I was supposed to run the Boston Marathon in April but got a little overtrained, so I had to bail a few weeks out. In September, I was messing around on the internet and was checking out the BAA Half-Marathon. The course looked pretty tough but money went 10 deep. In most recent years, I felt like I could have finished around 5th or 6th and after a couple of emails, I was set to compete.
Going into the race, I wasn't where I wanted to be, fitness wise, at that point in my training cycle but I still felt I was in decent shape. Maybe if the course was completely flat, I could run sub 64:30. When I got the list of runners in the elite field, I must admit that I was a little bummed at first because there were 21 guys on the list, with me being closer to 21st than 10th place. But in races, you never know what will happen and at least there would be some guys to run with and try to chase down.
On paper, the course looked pretty difficult. It's mostly downhill the first half, with you climbing back up the second half. Not my style. If I HAD to have a lot of uphill running, I would much prefer the reverse route...uphill first half, with downhill the second. But I wasn't expecting to run an Olympic Trials qualifier yet, I was just looking to go out there, race hard and see where my chips fell.
I got into Boston early on Friday afternoon. I was rooming with Jeffrey Eggleston, who's run the marathon for the US in a couple of world championships. While I've never met the guy in person, I've emailed a little bit with him in the past about some training stuff. He's sort of like me (except faster) in that he trains almost entirely alone, follows somewhat of a Canova philosophy and likes to run marathons frequently. I figure I could annoy him with some more questions and pick his brain a little bit more. We went for an easy run and then checked out some places for dinner. While I was scoping out some pizza joints, we ended up eating at an Ethiopian place. I've only had Ethiopian food one other time in my life but it was really good and seemed a little similar to Indian food, except of using silverware, you use a spongy sourdough-type bread called injera. It even inspired me to buy some teff and most likely butcher a meal and destroy the kitchen in the near future.
Saturday, we just bummed around and I was able to meet up with Miles Malbrough, who I coached his freshman year of track and sophomore year of cross country. The kid is now going to Harvard and is probably a future senator or something. After running with Miles and Jeffrey, I went on a tour of the half-marathon course. I usually don't get a lot out of course tours because it's hard to imagine racing when you are in a bus, with a ton of other cars on the road, but it gave me something to do. And seeing almost the entirely uphill seventh mile freaked me out a bit. I then killed a couple of hours and then went to our meeting, followed by dinner and after several episodes of Workaholics, went to bed.
Leading up to the race, there were a few drop-outs and I now felt like I was around 11th-12th on paper. Jeffrey and I talked about the race a little bit and I told him that since I'm around 12th on paper, I could very likely crack into the money spots, because my made up law of numbers state that when there's that many guys, at least one will drop out because of injury and 1-2 will bomb. So I said that I could very likely grab some money, and after a long pause, added, if I wasn't one of the guys who bombed.
Before the race I warmed up for a couple of miles with Chris Barnicle and Aaron Braun and we ran down the hill that we had to run back up at the end of the race. It didn't look fun. Everyone then broke into their own warm-up routines and I did a few drills and some strides because that's all I really ever do.
When the race started, everyone shot off. I followed my usual style of hanging back, watching the people in front of me and seeing who I could potentially hunt down later. Within the first couple of minutes, Mark Kenneally, Aaron, Chris and Tekeste Kebede formed a pack, with Jeffrey a few seconds back, followed by me. The guys ahead of them were way gone. I caught up to Jeffrey shortly and we went through the first mile in 4:37. That was my fastest mile I've ever run in a half-marathon but then again, it was mostly downhill. At this point, we were probably about 8-10 seconds behind the quartet. Since it was still really early, I didn't expect any of them to falter for a while but was hoping I'd be able to catch one of the those shortly before halfway.
Jeffrey left me a couple minutes later and I was on my own. I didn't mind it so much because it gave me a chance to mentally find my rhythm. I knew the next couple of miles were going to be slightly downhill, so I was expecting to run them just under 4:50. However, my next two miles were: 4:56 and 4:57. I was getting a bit frustrated because while it felt like I was running half-marathon effort aerobically, my legs felt completely flat. Jeffrey was pulling away at this point, and the pack of four turned into three as Kebede, and was shortly passed by me.
The downhills were over and it was now time for a little bit of climbing. I was expecting to start to rig a little bit up the hills but I surprisignly didn't feel that bad. Yeah, my splits weren't the greatest but my hips weren't feeling insanely tight, my quads weren't feeling weak and I wasn't leaning so far forward that I could almost smell the road, like I usually do on tough hills.
With the slower splits, I knew sub 65:00 was out of the question but I was hoping to try and stay under 5:00 pace, which would give me about a 65:30. And, it was easy to do the math when I saw the clocks with the total time every mile. At six miles, I snuck under 5:00 for what would be my last sub 5:00 mile of the race. Part of me wanted to keep on pushing but mentally, I was defeated and somewhat checked out. I really didn't feel like running anymore but wasn't going to drop out. And I even ended up passing one of the Ethiopian studs, who was limping. Guess my rule of numbers is a fact.
From there, the miles got slower and my overall time got closer to a 5:00 average. I was surprised to run the 7th mile in 5:10 (toughest mile of the course) but that was the last good thing about the race. At eight miles, I was at 39:32 (still can maybe get it), my nine mile time was 44:47 (it's coming for me) and at 10 miles, I was officially over a 5:00 average pace with a 50:07 cummulative time (and just under a 5:20 mile). Once I saw that split, I really became discouraged and came back with a 5:40 mile. When I saw that split, my first thought was that if I did that again, Kim Smith may catch up and pass me. I haven't been chicked since 2008 and since I've run a half-marathon a few minutes faster than the women's world record, I did not want that to happen.
I sped up a little bit as I entered the Franklin Zoo. This part of the course was pretty tough because you had a ton of zig-zags and even ran down this super skinny (literally about 1.5 feet wide) road for about 30 seconds, with overgrown vegetation smacking you in the legs. After I left the zoo, I was happy to see the 12th mile sign because that meant I was almost done. At this point, I was hoping someone would "Old Yeller" me but I kept on. I wasn't sure what my overall time was going to be but was hoping it would be in the 66s. I entered the track, finish up my last .1 miles and crossed the line in 67:17, to finish 13th. I wasn't so much bummed as embarrassed. I got brought up here to run well and I had my worst completed race since college. I dreaded walking back over to the tent because I didn't want to tell anyone that I ran over 67 minutes, since most of them ran really well. Jeffrey even worked his way up throughout the field and finished in 63:41, to finish 7th, catching the early pack of four, as well as two other guys. Tenth place ran 63:58, which I couldn't run on this course, even if I was in my June half-marathon shape. And realistically, even if I ran really well, I still would have finished 13th.
A lot of the guys went for a cool-down and while I was planning on running a few miles with them at first, I stopped under a mile in because running was the last thing I wanted to do. Everyone needs their little pity-party, I guess.
While I feel like I didn't learn a thing from the USA 25k Championships in Grand Rapids, I came home with a few good things here. Seeing all of the other guys opened up my eyes a good bit. While I feel I train just as hard and smart as them, they maximize their potential more than I do. Yeah, I'll never be able to stay home, run and not work but there's a lot of things they do better than me that I feel I am capable of. They are kings of the little things. While I do a few leg swings before a race, a lot of them have pretty sophisticated warm-up routines. Every night, while I sat on the bed, watched TV and ate, Jeffrey would stretch and do some strength stuff with an elastic band. And none of them had two pieces of cake and two beers at dinner the night before.
Sometimes I feel like I'm trying to take a college class but instead of sitting in a class with a lot of other students (training partners) with a good teacher (coach), I'm stuck with ordering the textbook and trying to learn everything on my own. I think Jeffrey referred to this a little bit when he said he felt like it would be good for me and I would learn a lot if I spent a week in somewhere like Flagstaff. Not so much for the altitude but to be surrounded by more committed individuals who truly are out maximizing their potential. Maybe one summer, I could drag the wife and kids and spend 5-6 weeks out there. So if anyone has a guest house, let me know!
So while the race was a bomb, I was able to see how better, more accomplished runners do things and got some ideas for the future. I even restarted my core stuff, squatted for the first time in over five months and bought a stretching rope, which I use every night. Before now, I haven't consistently stretched since the 20th century. So I expect this race to improve me in the near future and further down the road.
So while I got my butt whooped here, I'll be back for some vengeance this winter.
Balanced Splits: 4:37, 4:56, 4:57, 4:51, 4:57, 5:00, 5:11, 5:03, 5:15, 5:20, 5:40, 5:21, 5:32, 37.