I really hate half-marathons. With marathons, the the key is to stay relaxed and patient for the first 13-15 miles, with pain not really settling in until after that. With the 10k, the pace is intense and the wheels have some fast rpms but the race doesn't last very long. The half-marathon is a combination of the worst aspects of those two races. You get the intense gasping for air pain that the 10k gives, as well as the extreme all-around body fatigue that the marathon generously offers. The perfect explanation for the half-marathon is a tempo run where you die terribly the last few miles. I've run four of them, with only two of those being races. Both of those races were painful experiences for me.
I went into the race hoping that no one really fast would show up so I could run a 1:10-1:11 and use it as a marathon workout. Half-marathons are very hard on the body and take a lot of time to recover from. I wouldn't consider racing a half-marathon any less than four weeks out from a marathon, and even that is a little close. However, I was mentally prepared to race if I had to.
If I had to race, I wanted to at least run under 69:00 and with a great day, felt I could sneak close to 68:00. With my busy schedule, I really haven't had much time to get in any good, consistent half-marathon type workouts. I knew the mileage made me somewhat strong but being strong and half-marathon strong are two different things.
Two weeks before this, I got in just a hair under 116 miles for the week with a really good marathon workout. This week, I got in a little under 100 but backed off the intensity enough where I wasn't going into the race worn out. The race was in Cookeville, which is a little over an hour drive. The race started at 7am, so that meant a very early 3:15am wake-up. Luckily, I was having some company on the road with me. Ryan Chastain was riding down with me to experience his first half-marathon. He was more of a miler/5k guy in college but is a very tough long distance runner nonetheless.
Because it was still pitch black at 6:00am, it was hard to find out where to get our packets. We finally figured everything out, picked our stuff up and headed out for a 15 minute warm-up. The race weather was near perfect...just under 35 degrees, with it working its way to low 40s over the course of the race.
At the line, I saw my friend Bradley Chronister, who is a pretty solid runner and after looking over my shoulder, I got nervous because I saw Patrick Cheptoek and Micah Tirop behind me. Patrick absolutely destroyed my at the Goodlettsville Classic. I led him for a little over a mile before he put almost a minute on me in a little bit over two miles. I felt like a baby mouse playing with a lion. Micah is also very tough as well. He thoroughly spanked me the only two times we've raced but since he ran The Middle Half last week, I knew he'd be tired and thought I could have a shot of staying somewhat close if I played my cards right.
When the gun went off, some guy I didn't recognize took the lead and I filed in behind. I was a little nervous running ahead of Patrick and Micah but the pace wasn't very fast and I decided to go for a new PR.
I finished the first mile in 5:14 in a pack with five other guys. Micah and Patrick then took the lead, so I went with them. This mile had a pretty good downhill in it, so we ran a much faster, 4:59. I knew the next mile was uphill and the pace felt fast, so I gave them a bit of a gap in the third mile. In both half-marathons I've raced, I went out too fast and died terribly at the end, so I didn't want to make that mistake here.
Patrick and Micah continued to run together and were about 10 seconds ahead of me. My plan was to stay patient, keep them in site and maybe catch up to Micah if Patrick dropped him. Within the next few minutes, Patrick put in a small gap, so that's when I got focused and had a goal to slowly catch Micah in the next two miles or so.
The middle of the race included a lot of turns and small hills. I noticed that whenever I ran up a hill, I would make up a second or so on Micah, which gave me confidence because I'm a pretty bad hill runner. Shortly after the halfway point, I was only a few seconds away and then shortly after that, I caught up. He accelerated when I pulled up beside him but I stayed with him. I didn't want to make any moves because there was still a lot of racing left but I wanted to let him know I wasn't going anywhere.
Within the next few minutes, I slowly pulled away and did my best to keep Patrick, who was about 15-20 seconds ahead, somewhat close. I knew I wouldn't be able to beat him but I was hoping he would pull me to a fast time. At this point in the race, I knew I was going most likely going to break 68:00. At the Tom King half-marathon, I started to die around eight miles but in this race, I went through eight miles feeling really good. I knew I needed to stay focused until the 10th mile because that's when I started to really struggle at The Middle Half last year.
I went through ten miles feeling good and then decided I could make a run at sub 67:00. I had some muscle fatigue in my hamstrings and butt from all of the hills but aerobically, I was still really strong. I pushed down on the accelerator because I really didn't want to see 67:00 or 67:01 on the clock.
The last 5k included some more hills but I tried to stay strong on them so I wouldn't lose any additional seconds. With a mile to go, I was pretty certain I'd get sub 67:00. At this point, I was running consistent 5:00-5:05 miles but I didn't want to take it for granted. When I hit the final straightaway, I knew I had sub 67:00 in the bag and I crossed the line in 66:54 for 2nd place. Patrick had an easy win in 66:33, Micah was 3rd in 67:56 and Ryan ran really win to seal up 4th place in 68:10.
After last year's Middle Half, I had to lay down on the ground for a few minutes and after this year's Tom King half, I couldn't jog for more than a minute before having to walk. After today's raise, I was able to get in a good cool-down with Patrick without much trouble and there was never a point in the race where I didn't feel strong.
I was really pumped because I thought I was nowhere near that fitness level. Later on, I saw I set a new state record for 30 year old's and was only a few seconds from the open state record. Micah ran sub 66:00 last year but it's not listed as a record, which doesn't make sense. Maybe you have to be a U.S. citizen but fast running is fast running and if you live in Tennessee, you should be eligible for the record. Anyway, it was a great day and I feel like I'm where I need to be to make the assault at 2:19. It's now time to get full-fledged into marathon mode and ramp up the miles.
Mile splits: 5:14, 4:59, 5:07, 5:10, 5:03, 5:17, 5:10, 5:07, 5:08, 10:02 (2 miles), 5:05, 5:01