Let me start this race report out by saying I learned something very important about myself today. For someone who prides themself on being diligent in my training, eating right, stretching, icing, working on my pace etc. – once I pin a number on my chest and line up for a race – I cannot be trusted.
I fully intended on treating this morning’s 3M Half-Marathon as my Sunday training run. You know, take it easy over the first couple of miles – get into a nice rhythm, find a comfortable pace and maybe push it a little over the final 2-3 miles. Goal for the race – 1:37:06 +/- (7:29 pace) …. or so I thought. Official Race Result – 1:32:13 (7:02 pace).
Now, in my defense – the race had a start time of 6:45 a.m which was pushed almost a full hour later to 7:37 a.m. due to high winds knocking over police barricades used to close off streets along the course. I’m not sure if you have ever had to stand still in 12-14 mph winds in 53 degree temperatures dressed for an immediate start – but we were freezing cold. All of us. Just trying to stay warm became the first challenge of the day for the runners awaiting the gun as many of us (o.k. maybe just me) had foolishly discarded our sweatshirts at the playing of the star-spangled banner (6:40 a.m.).
This had always been my strategy in the past – but I learned a valuable lesson today – keep all of your clothing on until the wheel-chair participants begin. Today the start occurred almost one full hour after I had thrown away my top layer. Ouch. The funniest part of the story is that I actually saw a woman runner about 7:15 a.m. wearing my discarded sweatshirt. I did not have the heart to retrieve it – but I did ask her if she had attended the University of South Carolina – and asked her if my sweatshirt was keeping the chill off of her …. was a funny moment, but I still learned that lesson the hard way.
I knew the Austin course was notoriously fast with several downhill sections – but I still believed I would be able to curb my enthusiasm and run a smart race. After such a long delay once they finally opened the course and the starter’s gun went off – so did I. At that point I just wanted to get moving and get warm – but I started off at pace more suited to a 5-K than half marathon. At the end of the first mile after navigating traffic through the slower runners in front of me I had posted a 7:17 first mile. Not terrible, but still almost :15 faster than my goal pace.
As I started to “feel good” and warm up fully I decided to not look closely at my Garmin and simply find a comfortable rhythmic pace and settle into the run. Having rested on Saturday (fresh legs) and cool temperatures contributing - I ran miles two and three at 7:12 and 7:02 respectively. At this point I knew I was in a bit of trouble as this was actually the uphill portion of the course. Only mile 7 and mile 10 would feature an uphill elevation change – so at this point the plan for an easy “training run” had gone by the wayside.
I felt great however, my legs felt strong and I decided I would listen to my body and stay smooth and consistent. Focus on “even effort” instead of “even time” and let the hills dictate my splits. This strategy seemed to really work as I evened out and posted times of 6:56, 6:48 and 7:00 over miles 4,5,6. I started thinking at this point about seeing my wife Dawn and our friends Sarah and Tedd who were kind enough to provide photography, videography and ground support. Sure enough I caught a glimpse of Tedd at the midpoint of the race as well as Sarah and Dawn.
I have always been lucky at races in seeing my friends and family – today was no different. It is amazing how over the course of a race course seeing a familiar face, a smile and wave can make all the difference. I was really feeling strong at this point and posted 7:05, 7:09, 7:06, 7:06 over miles 7,8,9 and 10. I had finally found my rhythm and pace – I was cruising.
At the mile 10 mark I popped 3 Clif Bloks in my mouth – hit the water bottle and decided that if we were going to post a PR (personal record) this morning – let’s really post one. On miles 11 and 12 I tried to focus on keeping my posture “tall” keeping my stride “long” and let the miles tick by. Mile 11 – 7:02, Mile 12 even faster yet at 6:59 and still feeling strong.
This was really the first time during the race that I thought about my recovery from shin splint issues in December. The Zensah sleeve that I had just started training in this week really seems to have helped and I was feeling 100% at the Mile 12 water stop.
With one mile to go I tried to force the pace just a little bit more – at about the 12.5 mile mark I was running next to a man from Houston who was fading a bit over the last mile – I asked if he wanted to “run in” together. He nodded and got on my right shoulder. I have found that having someone who you are “racing” more or less over the last half mile helps me focus on something positive instead of mentally ticking down the final distance. We really fed off of each other as we ran stride for stride until only .10 miles remained.
My pace for the 12th mile had fallen to 6:48 identical to mile 5 as the fastest two miles along the race. Feeling frisky over the last .10 I gave a little extra at the finish and finished with an unofficial time (based on my Garmin) of 1:32:18. My official time would turn out to be :05 seconds faster at 1:32:13 finishing 249th out of approximately 3,600 half-marathoners.
The race volunteers did a great job moving everyone through the finishing chute and greeted you with a warm smile, a congratulations and finisher’s medal. There is something special about having someone place that medal around your neck. It makes me almost immediately start thinking about the next race, the next starting area where I will make new friends and the next finish when I will run the last mile with another runner, helping each other finish strong. It makes me look forward to the next time I will see my wife and friends at the finish and get to tell stories about stolen sweatshirts (all right, not really “stolen”) and almost getting hit by a wheel chair athlete on mile 8 (true!).
Best of all was the feeling that on a week when Dom was able to get back to work and take another step closer toward recovery – I was able to do something that I really love with the people in my life that mean so much to me. Thank you Dawn, Sarah and Tedd for being there. Many thanks to all of the volunteers and spectators that dedicated an early Sunday morning to putting on a great event.
Congratulations to the more than 5,500 half-marathoners and relay participants who braved the cold, the late start and the wind to compete and complete a great event. I will definitely be back.