I didn't even start thinking about running Danbury until Monday and didn't make a decision on Thursday night. My longest race of the year had been last week's 1/4 marathon and my longest run all year was probably only 14 miles and that was maybe a month ago.
So why was I running a half-marathon ?
Three reasons- I was able to get great babysitting from the race director's daughter, I thought maybe it would be easier on Margit if Ian and I were out of the house a good hour or two before she had to leave for the airport for a week-long business trip, and I'm still trying to race the stank off.
Why ? The funny thing is, I looked up my Shamrock and Roll times and they consistently suck, with this year's being less than 20 seconds worse than last year's on a harder course. And I had a good race at Brian's, so I am told.
I'm funny like that. Once i get it in my head I had a bad race...
My goal was to run around 1:24. That's a modest goal. I'm still capable of running in the 1:22 or 1:21 range, but I ran two last year and had a 1:23 and a 1:24 and I had a much better running base for those (Fairfield and Niantic Bay). It looked like a perfect day was on tap- maybe a high of 60 at race time, low to moderate wind, and a mix of sun and clouds. A little cool for me, but I wouldn't even need the arm-warmers.
The course is kind of interesting in that you run a right hand loop that takes you back to the War Memorial from the starting line- past the finish line- and then around. This allows them to get the bulk of the first two miles and then the rest of the 11 mile course is sort of an out and back (not really, but close enough).
Some people don't like this because it adds a little redundancy to the course, I suppose, however, despite not exactly being one of the great glass-half full people of my generation, I saw this as a plus.
I knew that I would go out too hard. After the race Tim Cote used exactly the same term I use- 'it's in the bank'. Meaning, in my case- not his- I'm going to go out there and quite possible lay an egg or two with some 6:30ish miles and it doesn't really matter if I ran the first mile in 6:00 or 6:20, except I'll finish 20 seconds later. This type of thinking is quite probably wrong but hey- 6:00 mile the first mile !
At around four minutes we ran past the 2 mile mark of the 5K course and I quipped 'Two minute miles. Right on pace.' Everyone around me laughed, probably as a courtesy.
Still, after a mile, I started to back it off. I knew that whatever I was going to run, it was not going to be a 1:18 flat. I went through two miles at around 12:15 and then backed it off a little more.
Of course, backing it off isn't easy. In order to do that, you come back to people. You get passed by people. You wonder if they are all thinking how you're a jackass, starting on the line, running a 6 minute first mile, then coming apart like two miles into the race. Of course you are out there for you and not for them, and who cares, right ?
Of course you care. It's just how it is. Between two and three miles Tim Cote, who's clearly got some talent, came up behind me. I could tell it was him and gave him a shout out, then he passed me. We chatted briefly about our respective strategies and then he started to pull away. I didn't consider running with him, because I knew I had to hold my pace in check. That and a few seasons ago I came to a conclusion I've pretty stubbornly stuck to, which is that I do not race with people in long races (anything over five miles.)
It's just been my theory that three miles into a long race like New Haven or a half-marathon, racing with people early is a recipe for disaster. Either they are better than you, or you're smarter than them, and it's going to be miles and miles before you find out. Not the case with Tim- he was going to beat me. But I was getting passed by other people I was not so sure would beat me, or should beat me.
It wasn't long before Johnny Camacho, Maximo Veiga, and Pedro Cobos had all passed me. They were getting coaching help from a guy on a mountain bike. That's legal in a road race and the guy wasn't interfering with us- there have been plenty of races where I've wanted to stiff-arm some bike-riding doufus who gets on the course and gets in everyone's way, but this wasn't like that. Still, it's a little demoralizing to have most of the guys running around you getting good vibes while you're trying to beat them.
I took my first Gu right around 4.5 miles, just when I was being passed by some guy I don't know in a lime-green jersey. And a fun thing happened on the way to the middle of the pack. For whatever reason, although this guy had caught me, he wasn't pulling a way. The wind had picked up a little, and this guy like guys in general, was taller than me. I tucked in. I hung on, and then we started, finally, to hit some hills, the first hills since mile two.
Let me stop and say something about this race. You run downhill. A lot. And for the first four or five miles you run downhill so much that you really start to worry, because you know sooner or later, bad things are coming...
I believe guy in bright green and I pulled up on Pedro together, but pretty soon I was pulling away from both of them on an uphill. Between miles 5-7 there was a decent amount of uphill work, mixed in with some downhill rollers. I pushed the uphills to keep people like Tim in site and moved up as I could, leaving behind these two.
I had two more people between Tim and I thought I could catch and it was nice to be coming back on people. Especially because I was expecting to fade once I got to around 7 miles. I hadn't run a race of this length since the Ironman and it was hard to imagine I wouldn't fade.
The real challenge was yet to come though. Fairfield has its killer hill, and so does Danbury. Not long after I'd taken my second Gu, I reached the mile 9 mark, and the killer hill is well, basically it's mile 10. I was running well, holding one runner fairly close to me, and I was surprised how strong I felt. The extra nutrition hadn't hurt, however, two GUs plus mango-orange performance Gatorade- the best I could get at the store- did start to rile my stomach a little bit. I hit the mile 10 mark and I still had a short at running in the 1:24s, but I was going to have to hustle and run around a 19 minute 5k to do it.
Then mile 11 hit me. If there's a bad mile in every long race, it was mile 11. I started to get that over-extended feeling that's oddly unique to endurance sports. My heart rate was maybe 5 beats too high, I was mildly dehydrated, I felt myself to be struggling. I'd decided at mile 7 to break the balance of the race into two-mile segments, and here I was, halfway through that and melting down.
But a funny thing happened. I didn't melt down. I didn't let the guy in front of me go. I even got a little encouragement from the guy on the bicycle, who told me I looked strong. Then I started to feel strong. The bad moment , or bad mile passed, and if mile ten was one big uphill, mile twelve was one big downhill.
I was chasing a guy about 7 or 8 inches taller than me and younger. But he was coming back to me steadily. At first I was going to close him down and hang, after all, I must be over-extending myself to make this catch against a runner who should be stronger than me on downhills. However, as I got close, I realised this was not the case. I was out-running him and although it was too early, I had to make my move. I went by, we exchanged encouragement, and I hammered with everything I had to open a gap that could not be closed down.
The last mile was tough. I was sure that a strategy that involved making a big move with more than a mile left in a half-marathon would backfire. I kept running hard but the course started to roll again and I was worried. Which is a good thing. I worked that last mile hard and was never challenged, while I continued to come back on people- although I didn't catch anyone else.
In the end, I was pretty satisfied. I'd run my goal time, and I'd running very strong late in the race when I expected to fade. I'd have been a lot happier running a 1:22 but that would required actually training to run the race, not jumping in at the last minute.
My son was right near the finish line playing with Sophie Bysiewicz. He was happy. I got few minutes to chat with Tim and Mark Satran and then do a warm-down and after that ?
Straight to Barnes and Noble in Milford 90 minutes of reading with my son.
Not a bad day at all....