It seems that every time we toe the line on race day there is at least one lesson out there to learn.
Just because things during race week don’t necessarily go your way – it doesn’t mean that when the gun fires you can’t just set all of that aside and lay down something special.
Sure getting a cold a few days before race day, taking a cross-country trip after losing your wallet the day before and spending time at the Department of Transportation, calling around to credit card companies and tearing apart your home and truck is not an ideal, calm way to prepare for a tough race.
But as I woke up on Sunday morning at 5:00 a.m. and shuffled to the bathroom I was determined to try to set all that “stuff” aside and do what we came here to do. Run our race, put in our last “tough” effort of this training cycle and post one final indicator as to our fitness and training for Boston in four weeks.
I could tell that my cold had broken up a bit more overnight, my nose wasn’t as stuffed up as it had been, and my voice was coming back to me. After a great Italian Dinner with my friends Steve and Ally Speirs the night before, I felt fueled up and ready to race.
I took a hot shower to loosen up the muscles, ate my pre-race bagel, chased it down with grape Gatorade and decided on my race gear. The temperature was just a bit above 50 degrees, with a East/Northeast wind gusting between 12-14 mph.
Not picture perfect race conditions, but coupled with an extremely flat course, I felt like the day would be “neutral”. Not helping runners to quick times, but definitely not restricting them either. It was a fair day on a fair course.
Effort would equal results on a day like today I thought.
Time to go to work.
I threw on a fleece top I bought locally the day before that I would drop at the starting line just before the gun fired and made my way to check my dry bag with warm clothes at the race start.
Being my first experience in VA Beach running a Shamrock event I was very impressed with the job J&A Racing did organizing the event. Great bag-check service. Plenty of porta-potties for the 10,000+ half-marathoners and a very organized coral system for the athletes.
King Neptune overlooking the boardwalk in Virginia Beach
There was the usual mess of runners forecasting faster times that they are capable of running during the registration process to get a spot “up-front” – but that happens at virtually all events where previous race times are not a requirement for seeding.
I decided to start about 25-30runners from the front, thinking that I would more than likely run in the top 60 runners at the end of the day +/-. There was a “dual starting chute” on both sides of the divided road on Atlantic Avenue. 30 deep on my side seemed about right.
Just before it was time to get ready to roll my friend Steve shouted to me and gave me the thumbs up. I returned the gesture and thought to myself, man – this really is what it is all about. I had been listening to some Springsteen in the hotel the night before the race, specifically Jungleland from the Born to Run album.
There is a passage that says – “The poets down here don’t write nothin’ at all, they just stand back and let it all be.”
A calmness came over me in the start area and I told myself to just relax, run an even, easy opening mile, sit back and let it all be ….. let the race come to you. Don’t force anything.
The Start: On a countdown from 10, the starters horn blasted and out we went. I had to navigate around a few runners over the opening 400 meters, but quickly I found an even cadence and locked in. My legs felt strong, the air was a bit humid, but racing at sea-level provides some oxygen advantages. I just let the race come to me and ran three very smooth, very even miles:
6:22, 6:24, 6:24.
PR Pace for me in the half-marathon is 6:23 (1:23:55). I was right where I needed to be.
Shore Drive: Just after the start of mile 4 the course turns to the West/Northwest and takes runners up along shore drive. Oddly, moving away from the beach. This was a very lonely stretch of the course where we had caught and passed a dozen runners or so and were now running in a very small group of 2-3 runners.
There is a very slight false-flat through this section – but for the most part a very beautiful and serene part of the race course. The road had a definite camber to it however and I found myself trying to find the “flattest” part of the road to run. After experimenting with the middle of the road and the center of each lane, I settled on the right shoulder. It seemed to be the flattest area.
It would not let me tangent the curves, but it would take pressure off of the lower of my two knees as well as my hips fighting to stay upright. I was willing to sacrifice some added distance for a better footstrike.
I hit the water stop in the middle of this stretch for a quick sip of water. So far my sore throat was not a factor at all, nor was my stuffy nose. All systems were full go.
Splits here were: 6:28, 6:17, 6:22.
Fort Story: We made a right turn to head through the West gate of Fort Story and gradually make the wide arc back towards the finish. The wind from the East was blowing slightly into the face of the runners until the exit of the base at mile 9. I decided to stay as even as possible as we ran through the base – nothing faster, nothing slower – just lock in.
Splits over the next three miles were: 6:21, 6:22, 6:20.
Back on Atlantic: We exited the base back onto Atlantic Avenue and for the first time could see half-marathoners heading towards us coming from the opposite direction, 6 miles behind.
I was able to stay steady through mile 9, but as mile 10 began I was having a hard time keeping my cadence steady. The lack of hills on the course which is a positive in some ways can be a detriment in others. With no changes to your stride length or cadence your legs start to “fall asleep”. I tried to mix up my stride, add a surge every two minutes or so for :15 seconds, but I could feel my pace starting to fall off a bit.
I was still right on PR pace, if I could stay around 6:25 on the way in, I would have a great shot at pulling it out along the boardwalk.
Splits for the next three miles were: 6:21, 6:26, 6:30.
Closing Stretch: As my watch sounded at the mile 12 marker I glanced down and saw a mile above 6:20’s for the first time of the day – I knew it was time to snap out of it and gradually start putting the pedal back down. As we approached the turn off of Atlantic through the loudspeakers that were placed along the curve I heard the familiar drum kick from Max Weinberg and the Fender Stratocaster of the Boss belting out Born to Run.
We made an arching turn at 45th street and entered the boardwalk at 37th. With 1/2 mile to go I started to force the issue just a bit.
On the right I caught a glimpse of Ally, Steve, Shannon and Caroline and saw a big smile come across Steve’s face. “Finish this thing off strong”he said, and I knew I must be looking at a PR with a strong kick.
Closing Kick captured by Ally Speirs
Mile 13 was my fastest mile of the day at 6:16.
I kicked over the mat with a final 1/10 at 5:39 pace.
1:23:46 official time. A new PR by :09.
PR’s don’t come around very often, especially in the middle of a tough marathon cycle. I am proud of this one more than most as it finally knocked down my 3M Half-Marathon time from 2010 set on a notoriously fast, downhill course to second best.
My 10K, Half-Marathon and Marathon PR’s have all been set within the last 6 months, all with that 45th birthday creeping closer and closer.
By the looks of things, that marathon PR stands a good chance of being erased and replaced with a shiny new number in Boston. One lesson I am taking with me next month is that in a long race, forcing the issue and pushing the limits early is NOT the way to go.
April 16th we’re going to do just what we did during the Austin Half in February and the Shamrock Half on Sunday.
Stand back and let it all be.