|Half marathon PRs: Vancouver Lake Half (1998), left, Red Nose Half (2016).|
Over the course of the next 27 half marathons, in places like Oregon, Las Vegas and Chicago, my initial race time of 1:46:30 was out of reach. One year, at the Run the Reagan Half Marathon in Snellville in 2011, I came within 30 seconds of the mark.
But finally today, after my 29th half marathon, I was able to get that monkey off my back. I made my second PR for that distance by finishing the Red Nose Half Marathon in 1:44:50.
There's a lot of symmetry between the two races -- both are more or less low key affairs put on by the area running club. Both courses are flat and the weather was great. I also drove at least two hours from where I lived to the starting line.
My first half marathon (Vancouver Lake in Vancouver, Wash.) became my long-lasting PR because of what I didn't know about running those races. Basically, as a 27-year-old, my strategy was to take it easy the first three miles and then make my move. I passed all kinds of people the next seven miles, until I hit the wall.
After that, the last three miles were misery. I inched along, watching all the people I passed pass me. Yet when I crossed the finish line, I received a time that stuck for years. Once burned by running too fast, I took it easy in subsequent races. I've only learned about proper pacing in the last few years.
I found out about the Red Nose Half late last month when I was looking at upcoming race listings. For some reason I clicked on the link and found out that it was a free USATF-certified half marathon on a flat course!
I signed up for it thinking this might be my chance to finally set a new PR. I'd come close last year with two 1:47 halfs on hilly courses, in the Aug. 23 Hotlanta Half and the Dec. 13 Jeff Galloway 13.1.
This year race organizers had to made changes to their traditional course because all the recent rain in the area caused flooding of the Columbus Riverwalk. The course still primarily was on the riverwalk but also was muddy in some areas (I saw one runner who looked like he had made snow angels in the mud as he had huge mud spots from a fall on his shorts, singlet and along the entire length of his right arm).
My thought was to run as close to an 8:07/mile pace as I could to make a PR. But it was extremely difficult to run at the right pace -- sometimes I was running faster than an 8 minute mile and other times it seemed like I was creeping up to 8:30/mile. I waited until Mile 6 to eat my first GU gel (I'd planned to do so at Mile 5) and consumed the other one at Mile 11 when I wanted a boost for the finish.
It turned out I was running pretty consistently. At Mile 9 I thought I was only 15 seconds ahead of PR pace and I felt like I was slowing down (I actually was 45 seconds ahead of PR pace). But when we made the final turnaround at 10.5 miles, I felt a huge psychological boost as we were almost finished!
By Mile 12 I believed I could run a 10-minute mile and still make a PR (this was close; my data shows that I could run a 9:30/mile and still do it). I continued to run pretty steadily and the race's end involved two short hills, one to get from the Riverwalk to street level and another one a slightly evil hill just a few hundred feet from the finish.
I was going to take it easy but decided to scramble up the hill and kick after I passed a wiry guy who I thought was going to climb the hill strong but seemed to struggle. On the final flat when I kicked, I could feel two twinges in each of my calf muscles as I made my way to the finish.
I finished in 1:44:50, which was way better than I thought I could do. The result is more on line with what race prediction charts say I could do. Finally, a huge running goal was accomplished.
I think in the end, the flat course really helped me. In Atlanta races I could feel myself slowing down up big hills and then not being able to gain speed back even on flatter surfaces. I also paid attention to Mile 12, since in the JG 13.1 that mile was inexplicably slow even though it was through one of the areas of Piedmont Park I run the most.
We lucked out with the weather for this race; it was about 55 degrees the entire way and not rainy or cold. I'd love to do this race again in the future -- what a great thing for the community to throw a race for free in an age when these races easily cost $80 or so.
Time: 8:08 a.m.
Temp: 55 degrees
Gear: Technical T-shirt, short (Honolulu Marathon), Brooks Grit shorts, cep compression socks, Brooks Pure Connect 3.