Going in to this race I knew I was going to have a personal best due to the way my training was coming along, even though I wasn't targeting it. I had been digging myself in a big hole for weeks, and I finally was able to climb out of it a few days before this race mostly because I didn't do a long run last week. The plan was and always has been to train through my running races all winter and use them as my tempo/threshold workouts and it was no different this time. Friday night I did a hard 40 mile bike ride with a set of 1x20 and a set of 2x10 at threshold pace while keeping the rest of the ride at a tempo pace and I ended up finishing around 7pm, which left me a little more than 13 hours to recover.
We got to the race about 7:30 which was a little too late for me to get a good warm-up in after waiting on the bathroom line and picking up our bib #'s. I decided without warming up that I was going to race in shorts even though the weather report was for it to be in the low 30's with a windchill in the 20's. It turns out that was the best decision I made all morning, I was perfectly comfortable the whole time! I was only able to get in about a 5 minute warm-up before getting to the start line, so I was a little nervous because my plan was to go out as hard as I could and see where that ended up getting me.
Coming in to the day I knew I was going to be probably around a 1:22 with some effort since I have been easily hitting 1:25's on my long runs which have been around 18-20 miles at this point. Looking around at the start I wasn't sure where that would get me as there were a lot of fit looking runners most of who I did not recognize. A benefit of knowing the course from last year was that I knew exactly how to run it, which I thought put me at an advantage. Since the first 4 miles or so are flat I was going to attack and see how much of a gap I could create before battling with the hills from mile 4.5-10 and then just put myself in a hurt locker from 10-13.1. Looking at all the skinny and fit runners around me I knew I was going to have to stick to my plan if I wanted to place well.
The next thing I knew the race had started and we were off! I broke through and immediately took the lead, but after about 3 minutes I stopped hearing footsteps, I looked down at my watch and I realized I was running a sub 5:30 pace and I needed to reign it in just slightly taking in to account my heart rate. After clocking the first mile in 5:35 I settled in to a slightly sub 6 pace and was comfortably uncomfortable, and felt it was something that I might be able to deal with for the next hour and change. I was out in front and I had the lead all to myself but I honestly had no idea that my plan would have worked that well.
I've lead races before, I even won one once, but this was a bigger race and I was sure someone would be coming on my heels. This lead I had lasted for what felt like forever, I felt like I was royalty of some sort, I had a lead biker, and a lead cop car clearing roads for me! I'm not going to lie being out in front felt great, and for me validated all the time I spent training to get to this point, but one thing was for sure I didn't want it to end! I almost felt like I was dreaming as the miles seemed to be clicking off effortlessly.
As we came in to the middle section of the course I knew I had my work cut out for me. As a heavier runner I'm at a disadvantage on hillier courses and miles 5-10 are just brutal, you are either going up or down, and when its up its UP and when its down its DOWN. What made this section worse this year is that not only did we have to deal with the hills, but a headwind that was just not very nice. A little past mile 4.5 climbing up the first big hill I heard my first set of footsteps, which didn't surprise me at all. What did surprise me is that he appeared to be my size! We ran together for about the next half mile and then he started to pull away. All of the sudden I lost all my glitz and glamour. I was no longer leading and I no longer had an personal escort. My dream bubble had just been burst.
I tried to match his surge but I wanted to keep myself in check and keep my heart rate under the 170 mark, and it just didn't work. He was still just slightly ahead of me and I was hoping the bravado he was showing pouncing up the hills might just break him and I would be able to reel him back in at some point. We ran through the next few miles up and down and he seemed to be getting slightly further away as the miles clicked off, but by mile 10 his lead had increased from a mere 5 seconds at mile 6 to what I will estimate at about 30-40 seconds at mile 10. I thought I might be fading, but I still had not heard footsteps since he passed, and I had not looked back to check to see if anyone was even close to challenge for 2nd.
As I climbed the last hill approaching mile 10 I was determined to keep my head in the game, and if I was unable to catch and pass for the win, I was going to hold my current position. I had not worked so hard just to give it away in the final miles. So as my original plan stated it was gut check time. Dig deep and put yourself in the hurt locker. I guess he had the same plan because after the mile 11 I no longer could see the 1st place runner. One thing I did notice was that I was going to be very close to breaking 1:20 if I ran around a 6 minute pace for the remainder of the race. While I knew I had a 1:22 in me, I never in my wildest dreams thought I would be approaching 1:19 after the training week I had and just knowing the course I was running. My focus immediately became focused steady running. Mile 10 was a 6:07, 11 a 6:09. And then there is was just one mile standing between me and 1:19.
The last mile of this course is like an oasis in the desert, you can see the finish but it just never seems to get any closer. What especially doesn't help is running into a headwind that almost makes you feel like your running on a treadmill since you really don't seem to be moving. I kept my cool and just focused on the conference center building that is the finish line, counting down .8, .7, .6. With about a 1/2 mile to go you finally turn off the road to nowhere and into the final beach area. This was the only time I checked to see if there was anyone trailing me and sure enough there was someone about 30 seconds behind me on my tail. It's a good thing I looked because I think it gave me the motivation to dig that much deeper to keep my spot.
With about .3 miles to go I could see and hear Erica yelling at me to pick it up as she knew I wanted to break 1:20 and she knew I was dangerously close. I could see the clock and I knew if I wanted it I was going to have to work for it. I put my head down and knowing it was only going to be a short while longer and gave it everything I had left in the tank. Those last seconds of the race felt like they were lasting forever. I was running as hard as I could 1:19:30, 1:19:31, I was still what seemed like forever away, I could hear Erica screaming at me to go, and I pushed harder, 1:19:40, 1:19:42, almost there but will it be enough? 1:19:50, 1:19:51, 1:19:52, 1:19:54, 1:19:55 and I finally crossed the line with 5 seconds to spare. I heard the announcer say something about me coming in hard or fast, but I was going too hard to process it, I don't even think I heard them announce my name at the finish! I held off the 3rd place by :35 seconds and collected a new personal best half marathon time as well as a new personal best half marathon placement!
I am super stoked and amazed that my plan worked. Some might think I would be upset not being able to hold on to first place, but for my current ability a 1:19 is about as fast as I could hope for. Of course I will look to improve on this, but for now I'm content with a 1:19. This brings me a whole new level of confidence going into triathlon season. I have one more half marathon in two weeks and then I kick off the season down in Knoxville, TN at the Rev3 Half.
As always I would like to thank my sponsors for their gracious and continuous support. Endurance Films, Forte Gelato, Pacific SBR, and Skora running. Without you guys I would not be able to be the athlete I am today. And of course a huge thanks goes to my Fiancee Erica for dealing with my training craziness and allowing me to be my crazy self!