Today is race day. I’m running my first virtual half marathon. It’s not my first virtual race though, I ran a virtual 10K four months ago and my first virtual race, a 5K six months ago. In both cases I didn’t reach the goal I had set out for myself. I’m still blaming the missed PR on my 5K on a bad GPS connection, but my 10K I definitely blew all by myself. Today will be different. The goal isn’t super ambitious and my training has been consistent. I can do this.
Today’s virtual event:
Time to beat: 2:51:35
Goal time: 2:45:00
Race day preparations
The preparations of a virtual race start for me with setting out a route. The original plan was to run the half marathon distance of the Marathon Eindhoven event. Unfortunately, that’s been cancelled and gone virtual. I still want to run at least part of the original route, so that’s what I’m doing. I plan the route in Garmin Courses (instructions here) from my home town, along the canal towards Eindhoven city center where I’ll be passing the original finish line and the iconic Stratumseind street that is usually completely packed with people. When I ran the 10K here a year ago, I remember the massive crowds and the strange smell of beer.
When the race was cancelled, my friend and I decided that we were going to run it anyway, on the originally planned day. I talked to her a week ago about the route she planned, and she’s running along the same canal as I am, but since she lives in Eindhoven we are going in opposite directions. If we plan this right, we can at least wave at each other today.
No alarm today, I wake up around 7, slowly get up, make breakfast and get ready. It’s cold outside and it’s supposed to rain later, so I’m putting on a longsleeve and capri’s. I check in with my friend, she’s almost out the door and wearing shorts and a shirt. I doubt my choice of clothing, but don’t bother changing. It’s cold and rain is coming, she’ll be cold, I’ll be good. I have to hurry if I want to see her.
I fill my Camelbak, prepare my run snacks, gather all my gear and head out. I am on my way to my starting line.
After a warming up of about 1 kilometer, I start my watch: the race starts! These virtual race starts are a bit boring. I do have an app that is linked to the virtual event, but I had to sign up for a specific wave and I’m not willing to wait 15 minutes.
I start out a little too fast at about 7:30 min/km, the goal is to stay below 7:50 min/km, but also to start slow. I have my watch set to autolap per 1K and I’ve created a specific race data screen. I have my heart rate gauge, total distance and time, my average pace and my average lap pace. I slow down and quickly find a comfortable pace at 7:49 min/km that I’m able to keep constant for a long time.
The Garmin Course route on my watch wanted me to turn right here, but it’s too late. I’ll take the next one. When I finally make it to the canal, I’m pretty sure my friend is long gone already. There are a lot of runners on the path here, but most are so busy with themselves that they don’t even acknowledge my friendly “Hi” or wave. Oh well, they are probably running their 1/4, 1/2 or full marathon as well.
I’m slowed down shortly at the crossing towards the city center, the cars here do not care about my race. It costs me about 20 seconds, but my average pace is still good. The race continues into the city center. I pass what was supposed to be the finish. Cars are driving by, nothing happening here. I continue my route around the city center and turn towards Stratumseind. If the race went ahead this would be where I’d be running through a crowd of people, but today it’s completely empty. It feels a little strange to be here, but I’m also happy I made it part of my route. It’s good to be here.
So, this is where the doubts are starting to climb into my head. My right knee has been bugging me for about 5K already. Just a minor, soft niggle every second or third landing. At 9K I turn towards a small, uneven path and that was not a good idea. I feel out of balance and my knee starts to hurt a little less soft. Let’s ignore that. My lap pace rises to 8:10 min/km, also not good.
The next part of the route takes me towards Genneper Parken. It’s where I ran a 10K in January of this year. It seems like so long ago. I’m running part of the same route today. It’s very busy here with other runners and walkers, which could be nice, but I’d rather be alone at the moment. My knee is now sending out sharp pain signals. I stop to stretch, but that doesn’t do me any good. When I slowly start to run again the pain is worse. It didn’t do my average pace much good either.
I stop and start running four more times according to the friendly pace graph in Garmin Connect. With every step I’m getting more scared that my knee is going to give out. This isn’t worth it. It’s a hard decision, I’ve been working hard for this race, but I don’t want to risk damaging my body for a long time. I quit. I’m not going to lie, there were tears as I turn away from my planned route onto the shortest route towards the finish at my friends house.
Luckily walking doesn’t hurt so much, I estimated I have about 2K to walk, but my estimation may have missed a few streets. I’ve been walking for about 15 minutes when I see my friend’s Strava upload, she crushed her PR and I’m finally smiling again. I let her know I had to abort and should be there soon.
I’ve been walking for 4 kilometers when I’m finally near her house. My watch is at a nice and even 15K so that’s a perfect time to pause that. My friend is walking towards me, sad for me and probably a little exhausted. As we turn the corner, the finish line finally appears.
This was my first attempt at a virtual half marathon and I’m not giving up just yet. The pace felt really good and comfortable, which gave me lots of confidence. I just need to fix the problem in my knee. I’ve planned an appointment with my physical therapist for next Monday and hope he can work some magic for me. I’m going to try a short, easy run in the next days to see how it feels as well.
New attempt, coming soon.