Unfortunately, I had my worst race as a Tennessee resident at last year's edition of the race. I felt pretty fit but tanked pretty badly. Whenever I run a half-marathon, I think about how tired I was at the 10 mile marker of that race with the goal of never feeling that bad at 10 miles into a half-marathon again. Based off how my workouts were going, I was expecting to run no faster than 70 minutes. I was struggling to close my progression runs at 5:30 pace, but I was hoping I could click off 5:20s in a race environment.
When the gun went off, I didn't want to stupidly take off like last year, so I tucked in behind the guy I figured to be the main threat. Some kid in a college uniform was up there as was well but after a couple of minutes, he started to fall back. When there's two guys right in front of you, you can run right behind them and not be a chump. However, if there's only one other guy with you, it's an unspoken racing rule that you have to run side-by-side, so one guy doesn't do all the work, while the other person reaps all the benefits. People unfortunately do it in their day-to-day lives, but it has no part in the racing world.
When I was giving fuel support to Chris Herren at this past Rocket City Marathon, there was a guy who tucked-in right behind another runner for a solid 10+ miles, while the other guy ran into a 15 mile an hour headwind. He was so close that he would have known the runner he was stuck on farted before the farting runner did. Then after the race, the kid was complaining to someone how windy it was during the race. Go figure. I debated asking Mary to take the wheel so I could jump out of the window and tackle him. It is now one of my life goals to find a race that guy usually wins, run right on his heels the entire race, and then literally and figuratively spank him as I outkick him at the very end.
After we were getting close to a mile, we were separating a good bit from the third place guy and I knew it would most likely be a two-man race. I didn't see the first mile marker, but it felt fast. A couple of minutes later, it felt like my right shoelace popped or something. I figured my shoes were untied but after giving my best glance at it (which is hard to do during a race), it appeared the first three rows of laces lost all of their tension because of the moronic way I tied my chip to my shoe. My shoe was now slipping and I figured it would come off at any second. I knew if I stopped, I'd lose an easy 10 or more seconds, which could cost me the win, so I didn't want to toy with it. It was driving me crazy because I'm OCD about my shoe lace tension. I'll tie each shoe at least twice before a run, to make sure they are both the same tightness. Even if I'm doing an easy jog, if one shoe feels SLIGHTLY tighter than the other, I have to stop right away and make them the same tension. But being a headcase during a race is recipe for a disaster. Once you let negative thoughts creep into your mind, instead of focusing on the task at hand, your race is about to unravel (like my shoe laces). I decided to forget about it and run until it came off.
We went through two miles in 10:34 and at this point, I thought I had about a 25% chance to win. The other guy wasn't showing any signs of tiring and I wasn't feeling very smooth at all. If 5:17s felt this uncomfortable, I didn't know how I would be able to manage 5:20s for another 11.1 miles. When we entered Shelby Bottoms Greenway, we kept the same rhythm, splitting 5:16 and 5:18 for the next two miles. In the fifth mile, I became a little too giddy a little too early and built a two or three second lead with a 5:12 split. I knew it was probably too early to move but he gave me the lead and once someone gives you that power, you take it and hope someone doesn't call your bluff.
In past experiences, if someone gives me a little lead, they will slowly fall further behind, but this guy was hanging on strongly. I tried to continue to press down on the gas and hoped I would get a boost from seeing my friends run after the turnaround. I hit the turnaround hoping my lead would be close to 10 seconds by this point but the guy was still hanging on very well.
A lot of times, I struggle running against traffic in a race. I'm pretty ADD, so it's hard for me to focus on pressing ahead and hammering when people are running towards me. However, I considered this an advantage for me in this race because I had a lot of my friends running the race, who would help me press a little harder while the guy I was racing probably didn't know anyone and wasn't getting that added boost.
I split 5:16 for the sixth mile and started to lose a little bit of focus but then John Ramsey ran by and yelled a nice selection of words that woke me back up and got me moving again, which reflected in my 5:11 next mile. The Monkey Man, Trent Rosenbloom also sped me up a few minutes later and I hit the 8th mile with a 5:10 split.
The eighth mile was when things started to get really difficult for me last year, so I took a quick mental check and even though my body was starting to get banged up and I was hurting, I felt like I had at least two or three more solid miles in me and was hoping that would be enough to build a decent sized gap and mentally crack the guy.
I continued to get a nice boost from seeing all of my friends and having them cheer me on, which definitely made the race more tolerable. It also put some added pressure on me because everyone saw me leading when I ran by and I knew they would check the results or ask me if I held the guy off. Not to mention, I am a Nashville Strider and didn't want to lose to an out-of-town guy in a Striders race. And even though bald guys have their camaraderie, I didn't want to get beat by one.
The course branches off onto another path before exiting the park. I took a quick glance behind me and saw the guy still within 10 seconds of me and knew that one bad mile would give him the fuel to chase me down. After the branch off, you don't see any more runners and I used the quiet seclusion as a chance to buckle down and continue to press on. I ran 5:16 for the next mile and 10:24 for the next two miles after that. I was hanging on strong but was also expecting to start to fall apart anytime soon.
Because this guy appeared to be freshly out of college, I knew he could probably pull himself together to throw together a solid last mile if he smelled blood in the water, so I used the 12th mile as a time to pick it up and hopefully put the final nail in the coffin. I ended up running 5:06 for this mile, which was my fastest mile of the day and was able to put an extra 10-15 seconds on the guy and at that point, I knew I had the win.
If I'm in shape and race a half-marathon hard, I'm usually hurting pretty badly for a couple of days and won't be able to run anything fast in training for at least 4-5 days. The fact that I was still really rusty with only a few weeks of easy running behind me, I knew I would be completely jacked up if I hammered until the end. Once I got near the stadium, I backed off the pace and tried to enjoy the rest of the race and ran my last 1.1 miles at 5:20 pace, which was probably my slowest mile of the day.
I crossed the line in 68:34, which was over 1:30 faster than I thought I could run. I am really pleased with my current fitness level because I feel I have a ton of room to improve these next few months. I also felt like I could have run sub 5:00 that last mile if I would have run it all out, which would have put me in the lower 68s. While aerobically, I wasn't completely trashed, my body quickly felt the effects of the race. My left calf and hamstring were really painful and it was very hard to muster a 3/4 mile cool-down with Travis Couch and Jeff Bandy.
This may have been my favorite road racing win. If I would have known 68:34 would have won, I wouldn't have thought I had a chance at victory. It felt good to run so well after some big time running lows. I haven't decided what my next big race will be but it feels good to be ahead of schedule, time-wise. I still feel like my body is still at least a month of away from being strong enough to do consistent hard workouts, so it's back to some more base mileage for now.