For me, it had been exactly twelve months. For eight of those, there wasn’t much of a choice as the world shut down from most large public gatherings. Finally, though, there was a chance to run a live race again and feel almost normal, and I waited on the starter to let wave two of the Lexington Half Marathon take off last weekend. I say almost normal because, as requested by the race director, we were wearing face coverings as we waited, and we were starting in waves, which is not the norm for this race.
I didn’t care. I was extremely happy to finally have a live race – a year is way too long of a break. I don’t do many races anymore, but had I wanted to, the opportunities during the last eight months almost didn’t exist. During this time, many races had gone the virtual route, where you paid your fee, ran the race distance at a place of your choosing (usually by yourself), and then uploaded your time to the race website. I did a virtual 5K back in September since it was for charity, but it just wasn’t the same.
During these last six months of renewed blogging, I’ve intentionally limited my posts on running. I did this because a lot of people just don’t care about running. Hard to believe, I know. Also, as I kind of alluded to earlier, there hasn’t been much running to write about anyway. But the original post I started for this week needs more work than I expected, and I did have a race, so it’s time to put out a running post.
Also, as I stood near the starting line this past Saturday, I was happy about a couple of other things. First, the weather had taken a turn for the better. It was about 52 degrees, much better than had been forecasted. One of the gazillion tropical storms this year had streaked through the state a couple of days earlier and took the heat and humidity with it.
Second, I was glad this training cycle was over. I hate to admit it, but I was tired. Only 13.1 miles to go, and I’d have some downtime. My training had gone OK, but not great. Over the last couple of weeks, though, I felt like I was coming around. Still, I wasn’t sure ten weeks of focused training would be enough to meet the goal.
Oh, yeah, that. My goal was to beat my previous personal best half marathon time which occurred in this same race in 2016. That day, I finished just over 1:35:00, a 7:15/mile pace. I felt this would be a bit of a stretch this year, but I had a secret weapon – my training partner Tripp. We’d done most of our Sunday morning track workouts together, and I planned for him to be the rabbit I chased.
Thanks to Garmin, the maker of my running watch, all my workouts for the last six years are stored online. Being the nerd that I am, I went back to review the data from the 2016 race. I won’t bore you non-running nerds with too many details, but one of the things the watch tracks is how fast you run each mile. From this, I was able to see that in 2016, I started out much slower than my pace goal for the first three miles, then gradually sped up, until I absolutely hammered the last mile for my fastest mile of the day. That day was the rare negative split for me, which means running the second half of a race faster than the first. (It is also an excellent title for a book, in case you haven’t heard.)
Nothing Ever Goes As Planned
Anyway, I decided that was a good plan for this year, too, and Tripp agreed. We’d start out slow, around a 7:25/mile pace, and then slowly speed it up. The starter sent wave one on its way at 7:30 am, and we waited since we thought our goal pace closer aligned with wave two. A couple of minutes after wave one, the starter sent us on our way, too.
I immediately regretted not starting at the back of wave one. We had too many people in the way during the first half mile, as we found our pace was much faster than most in this group. By the half-mile mark, we had worked our way to the front of this pack and into as they say in NASCAR, “clean air.” We hit the first mile at 7:28.
OK, that was close enough to plan, I thought, and we sped up a bit for the second mile. My watch buzzed a 7:18 for mile two, which seemed good in theory, but my effort for that mile felt too hard. Usually, early in a race, it is tough to hold back and the pace seems easy. So far, this didn’t seem to be the case for me. My throttle was stuck in slow.
In this race, miles three through five are a gradual climb. After this climb was the point where we’d need to increase our pace to 7-7:10 per mile to meet our race goal. During mile five, Tripp told me he was going for it and asked if I was with him.
“I’ll be back here somewhere,” I told him as I could tell that today was not my day. Tripp stepped on the gas, and I watched him pull away.
I won’t give you the mile by mile crash and burn, but suffice it to say that 7:18 in mile two was the highlight of my day. I tried several times to jump start my energy with some short sprints, but I just could not force myself out of the slow gear. By mile 10, I was so ready to go home. Despite paces around the 8:00 mark for miles nine through twelve, I did manage a 7:37 13th mile.
Shortly thereafter, I crossed the finish line in 1:41:11, a 7:43 pace, and good for 5th out of 19 in my age group.
This was good news/bad news. Sure, the bad news was a disappointing day, but the good news was an almost nine-minute faster finish than 2019’s effort in the cold rain while nursing a sore hamstring. Though I was a little bummed about the day’s result, the bit of normalcy of racing again and seeing familiar faces from the running community outweighed this disappointment. A big thanks to race director Jesse Harmon and his team for having the race this year!
As I was pondering the take away from this race and what profound insights to leave for you in this post (does that ever happen?), this graphic popped up on my Instagram feed. I think it sums it up nicely:
Thanks for reading,
PS. Tripp finished at 1:37:00, good for 2nd in his age group of 45-49 years young whippersnappers.
PPS. While I missed this PR goal for 2020, I’m still on track for my big run goal of the year: 2020 miles in 2020. Less than 200 to go with 6 weeks remaining…