After running the solid-but-slightly-short-of-spectacular Twin Cities Marathon two weeks ago, I knew that how fast I was able to run in this race would be completely dependant on how quickly I’d recovered. Last year, I didn’t race a fall marathon and I ran what I stil think is my best race ever (at least, so far). The year before, I ran this same race two weeks after the marathon and although I ran a PR and broke 1:30 for the first time ever, I felt a little dead in the legs the entire race. Two weeks ago (aka the week after the marathon), I ran extremely easy finishing the week with just 33 miles – my lowest weekly mileage in over a year. This week, it was pretty much back to normal. I did a fairly light workout on Thursday and my legs felt very good. I was cautiously optimistic that maybe my legs were going to be mostly recovered. I came into the race with an optimistic goal of running in the 1:23-1:24 range if my legs were feeling good. And if they weren’t, just put in a good hard effort and half fun.
We got to the race incredibly late. My wife was running this half marathon, as well, and we have extremely different ideas on when is the proper time to get to a race. I like to be at the venue about an hour before the start. Maybe more if it’s a big race. My wife likes to sleep in a little later and maybe get to the start… you know, before the race starts (for the record, we’ve missed that once).
I didn’t feel like pushing my agenda on her for the weekend, so I deferred to her timing. We didn’t get to the race until about 15 minutes before the start. I managed to sneak in a 5 minute warmup. Quickly snuck to the bathroom and, unbelievably, there was no line. I headed to the starting line, but unfortunately it was crowded. I tried to sneak as far forward as possibly, but I didn’t really feel like throwing elbows or upsetting everyone. Unfortunately, I was stuck BEHIND THE 2:10 PACE GROUP at the start!
Mile 1 – 6:17 – I went through the start of the race and people didn’t even start running yet! When I finally was able to get clear, I shot out to the far left and started flying by people. About a quarter mile into the race, I was able to kind of see the race play out ahead of me. I figured I was in about 30th place. The first place guy was 50 meters up on everybody from the gun. I recognized the next few runners as runners who were slightly better than me, but at least in the same ballpark. By the time I got to the mile, I think I had snuck into the top 10.
Mile 2 – 6:28 (12:44) – The first mile might have been a little quicker than I was hoping for, but it felt very controlled. As we got to the two mile, we started to pass runners to see two way traffic on the bikepath. For the most part, though, it was fun. Although the path was fairly tight, I got to watch the runners and high five my wife.
Mile 3 – 6:39 (19:31) – Passing more two way-traffic here. I’ve run enough races to know when I’m out of control early. That certainly wasn’t the case here. I got up to 6th and 7th place runners in this mile. Unfortunately, I looked down and saw my right shoelace flopping. Another reason I like getting to races early is to take care little things like this. I figured it made no sense to run 10 more miles with a shoelace untied so I stopped to tie it. The 6th and 7th place runners put about a 10 second gap on me. This probably would’ve been about 6:25-6:30 had I not tied my shoelace which was right where I was hoping to be. I noticed as I started again, though, that my legs felt very uncomfortable similar to when you try to “kick” at the end of the race and there was nothing there.
Mile 4 – 6:26 (25:57) – Another really fun mile. My heart rate is sitting around 175 which I know is a number I can maintain. I’m still chasing down the two runners that left me last mile when I tied my shoes. When I saw 25:57 for a cumulative time here, I knew I was slightly faster than 6:30 pace. But I had never saw my mile 3 split, so I was a little confused because I thought this would be a little quicker (of course, I wasn’t thinking about my shoelace mishap in the last mile).
Mile 5 – 6:37 (32:24) – I’m maintaining the same distance behind the two guys ahead of me, but I’m not gaining any ground. This was the first mile that I fully started to realize that my legs just weren’t there. Mentally, I was feeling really good. I wasn’t breathing heavy at all. But my legs just felt dead. I started to realize that I don’t think I’m going to be running a 1:23 today, but was thinking maybe I could hold on and get near my half marathon PR. I remember last year that I really was able to run the last mile fast, so as long as I was putting miles near 6:30, I’d have a shot at a PR.
Mile 6 – 6:44 (39:17) – Kind of a transition mile for me. Once I saw this split, I knew that I wasn’t going to be setting a PR. I knew that I was running strong, but it just wasn’t in the cards to run what I was hoping to run. In a lot of races I run, I come in with big goals and then at some point during the race, I have to come to terms with the fact that today isn’t that big breakthrough that I was hoping for.
Mile 7 – 6:42 (46:00) – I saw my mom and sister at this mile. I thought it was pretty cool that they drove over an hour to come cheer us on. Somewhere around this mile, I finally caught one of the guys that was ahead of me moving into 7th place. The next two guys were still in sight, but they’d gained on me a little in the last few miles.
Mile 8 – 6:40 (52:39) – My heartrate data is reflecting exactly what I’m feeling. With every mile, it’s dipping down a few beats per minute from 175 earlier in the race to the 170-172 range right now. Eventually, it even will get down to the 168-169 range for the last few miles of this race. I feel like I’m pushing, but my legs just won’t really move. I’m essentially running all by myself. As we near the turnaround, I start to feel good because the 2nd thru 5th place runners aren’t nearly as far ahead of me as I thought they might be. As I neared the turnaround, I saw the 6th place runner. He gave me a thumbs up – a universal sign signifying “good job” to your fellow runners. Strangely, it kind of sparked me. And I had kind of a internal revelation… my race was shot, but I could encourage others. This part of the course was an out-and-back on a bikepath, so I knew for the next three miles, I was going to see a ton of runners. I made a decision that I was going to spend those three miles just trying to encourage every runner I saw.
Mile 9 – 6:37 (56:16) – So, I went full-on “cross country coach” during this mile. Everyone that I went by got a “You guys are doing awesome!” or a “Way to go!” or a thumbs up. I tried to encourage everyone. While I was cheering, I kind of reflected on where I am as a runner. Because I’ve been the over-2-hour half marathoner. I’ve paced people for their first race. I’ve helped people try to meet a goal – whether it was sub-2 hrs or sub-1:45. I know that a lot of these runners, even if they are 5, 15, or even 45 minutes behind me, they are working their butts off. In many cases, they are even working harder than I am. I know that they are! Because I don’t even feel like I’m working all that hard… especially not for being at mile 9 of a half marathon. My legs just aren’t cooperating.
Mile 10 – 6:46 (1:06:03) – I’m continuing to cheer on every runner or every group that I go by and I’m having a blast! Having been a runner for 13 years now and helping to coach cross country for 11 or 12 (I’ve lost count), I’ve come to love the community of runners. Half of the reason I love running races is just to be around these runners who I often feel just exude positivity and goodness. The exception is often the people at the front of the pack. Many of them seem singularly focused on running fast. They don’t interact with other people in the race. I find they smile, wave, and cheer far less as a whole than back-of-the-packers. I’ve been guilty of this before, and I completely understand why. I’ve worked so incredibly hard to get to where I am. I’m not a naturally great runner, but I’ve developed the ability to be very committed to running every single day… no matter whether I feel like it or not! I’m very proud to be as far in the front as I am (which turns out to be 7th out of 557 people), but I decided and didn’t want to be the standoff-ish guy at the front who just runs by everyone else.
Mile 11 – 6:57 (1:12:59) – I’ve went by most of the half-marathoners by this point. As I get to the tail end of this mile, I start to run into the 10k-ers who are around mile 4 of their race. As positive as I have been about the two way traffic with the half marathoners, I’m not so excited to run into the 10k-ers. Now, we’ve got two way traffic and it appears the first crew I hit is running around 10:00/mile pace. Since the left half of the bikepath is taken up by runners running 10:30-11:00/mile pace, I’m forced to run a majority of this mile in the grass on the far right side of the bikepath which has me slightly annoyed. I’ve known for 40 minutes that my time was going to be fine, but not great. It just stinks to have to dodge and weave like Adrian Peterson just because I’m running so much faster than everyone else I’m coming up on.
Mile 12 – 6:50 (1:19:49) – More of the same. The problem is I can’t really run on the path. People are running two-and-three people wide. When someone is coming on the head-to-head, they will slide over. But as soon as that person passes, they often relax and swing out a little wider. Meaning in order to pass, I have to swing out even wider. I understand that space on the bikepath limits the options of what do for scheduling three different races, and it’s certainly not something that ruins the race for me, but it’s quite frustrating.
Mile 13 – 6:47 (1:26:36) – I know I’ve got a little left in the tank, but I’m not really digging too deeply. I’m excited for the race to be over and just want to make sure I keep it under 1:27.
Last bit – 0:19 – Finish time is officially 1:26:55. It’s a slower time than I was shooting for, but still something I’m proud of. My legs obviously aren’t anywhere close to fully recovered from my marathon two weeks ago, but that probably was the likely scenario. In an ideal world, I would’ve loved this race to be one week later. Even a month from now, I think I could potentially run the sub-1:24 I had been shooting for this year. Coaching cross country and basketball, having two little girls, and trying to be a good husband, though, I just have a hard time fitting as many races as I’d like to do into my busy schedule. My wife and I recently went through our schedule and we have 3 weekends from now thru the middle of March that we don’t have anything planned. THREE!?! Yikes. That’s even busy for us and we’re pretty used to being busy. For my running future, you can expect even more 4 or 5 AM long runs over the winter.
I haven’t even started to plan my racing schedule for next year. I do think my wife and I are planning on running a half marathon in April in Ireland. I’m sure I’ll run one of the Fargo races in May (leaning towards the marathon). Other than that, it’s basically a wrap for racing in 2015. Overall, it was a very good year. I PR-ed at every distance (5k, 8k, marathon) I ran this year with the exception of my favorite race – the half marathon. I ran numerous high-level workouts that I know I couldn’t have done a year ago. I trained through a busy coaching schedule, a newborn daughter that took 11 months to learn what “nighttime” meant all while (hopefully) being a good dad and husband. I’m extremely proud of what I accomplished this year, but I have much bigger goals for next year!