Sunday, March 17, 2013

Goal 1:59:59 Did He Make It?

Race morning: 41 degrees F and rainy.

Those were the conditions back home in Bowling Green, the weather at Fall Creek Falls State Park where my trail half marathon was located was much nicer, upper 50's and partly cloudy. I couldn't have asked for better weather to try my second half marathon, one year after my first on the same course. Last year I finished in 2:12:00. 12th place overall out of 62 people. This year I was hoping to finish in under two hours.

St. Patrick's Day Swag.
We did a much better job getting to the start than we did last year. This time we were able to leisurely gather our gear and race packets, then hang around for the start. It was much nicer this way.

Time to start. My plan to meet my sub 2 hour goal was to try to run at about a 9 minute per mile on the trail. I figured I'd be able to keep that pace without getting above my aerobic range, so I kept my effort level right around the top of that effort level. There were checkpoints at 2.25, 9.25, and 12.25 miles (there was also a 50K on the same course). I did a little math in my head and set my goals at 20 minutes, 83 minutes, and 18 minutes for the three aid stations. If I could do that I would still have a three minute cushion to break two hours.

On the first mile, of every race I do, I find myself thinking, "Why am I doing this? I don't enjoy this. This is hard. Who needs to race anyway?" I get over that pretty quickly though. I settled in to a comfortable pace, planning to keep things aerobic for most of the race. I planned on picking up the pace at aid station 3. Due to an injury, I had drastically reduced my mileage last year, and in training for this race 4 miles was the longest I'd held a tempo effort, so I figured I'd hit that effort level for the last four miles.

Aid station one: 19:27. 33 seconds ahead of goal time, but it would be a long haul on some hilly trails before I could check my pace again. I prefer to run without GPS, I wrote more about that here. At about 30 minutes I realized I was working above my aerobic pace, so I slowed down. I ran, along the trails, up the hills, down the hills, across the wooden bridges, over rocks the size of my torso. I met some other runners and talked with them and generally had a blast in the woods. (Will I be able to road race again?)

At one point, I started to wonder if I was near the suspended bridge that swings and shakes as you run across 50 feet or so over a rushing stream 15-20 feet below.

I heard up ahead a thumping of feet on wood and said to the person just ahead of me, "Sounds like another bridge." Then I heard a scream that started off terrified and settled down into a laugh, and said, "It's the suspended bridge."

80 minutes gone, and no sign of aid station 2 (83 minute goal), would I make it there in time?

83 minutes, no aid station.

89 minutes aid station.

So much for my cushion, now I had to make up at least three minutes to reach my sub 2 hour goal. With 4 miles left to go it was time to up the effort level. Unfortunately the trail also ups the difficulty level on the second half of the course, a lot more climbing to do.

I knew before, but verified on this race that I am much better downhill than uphill. On every hill, if there was someone behind me, they would come right on my tail on the uphills, then I would leave them behind on the downhill. If they were in front of me, I'd catch up with them downhill, and get left behind going uphill.

The going was getting tough.

As some of you know, I recently lost my dog. He was a greyhound, pitbull mix. He was awesome, but he was nearly 13 years old. I wish I had been a runner when he was young. He would have been a great running buddy. I'm still miss that boy, his empty dog house haunts my backyard, so do the trails worn into the grass back there. So, when he died, I made this plan to sort of invoke his spirit on this run.

The going was getting tough, so I imagined my dog with me, young, strong, and swift, running with me. When I wanted to slow down, I'd picture him pulling ahead of me and looking back over his shoulder at me as if to say, "Come on Dad let's RUN!" He kept me pushing hard for the last four miles.

Thanks Grendel.


Somewhere along the trail, one of the volunteers, out on the trail with a bicycle said to me, "It's not too terribly far before you're back on the road, then either turn left to finish the half, or go across for the 50K."

"Not too terribly far. . ." What does that mean? Once I hit the road I've got .75 miles to go. Does this mean I'm a mile from the end? 2 miles? 3 miles? I've got 10 more minutes to go until two hours have passed. I'd better keep the effort high in case it is a longer way to go. I can definitely finish the last mile in 10 minutes, but I still don't know when I'll reach the road. 

9 minutes to go, still not on the road. I can finish a mile in 9 minutes though.

8 minutes, still no road. I can do a mile in 8, especially since most of it is on asphalt and downhill.

7 minutes, not out of the woods yet. I can run a seven minute mile, but I'll have to really crank it up. 

Come on Grendel, let's go.

I made it to the road at 2 hours and 1 minute. 

Drat. 

At this point, I can still PR even if I take it easy the rest of the way.

So I slowed down to an easy jog.

Not really, I gave it all I had left.

My right calf cramped up. With every step it would cramp more, so on the lift off I would dorsiflex my toes. I was trying to reel in the two guys ahead of me. The cramp got worse, I stopped and stretched it out, then took off again. I didn't reel them in. 

I was sore. I was tired, but I gave it what I got. 

Official results haven't been posted, but my time was 2:06: something. I think around 2:06:40, maybe a little more or less. 

Even without hitting my major goal, I still got a personal best by over 5 minutes. So I'm happy about that.

There was a much tougher field this year than last. Last year I got second in my age division and 12th overall. This year fifth, and 25th, but as I have said before, given the choice, I'd rather PR than place.

It was a great race, lots of fun, and it helped me let go of my dog, Grendel.

I wonder what I could do on a road half.

My wife and I love this race. It is always well organized, a great spread of food at the end, and the race director listens to feedback from the runners and makes improvements. We plan on continuing to do this race. Maybe, just maybe, should I remain injury free this year, maybe I'll do the 50K next time.


Two happy runners.