The first time, it was simply about finishing. The second time was about finishing a little faster. The third was about setting a goal and smashing it to bits.

The fourth time, well, that didn’t go quite as planned.

Sunday, I ran my fourth half marathon, toeing the line for the Kennebec River Rail Trail Half Marathon. In my first three attempts at the distance, I accomplished the above goals. In my fourth, I fell a bit short and shed a little bit of blood (more on that later), yet I look back with a smile.

A little more than a month into my third year as a runner, I’ve started to take this sport a little more seriously. I have a friend (who  happens to be a 2:48 marathoner) writing my training plan. I hit the track for speed work. My mileage is on the rise. I’ve made an effort to eat better, drink fewer postwork beers and sleep more.

There are a few carrots that motivate me to do this extra work. The all-mighty PR (personal record) is the biggest, most tasty carrot, but there are others. Nailing a tough workout can be just as rewarding as crushing a PR, so can a nice easy long run with a friend.

A year after completing my first half marathon on the Rail Trail, my goal was to destroy my PR. In my third half marathon, on a brutally windy day in early April at the Brunswick Naval Air Station, I finished the Race the Runway Half Marathon in 1 hour, 55 minutes, 58 seconds. With nearly three months of more intense training, I felt ready to top that time.

The course in Brunswick is pancake flat, perfect for a PR. The Rail Trail, meanwhile, doesn’t have any huge climbs, but has enough rolling hills to make it a deceivingly challenging course. But I train on the Rail Trail every day. I run those rolling hills from Hallowell to Farmingdale three or four times a week. Plus, I was training harder and faster.

A PR was well within reach.

Or so I thought.

As the race approached, I studied the weather and started to fret (my first mistake?). Early forecasts called for a humid day, which brought flashbacks to last year’s half on the Rail Trail, when I was drenched in sweat just a mile in. Then I saw the potential for rain and thought maybe that would cool things off.

Oh, it rained. It poured. I was soaked a mile into the race, but it wasn’t from sweat.

And for some reason (because I’m not too bright) I started out way too fast. I’ve done this before, running the first mile of a 5K some 40 seconds faster than my last mile, for example, but I promised myself I wouldn’t do it Sunday. I tried really hard not to, too, but when I finished that first mile I saw “8:20” on my watch. My goal was to run 8:45 miles. So much for starting slow.

That fast start didn’t ruin me, at least not right away. I ran my next two miles under 8:45 and was confident I’d be sitting behind a bar in a couple hours celebrating my new PR with a cold frosty and a few friends.

My confidence slipped away faster than it took me to drink that post-race beer.

That humidity I feared wasn’t as brutal as it was a year ago, but it certainly played a factor. So did the fact that my shoes felt like they weighed 50 pounds because they were soaked with water. That 8:20 first mile didn’t help either.

As I climbed the hill re-entering the Rail Trail in Hallowell, my pace slowed dramatically. After that hill, I ran an 8:51 fifth mile and an 8:45 sixth mile. I was clinging to that PR pace.

Then I slowed down. Way down. 8:56. 9:01. 9:08. 9:23. Somehow, I managed a 9:09 mile at mile 11, but I was completely out of gas. I had another flashback to last year when I re-entered the Rail Trail in Augusta. Last year, it was at this point I seriously questioned whether or not I would finish. My legs were spent. I had a huge headache. I kind of thought I was going to puke.

Sunday, I didn’t feel like puking and while my legs were dead, I knew that they would carry me to the finish line. Very slowly, they would carry me to the finish line.

It was also at that point that I finally decided to check out the burning sensation on my chest. I had a pretty good idea what it was, but I was trying to keep my mind off it. You see, I forgot to use Body Glide and I didn’t use Band Aids to protect a very sensitive area. When I finally looked down I saw twin streaks of blood running down my shirt. I always thought nipple guards were a foolish idea until that very moment. I especially regretted my mistake when I stepped into the shower later Sunday. That was, without question, the worst pain of the day.

It was even worse than the pain when I realized I wasn’t going to PR. With about 4 miles to go I had a pretty good idea I had missed my chance at a sub 1:55 half marathon. I dragged my way toward the finish line (my last two miles were 9:53 each), disappointed, but at least knowing I’d still break two hours.

Entering the parking lot of the Maine State Housing Authority, I saw 1:57 on the clock. Yup, sub 2 hours. But then I did a little quick math in my head as I had yet another flashback. A year ago, when I saw that clock, I saw 2:19. My official time was 2:19.16. Sunday, my official time was 1:58.07. 21 minutes.

So, while I didn’t PR, I knocked 21 minutes off my time on this course in a year. I didn’t reach my goal, but I proved I’m headed in the right direction.

21 minutes. Yeah, I look back with a smile.

Scott Martin — 621-5618
[email protected]

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