Finish Time: 1:29:40
Average Pace: 6:50/mile
On Sunday, September 27, 2015, I ran the Race 13.1 Charlotte Half Marathon. My original goal for this race was to use it as a tune-up/confidence booster for my upcoming Marshall University Marathon. However, after a random spirited conversation with some of my run crew a couple of months prior, my new goal was to run sub-1:30 - a pretty aggressive goal for someone who just ran a 13-minute PR of 1:36:14 a few months prior.
The good news is that my somewhat new-found running partner (Patrick) had the same goal. So we decided to pace each other throughout the race in order to share the load and give us both the best shot at hitting our target. We came up with a plan to draft behind each other for as long as we could while switching the lead runner every two miles - shake and bake style.
We decided that Patrick would take the first two miles, and the goal was to run even splits of roughly 6:52 per mile.
Miles 1 & 2 (6:32, 6:15)
Patrick paced us for the first two miles, and they were FAST. Right before the race, Patrick looked back at me and said to give him half a mile to settle into pace. I said, "no worries; I don't plan to be a backseat driver unless you get crazy and start hitting 6:30 splits." He laughed and said there was no way he would do that. Now reader, I invite you to look back at the mile splits that I just typed for the first two miles. Yea, lol!
Now to his credit, the first two miles included lots of rolling hills; the result being that our fresh legs led us to run the uphills too fast and then when we hit the downhills, it was hard to slow down. But I definitely remember thinking to my self that we were going too fast and might pay for it later; I considered dropping back, but there's no way I could abandon our plan that early in the race. So against my better judgement, we kept it pushing at this monster pace.
Ed (CMO) was running the 8k after coming back from an injury. He was running with us for the majority of this section of the race. Also Joseph was running near us as well. Joseph and I briefly spoke just before the start of the race and realized that we had similar goals also. I told him about me and Patrick's plan and invited him to pace with us if he wanted. So for the first two miles the four of us ran in pretty close proximity to each other.
Miles 3 & 4 (6:41, 6:40)
So right after the mile 2 marker, I took my place in front of Patrick to start my shift as lead/pacer. As I passed Patrick I looked over and said, "feeling kinda froggy today huh!?" His response was that "we had a lot of downhills." Okay, that's a good enough excuse... I guess.
Shortly after I took the lead we made a left turn through the first aid station and over some super muddy ground. We were warned about the mud (due to the constant rain) at the start of the race, but knowing about it and experiencing it were two different things. Luckily, my lunaracers somehow held their grip and I was able to make the hairpin turn through the mud, grab a drink, and stay upright. Boom!
Once we got on the path, there was a bunch of tree cover, which, combined with the constant clouds and rain, was screwing with my Garmin. As a result, my current pace data was completely unreliable, and I had to pace by feel/effort. Somehow, I was able to stay on track and get us closer to plan, albeit still slightly ahead of pace after the super fast initial couple of miles.
A good chunk of these miles were on wooden planks that were blanketed with wet leaves and a lot of turns. Every step held the danger of a major slip and wipe out. At one point, I remember Patrick calling up to me "be careful man, I'm slipping back here." To which I answered, "Me too!!" Somehow, thankfully, we made it over all of these sections upright! Obviously the course directors had no control over the weather, but this course was extremely dangerous under these rainy conditions. I later heard (but never verified) that someone fell and hurt themselves to the extent that they needed to be airlifted to the hospital. It was rough out there, and I hope that person's okay.
Along these miles our group split up a bit. Ed hung back a little before his turning around at the 4 mile mark to complete his 8K, and Joseph pushed ahead of Patrick and I a bit (but he remained in sight).
Miles 5 & 6 (6:55, 7:06)
At mile 5, Patrick resumed his role as pace leader. This time there would be no fear of him resuming that blistering pace again because we were immediately faced with a pretty significant (and unexpected climb). Per my Garmin Connect, we gained about 100 feet in a little over a quarter of a mile. At this point Joseph, Patrick, and I were all running (and suffering) up this hill side by side while someone from BMR and BGR were on the side of the road cheering us on. The encouragement was greatly appreciated, but we all reached the top of the hill completely wasted.
Of course the best part of any uphill is reaching the top, and what goes up must come down. After eclipsing the hill, we were immediately rewarded with a little under a mile of gentle downhill. It was here that I channeled my weekly repeats during track workouts... and utilized my practiced ability to recover while still running a quick pace. I was able to cruise downhill and get my heart-rate back down to a sustainable level. After peaking at 188 bpm on the uphill, I was back down into the 160's.
Miles 7 & 8 (7:02, 7:04)
At the start of the 7th mile, I took over the lead. Shortly after this point, Patrick started to fade just a bit and told me to go without him if I still had it; I did, so I went. By this point, Joseph had pulled a bit ahead of Patrick and I - he was about 10 yards ahead of me. I focused on trying to slowly reel him in, figuring that I can make him my new pace partner for the second half of the race.
At about the 7.25 mile mark the course dead ends, and runners are told to turn around and head back the way we came. Shortly after the turn around I caught up with Joseph and was running right behind him as we flew past all of the runners behind us going in the opposite direction. I saw Patrick after the turn around and realized that he was still looking strong and wasn't too far behind me. I knew then that he was still in pretty good shape to hit goal (since we already had a bunch of time in the bank due to the fast early miles). It was great seeing so many BMR guys still running hard and high-fiving as Joseph and I ran past them. All of the camaraderie was pretty energizing.
Miles 9 & 10 (6:50, 7:04)
Joseph and I were rolling together for a little over a mile when we hit the 9 mile marker. At this point, my legs were feeling a little tired, and I decided that I needed a quick surge to keep myself going. I passed Joseph and told him that he could follow behind me and I would set the pace for a bit if he wanted. There was another runner about 30 yards in front of us, and I really wanted to catch him over the next 4 miles.
By mile 10, I could here Joseph's footsteps fading while the runner in front of me (we'll call him "Rabbit" was getting ever-closer... yes I now had a new pacer for the remainder of the race. Every time we hit a turn, Rabbit would glance slightly over his shoulder to check my place, and each time I was just a slight bit closer.
This was a welcome distraction for my mind. I decided that my new goal was to make sure he could feel me getting closer each time he glanced back. The closer I got the more often he kept checking. I knew I had a bit of something left in me, but it's always tricky deciding when to make the big move and pass someone.
Miles 11 -13 (7:00, 7:08, 7:09)
I decided that my move would come during Mile 11. I could tell he was fading a bit (his arms were pumping too high), so I passed him up during my 7:00 11th mile. I was too focused to even look to the side, but as I came up right behind him he just kept looking back... once I was right behind him he looked back one more time and then I made my move - a quick little surge on a turn and I was around him in about 6 strides. I knew I was all-in at this point, and I refused to look back so I kept pushing and focused on the volume of his footsteps (it's my thing). I'd rather listen for the footsteps to fade then to actually look back... looking back slows me down.
By the time I reach the 12-mile marker I couldn't hear any footsteps at all. I couldn't see anyone in front of me and I knew no one was close behind me. I was in no-man's land where I sometimes struggle to find motivation - too far from the person in front of me to catch them and too far ahead of the person behind me to feel a threat.
At mile 12.25 there is 100 meter steep uphill climb from an underpass that is immediately followed by a nearly 180 degree turn. The turn was so sharp, that I practically had to stop in order to negotiate it. After making the turn, I pushed off hard in an attempt to regain my pace and then BAM! my left hamstring completely locked up... I could not bend my left leg at all.
So here I am doing the run, skip, hamstring grab that most runners are familiar with. I'm frantically punching my hamstring trying to get it to release a bit... just enough for me to be able to flex my leg a little so I can move from a skip to a wobble at least. Fortunately, after about 10-15 seconds it loosened up enough for me to resume a somewhat janky sort of jog. After another 15 seconds it had completely released, and I was able to resume a normal stride. Phew! Crisis averted.
By now, I've had enough adventure and I'm just ready to end the race. As I was coming around the final corner I could see the finish line. I glance at my watch and saw that I was just over 1:29. I was hesitant to hit a full sprint out of fear that my leg could lock up again, but I was way too close to my goal to quit now. I kicked it up a gear and sprinted through the finish line with just 20 seconds to spare, 1:29:40!
I was definitely afraid to stop running so I ran through the finish, grabbed my medal (didn't want to stop to have them put it on my kneck), gave Ed (CMO) a running high-five, and then proceeded to slowly jog around the parking lot for a minute.
As I jogged back to the finish line, I saw both Patrick and Joseph finishing. Strong finish by both... both under 1:31.
Despite the crazy weather and course, my crew had some impressive results:
Ed was 3rd overall in the 8K (1st Masters); Roy PR'd, Omari PR'd, Patrick was 3rd in his AG (and this was his first ever half marathon mind you), and Joseph and I finished 1st in our respective age groups.
Another great day in the office and another PR. I've been streaking for some time now - I have remained healthy and PR'd every single race going back to November 2014; Over the last 10 months, I've run two marathons, two road half marathons, one trail half marathon, one 10K, one 7K, and three 5K's, which makes for a 10-race PR streak. Let's hope I keep it going for my next race - Marshall University Marathon.