My goal back then was to complete the race averaging less than 8 minutes per mile, and I did it -- just barely. I finished in 1:17:17, for a 7:57 average. (If you do the math, that doesn't quite work out. The course was a quarter-mile short, so my "official" result works out to a 7:44 pace).
I know I've gotten a lot faster since then, but I haven't run a race like this one in the interim. It's not an insanely hilly course like the Kendall Mountain Run or the Blue Ridge Marathon, but it's not so flat that you can just stick to a steady pace the entire race. The final climb, in Miles 8 and 9, is no joke, climbing about 250 feet in a mile, with a very steep section in the middle. Here's the elevation profile for the course:
I decided I would try to stick to a 6:30 pace until I got to the bottom of the big climb, about 7.4 miles in, then see how well I could hang on.
At the starting line, I chatted with Richard Hefner, who told me "I remember when I used to be able to beat you." He still remembers the first time I passed him, at the Run for Green half marathon. It was good to be complimented by such an excellent and experienced runner. Before we knew it, we were off, and I could see that there were only 10 or so of us that were interested in a 6:30 or better pace.
It was a perfect morning for me, about 39 degrees, with no wind and a blue sky. I was wearing just a singlet and cheap gloves that I planned on throwing away as the temperature warmed.
Mile 1: 6:30, Mile 2: 6:31.
The first two miles were flat, with perhaps a touch of downhill. I decided to take water at every aid station, so I tried to grab a cup as I flew by the first one. It slipped right out of my cheap knit glove. Oh well, I wasn't really thirsty anyways.
Mile 3: 6:31, Mile 4: 6:33.
Mile 4 had the first real hills of the race, along with some downhills where you could really fly. By the end of the mile I had shed my gloves, just in time to get some water at an aid station (for real this time)! The cups were a little small, but it felt good to have a couple ounces of water.
Mile 5: 6:38, Mile 6: 6:47
Now we were starting to hit some serious hills. Mile 5 had 92 feet of climbing and Mile 6 had 121. I threw out all thoughts of maintaining a 6:30 pace on the uphills, and only barely managed to crack 6:30 on the downhills. I was carrying one GU, and consumed it slowly, between gasps for breath, as I climbed the massive hill in Mile 6. I figured there would probably be an aid station at the top, and I could wash it down with some water. Then when I reached the station, they were only handing out Gatorade. While you might think Gatorade and GU are fairly compatible, to me it was reminiscent of washing down cough drops with cough syrup. I ran with a Gatorade-GU aftertaste for the next two miles.
Mile 7: 7:06, Mile 8: 7:33
Mile 7 features yet another climb, and I slowed even more. Then at the start of Mile 8 there was one last downhill before we started the Big One, the climb up Spencer mountain. I tried to cruise down the hill and get one last boost of speed before heading up that last hill. There was one runner in sight ahead of me, but he looked to be pulling away. We reached the bottom of the hill. I had remembered from two years ago that it flattened out before we began the big climb. Actually, it was a gradual upslope. As I reached the end of this section I saw another runner, who had actually slowed to a walk, even before the big hill. He started running again before I could catch him, then we both turned the corner and started the serious climb.
I knew at this point that I had very little left in the tank. All thoughts of a 6:30 pace were out the window. I just wanted to hang on. Amazingly, taking it easy only slowed me to a 7:30 pace — two years ago I had had to take a walk-break on this section. I passed the other runner and built up a large gap. As Mile 8 ended, I had climbed 171 feet, and the hill began to level off.
Mile 9: 6:51
Somehow, I was able to pick up the pace as the hill leveled off. There was an aid station serving actual water, and I slurped it down. Now I was running downhill. Could I go faster? I still had a mile and a half to go, but I cautiously turned on the gas.
Mile 10: 6:25
The last mile was agonizingly long. It was a gradual downhill, but that just meant more pressure to run fast. Finally the finish line was in sight and I sprinted through. I stopped my watch, and an official wanted to know what time I had recorded for the race. I couldn't tell because my watch still had an annoying lap display up. Finally the display cleared up and I told him 1:07:37. I didn't notice that the watch was still moving until 1:09. Dammit, this was the second race in a row where I'd hit the "lap" button instead of the "stop" button at the finish. Argh!
Fortunately since I did hit "lap", I could go back and reconstruct my actual finishing time, 1:07:15. That was an average pace of 6:44 per mile—not bad for such a hilly course. It's still a little short of where I need to be if I want to qualify for guaranteed entry to the New York Marathon, where I'd have to run a half at a 6:29 pace, but I think if this course had been completely flat, I would have been very close to that pace. The 1:07:15 was good enough for first in age group, so I'm pleased with that.
Also running this race were fellow DARTers Chad and Gabrielle; here's a picture of the three of us at the finish:
A nice confidence-boosting race as I get things ramped up for my big race at Rocket City in less than a month.
Details of yesterday's race are below.
And for comparison, here's my Garmin plot of the 2010 race: