Thursday, July 02, 2009

Fairfield Half-Marathon

Back in January, I'd set this as one of my three A races for the year. This was not, in hindsight, the smartest move.

We got down to the race on time- Margit and Dick Korby were also running- and after some parking misadventures we actually had a reasonable amount of time to warm up.

Finally I was on the line, half a row back, watching the elite athletes all adjusting their D-Tags after JB gave D-Tag instructions and they realised the tags were not exactly right.

The start of the race is fast and furious and maybe I shouldn't be right in front because I'm not that good any more or... nah. I haven't started thinking that way, at least not at the race... OK, maybe I was a full row back.

I didn't feel that wonderful at the start of the race. We'd been out late at the Branford fireworks the night before and my legs were hardly fresh from training, which included some long hard rides (well, not exactly long, just 50-60 miles). I always feel like I'm being engulfed at the start of the race, both by men and women that might just have staying power and by the burn and crash crowd. I don't really care, because I figure if I'm going to be fighting for a spot in the top 40-50 out of 2500 people, I'd better have myself positioned well early.

It spreads out pretty quickly and yeah, it's a little soul-crushing to have the really top-notch runners eating your lunch to the tune of a full minute at mile one. I mean, there are guys out there who are going to run half a marathon at sub-five pace. The longest race I ever had a sub-five minute mile in was a 10K, and you can bet it was only one mile.

You either push crap like that out of your head pretty quickly or you (hey wait, is that what happens to me in the swim during triathlons, the or...) Anyway, Shannon McHale pulled up next to me and went stride for stride as we neared the mile mark. But I wanted no part of that. Shannon is an olympic qualifier quality athlete and I'm not at her level. I could see the clock and decided to ratchet it down half a notch.

I was expecting Dave Pantin or another one of the people I'm usually back and forth with to pass me but the people I did see I didn't recognize. I was falling a little out of contact with people though and trying not to get frustrated and stay patient as I went through two miles and the first hill started to loom in front of us.

In long races I have a theory about how I should run hills, which is that I should simply defend, that is, run at around the pace of the people around me. Because climbing is my one strength, rather than beat myself up on hills, I try to hold back and wait for hills late in the race where I can attack and where it won't matter how gasses I get. I was passing a few people up that first big hill, but nothing major. I starting sipping at my bottle of heed and tried to stay settled in, although more people passed me after we crested.

It was somewhere on the resulting downhill that we ran into some of Team in Training people. Team in Training does a lot of good work both with charity and with bring athletes to sport. Sometimes these athletes are less-seasoned. At long road races, you will sometimes see Team in Training people out walking the course. I guess this makes sense- if you can't run a half-marathon (or don't think you can), walk it first. And they send the athletes out well-ahead of the start of the race so they are not finishing late in the day (I assume these athletes are not competitors and don't get finisher medals).

Where this causes a problem is with your lead runners, who running in small packs, groups of three to five who are looking for short sight-lines and tangents. I wasn't really thinking about there being walkers out on the course.

I certainly wasn't expecting to go into a turn and find three of them walking side by side, taking up an entire lane of the road, I watch some of the people in front dodging them and I yelled "Clear the arc. Walk single file."

They immediately complied, which was great, but I have to wonder what they has been thinking as the elite athletes went streaming by them and I'm surprised I was the first one to say anything to them three or four minutes later.

I had been behind six minute mile pace by the second mile, and with each mile that ticked off, it got a little worse. I did once run six flat on this course once, so running in the 6:20s was not really what I wanted, however, that six was a long time ago. There's quite a bit of work in miles four, five and six and it's important to really hold yourself in check in these miles as you can overcook yourself.

There wasn't much movement placewise in these miles. I was back and forth with one guy in a red singlet, and I passed one or two people, but I also spent a lot of time running by myself.

It's a no ipod race, so I'd taken my headphones and place them in the pouch of my singlet, with the shuffle clipped to my race belt. About six and a half miles in, the ipod fell off the belt. It landed on the double-yellow line. It wasn't much of a decision, race or no I had to pick it up so I quickly turned and bent over. I looked up. There was a car bearing down on me at about 25-30 miles an hour and not slowing down. I had one chance to pick the ipod up, after which the car would be too close for me to get up and get moving without getting hit.

The car didn't slow. I got the ipod in my hand and ran hard.

I probably lost 3-4 seconds at this.

Cars. There were more on the road than I remember any other year.

At a bit past eight miles I believe, there was an odd 4 way intersection. I'd picked up a white SUV that was coming into the traffic lane behind me and to be honest, this is exactly why ipods are banned at this race. I think for the level of athletes that are not running in packs, this particular course is just not safe with ipods- it's just too long to have the soft of traffic control I'd normally expect at a race.

I went through the middle of the intersection because that was the line of the road. I wanted to move right so the SUV could accelerate by me, however, when I turned to look the SUV was passing me on the right at 25mph. The woman's window was open and I barked 'slow down'. She replied:

'Get out of the road.'

This was too much. I'd felt a lot of pressure from cars on the course, more than I was happy with, and this dimwit was passing me at speed on the right. I didn't care that she had her husband and at least one kid in the car. I unleashed some choice invectives, then got back to focusing on the race.

I was still holding back until the big hill- the one with the turn in the middle. I went through the water station before the hills closing on the guy in front of me, who'd I'd been trailing for a good 5 miles, closing the gap from about 300 meters to maybe 50.

Another runner in front of him was coming back in the distance.

It was close, but I made the pass right at the top of the hill. I was determined to have him looking at my back on the downhill and as soon as I'd passed him I was working on the man in front of me. I was able to cut the gap in half and as we went through a twist in the road I drew even with him as an SUV pushed by us coming at us, deny us the tangent. We went through a ladder-mounted sprinker together and then he was off the back as well. I had one more guy in front of me I thought I could catch. We went through twelve miles before the turn I think, and as I went to make the turn there was a woman walking her dog. She went into the cross-walk with the dog and cut me off.

I couldn't believe it but all I said was 'Come on, lady'. I wanted the guy in front of me to be behind me, and I was able to make the pass. Then I was after the next guy, but he had 100 meters at the last turn and I was chasing him to no purpose. We passed the start and by the time I got there, he was headed into the beach.

Off in the distance was the giant American flag, tantalizing and not the finish, I reminded myself.

I made the turn and then I was running on the stones and sand, struggling a bit on the soft ground. Then I was under the flag and after that, quickly through the finish line. The next guy behind me, the last one I'd passed, lost 30 seconds in that last mile.

A 1:24:16, 36th overall. Not great. But I'd had a great week of training and it was a solid race. I've run 1;24 3 times in the last four tries.

Can I complain about that ? Well, of course. But I won't.

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