Posted by: Susan Loken | August 15, 2010

Race Day – AFC Half Marathon

I woke up before the 4:15 am alarm. I was in unchartered territory. My strength in racing has always been my confidence. I’ve known what I’ve been capable of, and I’ve done it. Now, after not competing seriously since the ’08 trials and being a couple years older, I didn’t have any idea … the Arizona summer isn’t the best fitness predictor. I was eager to get going and see where the heck my fitness was.

We had prepared and laid everything out the night before, so all I had to do was my ritual:

  • Drink cup of coffee.
  • Take quick shower.
  • Eat banana and drink 8 ou. sport drink.
  • Brush my teeth.
  • Get on my running clothes.
  • Put on my BELIEVE necklace (never race without it!).
  • And, finally, go to the bathroom (a BIG must before any race!).

 Bill dropped me off at the host hotel so I could join the other elite runners at the elite hospitality suite before boarding our bus to the start line. Yes, I’ve gotten very spoiled in the last seven years having the privilege of participating in races as an elite. Most races have special rooms with all the race essentials and private buses  just for the elite that take us to a staging area at the start of the race so we can warm-up, go to the bathroom (a few hundred times – can you say nerves) and line up at the front. I was very honored that the AFC Half (Neil Finn)allowed me to participate as an elite without having any fast times recorded in the last two years. Fortunately, I won the Masters race at this race three years in a row and still hold the fifth fastest master course time. I guess that bought me an elite pass this year. PHEW … did I get lucky!

I relaxed and stretched in the hospitality suite while waiting for my coach John Reich and teammates Ron Hyde and Arianna Hilborn. It is so wonderful to be running with a group again. I’ve said it before, and I will say it again, success is not a solo journey. Having teammates to motivate you, to train with and to hold you accountable is key. Also, having a coach to guide and support you is priceless. We all warmed up for about 20 minutes, did a few strides and we off to the start line.


We’re off. I ran mile one with Arianna at 6-minute pace. My heart rate was still settling down from the excitement of the start of a race, and I just concentrated on relaxing and finding my rhythm. By mile two, my heart rate still had not settled so I eased back a little and ran at 6:08. By mile three, I was running at a comfortable-hard pace. Heart rate was steady and relaxed now. A little part of me wanted to catch up to Arianna and try to run with her, but my objective was to run my own race, not try to keep up with anyone. Miles 4 and 5 were downhill and I just kept a nice hard comfortable effort and ran a 5:38 and 5:55. Mile 6 flattened out.

By then, I was in my zone.

 I was able to find a level of discomfort I could tolerate. I was cruising. Mile 6 was 6:05. Right after mile 6, I read a sign that a spectator had made that said, “The Lord is my Strength.” WOW, did that sign hit me hard! I had just visited my friend Beth in the hospital on Thursday (she’s fighting cancer). At this point, my mind went away from the race and I just prayed to God asking him to give Beth all the strength, and not waste any on me. I could gut the race out – her race was so much more important. For the next seven miles, I prayed and thought of Beth and begged God to give her peace. The final 2 miles climbing the big hill up to Balboa park were hard, but I was running hard for Beth at this point, so you better believe I was giving it my all. As I came down the road to the finish line, I could see the clock. I gave it one last hard effort and sprinted to the finish.

Time: 1:20:50.

It was a victory for me. I told myself if I ran 1:22 or better, I would know that my fitness was where it needed to be. I told myself I would officially sign up for the Twin Cities Marathon with the goal of running a 2:46 or better, and Qualify for my third Olympic Trials. I ended up ninth overall female and top Masters runner.

When they gave me my award medal, I knew that this medal was for Beth.

A quick congratulations to Ron Hyde (second from left in photo above and my training partner from years back – now we are training together again). He ran a 1:17:09 and placed first in his age group! Congratulations, also to Arianna Hilborn (first on the left in the photo) for running a PR of 1:19:41! Look for Arianna at the 2012 Olympic Trials!

My Splits:

  1.  6:00
  2. 6:08
  3. 5:54
  4. 5:38 (love the downhill!)
  5. 5:55
  6. 6:05
  7. 6:06
  8. 6:04
  9. 6:06
  10. 6:04
  11. 6:08
  12. 6:44 (hill to Balboa Park!)
  13. 6:35 (hill and final turn into the park)
  14. Final stretch 5:37 pace

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