Best half marathon race ever

I had SO much fun at the Garry Bjorklund/Grandma’s Half Marathon up in Duluth, Minnesota on June 22, 2024!! I love it when the stars align, and I slip into that somewhat elusive zone of magical flow when everything happens JUST RIGHT. 

My attitude keeps a lookout for such moments. I recognize and celebrate such moments the instant they appear. That said, given the many, many challenges in my life, it is rare that I experience such magical moments for hours at a time. 

Since I generally run a 12+ minute mile pace, running a half marathon, 13.1 miles all at once, usually takes me somewhere between 2 hours 45 minutes and 3 hours. I’ve had a lot of pain struggles since being on this aromatase inhibitor, letrozole, which I take since my third breast cancer diagnosis happened in October 23, 2023, which is about 9 months. With that in mind, my time goal for this race was to finish the race within the 3 hour time limit. I wasn’t sure what level of pain I’d be navigating during this race. Pain slows me down.

The stars really did align, as my finish time was a personal best, known as a PR (personal record) by 7 minutes. Meaning, when I looked up my times from ALL the half marathons I’ve ever done, which is quite a few since I started running them in 2007 or so, I ran the race on June 22, 7 full minutes faster than ANY of them!! How about that for very cool!!

I finished this particular race in 2 hours 32 minutes and 47 seconds. My average pace was 11:34 minutes per mile. I was run-walk-running with a rhythm of 45 seconds running followed by 15 seconds of walking followed by 45 seconds of running and so on. I did this cycle for the entire 2 hours 32 minutes and 45 seconds.

Reflection in one of the activities I do nearly every day. It’s how I keep learning and growing. Applying this technique to the race, I came up with a number of factors that aligned. Some of them I have control over and will attempt to replicate them going forward. A few of the factors I don’t have control over and for those, I thank the gods, my angels and the Universe for helping me out.

Here’s a recap of the six things that what went well:

#1 Pre-race prep

I took off two days before race day and I made sure that my life was calm and my activities were organized before the race. In particular, four elements came into focus.

  • Sleep – I slept 8 to 10 hours each night for nearly a week. Thus I felt rested and ready.
  • Hydration – I paid close attention to drinking enough electrolytes the full week before the race. I focused on using Nuun tabs and LMNT packets everyday. Plus plain water and herbal tea to make it fun to consume enough liquid. 
  • Nutrition – Overall I eat clean and well. I took my effort up a notch the full week before the race. This helped me keep my blood sugars “in-range” which also helps my body be ready for race day. I made sure to eat a good amount of carbs the 5 days before race day. My liver and muscles were topped off with available glycogen. 
  • Low stress – stress throws off the body in so many ways. In particular, when I’m stressed out, I find I hold my breath and hold my muscles and body in tension. This in turn messes with my blood sugars and increases my anxiety. Not good. I’ve learned over the years to make a point of organizing my work life and my social life to maximize low stress. I was able to do this the full week before the race. 

#2 Great place to stay in Duluth

Booking an apartment at the University of Minnesota Duluth for race weekend happens in February. My group of runner friends and I have done this the past two years with relative ease. Our plan was to do that again for the five of us planning to race. Luck was not on our side in February. We didn’t get a room. 

That invited us to be creative. I remembered my friend Jaime who recently built a brand new, beautiful house just north of Duluth. I reached out to her and she agreed that all five of us could descend on her and her sweet pup Polly for the weekend. 

She moved into her house about six weeks before race weekend and she welcomed us to her gorgeous house with open arms. WOW! Huge shout-out of thanks to Jaime and Polly for making it easy and very enjoyable to stay over the two nights we were in Duluth to race.

Additionally, the five of us who stayed with Jaime enjoy one another! We laughed, rode up to Duluth in two hybrid cars (minimal carbon footprint) and ate yummy food together. Delightful companionship for race weekend makes everything enjoyable. 

#3 Effective taper

I have done a lot of races in my adult life, and I intellectually know that tapering is an important race prep step. The challenge is that I get really edgy and cranky when I taper. Tapering is where the athlete, me in this case, cuts back on the volume and intensity of the sport. This allows the body to be READY on race day. Cutting back gives me more time, which is part of why I feel edgy and cranky. I start to question the cut back. Plus I can start fretting. I took up the time with extra long walks in nature with Sam, my dog. That helped!

I still ran. I continued to follow the Run Minnesota Spring training plan. As Coach Danny Docherty prescribed in the plan, I cut down on my mileage. I also eased up on my strength training. My next race is the YWCA Women’s Triathlon on August 11th, so I’ve started biking and swimming with more intention. I kept doing that during the taper, but not with too much force. 

#4 Physical therapy paid off

I’ve been going to PT nearly 3 times a month since October. My oncologist agreed to this since I’ve been experiencing a significant increase in daily pain. Pain in random parts of my body, parts I’ve never had pain in before. My back, my hips, my shoulders, my legs…seems endless and unrelenting. This is due to taking the letrozole. 

I have a high pain threshold, and movement generally helps loosen up the pain. As does taking the Chinese herb blend my acupuncturist mixes up for me. Nonetheless, daily pain is new for me.

I see two physical therapists. They complement each other beautifully. Maria Hoglund specializes in running, and Renata Braudy specializes in mastectomy/breast cancer recovery. In combination, they have helped me modify my strength training plan. I do strength training twice a week for at least an hour each time. Additionally, I plank every single day. And I do a 15 to 20 minute series of mobility exercises every single day. 

I know I’ve gotten stronger, but I wasn’t sure it was all working until race day, when I ran with ease and total joy. I could feel how well my muscles were working in harmony. It was incredible to feel my strength and power. Repeatedly, I sent thoughts of gratitude and delight to Maria and Renata. 

#5 No letrozole day of the race

A few weeks before the race, I accidentally forgot to take the letrozole pill. I felt amazing all day. I didn’t really know why until the next morning when I realized what had happened. I have a lot of structures and routines in place so as not to forget my pills and supplements. Apparently, things happen.

Upon reflection, I realized one day without the letrozole resulted in amazing sleep, zero pain and a lightness in my overall energy.

I thought to myself, “I should on-purpose, skip a day of letrozole on race day.” It was an executive decision, meaning I did not consult with any medical providers. I just simply did not take letrozole on June 22nd.

WOW WOW WOW. Not taking it AND running 13.1 miles was pure joy. Best of all, NO PAIN!!! I hadn’t realized how much pain I’d been navigating on every single run since October. The absence of pain was being freed from an imprisonment I didn’t even know I’d been in. My entire body and mind and soul rejoiced and I flew on that road alongside majestic Lake Superior. 

When I took the letrozole again the day after the race, I realized how difficult this drug really is. I had a headache most of the day and pain set in again with a piercing bite. Both were due to the drug, not to having just run a fast for me half marathon. There’s a subtle difference, I’ve come to recognize the difference. The aches post race were there, magnified by the letrozole. 

#6 The 15 mph tailwind & ideal temps for race day

The tailwind and the weather I had zero control over, however, both benefitted my time. What fun to realize there was a tailwind pushing me the entire race! The temps were in the 50’s and 60’s, lovely running weather. Plus, the race started at 6AM and the rain didn’t start up again until nearly 8AM. A bit of rain at the end felt cooling rather than annoying. 

For some reason, the humidity levels stayed low too. I don’t do well in humidity. Again, another weather advantage.

In all, it’s been a few weeks since the race and I am still riding the high of one of my best races ever.

It gives me hope that I can do another full marathon to celebrate turning 60 years old in May of 2025. Will keep you posted on how the planning and training for that race comes together!

Thanks for reading along with me!

Have the stars ever aligned for you at a race? Tell me your stories. I love reading them!

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