Highway 61 Revisited (USA Half Marathon Championships Race Report)

84th place, 1:08:17 (PR)

It was on odd race in a lot of ways.  First, I can’t remember the last time I ran well and was as far back as 84th place.  But that’s just the state of the American distance running right now.  The depth is pretty incredible—so many guys running well post-collegiately.  I had a similar moment of realization watching last year’s Men’s Olympic Marathon Trials, where there were just dozens of guys running 2:10-2:13, many in their debuts.  It was pretty cool to be part of such a competitive road race; I don’t often get to line up with the likes of Meb, Abdi, etc.

It was also a bit strange being back on the same roads where I ran my marathon PR of 2:22:53 two years ago.  I was on a stretch of road I’d only seen once before in my life, yet it was so incredibly familiar.  Racing at the Grandma’s Marathon in 2011—chasing, but ultimately failing to hit the Olympic Trials standard—leant a poignancy to the experience that ingrained the road somewhere deep in my subconcious.  But this go around, instead of fading over the final miles, I was able to charge strongly into Duluth, working my way past dozens of fading runners.  It was uniquely redemptive on a personal level to be able to accelerate and finish well on the same roads.

The other oddity was the dichotomy of feeling flat and sort of out of shape, yet still running very much to my potential on the day, even hitting a 30-second PR.  I could tell early that I wasn’t going to run as fast as I had hoped.  After running 5:07 pace for 10 miles at Soldier Field a month ago, I had hoped I would be able to maintain the same at the Half Champs—maybe 1:07-low.  But I never felt as smooth as I did at SF10.  From the start, running low five-teens was a challenge.  My hip flexors were bothering me a bit—still tired from last weekend’s Mt. Washington Road Race—and my legs were probably just tired from so much racing the last two months.  My breathing was strained, and I worried that I might be in for a rough ride.

However, starting in the fourth mile, I began to work up from group to group, pushing the pace until I caught a few guys ahead.  I would ease off for just a minute or two, mentally recharge, and get after it again.  For several miles of this, I had a few guys drafting on me, letting me do the work in chasing down the guys ahead.  Nothing much you can do about it if no one is going to help share the work—c’est la vie.  I was eventually able to drop all those who were using me, which felt nice.  I felt pretty extended pretty early, but I got in a good rhythm in the middle miles and I was able to maintain pace pretty well to the end.  As I continued to pass faster and faster guys, a few started to respond and try to go with me, but no one whom I passed stayed with me for good.  Having this level of competition certainly helped bring me through to a PR.  It's much easier to stay engaged and continue to push through the pain when you're passing guys.

The race website had a unique feature on the results page which shows how man guys you passed and/or were passed by between timing mats.  I didn’t get passed by anyone the entire race, in extreme juxtaposition to last week’s Mt. Washington, where I was continually passed  the whole climb.  (The chart says between the start and the 5k I was passed by one guy and that I passed 21, but that first stat is sort of deceiving as it is based on when we crossed the starting line timing mat—in reality, we were of course all together.)

I had 1:08:14 on my watch (which was also my chip time) instead of the official 1:08:17, due to the size of the field on the starting line and the corresponding lag in getting across the line.  Here are my splits:

1 - 5:07
2 - 5:12
3 - 5:12
4 - 5:12
5 - 5:17
6 - 5:06
7 - 5:16
8 - 5:16
9 - 5:13
10 - 5:12
11 - 5:19
[I missed the 12th mile split]
Last 2.1 - 10:48 (5:08 pace, though that wasn't even—the last mile had a handful of turns and a headwind, so it was the slower mile) 

I’ve been racing quite a bit the last two months, so I was probably starting to get some cumulative fatigue in the legs.  And as a result of all the racing, my training has also been pretty minimal—I've just been continually in recovery cycles between races.  I knew I was pushing my luck a bit with so much racing, and I certainly had a few poor results, but overall, I think I managed this stretch pretty well.  I came away with two PRs (10 miles and half marathon) and two good 50 mile results (Ice Age and Cayuga Trails).  I've said it several times over the last months, but at the end of the day, the most encouraging thing is how fast I ran (relative to my old self) when considering how slow and out of shape I feel.  Now that I'm done with the serial racing, I'm going to hit three months of good training, with very little racing.  I'm finally ready to really up the mileage again and get into the best shape of my life.  I'm excited for what the fall holds.