The plan was for this half to be my final tune up race for the Philadelphia marathon, but things have not been going to plan for quite some time when it comes to my running. The misery started last October when I injured my right hamstring while training for the New York marathon. I managed to run the marathon and do pretty well, but the hamstring injury lingered, and forced me into a long period of rest and rehab. I was not able to run almost all winter, and had to settle for just a little light jogging with plenty of rest all spring.
By June, my hamstring injury made good progress, and I was able to put in some decent mileage, and in July was able to start with some faster running. I had my heart set on a November marathon, but I think in hindsight that desire combined with having missed so many months of training forced me into an overly aggressive build up that had a good chance of ending badly. And at this point I would say it has ended badly. I have had recurring issues with my left quad and/or hip since late summer, and ever since a 20 mile run a week and a half ago, it has been throwing fits every time I run. If that wasn't enough, I've been having recurring pain on top of my left foot, and my right posterior tibial tendon is inflamed. In addition, I have been having recurring intestinal issues that cost me the better part of a week of training in late May, and again in mid September, when I think my frustration peaked this year.
The week before this race I trained with the hope that I was going to be able to nurse myself to Philadelphia, but that ended the week of the race when the situation with my quad deteriorated rapidly. After a hard workout on Sunday that left me with a limp, I took Monday and Tuesday off hoping to get some healing. The rest helped, but a 9 mile run on Wednesday made it clear that a longer layoff will be required. I cut my planned 9 miles to 4 miles on Thursday, and I think that's when I decided to make this the season finale rather than a tune up.
I did not run Friday to get the leg a little more recovery. I ran an easy 6 miles on Saturday because I typically feel sluggish after a day off, and considered it necessary to get a little work in before the race. Training hard the previous week and missing and cutting short most runs the following week is not ideal lead up to a race in my mind. This made me nervous, but I tried to not think about that and just go out and run. What made me more nervous was how much worse my leg felt after the 6 miles on Saturday. I was worried racing 13.1 miles could really do some damage, but at the same time I really wanted to get something out of all the training I put in. Maybe not the best idea, but I decided I would give it a try.
This is a small race (about 400 participants) in a rural North Western New Jersey town, but to the credit of the organizers it's put together like one of the bigger, well run events. There are shuttles from parking to a middle school, where competitors got to hang out at a heated gym before the start. This was a nice touch on a chilly morning, as was the availability of real bathrooms. Laying around on the gym floor I almost felt like I was at an indoor track meet for the first time in ages. I almost got a little sentimental, there. But not too much.
I believe the event was a success last year, and word got around, because for a race this small, quite of few pretty strong runners showed up. Listed start time was 9 am, so I got up at 8:35, warmed up for about 10 minutes, and went over to the start. And here came my only gripe with the event. They didn't start on time. It went off 15 minutes late because the RD was waiting for people to finish their bathroom business. I HATE when I warm up expecting an on time start and the race starts late, but thankfully, the delay wasn't ridiculously long, and around 9:15 off we went.
The RD called the course "flat and fast." I am not sure I would go so far as calling it "flat." I mean, look at the picture below. Does that look "flat?" It is a two loop course along rural roads. There are corn fields, cows, horses, the charming smell of manure, and of course, a few rolling hills spanning the first 3 miles of the loop. Nothing terrible, but noticeable. More obnoxious than the surprise hills were the long sections of road where you had to run into the wind, and the barren landscape, and the low number of competitors. Running through a barren corn field all alone with the wind pushing you back has a way of making me pay attention to how exhausted I am getting, which is not a good thing. I would say 11 out of the 13.1 miles were a time trial, and time trialing to a fast time is not easy.
Which brings me back to my goal for this race. At a minimum, I was hoping to run 1:19:00 or better to meet the new guaranteed entry standard for the New York marathon. Secretly, I was hoping I could be closer to 1:17. This is the result, splits recorded at the mile markers:
1 mi 6:12.01
1.01 mi 5:56.4
1.01 mi 6:05.85
2.03 mi 12:05.15
1.01 mi 5:55.72
1.01 mi 6:01.15
1 mi 6:02.88
1.02 mi 5:59.7
2.01 mi 12:03.6
1.01 mi 6:08.95
1 mi 5:44
0.11 mi 0:36
Not quite the time I hoped for, but I got my NYC qualifier and a hard fought 42 second PR at the distance.
I spent the first few miles figuring out how I felt. I started out fairly gingerly, and with the biggest hill of the race coming at the end of the first mile, mule 1 was my slowest of the race. Halfway through loop 1 I remember thinking that I was not feeling that great, but the second half of the loop seemed a little net down hill and with the wind at my back, so I recovered a little and thought that maybe I wasn't feeling so bad about the prospects for a 1:19. At any rate, I could tell that a 1:17 was not in the cards, and decided that I would run to hit the NYC qualifier. A 1:19 is right around 6:02 per mile, and that seemed to be the fastest I felt comfortable running without thinking I was about to blow up, so my mid race strategy turned to trying to run splits right around 6:00-6:03 to put myself in position, and hope to summon the anaerobic reserves in the last mile to get over the hump.
By the end of the loop and at the beginning of the second loop I caught up to a couple few guys that left me early on. I got up to as high as 3rd place, but eventual 3rd place caught me with 2 miles to go, and I couldn't hang with him over the last mile. The hills and the wind on miles 7, 8, and 9 took their toll. I remember that miles 9, 10, and 11 really sucked. I felt like I was close to blowing up, and had the urge to slow down or drop out. I kept telling myself that this is actually good because that's how I felt in both of my other good half marathons. When eventual 3rd place caught me at the start of mile 12, I relaxed just a bit and took a light breather to gather myself for the final push to the finish. He took off at probably a 5:3x pace at the 12 mile marker. I followed the best I could, but couldn't stay with him, and managed around a 5:44 13th mile, which is what got me under 1:19.
The last couple of minutes of the race were interesting because my watch was displaying hours and minutes, but not seconds. At 1:17, I could see the finish, but without seeing the seconds, I couldn't tell if I was close enough to finish under 1:19. I kept running hard, but at this point my legs were starting to tie up, and I felt like I was slowing. When my watch showed 1:18, I was still far enough from the finish that I couldn't read the finish line clock, which resulted in a few anxious moments until finally, around 100m from the line I saw I still had around 30 seconds, and I could tell I would get there in time.
I crossed the line pretty happy. Rolled around and sat around on the ground for a bit to catch my breath, drank a couple of red bulls they were nice enough to put out, and got a free quad/hip massage, which actually seemed to help my ailment. I got my NYC qualifier and my leg didn't blow up, so I am pleased. Now it's time to let it heal. So no running for a while. And probably no marathon this November. But I am alright with that because at least 2012 hasn't been a total loss.