will probably slow me down somewhat.
Either way, it's certainly not horrible conditions -- nothing like Rocket City last year, for example. Maybe yesterday's bad workout was just that -- a bad day -- and I'll be ready to crush it on Saturday. It's certainly possible; I've had the sniffles for the past several days, and they seem better today.
No matter what, I'm going to give this race everything I've got. We'll just have to wait til Saturday to find out if it's enough.