Thursday, March 17, 2016

Tom King Half-Marathon

The Tom King Half-Marathon is usually the most important half-marathon to me each year.  I may run bigger or more competitive half-marathon races, but since most of the Nashville area runners come out for this one, and you see nearly all of them on an out-and-back section, I always feel pressured to win.

I've won the half the last three years they've had it along with the 5k last year (the half was cancelled due to snow) and I didn't want that to change!  You never know who is going to show up but I knew I was going to have a showdown with local runners Joey Elsakr and "Wild" Bill Martin.

While I do well at time-trial type races, I perform the best in one-on-one showdowns.  I love the pressure, the mind games/strategy and the chance to snag the win.  But if it was going to be a three-way race between us, it would become a little more tricky as Joey is a pure gas tank guy (has never broken 60 seconds in a 400m) and Wild Bill is a speedster (sub 4:05 mile speed in college).

I know that they've been training together for their faster runs over the last couple of months so I tried to sneak some info from Joey over a text the night before.  But the guy claimed he wasn't sure if Bill was in shape!  I had to give it to him though because he is a loyal training partner.

So with those two guys combined, I didn't know what to do.  But to be honest, it's impossible to have a real strategy when you're battling for the win because anything can happen.  You have to be prepared for every situation.

Going into the race, I wasn't sure about my fitness.  I felt like I could potentially run 68:00 but I only had one short tempo run under my belt, along with a couple moderate efforts (and the trail race).  Joey thought he was in around 67:30-68:00 shape and since he wouldn't give up Wild Bill, I wasn't sure on him.

But what I expected to happen would be for Joey and Wild Bill to stick together from the gun.  They are training partners, so it's what they know and are used to.  I figured they'd open up in the 5:00ish range and I'd hang back 5-10 seconds or so. Eventually, one of them would crack, and I would try to chase down the "victim" and hopefully use him to catapult myself to the whomever was leading.

But I did not want it to come down to the last mile.  Even though my 400m PR is quite a bit faster than his, I still didn't want to get in a kick with Joey.  And Bill would definitely whoop me in a sprint. I really haven't done anything intense and would be scared my legs would fall apart if I hammered after nearly 13 miles of running.  So my ideal plan would be to take over the lead around 10-11 miles in and have a long drive for home.  A lot of speculation there.

After the race started, a pack of five quickly formed with myself, Joey, Wild Bill, some out of town guy I didn't know and David Mokone, who has a 1:47 800m PR and is like twenty five feet tall.  I knew I didn't want to get in a kick with that guy.

Wild Bill, Joey and myself in the lead

In races, I will usually put my GPS on "lap time" and then manually split it every mile.  I don't really watch the pace, I just focus on each individual mile.  But for this race, I decided to start it but then just race without manually splitting anything.  I had to be really patient in this one and not let myself get into the racing mindset too early.

I hung in the back of the pack at first and the pace felt smooth and controlled and we were running in the low 5:20s.

A little after the mile, the out of town guy fell back and Mokone seemed like he was going to stick behind us as long as he could.  The pace stayed relatively smooth with Joey throwing in a very short spurt every now and then.

After a couple of miles, you hit a greenway for the next fourish miles, before turning around. Once or twice, we  would briefly drop Mokone before he rallied back.  I told Bill that Mokone was on the "last kicks of a dying horse" phase and would drop soon and then he was gone.

We were still running in the low 5:20s and around five miles in, Wild Bill surprisingly fell back. I mentioned to Joey that if we kept up the pace, we would break Bill in a couple of miles. I was also happy he fell back for obviously selfish reasons and was pleased that it would now be a one-on-one race.  I would then use the next few miles to get a feel for where Joey was and would move when I felt like it would be best to.

After the turnaround, Bill proved me wrong and was still hanging in tightly.  At this point, you start to pass people on their way out, which is a good and bad thing.  It's good because you can see how the other runners are doing, cheer on your friends and get support in return.  It's bad because it takes you out of the racing mindset and is a bit of a distraction.  But since I knew I wasn't race sharp, distractions were occasionally good.

While I race my bigger races out of state, I stay pretty involved in the local running community and as a result, have gotten to know a ton of runners in the area.  In the Team Techa vs. Team Joey competition, I was winning in the cheer department by about 50 million to one, so I let Joey know that if he took me out, the people would riot.  He then said that it'd be worth it and I told him it'd be well earned.  I was even planning on giving him my bib with a message on it since I don't have much of a scalp to give him.

I was still feeling mostly smooth and it sounded like Joey was starting to breathe pretty hard.  Every once in a while, I'd do a slight surge to see how Joey would respond. At first, he'd hang right there but eventually, I'd get a second or so on those before he came right back up to me.  I felt like that meant his body was breaking down some but would realize it and mentally force it.  I kept up this little cat-and-mouse game until I developed about a 3-4 second lead,, which was about nine miles into the race.  Once you get a lead like that, you need to push whether you're tired or not. In a way, it's a glorified game of chicken, where the other guy mostly thinks you have the upper hand.

Within a couple of miles, I built my lead up to around a hundred meters and was hoping he thought I had more left than I did.  My hip flexors were getting pretty tired, which felt more like a tiredness from not having my muscles run that kind of pace for that length of time, rather than the flat out tiredness you get in a race where you're race fit and can destroy your body.

I made it to 12 miles and while I thought I had the win, I was still getting pretty tired. The cool thing about this race is that you traditionally finish on the Tennessee Titans football field.  But since there was a soccer game going on that afternoon or something, we had to be rerouted around the parking lot for a while.

I finished just under 70 minutes to run 69:50, with Joey finishing second in 70:24 and Wild Bill hanging on to third in 70:44.  Out of town guy (Brett Pierce) was 7th in 73:24 and David Mokone was 8th in 74:13.

I was pretty tired at the end and i thought that I'd be able to run that time at an easier effort.  But supposedly after the last minute course change, the course was a little bit long, which made me feel better.

I still have work to do but was happy to come away with the win!

Bill Rodgers in the house!

Strava mile splits: 5:21, 5:20, 5:22, 5:19, 5:16, 5:15, 5:16, 5:20, 5:11, 5:11, 5:13, 5:17, 5:22.


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