Sunday, December 12, 2010

Blue & Gray Half-Marathon

Arriving on time!
Today was the 12th race in the 2010 Coldwell Banker Elite Grand Prix Series, the Blue & Gray Half-Marathon. I've run this race 4 times now, and placed 1st, 1st, 2nd, and 3rd. Without looking it up, I think my times from those years would rank 2nd, 1st, 3rd, 4th. So this year was my slowest year and my worst place. But if you've been following me since October 3, you'd know that it makes sense. And the guys who beat me today would have beat me on any day. They ran 70 and 71 minutes to my 75 minutes. I was pretty pleased with that too!

All week long we'd been hearing about how bad the weather was going to be. 100% chance of precipitation, various temperatures between 30 and 45 degrees. I figured that if it was going to be coming down anyway, I'd rather it be snow than high 30s. That would at least keep us entertained, and maybe prevent some people from coming into town that might have otherwise been there. As it turned out, the weather was as good as it could be. The rain held off until after I finished running, and in the afternoon it was just a downpour as the weather got below 40 degrees for sure.

I warmed up with Matt, Justin, Pat and Chris. We went out towards the slavery museum, but turned back up at the mile turnaround. None of us wanted to run too much since this race was going to be the longest run of the week for all of us. No one's training was really going that high lately anyway. I needed to use the bathroom on the warm-up, so I stopped at Sheetz. Other people had the same idea and I had to wait probably 5 minutes for one guy to get off the toilet. We had about 10-15 minutes at that point and I didn't feel like wasting it standing in line in the bathroom of a gas station. By the time I got back to my car behind VA Runner, I had about 7 minutes to get changed and "stretch." Stretching was sacrificed.
I walked to the line looking for fast people. There was already one guy in the store when I arrived who had on a Pacers jacket, and Jeff Van Horn asked me if I was in shape because he said he saw a guy from Potomac River Running Company too. I think he just didn't want someone from another store to win, even if I didn't have on a VA Runner singlet. I guess that was nice of him to want to keep the win at home... But the PR guy never materialized. Instead there was some lanky looking guy wearing a Lynchburg College XC shirt and compression socks. I wanted to ask him if he was Jackie's boyfriend, because he looked like he could be that kind of guy. But I thought she might have told me he was coming to town and probably even come with him.

I didn't know it was so dark...
So the gun went off and the Pacers and Lynchburg guys jumped out almost immediately. I guess they were more concerned with reaching that first turn 20 meters out than I was and thought there would be a crowd. So that was it. They were gone. They ran together until about Circuit City and then the Pacers guy had about a 5 meter lead as I just fell further back. I didn't want to run with them anyway. I hoped that the 2nd guy would be broken by the first guy and come back to me, but it never happened. I ran in third place every step of the race. As they opened up their lead on me, I did the same thing to the rest of the field.

My first mile was 5:37 and I needed to slow down. At the first traffic light on Cowan, they already had 31 and 20 second leads on me. I debated with myself about really slowing down a lot, and letting the chase pack catch me. But then I thought I'd be giving myself no chance at 2nd place. So instead I tried to slow down through the 2nd mile down the hospital hill. No such luck. 5:28. 11:05 for 2 miles. I wondered if the leader was under 10 minutes at 2 miles. I suppose that would be the place to do it. The elevation change is about 200 feet over those 2 miles. I guess that's not that big but it feels pretty big during the race! So when I got onto the canal path I tried to settle in to 5:40s or so. My next mile was 5:34. Close enough. That was 3 miles in 16:40. I thought about Justin saying on the warm-up that if he wanted to break 18 minutes in a 5k he needed to be under 11:30 at 2 miles. So here I was running about a 17:20 5k at the beginning of the half-marathon. I guess during this writeup I'll discover what my last 5k was. I hope it was under 18 minutes.

We went around Kenmore and I was 55 seconds behind the leader going around the statue. I had a bigger lead than that on 4th & 5th place. I almost slipped going around the island behind there was a big puddle and I tried to avoid it but took the turn too hard. I should have just quit then. Mile 4 was 5:35, to the corner of Kenmore and Sylvania. I got water on Mary Ball Street, my only water of the race. I was still trying to get to 5:40s, but I figured PR pace through the first 4 miles could only kill me so much. It was lonely turning onto Little Page. Someone on the corner told me I was doing great and to keep them in sight. Looking up, I could see the leader in white. I think I saw 2nd place in black pretty far behind him, but what was becoming very apparent was that I needed to use the bathroom. I couldn't think of where there would be a port-a-pottie. I found out afterwards from Vic that I'd already passed it on Mary Ball... I saw Jeannie Ellis across from the cemetery and didn't appreciate her laughing at me as I told her that she broke my legs at my massage on Friday.

Mile 5 had the cone. Up Franklin Street, around a cone, and back down Franklin Street. Michelle Dolby and Blaise were there for support, but the cone was so tight to the cones behind it that I literally had to stop in place to make it around it without hurting myself. I lost a lot of momentum there, and again for the 2nd time, should have stopped. I was looking for 4th place on my way out and was relieved to see that I had a bigger lead on 4th than 1st had on me. Big surprise though, considering after the cone my 5th mile was 5:51.

Passing the Hylands house there was ice on the road. Sign #3 to stop. Sunken Road was as long and desolate as usual, and I couldn't see anyone anymore. It's as though I just stopped running there. I crossed William Street and told Greg I needed a toilet. He told me to go around Mary Washington. Mile 6 was at the corner of Hanover and Sunken. I tried to push it up the hill after a 5:46 split, but all the times I've walked up that hill really ruined it for me. The shell trail was a disaster. I slipped a whole bunch of times. The arrows near the track gate were going the wrong direction. As I ran down the hill behind the homestretch, I looked over and saw the leader. He must have put on a big surge between Franklin and there because his lead had extended a lot. Going past the softball field I was going so fast that I could hear the mesh netting ripple as I went past it. Ha! What a joke...

The shell trail was so slow that it was a 5:59.98 split. I was relieved that it was under 6:00, somehow, but figured I'd be hard pressed to keep the rest under 6 at that point. I caught a boost running out onto Hanover seeing my friends. A truck was driving up the hill on my way down so I did my best stop sign impression and held up my hand to stop him. I was going so fast down the hill that I barely managed not to shoulder-check his passenger side view mirror. I really was trying to avoid hitting him, even if he wasn't offering me the same courtesy. I ran down Sunken looking for chip and split a 5:30 going down that long hill to 8 miles before the Cobey's house. I question the accuracy of that mile. The crowd was good and I tried to look good for them all the way through. I saw Chip around 5 miles for him, 8.2 for me, going past the Hyland's house. That was good; I could focus again on how badly I needed to go to the bathroom instead of on him. But the crowd support was nice and carried me all the way back to Sylvania in 5:39. But now I was alone again, for the most part, with 4.1 miles to go.

I thought that 51:03 was pretty good for 9 miles. I wasn't thinking too hard, but as long as I kept moving I thought that I was doing fairly well. Keeping my times out of the 5:50s was my main focus, and not getting caught. I was looking forward to Washington Avenue so I could see where the race was around me. I didn't have to wait that long as as soon as I turned onto Mary Ball, I saw the leader go by to get onto the canal. He was flying too. I waited for 2nd place to go by for the stretch of that road, but was relieved that I didn't see him until I got on top of the hill at Washington. That hill about whipped me out though. I felt my hamstrings tighten up. I don't know if it was the effort or the change in gradient on the road, or maybe I slipped a little on the wet pavement. I don't know but it was pretty uncomfortable. I slowed down a  little more at the top of the hill than I probably would have normally done. I rounded the island and headed back, hoping not to see 4th place. As I approached 10 miles in 56:55 (5:51), I couldn't help but thinking that was a fairly decent time for running 10 miles at Hartwood in August. I'm glad I didn't run that race this year! But 5:51 wasn't promising, and 4th place hadn't fallen as far behind as I would have liked. Even though I had a 5:30 and 5:39, I guess that my 5:59 let him make up a little more ground. It was some Asian home-schooled high school kid that trains with VA Runner. Batalado was concerned with him, so I expected to see Chris soon there after, but I never saw 5th place. I just focused on keeping my last 5k under 20 minutes and not getting caught by the kid.

Going onto the canal was tough. It was lonely, just like Sunken Road the first time. I knew I wasn't going to catch 2nd place. I was afraid that I'd falter badly up the hills and be caught by 4th. It went by very quickly and I didn't have much to think about. I think 11 was right before getting off the canal. I ran a 5:43. Good. Faster than the last one. Getting off the canal, I went to take the hill next to to the stairs on the right. I stepped on a root and slipped. Half embarrassed, half inflamed with pain, I'm confident I yelled; hopefully not profanity thought... there were kids working the spot. One of them told me to stay on the right... just doing his job, oblivious to the fact that I should had stopped there. There were two other people running on the road at the time, on the left side. I tried to use them as carrots since I had no one else in front of me to see. It worked a little, but as soon as I passed them I just had nothing left on the hill. It was very obvious that I haven't worked out on a hill in a long time. Combined with the pain in my right leg that I had anyway from my IT band and the new pain that I was having in my left leg from slipping up the stairs hill, I was lucky to make it out of there alive. As I passed Kim's old neighborhood, there were some people standing there and I asked if they could see anyone behind me. They sort of laughed and said no. I got to the 12th mile in a pathetic 6:24. Awful. It seems like all of my worst miles were a result of a slip or a change in momentum. I had no momentum going up that hill.

I just realized this moment while writing this that a second ago was the first time I'd mentioned the tremendous pain that I was feeling in my left knee and hip. It's just become such a consistent pain in my life since the end of September that I didn't even remember it while writing this. Sad. Definitely time for a break. Knowing that in the race, and seeing how pathetic that last mile was, I resolved to really push it up that last hill. Probably mid-hill I just turned it on. I felt a burning in my legs that hadn't been there at all yet in the race. Just aching. Scott was just past the crest over 95 and joined me until the corner between the car wash entrance and H.H. Gregg. He said I was flying. I thought about asking what the pace was, but was happy that he didn't tell me. I needed to get rid of him though so that I could slow down or at least not feel guilty about being paced on my way in. He stopped in that parking lot though, and I just had to drive for home alone. Thank goodness I didn't start kicking any sooner. Despite all that effort, I was only rewarded with a 5:52. I kept the gas on for another 36 seconds to finish in 1:15:32. The last turn with 20 meters to go was rough. I had nothing left in my legs when I crossed the line.

I was breathing hard but not like after the Turkey Trot where I just had to stop to catch my breath from the sprint. I didn't want to stop because I was cold and wanted to get away from that finish line as fast as possible. The kids in the chute didn't even know what to do when I walked past them with my chip on. I stopped at the end to let them come get it, but wanted my tin foil blanket and a pair of pants.

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