Sunday, March 4, 2012

Half Marathons are So Much Fun! Even in the Rain!

(Originally Published on Runners World Loop 11/19/11)
I think my favorite race distance is the Half Marathon.  It’s long enough to be a true distance challenge, but short enough that it’s possible to push the speed without fear of The Wall.  The pre-race excitement levels are high, since most of the runners have worked for months preparing for the event.  So I was looking forward with great anticipation to last week’s 2011 TMC Fleet Feet Half-Marathon, hosted by Everyone Runs, Everyone Walks.  As I expected, it was an outstanding event that met the high standard established by the previous 6 years of this race.  Race Director Steve Landau works very hard to make his races events that really are excellent for everyone of all ages and abilities.
For most races, I set three goals:  My Dream Goal (what I’d love to do if everything clicks on race day); My Realistic Goal (what I think I should be able to do); and my Minimum Goal (sort of my worst-case goal that would still make me satisfied to have raced).  The main way to measure my goals is time, although other factors such as how I feel do matter.  For this half marathon, my Dream Goal was a sub- 1:26, which would be a new PR; my Realistic Goal was 1:27; and my Minimum Goal was to beat my 2010 time of 1:31, which I knew I could easily do.  I had run the Pecan Classic 8.5 mile race the day before, and I was not sure how much that would affect my ability to push this race.
The week leading up to the race was full of dire weather predictions.  When I arrived at the race site, it was not raining but there were thick, ominous-looking clouds blanketing the early morning sky.  The colors in the sky were quite dramatic for a short while near sunrise, and for a few moments I noticed an eery purplish glow overhead.  I tried to capture it with my little pocket camera:
The start & finish lines are on the running track at Sabino High School, on the Northeast side of Tucson (and only a few miles from my house).  Everyone Runs has a nice start line arch, and for this race the runners wear timing chips – the whole event is very professionally done.  The morning’s events also included a 5k race, and a children’s fun run.  The Girls on the Run organization had tons of runners and coaches out there promoting healthy lifestyles.
The half marathon starting gun fired promptly at 6:30 a.m. – no rain yet!  Everyone Runs does something very rare – they provide FREE race photos!  So the race photos below are from them:
A bunch of my friends were in this race.  I’m the guy in the middle in this picture – I forgot my sunglasses last year, and the bright sun was annoying, so this year I wore them.
Five minutes after the half got started, the 5k began.  My son Jason ran the 5k this year.  There was only one picture of him, and it got a bit smeared:
Apparently while I was out on the course, Jason was blazing through his race – he pulled off a major improvement and got a PR by about 2 minutes with an awesome time of 27:24!
Meanwhile, I was out on the course practicing some race strategy.  Specifically, I was trying to work with a pack of runners with similar pacing.  Some of them were surging or slowing so it was good practice for me.  This picture was around mile 3, and the group included my friends from The Workout Group, David and Chris, as well as the overall female winner Amy.
The pack thinned out by 10k.  At around mile 7.5, I began to notice some rain drops.  Not a heavy rain, but enough to accumulate on my shades, and it was increasing.  As the miles ticked by, the rain got worse, and the air was thick with humidity – almost a light fog.  I think the worst stretch for me was between miles 9 and 11.  I found myself splashing through puddles, and my shoes were soaking wet.  One truly amazing thing I noticed was that the volunteers at the aid stations kept working and shouting out encouragement to the runners!
By the 11th mile we had spread out quite a bit.  I was still hoping for a PR, but I could tell that the wet roads and soggy shoes were slowing me a bit.  Here’s a photo of me on Snyder Road (which is a road that I occasionally run on during training runs), somewhere around mile 12:
When I finally neared the stadium at Sabino High, I was greeted by Jason, who ran alongside me for the final hundred meters or so, cheering me on.  That made me feel really great, although I probably didn’t show it.  I finished in 1:26:53, 10th place overall and 1st in my age group.  I missed my PR by 20 seconds, but I’m very satisfied and know that a much better PR will come soon.  Everyone Runs posted a short video to their FaceBook page that surprisingly included my finish!  (That’s Jason running alongside the track).
The rain kept pouring down during the awards ceremony, but fortunately there was a huge tent.  As is customary at Everyone Runs events, there was a nice Mexican-style breakfast, free smoothies, etc.  I won this nice mug for my age-group win:
I’ve got two marathons coming up in the next couple of months, but my next half-marathon distance race is not until February, assuming things go according to plan.  I’m going to have a blast at the marathons, but I’m already excited about the half in February and my opportunity to kick out a faster time.

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