Saturday, March 26, 2011

Runnin' to Beat the Blues

I didn't know much about this race, except it takes place entirely in Centennial Park. That meant it would be almost completely flat, most likely with a ton of turns. Right after Tom King, my training took a pretty big nose dive and I was having trouble running anything much faster than 5:40 pace. I thought that my iron could be getting low again, so I doubled on my dosage for a while and was hoping for a good time to get my head on a little more straight.

I wasn't sure who would show up but my goal was to take out the race in around 4:50 for the first mile and see if I could run under 15:20. When I checked the weather that morning, it showed that some strong rain and wind was coming in, along with some chilly temperatures. I felt really good on my warm-up and was feeling optimistic about my chances.

When the gun went off, I took a couple of hundred meters to find my rhythm. I felt like I was moving pretty quickly and was alone out front. I felt like I was going to make a run at a sub 4:50 first mile and I was surprised when I hit 4:54. It felt much faster than my 4:57 at Tom King, so I was a little frustrated. I tried to grit down and push some more and felt like I was still around 5:00 pace.

There was a confusing part in the second mile and one of the monitors let me know I missed a turn. I got back on course but lost around 20 seconds or so with the confusion and having to run back on course. At this time, I knew my shot at a decent time was out the window, so I decided to just run a steady effort and not kill myself. I hit two miles in 10:22, which gave me a 5:28 second mile and I kept a solid effort to finish in 16:08 to win by a little over a minute.

I was happy to win the course but was hoping to run a faster time to give me some more confidence, especially since the Country Music Marathon is about a month away. Oh well, back to the grind.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Tom King Half Marathon

This was a really important race for me because besides the Country Music Marathon, this was the race I was most focused on. It was at the end of my speed phase and I was hoping to run an excellent time. Even though I've been racing a lot, I've had a chance to get in some good mileage and some long runs. I even had a great workout on Wednesday where I ran an eight mile progression run, with my last two miles being run at 5:10 pace and feeling completely relaxed. There's no way I could have done that last fall/winter, so I was really looking forward to what I could run. My "A" goal was to get under 69:00, with my "B" goal being under 70:00. The top three runners also got some money, as well as the top three Nashville Strider runners, so I had that on my mind as well.

My only hesitation before the race was that I haven't had very many half-marathon specific workouts. My longest tempo run has been four miles or so and I haven't had time to do the half marathon bread-and-butter workouts such as 3x5k, 6-7 mile tempos, fast finish long runs, etc. But despite that, I was feeling really confident and told Mary the day before the race that this was the most confident I've been before a race since I started running again.

I've never run the Tom King course but I've heard it has the potential to be a really fast course. Other than a mini loop in Shelby Bottoms, it's primarily much out-and-back without any real hills. Since I'm a rhythm guy, it really seemed like it would be a great course for me to run fast on. There was a guy named Stewart Ellington who runs it every year and is pretty legit, so my pre-race plan was to stick with him for a bit and then press the gas down around 8-10 miles in.

I felt really loose on the warm-up and was ready to roll. When the gun went off, I started out in second place behind some tall guy with compression socks, who at the time I thought was an overly excited triathlete or something. About a minute or two into the race, I could tell I was running too fast, so I backed off and let the guys behind me catch me before tucking in behind them. Ronald Kirui, a Kenyan who I expected to win, went by me, as well as Nate Pennington, who I knew was a good runner, but I didn't know it was him at the time. I hit the first mile in 4:58, which was way faster than I wanted. However, it was still early in the race, so I had time to adjust and backed off the intensity some.

With the reduction in pace, I was falling further behind the top three. I hit the second mile in 5:09 and was about 7-8 seconds behind with no one directly behind me. I was hoping to average around 5:15 a mile, so I tried to focus on the pace so I didn't slow down too much more. In the next mile, Nate Pennington's shoe came untied, so he stopped to tie it. While frustrating for him, this enabled me to catch up and pass him, moving into third place. Having someone to chase down and now worry about helped me regain focus and I hit three miles in 15:17, giving me a 5:10 third mile, and still way under my goal pace. By the fourth mile, I was on the Shelby Bottoms Greenway and was trying to stay ahead of Nate and slowed down to a 5:17.

In the fifth mile, I started to hurt more than I should be at that point and I still had over nine miles of racing left. In my fall half-marathon, I felt really good for 7-8 miles but tiredness was already starting to creep in. I slowed down to a 5:17 for that mile, getting passed by Nate in the process. I tried to rally back a little bit before falling behind again. I split 5:20 for that mile, which was my slowest of the day and worried me some because the pain was getting worse every mile.

At around 6.5 miles in, there is a 180 degree turnaround point before running back down the way you can for a few miles. I figured this would be a good place to pick-up my pace so the people behind me would see that I was far ahead and hopefully lose a little motivation. I passed Nate again and scoped out the people behind me. It looked like Stewart Ellington was a good 30 or more seconds behind me, with one of my running buddies, Chris Herren just behind. I figured I had at least fourth place almost locked up and got focused on trying to beat Nate and finish third.

I guess the surge before the turnaround was too big of a move because things started to get more ugly by the minute. I split the 7th mile in 5:22 and tried to kept the gas pressed down as much as I could, hoping to stay in front of Nate. When I saw the 8 mile marker, I knew the wheels were about to come off because with how I felt at this point, 5.1 miles of racing would feel like an eternity. I slowed down even more, to a 5:26 and my lead over Nate was rapidly diminishing.

The slow death march started to pick up its steam (is that possible) and Nate flew by me in the next mile and I split 5:34. I was starting to get really frustrated because I was bleeding time and no matter how hard I tried, things just got tougher and tougher. Shortly before the 10 mile mark, Stewart went by me and I went on to run a 5:33 and split 53:06. I knew sub 69:00 was out the window but thought I still could hang on for a sub 70 if I could keep my focus.

We were out of the park now and it was a straight shot back to LP Field. Immediately, I noticed the really strong headwind and to make matters worse, I had no one to draft off of. I was falling further and further behind Nate and Stewart and at this point, I knew my shot at a top three finish was out, so my goal was to not get passed by Chris so I could finish as the first Nashville Strider.

For some reason, my watch didn't save the next mile splits but maybe it was a good thing, because things got ugly. Dying in a half marathon is bad enough, but dying while trying to fight a headwind is way worse. I tried to grit down and push the best that I could but it was really tough. With a mile to go, I turned around and saw I still had a good lead on Chris, but since I was rapidly slowing down, I thought he might be able to catch me. I tried to press down on the gas for one more move but after a minute, I had to back off because I was so dead.

At this point in the race, I just wanted to be done. My shot at a good time was out the window and I was really hurting. Luckily, I was able to hold off Chris and when I got to the stadium, I just wanted to be done and stopped trying to kill myself. One cool thing about the race is that you finish on the football field and can see yourself finishing on the Jumbotron. Today, I was on the Jumbotron for quite a while. I crossed the finish line in 71:10, which meant I covered my last 5k in 18:06, even though my first 5k was under 15:50.

Ronald Kirui won in 69:10, Jay Stephenson (who I thought was the triathlete but is actually a really legit runner) was 2nd place in 69:24, Stewart was third in 69:59 and Nate was fourth in 70:40.

After the race, I tried to cool-down with Chris but after a couple of minutes, I had to stop and walk. The last thing I will do when I am supposed to be running is walk. I will jog a 20 minute mile before I let myself walk a 10 minute one. Running slowly probably means I'm dying, walking means I've given up.

In looking at prior results of the guys ahead of me, I figured the wind added about a minute, which would give me a PR but a time that was still a good bit slower than my "B" goal.

It sounds kind of crappy, but I hope I wake up sick or something tomorrow, so I have some justification for this crappy performance. I feel like I am a ton stronger than I was in the fall but as mentioned before a slight worry before this race was my lack of long tempo runs and half marathon specific workouts. I've got in my mileage and long runs, with some good sessions at 5k-10k pace, but specific-endurance and race pace stuff is the best prep for the distance you're racing.

At least this bad race will force me to clean up my diet and sleep more. When things are going well, you easily become blind to the things you need to work on.

Despite sounding like a crabby old man in this post, I was still impressed with how well the race was run off by the race directors. The post race food was really good and things were really organized and efficient before, during and after the race. Next year I will come for redemption.