Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Welcome back to the @crawlincrabhalf

I ran the Crawlin' Crab Half Marathon this past Sunday in Hampton, VA. This is a recap of the race, and I'll share some reflections on the race in another post later.

The race started at 8am at the Hampton Roads Convention Center under perfect conditions. I'd been monitoring the weather all week long, and it was actually cooler than I was expecting and I was a little unprepared for the weather on my warm up. KC and I went down the morning of the race from Williamsburg, where we were staying with my sister. On the drive down, we stopped at WaWa to use the bathroom. I also finally took the opportunity to look at what my splits were for the first few miles in Philadelphia in September 2011. I meant to do this earlier, because I remember going out slower there before getting onto the pace and running aggressively in the middle of the race. I also looked at my paces from the Historic Half in May 2012. I had a faster 10 miles in May than I did in September, but then the hills in the last 5k slowed me down. But I had that information now, and I knew how slow I wanted to go out in the first mile.

After surveying the scene, and moving the car closer to the start/finish line area, I started my 20 minute warm up. I went out along the first mile of the course so I'd have some idea where I was going, albeit briefly. Luckily the first mile was the same as the last mile, so I got a nice preview of the first and third (last) hill on the course-- the bridge over I-64 before the Coliseum. I got back with enough time to stretch a little bit, use the bathroom in the convention center, and hop the fence into the starting area 90 seconds before the gun went off.

I set out very comfortably and found myself in the lead instantly. This race didn't have someone going out ridiculously fast in the first 400 meters to slow down to a crawl, and I was a little surprised. But I felt that I was running slowly and controlled, as was my plan, so I focused on relaxing and running the tangents.

For the first mile, it felt like there were only two other people in the race. One runner was glued to my heels. He never touched me, but I could feel him there. Another runner was running on the edge of the road on my left-- pretty much doing the opposite of running the tangents. We curved out of the Convention Center parking lot and took a hard left towards the overpass and uphill. Cresting the hill we were weaving a little to the right until we took another hard left. This guy made it a point to run on the edge of the road it seemed, so there were times that I could see that he was ahead of me, but as we actually got to the corners to turn, I had the advantage because I was running straight. We got to the first mile in 5:41. Perfect. I started to pick it up to get down to race pace. In Philly, I went 5:40, 5:25. A little after the mile, we went through a water stop and passed a DJ. I took water and accelerated again as I went through a big intersection, and was alone. The guy off the tangents and the guy on my heels were gone. I couldn't feel them or hear them. I certainly wasn't going to look for them. I just stared ahead, past the two lead cyclists, two lead police cars, and at the big white pick-up truck that was the first lead vehicle. I focused my attention on that truck so I'd know where we were going to go and could follow the tangents as much as possible.

2nd place looming
The adrenaline got to me a bit too much and I went through the 2nd mile in 5:16. More aggressive than I'd planned for mile 2, but I could settle in and be ok. The next mile was a reasonably straight road with a slight bend and I just kept going and told myself to control the race one mile at a time. People were at the intersections cheering and I gave them the thumbs up as I passed. Mile 3 was a 5:23, and I hit the 5k in 16:56. "Good, stay relaxed," I thought. It felt easy and I scoffed at the idea that I'd run a 5k in April in 17:11. The sun was coming up and I felt great. The air was cool and there was no breeze. Right after 5K I went through a drink station that only had Gatorade. I asked for water and they said it was just ahead. That's when we entered what I assume was Downtown Hampton. This part of the course had 9 turns on narrow streets with close buildings. It was like running in the dark for a while, because there was so much shade. I missed the 4 mile mark because I was so focused on finding the water station, but it never appeared. While navigating these tight turns, I noticed that the people cheering for me didn't STOP cheering before the 2nd place runner came, so I knew that he was still close by.

Leaving Downtown Hampton, I was disappointed I didn't get water, but I was also disoriented about how far I'd run. I knew I missed a mile marker, but in my mind I started to think I'd missed mile 5 instead of mile 4. I didn't look at my watch though, because I didn't want to be heart broken to see that I hadn't missed any marks. I just kept going and tried to run as smoothly as possible. Mile 5 came and went in 27:03, so I ran 10:41 for two miles from 3-5. Good. Faster than PR pace, but I was disappointed that it wasn't the 6th mile. Before I got there I started telling myself "You're almost half way finished!" That was premature. I kept pushing though, because I knew that second runner was back there. I got to the 6th mile with a 5:22-- still moving well, and then hit 10K in 33:33. That's just 30 seconds slower than I ran for a full 10K race three weeks before!

Thanks marathonfoto!
I never looked back, but as I took a turn passing a Cub Scout troop after the 10K, one of the parents told me that 2nd place was splitting something in the 33:50s. So I had a bigger cushion. The cheering wasn't lasting for him anymore. That turn with the Cub Scouts was a beautiful one, as I started running along the water on Chesapeake Avenue. Seriously beautiful. I wish I had the money to live there one day. With nice little houses across the street, there were people standing out of their front door with coffee cups cheering for me. This stretch of the course was probably close to two miles long. I was looking ahead wondering if I'd be able to see the Coliseum from there. Looking back, that was stupid, considering I couldn't even see the thing from the Target that was a half mile away. But I went through miles 7 and 8 with splits of 5:20 and 5:25, respectively. That 5:25 may have been the result of the fact that the course had a little incline on it. Or maybe it was the breeze coming off of the water. Or maybe it was the fact that I took a GU and there was no water stop in sight. I don't know, but I wasn't worried. The race was still going well. I kept pushing hard, because if I wasn't racing against a person, I at least wanted to race the clock, and I thought I might be able to PR. All I could remember were the 10 mile splits from Philly and the Historic Half, so I kept racing to that 10 mile mark. "Just get to 10 miles, and then it's a 5K," I thought. But I was also telling myself to take it one mile at a time. So how's that work out?

The 9th mile was tough too, because it had the wind from the water, and then somehow a head wind as I turned and ran directly away from the water. That made no sense, but the 5:26 was worrying me. Next I turned onto a big road, maybe 3 lanes in each direction, but the breeze was gone. "Keep pushing, keep pushing, you're getting closer." I wanted to look back pretty badly, but didn't want someone to think I was tired. I didn't even look as I went around the corners. I refused to show weakness at this point. Not yet. I just kept my eyes on that white pickup truck showing me where I'd be going. A welcomed water stop before 10 miles let me get a drink and for the first time I put water onto my face and chest to cool myself down after running into the sun. My 10th mile was better, a 5:22, but my total time was now 54 minutes flat. Slower than both other races. "That's ok, you can still run fast, it doesn't have to be a PR," I thought. I told KC as I went to the starting line that I was hoping to run in the 71 minutes, so it looks like I was right. About a half mile after 10, we turned off of this big road and went towards the Interstate. The cyclist who had been closest to me turned around to say something to me for the first time all morning. I had to ask him to repeat himself three times because I couldn't hear or understand him. He was telling me that 2nd place was just entering the water stop. That meant I had a pretty big lead.

The overpass over I-664 was the first real hill since mile 1, and I struggled up it as I felt my legs getting tired. As I crested the hill, I woke up and remembered I was in a race and did my best to pick it up. I'm not very good at running fast downhill. I passed a church on my left that had a familiar name, and I realized it was the same name as the group who was working at the first water station. I was getting close! Mile 11 was tough though, with the hill I only managed a 5:28. Things were starting to fall apart. I was getting tight and I started to clench up in my face and arms. I was biting the inside of my lip. I felt like I had the race in the bag and started to slow down. I got back to the big intersection where I'd made my break from the race. I passed the DJ I'd seen on the warmup and he cheered for me, and said he knew I was going to win and he'd put his money on me. Passing him and the church water stop to mile 12, the race never felt more isolated. Any crowds that would be there cheering would move to the finish line. That's the tough part about the last mile of a race sometimes... no one wants to see you in the last mile, they want to see the finish. Mile 12 was another 5:28. "Finish strong," I thought, as I got ready for the last hill and tried to keep pushing.

When I got to the base of the last uphill over I-64, I pushed hard. I knew what was between me and the finish. On the other side I opened up. I wasn't leaving anything on that course. It was steeper going down than it was going up and it was hard to go without losing control. But I rounded the last turn and went into the road to the Convention Center and the finish line. I passed the 13th mile and took my split without looking at it, just driving as hard as I could. I wasn't saving anything for the next race, nothing else mattered right then. Forget the hamstrings, just go! I saw the time as the finish line came into focus and it said 1:10:30. Push! Pump! I couldn't stop myself from looking at the clock as I approached. I needed to know that finishing time, and my watch meant nothing.


A two second personal best. In a race where I lead wire-to-wire and ran alone for 12 miles to win by almost two full minutes. My last mile was 5:22 and I closed in 29 seconds. I could not be happier.

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Race Photos