Sunday morning, 3M Half Marathon – it was the race before “the race”.
Race number 4 in the Austin Distance Challenge. When it was over, all that would remain would be the Austin Marathon on February 20th, now just three short weeks away.
All week leading up to 3M I found myself constantly taking stock of how my body felt coming back from last weekend’s bout with the stomach flu. It seemed that with each passing day I was feeling better and better. More and more like myself.
I had been eating, strength training and hydrating like crazy, trying to get back to my race weight of 138 lbs.
Sunday morning, 136.5.
Still not where I needed to be, but I was feeling strong during my quick 2 mile shake-out on Saturday, so I tried not to let it bother me. Obviously I still wasn’t “all the way back” from the flu. But maybe, just maybe I was close enough to really run my race on Sunday.
I knew that I could run strong for 8-10 miles. I just wasn’t sure how much I would have left in the tank for the final 5 kilometers. But that is why we race. If every runner “knew” what their time would be coming through the finisher’s chute, I don’t think very many of us would bother to show up and toe the line. That is part of the beauty of our sport.
After a low-key night at home with Dawn and Landry watching SECRETARIAT, (not a bad inspirational movie to watch on the eve of a race), I set the alarm for 4:25 a.m. and tried to get some sleep.
As is usually the case the night before a race, I couldn’t relax. Couldn’t stop thinking about mile splits, hills, water stops and course management. I dozed off around Midnight and accepted the 4 ½ hours of sleep as a gift.
After a breakfast of a bagel with peanut butter and a banana, chased by a grape Gatorade, I got dressed in my race gear and left for the start. The 3M Half-Marathon is the second largest stand alone half-marathon in Texas. It is a point to point course, so I would be leaving my truck at the start and hooking up with Dawn and Landry at the finish line. It was just a matter of how long it would take me.
Pre-Race: The temperature at the gun was announced at 73 degrees. The rain that was in the forecast never really fell, but the humidity was well over 90% as the runners stood listening to the National Anthem.
Dressed in just shorts and a singlet, I did not do my usual warm-up of ½ mile to shake loose. I felt very limber and light on my feet. I just did a quick group of strides, more or less ¼ miles worth and ducked back into my spot in the starting corral.
I chatted with a young man named Brian who was on the cross-country team at the University of Texas when he was in college. A 2:55 marathoner, Brian was going to be running out ahead of me. I wondered if we would see each other at the finish.
Miles 1-4: As I was standing in the starting area I clicked on my iPod and got ready to rock. I was amazingly calm Sunday morning which surprised me. After stressing about my fitness and strategy for the race all week long I felt like I was ready. No sense over-thinking it. I would lock into a “comfortably hard pace” and hold it as long as I could.
At the gun I started out quickly looking for open road to start the legs churning. 3M which is a “fast course” with a lot of downhill sections actually starts with climbs over the first two miles. Due to its reputation as a “fast half-marathon”, I believe a lot of runners get too aggressive early both where they line up and over the opening miles.
It requires a lot of “dodging traffic” over the first mile which can be frustrating. I just hung to the left and tried to stay even and smooth.
I could tell that my legs showed up and the opening climb up 56 feet felt like I was racing on flat ground. My Brooks ST4 Racers felt light on my feet and I went with what I knew was a pace much faster than I had planned. It “felt right” however, so I didn’t discourage myself from the pace.
My first four miles sped by at: 6:16, 6:20, 6:22, and 6:18.
So much for going out with an opening 6 miles in 39:10. I was feeling it however, shame on me to back down with Dom’s initials on my shoes. That’s not really what any of this is about.
Miles 5-8: Mile five was another mile that was more or less fair, slightly downhill, but mile 6 would be the first chance for me to really let my momentum carry me along downhill. This stretch bottoms out just over Loop 1 or the MOPAC Expressway and leads to the exchange area for the relay portion of the half-marathon.
My friend Nina who I will be racing with at Ragnar Del Sol on team, “Where’s the Damn Van?!” in a month would be waiting for her relay partner at the exchange. I was hoping to get a chance to see a smiling face and say hello as I was running by.
True to form I saw Nina on the right side of the course and said a quick hello. The course was flattening out now and we would be doing some climbing shortly. I told myself to dial back a bit and just lock in to even effort. Something around 6:30 if I could hold it. It was far too early to go all-in at this point.
Miles seven and eight felt tough but consistent. At this point I started to think that I was going to get away with starting out a little bit to fast on the top half of the course.
Splits for miles 5-8 were: 6:10, 6:21, 6:33, and 6:31.
Miles 9-11: I had finally seemed to find my rhythm and lock in on pace. I told myself that this was the part of the course, climbing up onto North Loop where the last of the hills would be found. I just needed to stay in rhythm and keep it together.
It was at this point of the race when runners started to come back to me for the first time. I wasn’t going any faster than I had been. But others were starting to feel the hills. This seemed to energize me.
I actually thought for a moment during mile 10 how much did I want it today? A strange thought to have during a race, but I suspect a lot runners think that way at some point. More than would care to admit it anyway.
I mumbled to myself that I did want to race today. Hang tough. Mile 11 will be here before you know it.
Splits for miles 9-11 were: 6:33, 6:35, and 6:31.
Time to go to work.
Miles 12-Finish: As only a runner can I began to do the math. I had a legitimate shot at breaking through the 1:24:00 barrier if I could ramp up my pace over the final two miles. I would need to run something in the :20’s and then something in the teens if I was going to get there I thought.
If we didn’t quite make it we would certainly beat our goal time of 1:25:08 with some panache.
I started to push harder, but not all the way at this point. There would still be the flattening of the course at the University of Texas football stadium, the climb up the last hill and then the final 1/10 of a mile sprint to the finish.
I had to dial-up the pace, but I needed to leave a little in the tank for my kick. It was going to be awfully close. All of a sudden I noticed the back of a runner’s shirt with a Longhorn logo across his shoulders.
Brian. I gave him a slight nod as I powered past. His shoulders had fallen and he was struggling to keep it together. I would be lying if I said that passing him did not buoy my spirits. I felt my pace quicken.
Mile 12 came in at 6:24 pace and I once again reeled in a handful of runners who had been racing out in front of me for more than 1 hour and 15 minutes.
One mile to go.
I can do anything for one mile.
Honestly this part of the race is a little bit of a blur to me. I remember hearing a lot of shouts as we approached the final 400 meters. I started my kick with 2/10 of a mile to go and as I approached the chute I could make out the clock:
1:23:49, 1:23:50, 1:23:51
A final burst and I hit the timing mat at 1:23:55.
The final mile came in at 6:16 pace. The final 1/10 of a mile in :38 seconds or 5:17 pace.
6:24 pace for the race overall. Two seconds faster than the 10K pace we were shooting for earlier in the year in October to break through the 40:00 minute 10K mark at the IBM Uptown Classic.
Out of the more than 4,500 half-marathoners on Sunday we came through the chute in 91st place, owner of a new half-marathon PR by 2 minutes and 50 seconds.
I’m not quite sure what to make of this yet. Does it mean that we are now entering the taper for Austin ready to run a best-ever marathon? I think it does.
Does it mean that we have a legitimate chance of raising our sights even higher and chasing that mystical sub 3 hour marathon in three weeks? I’m not so sure.
I can take one thing away from Sunday for certain and that is the fact that our stomach might still not be 100% recovered, but there is nothing wrong with our heart.
We out-hearted quite a few fine runners on Sunday.
Dom, I miss you more than ever. Man, you should have seen that last mile today my brother. You would have loved it.