Monday, March 14, 2016

Race Recap: Tobacco Road Half Marathon

This winter and spring, my training is focused on the half-ironman I signed up for in June. But I also need to get my running back up to speed as I recover from my hamstring injury that happened in February of 2015. 13 months later, I'm finally showing some signs of a full recovery, but I still haven't gotten anywhere close to where I was before the injury.

Back then, running a 5K slower than 19 minutes was a really bad day. A decent half-marathon (had I run one) probably would have been around 1:30. Now I've had to adjust my goals. One reason I chose to run a half-ironman is that I knew I wouldn't be running very fast in the half. But I still figured something like a 1:38 might be possible—that's about a 7:30/mile pace. A 7:30 pace shouldn't tax my hamstrings, which tend to react most violently to speed workouts.

So for Tobacco Road my goal was to see what kind of a half I was capable of without swimming 1.2 miles and cycling 56 miles beforehand. Then the idea would be to improve my endurance over the next three months so that I could run that same pace as the final leg of a triathlon.

The plan was to run an easy first mile, then run at a 7:30 pace as long as I could hold on. Ideally I'd finish in 1:38 or 1:39. If I found the 7:30s too tough, then my B goal was to hang on for an overall average pace of 8:00 per mile, a 1:45 total time for the half.

I had signed up for Tobacco Road last year, where I was planning to pace my online friend Carrie Endara as she tried for a PR. But the injury in February cancelled that plan, so I had to wait until this year to finally meet Carrie in person. This year she'd be doing the full, so I wouldn't have a chance to run with her (and even if she was running the half, I'd have no shot at keeping up with her!), but I was excited to finally meet her! We had dinner (along with 8 of my DART buddies) the night before the race at a local Italian place and she was just as charming and excited about running as she has been for the several years I have known her online!

Then Chad, Chas, and I drove back to our hotel, where we obsessively organized our gear and slept restlessly before the race. We got up at 5:45 (after adjusting for Daylight Saving Time), and Chas snapped this photo of me in my running gear:

Ready as I'll ever be!

Carrie lives just a half mile from the start, so she invited me and my local running buddies to park at her place and walk together to the race. We all bantered about our goals and plans for the day. It was going to be warm and humid, so some of us (like Carrie) smartly adjusted our goals, while others (like me) foolishly decided to gut it out according to our original plans. Everyone checked their gear before realizing we had never taken a group photo. Hence there is no group photo of everyone before the race. Oh well. It was time to line up for the porta-potties, so I headed over and began my wait.

I managed to find the slowest line, but was able to do my business with about 15 minutes to spare, just in time to eat a GU and head to the starting area. There I found Chad, lined up about even with the 4:15 marathon pace group. I felt like I should be farther forward, but there were crowds ahead of us, and I had wanted to take it easy for the first mile, so I stayed there.

The race started right on time, and we walked slowly towards the line. We finally started running as we crossed, about 1:30 after the gun sounded. The pace felt slow, so I dodged my way forward. I was wasting energy, but I didn't want to run too slow, and I knew we'd be on a greenway after 2.5 miles, and it would be even tougher to pass folks.

I completed the first (uphill) mile in 8:06, so not too fast, although with all the dodging back and forth, my effort was probably too hard for what was supposed to be a warm-up. Mile 2 opened up and I was able to ease into race pace, running a 7:34. A half mile later the half marathon split from the marathon and entered the packed gravel greenway we'd be running on for the next 8 miles. My running buddy Megan was there cheering and taking photos of all the DARTers (not coincidentally, her husband Derek was among them, trying to BQ). I raised my arms and shouted to her, but she told me later that the photo didn't come out. This lack of decent photography would become a theme for the day...

The next few miles felt fairly comfortable, 7:36, 7:28, 7:40, and I settled in behind a couple guys who seemed quite chatty for running a race. Perhaps not surprisingly, after Mile 5 one of the guys told his buddy he needed to walk, and I never saw them again. Not long after that I saw the race leader heading back the other way, looking very strong. He'd go on to win in 1:09:23. Smoking!

Mile 6 was uphill and I slowed to a 7:57. That's okay, I figured, I'd get that as a downhill soon enough. Along here I saw Chas headed home and went for the high-five. We almost missed, but it doesn't count as a whiff if you contact a couple fingers, right? Rather than a high-five it was more like a mid-two. Chas would go on to PR in the race with a blazing 1:25:50. Awesome in these conditions!

Now the volume of runners headed the other way increased and it was tough to spot friends. I missed Allison headed toward a very solid 1:43. After the turnaround I missed Allyson, Pamela, Jack, and may have just seen Barrie out of the corner of my eye.

Now the heat of the day was starting to get to me. It seemed that at every water stop, the cup I grabbed had only an inch or so of water, so I tried to grab as many as I could. Usually I got two, but once I think I managed three. I didn't want to seem like a hog, but it was hot! I'd drink the first cup, take a sip out of the second, then dump the rest over my head. Despite my efforts, my pace slowed. Miles 6-8 were 7:57, 7:59, 7:57.

Then we hit the long gradual uphill I'd been warned about. I knew it was somewhere between Mile 8 and 10 but I kicked myself for not memorizing the exact location of the hill's start and finish (for future reference it starts at 8.2 and continues all the way to Mile 10. Even then, although it levels off somewhat, you don't get a real downhill until 11.8). Over that 1.8 miles you gain just over 100 feet, so it's not steep at all, but there is absolutely no relief. My pace slowed to 8:14 in Mile 9, and 8:27 in Mile 10. Somewhere along here the 1:45 pace team passed me and I wondered if I'd have to kiss my "B" goal of finishing in 1:45 goodbye. But then I remembered that I had started a ways back from the pace team, so I might still have a shot at 1:45! I decided to let myself walk through the aid station at Mile 10, then push hard to the finish.

I was ready for the downhill finish to start when I hit the pavement at Mile 10.6, but alas, the road was still pretty much flat. I did my best to pick up the pace but ended up with an 8:46 for the mile. In Miles 12 and 13, when there finally was some downhill, I was just cooked, and could never go faster than an 8:00 pace. I didn't even manage to speed up for the final sprint to the finish. My finishing splits were 8:07, 8:13, and 8:19 for the final 0.1 miles.

Tough race! My overall time was 1:45:19, an 8:01 per mile average. I'm going to give myself a little slack for the warm conditions and call it "B-goal achieved."

I headed up to the cool-down area and scarfed down two pieces of pizza. Then I met up with Chas, who was very psyched about his PR, and we changed and walked to the finish line to watch the marathon finish. It proved to be an even tougher day for most of the marathoners as the heat got to them. Carrie was the one exception: She finished in 3:11 to capture 5th overall female and first in age group. Here she is running strong to the finish:

Then after watching most of my friends finish disappointed, we headed up to the beer tent to drown our sorrows. A small group of us realized that we had never taken a group photo, so the few of us that remained finally managed to get a photo:

Happy Chas, sad Derek, laid-back Chad, okay Dave, and resigned Matt
Chas, Chad and I had a fun lunch with an ecstatic Carrie and three of her cheerful kids before steeling ourselves for the 2.5-hour-drive home. It was only on the ride home that I realized I'd never gotten a photo of my first in-person meeting with Carrie, who's been my online buddy for years. We're going to try to rectify that next week, when we're hoping to get together for a recovery run when she's visiting my part of the state.

Details of yesterday's race are below.


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  2. Great recap, thanks for writing it! Wish I could take some of your heat up here in MTL ��

  3. Fabulous job all of you! Congratulations

  4. Fabulous job all of you! Congratulations

  5. Thanks everyone! It was a fun day, and hopefully there's more of this to come.

  6. carrie in my mom!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!