Archive for December 7, 2010

The final race of 2010 looms on Sunday.  Race number 16, the Decker Challenge Half Marathon.

One year ago I was on the shelf.  No running at all as I was trying to fight my way back from shin splint issues.  I was still a few weeks away from getting my tri-bike, just doing some elliptical workouts at the gym to keep my fitness level up.

The Boston Marathon was only 4 ½ months away.  Pittsburgh just 5 months off.  I had a lot of training to do and very little time to do it.  Tension was starting to build as I knew that if I couldn’t “get out there” soon, I had very little chance of running two marathons in 13 days for Dom.

Twelve months later and I am in the best shape of my life.  I am running more miles per week at a much faster pace than I have ever run them before.  The last workout I “missed” was the day after the day Landry was born on August 31st.

Looking back to my first race of 2010, the 3M half Marathon, somehow I find it fitting that my last race of the year will also be a half.  The only two half-marathons I have ever run in my life.

After 3M I remember thinking how much I liked the distance.  It was much more “forgiving” than the full marathon.  I remember going out to breakfast with Dawn, Tedd and Sarah after 3M and feeling great.  Feeling like I could have raced another 3-4 miles no problem.

Joe @ Dawn Post Race – 3M Half Marathon

Finishing the half feels nothing like the final mile of the marathon. 

Closing out the marathon every step is labored, each stride and footfall hurts.  You are just trying to hang on, fight your way to the finish.  It is a pure guts race at the end, some of the most difficult strides you will ever take on a race course.

That being said, at 13.1 miles the half-marathon is still a “thinking man’s” or women’s race.  To run well you need to understand pace and strategy.  It is too long a race to simply go out fast and hang-on like a 5K or 10K.  You have to manage your effort over the early miles, know where the difficult parts of the course are and know when to push pace.

Nutrition, hydration, proper clothing, weather, all play a role in the half-marathon, underestimate the race and you will pay the price, no doubt about it.

On Sunday night I consulted with my coach (picture below) and talked about our Monday afternoon.

Dad & Landry plotting thier Recon Mission

We were going to head out to the Decker Race Course and “drive the route”.  I wanted to know exactly what I was going to be getting myself into on Sunday morning.  I had heard that the Decker Challenge was one of the most difficult half-marathon courses in Texas.  I had to see for myself.

Landry and I loaded up the truck with her diaper bag, an extra bottle, our course map and camera.

The drive out to the starting area at the expo center took me exactly 30 minutes from the house.  On Sunday morning that means we will leave about 6:00 a.m. to make it there 1 hour before the full marathon starts at 7:30 a.m. 

The half-marathon gun time is scheduled for 8:00 a.m.  The start/finish area is in the same spot at the Travis County Expo Center.  Plenty of parking and there will be a lot of area to warm-up prior to the race.

I drove the course with Landry riding “Shotgun” in the back of the Ford, and my first impression was – this is going to be tough.

845 feet of climbing over 13.1 miles. 

That is an average of 65 feet per mile, or between a six and seven story office building.  If you have not been training on hills prior to Decker, you are going to struggle; it is as simple as that.

Miles 1-4:

The opening mile takes place leaving the Expo Center as the runners turn right on Decker Lake Road.  Shortly after mile number 1 the course turns to the right and heads for just under three miles straight up Decker Lane to Mile Number 4.

I would describe this stretch as a rolling first 4 miles.  There are climbs at mile 2, 3 and 4 but there are also a few downhills mixed in to allow your pace to settle in.  I would call this part of the course more or less “fair”.  I will be looking to run these miles right around goal pace for the race.

As Runners reach the mile 4 mark, they will be making a right turn onto Lindell Road.  Strap yourself in, it’s about to get a little bit interesting.

Miles 5-8:

Lindell Road is a right turn off of Decker Lane.  The road is wide and smooth.  What looks like a beautiful TX “Country Road” is something entirely different just laying in wait.  As runners crest the first of a rolling hill section, it doesn’t look too bad.  But just past the mile 5 mark the runners will make a right turn onto Blue Bluff Road and get a look at the first truly large hill on the course.

The hill at mile 6 looks every bit as daunting as it will feel on race day.  It is a long, steep, difficult ascent.  The photo below was snapped looking back down the hill from the top of the crest.

The view from atop Mile 6

Runners will need to keep their heads down; their arm swing low and just put one foot in front of the other.  I will be giving back perhaps as much as :25 seconds to pace over this stretch.  There will be a big penalty for trying to push too hard up this incline.  This is not the hill to go “all-in”, as it simply comes far too early in the race.

At the top of the hill runners will make a left turn onto Bloor Road and have a nice downhill section from the 10K mark to almost all the way to mile 8.  This will be an opportunity to make up a little time from the earlier climbing, but more importantly rest those calf muscles that just worked so hard climbing up over mile 6.

Miles 8-11:

Just before mile 8 the course will make another right turn onto the frontage road that runs in front of Highway 130.  This is going to be another “mentally challenging” part of the course as the hill that climbs up over mile 8 looms ahead for the runners to see in the distance.

Mile 8 up ahead

Sometimes it is better not to know what is coming.  I have the feeling this is going to be one of those times.  The climb ends approximately half-way into mile 9 and is followed by another “recovery stretch”.

The climb along Frontage Road 130

Once again, it will be time to pick-up some of the time lost over the last hill, but more importantly to recover.  There are two hills looming over mile 9 and 10, and they get harder as they come at you.  As runners make the right turn off of the frontage road onto FM 973 – things are about to get interesting.

The first hill is short but steep, it will hit the runners right at the 9.3 mile mark.  It is followed by a downhill stretch which should relieve some pressure from the legs, but it also paints a frightening image as runners will get their first look at “Quadzilla”.

The climb at the end of mile 10 is every bit as advertised.  It’s long, it’s steep and it comes at a time when holding race pace for over an hour is starting to wear down the runners.  The good news is the race is almost over, only 5 kilometers remain.


The bad news is the climbing is not over yet.

At the 10.5 mile mark runners will turn on to Decker Lake road to head for home.

Mile 11 to the Finish:

At the 11 mile mark only 2.1 miles of rolling hills remain.  No terrible climbs, but the closing miles are definitely not flat.  The last two miles of a footrace is when I try to dig deep and start pushing to the finish.

10K, 10-Miler, Half-Marathon, Full Marathon the message is always the same.  I glance down at my GPS on my wrist and say to myself, “you can do anything for two miles”.  After turning back into the Travis County Expo Center at mile 12.5 there will be one last hill to climb to the finish. 

It is almost as if Decker is kicking the runners when they are down.

Let’s hope that I have a little bit left in the tank on Sunday at Decker to close strong.  This part of the course will determine whether we are able to bring this race in under our goal time of 1:30:00. 

To run a sub 1:30:00 half-marathon will be quite an accomplishment at Decker.  I will be taking my final two runs this week very easy to arrive at the start with fresh legs.  This will be the first race that I run with my new coach looking on. 

I sure don’t want to let her down.

You can do it Dad!