Thursday, May 24, 2012

Cheshire Half-Marathon

I wasn't planning on running this race. In fact, this race was not even on my radar until JB called me on Friday to ask me an insurance question. That was when I looked into the race and realised that 1100 people had pre-registered to run the half, which is just a crazy number, considering it was the first year for it.

But when JB offered a free entry, I kind of had to take him up on it. I had been planning to do a long run Sunday morning anyway, and the idea of running a half at race pace month and a half before my marathon seemed like a possibly good idea.

I went out Saturday and did 30 (road) miles on the mountain bike, hard but not too hard, so I went into the race only a little bit tired. I really had no clue what the course was going to be like so it was going to be one of those races that could really go just about any way.

We got off to a late start. The race was a 1/2 marathon and a 5k, with the 5k start at the back of the pack of the the half marathon, basically the same set-up as the New Haven Road Race, with the two races starting on the same street but going off in opposite directions. Given the overwhelming response to the race there's not really much surprise that the race start area was overcrowded. Still, there's nothing worse than being all warmed up for a race and then having to wait to start. The only bad thing I can really say about the race as it affected me was that the start was delayed probably about ten minutes, and standing around surrounded by athletes better than me was not bringing any happy thoughts.

We got off to a fast start. At the start you go up a little hill, and frankly with some of the actual talent at the race I was concerned about a fast start. It was fast. As always happens in a race this long, fast is relative, so we started out running maybe 5:45-5:50. That doesn't really feel 'fast' until you've gone about half a mile, at which time the alarms start going off in your brain and you accept that you're going to have to back it off to around six minutes flat.  At my skill level trying to bust out less than a about a 5:55 mile isn't a good way to go.

I settled in by around a mile and a half with two other guys and we ran 6:05s for three miles. The course had us out on the canal path by three miles, and I was running right behind or at times aside these two. They were clearly working together, but they were pretty relaxed about me semi intruding. No one said anything.

By around 3 and half miles, I knew that they were running too fast for me and although I didn't want to let them go, I did. They slowly pulled away and pretty soon, as so often happens in longer races, even when 22000 people are in the race (Disney), I was running alone. At about 4 miles, I saw one of the race favorites on the side of the road. He wasn't running, in fact, he was trying to stretch his quad or calf or something. One of the guys that was now running ahead of me stopped and talked to him for a minute and I actually ran by.

This is one of the reoccurring themes in races like this- carnage. Guys that drop out from injury or meltdowns or whatever and the one thing I believe is that you have to ignore that and focus on yourself, unless it's one of your own friends, in which case you stop.

By 5 miles, I was starting to get passed by people. This is another staple of long races. I was really trying to be disciplined and run 6:15s, because at this point the mile marks seemed, well, fairly accurate. Sticking to your plan means getting passed, and of course that's never fun, but it's part of the game. The run seemed to be on a downhill as we continued on the canal path and the miles just ticked off.

Five and six came and went and the sun was bright now and the run was still downhill.

Then I got my next time check and I knew it was wrong because at the 7th check I was under 42 minutes. The two girls with the stopwatch yelling out times and the actual 7 mile mark were in no way associated.

I love the 7 mile mark of a half-marathon because you are officially on the backside, but in the case, the fun was about to start. It wasn't long before we finally left the canal path and started running on roads, including finally doing some climbing, which is more to my strengths then a long downhill run. I still wasn't gaining on anyone, but I'd pretty much arrested any slide against other runners, save one, who was slowly closing. More on that later.

Around 8 miles, I saw a guy ahead of me that didn't well- he didn't look like he should be in front of me. True, he was wearing a hartford half-marathon shirt, and yes, he'd been ahead of me for miles, but he has an awkward running style and he looked beyond his limit. At one point he pulled off and quickly peed, allowing me to close the gap.

Then he stopped a second time to- I don't know- vomit ? He didn't, but it was a near thing. Then he started running again but he was struggling. I wanted to feel bad for him.

I didn't. I do what you do. I passed him.

Shockingly, he picked himself up, dusted himself off, and passed me.

Stupid stupid stupid. I was running well. I was not trying to hold in the orange I'd eaten at breakfast. But he was determined to turn up and be heard and he went by me and I didn't alter my stride in any way. It took me 15-20 seconds, but I passed him again. No kick, no effort to demoralize him because he was in no way a threat. I felt sorry for him. He was trying as hard as could but he was letting his ego get in his way.

After that was some more climbing. We hit 9 miles and then-

I'm not exactly sure where the 10 mile marker was. When I got to it, two things happened. First, my brain which at 9 miles had calculated that I was on 1:22 pace, recalculated that I was at 1:25 pace. Almost immediately after that, my brain rejected the location of the mark, deciding it was at possibly 10.35 or so.

Now I was running well too. Rejecting that mark was key to my race. I went after the guy in front of me, who had passed me maybe in mile 6. He was coming back to me and I caught him and passed him going pretty fast. But behind me was the first woman and of course you always know when the first woman is behind you because it's all 'go girl' and 'first woman'. She drew to within maybe twenty meters.

Then we hit the 11 mile mark and we were back on the canal path. I really opened it up here, and so did she, but she never got any closer. Guys in front of me were coming back to me though. I'd sunken to about 20th place at one point, but now I was coming back, pushing for top 15. I went through the 12 mile marker and I had two guys in my sites.

I passed the first early in the 13th mile, but the last guy, the guy in 14th place was harder to reel in. We entered the track and had to do about 3/4 of a loop. I waved to John Bysewicz, passed the guy, and then, as I was running down the straightaway, he passed me back. Really ? I couldn't believe it as he tried to cover over my right shoulder, outside me in the next lane. I could hear Mark the announcer saying the first woman was on the track and catching the men.

Not me.

I sped up and the guy on my shoulder dropped off. In under 200 meters I put 3 seconds on him and beat the first woman by 7 seconds, and I pulled away from both of them in that last two hundred.

That felt good.

So did running a 1:22 half. It wasn't the 1:21 I'd pulled at Disney, but I hadn't trained for this race at all.

I took 3rd in my age group, had a very solid run. Overall, I was unusually happy with the effort. I might even want to go back and do this one again next year...

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