I signed up for Fairfield only after pulling a wrong-way at Lake Placid. Running a half two weeks after a marathon is not the smartest move, but I was well-trained, felt I'd kept up my volume without pushing too hard- I ran 11 miles Friday but then just spun for 90 minutes Saturday morning so I'd be fresh for the race.
Fairfield is an interesting half. I've run it more times than any other half-marathon, to the best of my knowledge anyway, and most of then have ended with me struggling in the last few miles to keep my dren together. I hate that and that's really been a focus this year for longer races, to hold it together and not fall apart at the end of races. This was my 3rd half-marathon and I'd held up OK at Disney and really well at Chesire, so I knew Fairfield would be a test. The course is definitely the hardest of the three, and it was going to be hot. I may like the heat, but it does effect everyone, no matter how acclimated they are, and I felt after running in last week's heat, I was ready.
I didn't need much of a warm-up with the heat. The starting line is packed, even though men and women have different starting lines (and different first miles of the course) I was right on the line at the start. Yes, it's a big race with a lot of good people, but 20-30 men fit on the starting line and I have a reasonable chance of being in the top 30 men. The press of bodies was a little much, but I was able to get off the line hazard-free.
I'd seen Don Gustavson before the race and he asked me what I wanted to run and I said I thought I'd run around 1:24 although in theory I was capable of 1:21. He was coming off a monster Friday of swimming, biking, and I think running, so he was aiming for 1:29 or so.
The start was cramped but not difficult. I was able to get off the line with no issues. It's a tough start because the first mile is extremely flat with about one turn. So the tendency is to cook that first mile, which in this race, is a really bad idea. I've run some 5:40s there and come back and been over 7 the last two miles....
I went out and ran over 6 minutes the first mile and that was actually about what I wanted. I didn't feel overcooked after a mile. I like that
At the next turn we merged in with the women. There were eight women in front of me right off the bat- Mary Lynn Currier- who I passed but never saw, and two other women that were in visual range. I hit the second mile marker feeling like I was running a good pace but the clock said 12:30 and that meant I'd run a 6:20. So I was off the pace in the second mile. Huh ?
There's a hill then, and experience tells me at this point in this race that this hill is not to be charged up, but rather handled a little bit carefully.
Al Metro was there and he yelled something out that really stick with me the whole race and I'll thank him for when I see him. 'You have experience on this course.' I thought about that the whole race, about how yes, I do have experience on the course and as I watched people racing each other this early in the race, breathing hard and struggling to stay with each other, I really questioned their judgement. There was one guy, running in shorts and a bandana, that would keep surging like this, getting caught and then chasing people, pulling ahead of me and then getting caught by me, for more than six miles. He was breathing so hard while I was mostly thinking about maintaining my form. Eventually he went off the back. The two women that I could see I also passed. I'd had a brief glimpse of the lead
The real big moment in the race was just after the 6 mile mark for me. I'd been watching people running all crazy and thinking I'd let them have their moment, because in the end a race is about minutes, not moments. I got swarmed by a guy and a woman that I thought must be running together. We were going up a hill, I'd established the inside line, the exact line I wanted and then went around me on both sides and totally cut my line off. I was pissed.
I actually said 'You took my line'.
I think sprinted around them, and took the line back. I was thinking that these two were definitely going to beat me. They'd caught me from behind about halfway through the race, this woman had someone pacing her. Therefore sprinting around them was stupid.
I did it anyway.
At the top of the hill there's a turn and we went around that and they tried to pass again and this time I was towards the middle of the road because that's where the tangent was. The guy bumped me. I looked at him and said 'Really ?' and then picked up my pace again.
This really was the most critical part of the race. The next thing I knew we were heading to a water station. The guy ran in front of me and cut me off- again.
That was it. I was running at another level now, the same way I ran at Disney. The guy picked it up and eventually separated from me. By the way he was responding to questions from spectators, they were looking for her to be with him. He turned around and looked for her and gestured in my direction because she was, for a few miles, right on my heels.
After that, the increased pace brought people back to me. I was not passed by anyone else after about mile 7 and started picking people off.
Going up the hill in the 10th mile, there were some cyclists riding right at me, and this was right after I passed the guy that had repeatedly bumped and cut me off. I was frantically waving them out of the way. The guy said to me 'You're wasting a lot of energy.' I didn't respond. Instead I cranked up the engine and separated on the hill, got a gap, and then at the top of the hill blistered down, catching more guys. I didn't see him again until the chute.
I ran those flat last two miles really hard, never backing off and not feeling like crap like I usually do at the end of the race.
At 12 miles, I could clearly see Wantuil Souza. He looked like the heat had gotten to him- he'd been far out ahead of me and I just set my sights on him and caught him before the turn and then took that last turn and really ran as hard as I could the last half mile or so.
When the guy that had told me I was eating energy crossed the line I put on my hand and shook his and then asked him what he'd been saying about 'wasting energy...'
I was surprised a few hours later when I got home- Ian wanted to leave right away so I was gone before the race was even two hours old- that not only had I won my five year age group but I was first master- that was a pleasant surprise. Although it was my slowest half this year, I felt like it was one of my better races.
And I enjoyed running it...