Friday, August 2, 2013

Wendy's Wonderful Kids HM 2012

The 2011 edition of this event was my first ever race. It's also the only half marathon that I've ever raced twice. The group that puts on this race and a number of others (Wilkes-Barre Racing) is a non-profit that "organizes, promotes and conducts athletic activities for the purpose of raising money and awareness for child foster care and adoption." The $50 entry fee really isn't much of a donation considering what it costs to adopt or foster a child, but it is nice to know that it's going to good folks with a worthy mission.

I didn't have a running blog back then, but thankfully, the official results from the race are still available online, and I was able to scrounge up a few pictures from that day (taken by my dad with my mom's iPhone):

Ignore the pending heel strike. I had not developed the case of 
running nerdery with which I am now afflicted.

My crazy running mother (who won her division that day)

At the time, I remember being pretty proud of that 1:43:30, until my younger brother called to congratulate me on "finishing," and point out that his half marathon best was something in the low to mid 1:30s. Those of you with younger siblings know that I could not stand for this, and a month later (having now raced the distance and having a better feel for my ability), I set things right with a 1:31:08. He now does triathlons. Maybe in about 5 or 6 years, we can begin the cycle anew.

When 2012 came around, I decided to have another go and see how much faster I could run the same course on about the same calendar day of the year, but with a full year of regular running under my belt. I was 8 weeks into training for the Marine Corps Marathon, so while I wasn't really training for this race specifically, it was also a good test to see how my training had been going. I stated my goal at anything under 1:28 flat, thinking that the flat, familiar course would really help me out. I shifted my usual quality runs from Tuesday/Thursday to Monday/Wednesday and took two full days off going into it. I know that's not a full taper, but by Saturday morning, I was dying to run. The course is a basically two laps through town, the second 2/3 of each loop being an out and back. There is a 10K run simultaneously (same starting time, line and everything) which has it's own finishing line a little short of the HM finish line. The half marathon course also has a little extension on the second lap to make the full 13.1 miles.

The starting line was about a mile from my front porch, so just like the year before, I woke up a couple hours before the start, had a cup of coffee, did some last minute gear checks and then walked/ran down to the starting line. Now, I think I know why a lot of road races start late by my standards (8:00 AM in this case): safety (the "good" reason) and because they'll have problems getting people to turn out if they start earlier (the "real" reason). Unfortunately for this day, that meant temps nearing if not 70 degrees and the sun completely up over the horizon. Sure enough, the bank thermometer read 66 degrees when I ran by it at 7:15. No, it's not that hot, but add in a healthy bit of humidity and little to no cloud cover, and it's less than ideal, certainly if you are used to starting your run at 6:00 AM.

I think that the race director (a runner himself) realized this, and to his credit, hurried all 177 of us to the starting line and got us off and running a few minutes early. I had lined up near the front (though not on the front line, not that brave), and took off with a group at the front right away:

That's me in the gray shirt (#189) and the, shall we say, relaxed face.

Once that initial "Woohoo! I'm running again!" shot of adrenaline started to wear off, I realized a couple of very important things. First, the six or seven people in front of me were either faster than me or running the 10K, and second, I was running way, way faster than the 6:42 pace that my goal required. I knew that I should slow down, but well, I didn't, at least not right away. My Polar RCX5 soon chirped at me, and I looked down to see a 6:04 first mile. 6:04 is only 13 seconds above what I was typically running for 1600s in training at that time. The Polar "Race Pace" stick dude looked up at me and said "You're kidding, right?" (actually, he just said something like "-0:34," but that's about the same thing). This point in the course was flat, straight, and pretty well shaded by buildings and trees, so I wasn't feeling too bad. Still, I decided that it was about time to be responsible, and well, realistic, so I eased up.

Mile two: 6:20. "Are you kidding me!?!" I swear that 6:20 never felt so slow (especially after a 6:04), but I told myself to ease up some more.

Mile three: 6:29. "OK, I've really go to watch this." I realized just how much I rely on the audible target alarms of my GPS watch. I rarely train without one, but this being a race, I really didn't want to be the runner with the pacing watch yelling for everyone to hear. I backed off one more time and made a promise to check the actual display more than just at the mile chirps for the rest of the race. My 5K split turned out to be 19:42, not too far off my personal best at that distance at the time.

I finally did slow down and ran the next three miles near goal pace (6:41, 6:43, and 6:42). My second 5K split was 21:04 (10K 40:46), and I can't quite recall exactly what the clock read as I started the second pass through town, but I think that it was just under 42 minutes:

That's the eventual women's winner behind me. 
She caught me soon after this photo was taken.

However, the damage had been done. I had taken a Gu at about 35 minutes, and Gatorade at each of aid stations (5 times, but trust me, the portions were small), but by now, I felt the sun, and my quads were starting complain a bit. Most of the last mile of each lap was a very gradual uphill slope, and I knew that the second half of this race was going to be tough. I felt my gait start to lose it's smoothness. Miles 7 and 8 were shaded, flat, straight, and even slightly downhill, and I was able to pull 6:52 and 6:52 for each. After that, I lost the shade, and I really started to slow even more. Miles 9-12 went 7:04, 7:07, 7:00, and 7:05. My third 5K split was 22:51 (15K 1:03:38 by the timing mat).

By this point, I knew that 1:28 wasn't going to happen, but a PR (1:29:25) wasn't out of the question. Going in to the turn around, I had counted six runners in front of me (none close enough to have a realistic shot at overtaking), so an age group award was in the cards as well. I was pulling the mile long slope again, and running face to the sun. I heard some footsteps behind me, and I wasn't sure if it was another runner giving chase, or runners who were starting the out part of the out and back. I knew that one was about 20 seconds behind me at the turn around. I told myself that it had to be him about to catch me, and that I really ought not let that happen this close to the end of the race. True or not, it couldn't have hurt because I ran mile 13 in 6:52.

As I rounded the second to last turn, I looked over my shoulder to see if that runner was indeed about to catch me. Mercifully, he was nowhere in sight. I rounded the final turn and started accelerating towards the finish. By the end, I at least felt like I was sprinting. I think the announcer lady even said something like, "Wow! We've got a sprinter!" With about 50 yards to go, I looked to my left and saw my dear wife and 2.5 year daughter old smiling, cheering, and taking this picture: 

This is the face of a bow-legged man with a PR in sight. 
Also, he's wearing a heart rate monitor.

I crossed the line in 1:29:06, good enough for seventh overall, second in my age group, and a new personal best. It wasn't as fast as I had wanted to run. Maybe I had less than fully rested legs from marathon training. Maybe it really was hot and the sun got to me. Most likely I just wasn't in as good a shape as I thought. It wasn't a pretty, even split, or even a particularly well run race, but a PR is a PR and I'll take it. The post race festivities were low key (including free pancakes for all). The music wasn't so loud that you couldn't talk over it (I find it highly annoying when it is), and the crowd was small enough that I found and congratulated a few of the runners who had passed me on the course. I even made some new friends, one who happened to be my neighbor, and another who gave me some advice concerning the Marine Corps Marathon (himself having run it last year).

It was fun to have a local half like that to kind of call my own, and if we still lived in Wilkes-Barre, PA, I'd have run it again this year. We weren't locals. We're not even from PA, but on that Saturday, it kind of felt like we were. We hung out for a good long time, shook hands with a few of the new friends we met, then walked (much more slowly than before) back home.

The hardware

...and just because I still got it, here's 2011's hardware too.


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