Signing up for this race wasn't the smartest thing I've done. I've been doing really low volume training for the past several weeks, and haven't run anything "fast" in quite some time. And there's the achilles tendon issue that I'm just now getting over. But since Patrick Cheptoek wasn't running this year, I decided to give it a go. I ran a half-marathon in nearly the same situation this past spring, and had a great spring season, so I was hoping things would work out.
I really didn't know who would show up to the race. Justus David is a sub 29:00 10k guy who is now running on the roads around the area. He won the Middle Half last week, so I figured he probably wouldn't come down for this. Brian Shelton ran it last year, and lives in the same town, so I figured he would be there. He has been training very hard and getting in good shape, so I knew he would be tough to beat. I was focusing strictly on place here. If I couldn't win, I would let the winner go and run with the second place guy and try to drop him the last 5k. If I couldn't get second, I would aim for third. If I couldn't get third, I would just use it as a training run. I had a bit of a sissy attitude, but I had no business running this race and didn't really care about the result, so I would at least play it somewhat smart.
Fortunately, only two guys I had to worry about showed up. Brian, of course and Festus Chemaoi, who I've battled in several races in the past. Brian knew that I have been hurt, so I couldn't bluff on him, but I could with Festus. Festus is more of a middle distance guy, so the half-marathon distance is a little bit long for him. He also knows that I'm better the longer the race gets, so I was hoping to use that to my advantage. But he always runs hard from the gun, so I knew I would have to play "chicken" and hope he got broken or gave in before than I did.
The course is somewhat rolling and has a lot of long straightaways before heading into the neighborhood about halfway through. The neighborhood has a lot of quick turns and you can't see very far ahead, so I knew if I could build up a lead over Festus by then, I would be able to "hide" with the hope of him letting me go. So my plan was to go out with him, act like I was the 64 minute half-marathoner that I was in the spring and hang on for at least six miles.
From the gun, we got out pretty quick. Last year, the pace was relaxed, and we came through the mile in 5:15. However, this year, Festus and I went through in 4:58 and followed that with a 4:57. It honestly felt pretty relaxed and controlled and for a while, I thought I could make a run at the state record of 66:49. But over the years, I've noticed that no matter how fit you are, the first couple of miles always feel the same, it's what happens afterwards that is entirely different.
At this point in the race, I started to slowly drop Festus. I knew that I could potentially blow up late in the race, so I tried my best to push the pace until the neighborhood. I went through the next two miles in 10:27 and could tell fatigue was rapidly coming on. I didn't know how I would last until six miles but I tried to keep on pressing because it appeared I was building up a more substantial gap.
In the fifth mile, I started to really feel the pace and when I hit six miles, I ran the prior two miles over 11 minutes and had visions of an ugly death with a lot of walking. I have never been this tired six miles into a half-marathon and things were becoming worse with every mile.
I did my best to hang on and tried to keep the splits under 5:30, even though it was hard. I could tell my legs were moving very slowly but my gas tank couldn't force them along. At this point, I was actually hurting less because I couldn't run at a high intensity anymore. When I'm in-shape, I hurt pretty early, but since I'm fit, I'm able to "hold my hand close to the fire" for a long time because I have the aerobic support to do so. I will feel like I'm on the verge of completely falling apart, but it never happens. But when I'm out-of-shape, I go from feeling good to feeling crappy pretty quickly and after that, I'm not able to run as hard anymore.
With a couple of miles to go, I was pretty certain I had the victory but I didn't want to relax too much. I didn't catch Josh Hite until the last mile (he runs the course before the races starts every year, to make sure the mileage markers are in the right spot, there's nothing wrong with the course, etc.) while in the year prior, I caught him about halfway through the race. At this point last year, I was running 5:00ish miles but today, I had to be satisfied with 5:30s.
Shortly before the finish line, the Tennessee Tech mascot jumped onto the course and thought it would be a good idea to chest bump me. I thought I could pull it off, but as you can see, it didn't work too well.
I crossed the line at 70:03 (69:53 in the results) and was pretty spent. I was able to win by a few minutes, downed more than my fair share of chocolate milk and went home with some money. It was a good day but I know I have a long road ahead of me. I feel like I'm at least as fit as I was at Tom King Half-Marathon this past March, where I ran 68:34 and shortly after that, I was running pretty well, so I'm hoping for the same scenario here.
I'm always surprised there's not more Nashville area people at this race. I enjoy the course a lot (even though it felt a lot hillier this year...lack of fitness kills), it has a cool race environment, and the shirts and medals are always really cool.