It has been 4 months and 500 miles since I raced my last half marathon. I have been looking forward to this race since that time. This is my home course, mere blocks from my front door. I know every turn, every hill, and every mile marker - front and back. My familiarity goes well beyond knowing the route to understanding how the wind, temperature, and sun all play into my run. I enjoy running new courses in unfamiliar places but absolutely love the familiarity of this beautiful lakefront course nestled in the Milwaukee county parks.
There comes a time when it feels good to wind down a lengthy training cycle and rest up for the day that speed and endurance far beyond the everyday are realized. My two week taper began with a salival gland infection and featured little training and a lot of taking it easy – zero miles ran. Race week was about building confidence and keeping my legs and mind fresh. I did a mile time trial Monday and half the race distance at race pace Wednesday, filling out the week with Jiu Jitsu and swimming. The results met expectations and I felt as if I could double Wednesday’s run, which, was the idea.
The event day weather was near perfect with the only challenging condition being a 10mph wind for the out leg of the course. There was no way the day could go bad on account of weather and it was one less thing to worry about, sunny and 45°F. The race organization and start was handled brilliantly with utmost efficiency and precision. After the singing of the national anthem the race commenced. I placed myself in the front behind something like ten runners that appeared faster than me, it proved to be about where I belonged.
A handful of runners passed me that first mile as I locked in what felt like my half marathon pace. I was content running my own race that first three miles while observing the field settle around me. I could have easily gotten caught up in the rush given how amazing my legs felt and ran a 5k effort to start, I am glad I did not. When I saw my first mile split come up 15 seconds fast on a stretch that featured a large climb and headwind I figured today was going to be awesome or I would fall apart but at least I would have gone for it.
|Half way, out in front, and overdressed. It should have been short sleeve day.|
The wind was blowing into the second and third miles making me thirsty. Mile two was about 10 seconds fast and I was feeling good. I had a nice core twist going to minimize my body area that the wind could push against. Mile three was a monster. I knew it would be tough going with a large hill followed by a gently graded climb on a winding path for the duration but this mile was along the lake and the headwind was pronounced. When I saw my split come up 15 seconds slow and 30 seconds slower than the previous two miles it shook my confidence.
I flipped the switch to competitor from this point of the race forward. I caught a sparse runner or two in miles four, five, six, and seven while knocking out a pace 5 seconds fast. I never did look behind me but pieced together the pack I was running with over the next few miles. The path was very curvy and I made every effort to take the shortest route curve to curve. Everyone else also took the shortest route and being a
nice guy pushover will really lead to finishing last in this situation. It only took being maneuvered to the outside
curve and then behind someone once for me to figure out crowding and boxing out
is the name of the game. From that point
I out maneuvered everyone that did not aggressively pass.
The level of competition was unlike any I have experienced. I ran shoulder to shoulder for a drawn out stretch before a different runner engaged in a never ending battle of leap frog. My strength on the up and down hills was countered on the flat stretches; advantage me as this is a very rolling course. Catching a runner didn’t always mean they would not be seen again, sometimes they just joined the pack. It was notable how quiet everyone was from footsteps to breathing, almost everyone was in stealth mode.
The course was out and back and as always the turnaround was very enjoyable. I took inventory of the runners in front of and behind me and counted off the women for when I would see my wife. Over the course of the next few miles it was a beautiful thing to see so many people out running early in the morning and I had a few friends among them. I was done with the pack and took the hairpin turn like a soccer player and made my move to drop them. Mile eight featured a climb out of the turn around and I attacked it with a split 10 seconds slow but strong in context and caught a runner.
|I celebrated the half marathon with 10 miles of mountain biking later in the day.|
I caught a couple runners in miles nine and ten and was happy to be turning out miles ten seconds fast and be on target for a negative second half split. After three miles without him my leap frog nemesis came up alongside me at mile ten much to my surprise. He commented we had no one left to catch and it was true, I could not see anyone out in front and this was a very open stretch. He took a small lead but mile eleven was all downhill and I opened up on him turning out a split 25 seconds fast and the fastest split of the race. There was a turn at the bottom of a hill leading into mile twelve that I looked behind me for the first time since the turn around to admire the lead I must have opened up.
You can imagine my horror when I saw my lead amounted to at best a few second edge on four runners, some of which I had not seen since mile three. Someone must have smelled fear because like that a strong move was made, everyone followed and I was passed by all of them. It took a while to comprehend what had just happened. Here I thought a negative second half split guaranteed victory but everyone in this group was running a negative second half. Consistency alone does not win, ten miles of consistency plus a 5k race effort wins.
Two of them were real fast turning out a pace that would have required me to go 35 seconds fast those last two miles. I may have been physically capable of hanging on and I feel I held back during this part of the race but I have never attempted or experienced this dynamic. The other two remained in reach. Mile twelve was uphill and my head was still processing the events that had transpired. I turned out a mile ten seconds slow. Mile thirteen I got my shit together passed my leap frog friend and focused on the next runner but ultimately could not close with a mile ten seconds fast.
My finish kick and that last 0.1 were real fast and I knew I had held back. My friend told me I looked GQ with the wind blowing my hair, shirt open, and the collar popped. When I saw the clock at the finish ticking in the 1:21 range I couldn’t help but display a huge shit eating grin. I knew I could run a 6:30 pace and pull down a 1:25 half marathon. I thought if I had a real good day I could run a 6:20 pace and pull down something just shy of 1:23 and that was my target. My actual finish time of 1:21:40, a 6:13 pace was awesome, good for 16th place, and over a ten minute PR.