That said, I came into the race with a plan of running somewhere around 7:00 flat pace for the first half, then trying to crank down into the 6:50’s, 6:40’s, and 6:30’s in the second half if feeling good. That would be similar, albeit a little faster, than my long runs from the previous two weekends and at least seemed doable. I was thinking sub-1:30 would be good and around 1:28 would be great. I didn’t even think about running any faster than that because it didn’t really seem feasible (or smart).
After the aforementioned poor lead-up, including a pretty crappy feeling 5 miler the evening before, I was thinking it would be really good if I hit that 1:30 goal. I did a nice, easy shakeout mile before the race and stepped to the line for the first time in what seemed like forever. It was good to see a lot of familiar faces around me, and as the race director counted down the final 10 seconds until the gun would fire, I had no sooner thought “what have I gotten myself into?” until we were on our way.
My daily training partner and RunAbout Sports Roanoke teammate, Andrew Parkins, hit the front immediately, which was exactly as expected. A runner I didn’t recognize went with him and Matthew Wright settled into third with me and a couple other guys holding down the next few spots. By the time we hit the mile, Matthew had moved into second and I was sitting in fourth, slowly closing in on third. At this point, I had to make the first of several in-race decisions. I knew I was out well faster than planned, and the 6:19 first mile split confirmed that. It was time to commit to running that pace for a while and hope it wouldn’t cause me to completely blow up somewhere down the road or back off and revert to the original plan. I did a quick systems check and realized that I felt quite comfortable, so I decided to try to keep in touch with third place and possibly secure an overall finish and one of the cool, Greek goddess Athena trophies that came with it.
I hit the second mile in 6:22 according to my Garmin and was now running alongside the third place runner and maintaining a gap of probably 30 meters or so behind Matthew. By the time we hit the 3 mile mark, another split of 6:22 for me, I was well clear of fourth place and actually closing on Matthew. It was time for another decision: back off a bit, which would likely still secure me third place from what I could tell was going on behind me, or soldier on and see what would happen. I decided to maintain, figuring if I ran a few more miles at this pace I could really back off towards the end if needed.
Somewhere close to the 5 mile mark, which was at Valley View Mall, I caught Matthew. I told him I thought the course might be short based on what I was getting on my Garmin vs. the course mile markers and also told him not to worry about me because I was going to back off at some point. I actually started to go past him shortly thereafter but thought better of it. We ran together through the turnaround and all the way past mile 7, at which point we hit the big climb on the greenway that would put us back at the mall.
I knew this climb was going to hurt, and it was time for another decision. Miles 4-7 had been extremely even for me according to my Garmin, hitting splits of 6:21, 6:21, 6:21, and 6:24. I was so ridiculously outside my original plan that it wasn’t even funny. It was now time to commit to holding that pace for the last 6 miles and try to race Matthew all the way to the line, possibly blowing up hard at some point, or I had to back off a little and make sure I got to the line in a more comfortable fashion. Whereas I’d made the aggressive choice each time up to this point, this time I considered my original plan/goal and decided I needed to be smart and back off. I knew there was no guarantee I could hang with Matthew, but there was an almost certainty that if I tried I would pay the price with several days of soreness and poor training afterward, if not something even worse.
It was hard watching Matthew slowly pull away those last few miles, but in hindsight, I definitely made the right decision. He ran a very strong race, not only maintaining the pace we’d run in the first half but even hitting a couple faster splits the last 3 miles, and even though I backed off a bit, I definitely started feeling the effort the last couple miles, which were very hilly as was the entire race. After averaging 6:21 pace the first 7 miles, I wound up averaging 6:31 for the last 6, crossing the line with an official time of 1:22:19. Andrew got the win in 1:17:17, and Matthew took second in 1:21:24. Full results can be found on the Mountain Junkies web site. We all had the course a little over a quarter of a mile short, so add 90+ sec for what we would have run for the full distance.
Overall I’m pretty happy with the way this turned out. I honestly would have thought 1:25 or 1:26 would have been the best I could do in an all-out effort for a half marathon, maybe not even that fast on a course as hilly as this one was on what was a cloudy, but very humid, morning. To run the equivalent of a sub-1:24 at what was a mostly controlled effort is encouraging. It tells me that even though my training has been very inconsistent over this entire year, which saw me have to take 8 straight weeks off from mid-Jan to early-Mar with plantar fasciitis, my strength isn’t all that bad. Now I just have to work on being more consistent and getting faster. I have a long way to go to get to where I would like to be, but this was a nice step in the right direction. I’m sure I’m going to have to endure a few poor performances along the way that I might even feel somewhat embarrassed about, but hopefully there will be no more 29 month stretches of no racing. Furthermore, I’m really going to try to not take the experience for granted and enjoy both the process and the journey, something I haven’t always done in the past. In the words of LL Cool J, don’t call it a comeback!
Below are a few pics from the race:
|Somewhere during the middle of the race|
|Team RunAbout Roanoke Pre-Race|
|Team RunAbout Roanoke Post-Race|
|Top-3 Post Race|
|Top-3 with Awards|