Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Fifth Half

This Saturday, I'll run my fifth half marathon. With four in the bank, I have some experience, but I've learned each race day is different. Here's what I mean:

March 2006, Tom King Half Marathon (Nashville): This race, which I'm running again Saturday, is on a flat course. It's not a rah-rah half like the Elite Racing (Nashville and Virginia) races, which have bands, cheerleaders and thousands of spectators along the courses. I really liked this race because I love running in Shelby Bottoms along the Cumberland River and because it's the first time I ran 13 miles. I ran too hard on that cool, dry day, and started fading at seven miles. By mile nine, I was in trouble. Mile 10-12.5 were rough, but the end was OK because I knew I was almost done. I ran a 2:06:30 (2nd best time to date). During and after the race, my Mom cried and my kids knew something good had just happened.

April 2006, Country Music Half (Nashville): I don't remember a lot from this race, just that I saw a lot of people I know and that I felt very good until Mile 10, then not so good from 11-13. I kinda bummed, actually, because I walked some of the last two miles. After the race, I realized my barrier (mental and physical) was the 10-mile mark. Time was 2:06:45 or thereabouts.

April 2007, Country Music Half: I thought I'd trained better this time around, and I probably did. Unfortunately, I started feeling crummy the day before, slept terribly and woke up wondering if I really needed to run. My friend, Scott McConnell, was battling testicular cancer, and I said I owed this to him and others. After five miles (and a restroom break), I realized this race wasn't about a good time but finishing. At Mile 10, the sun popped out, making conditions pretty warm. I finished in 2:09 something, my worst time, but let me add I finished proudly. Scott, you still owe me a beer.

September 2007, Virginia Beach Half (Virginia Beach): Run for Dori regulars knows the story about this race by now, which I chronicled on September 2 and September 5. What I remember most about the race was how much harder I trained, the anxiety of my calf injury (leading up to and during the race), my posse of supporters (Dan, Anne and fellow runner Dave), but mostly, for whom I was running (a cute little chick from Cincinnati). Had I been healthy, I was all over a 1:58 or 1:59; instead, I limped home the last two miles, finishing in 2:01, my PR. What a great day that was in so many respects!

So what does Saturday's Tom King hold? The mystery is part of the fun for us racing folk. The weather looks like showers and temps around 40 at the start and mid-40s at the finish. My training, which has included no strength training, no sprinting and some other speed work, has gone very well. I felt good on my 11.2 miler 10 days ago, and I felt great Sunday and yesterday (a five miler with Mighty Pepper at Radnor in a non-stressful 44:25). I will run three miles at race pace tomorrow and continue the carb loading.

Do I have a prediction? That's a toughie, given the uncertain weather and knowing I've also had a few sub-par runs the last few weeks. Can I break 2:00? Yes, there is a chance. Can I run a PR? Yes, I think that's also possible. What do I expect from myself? I would love to set a course and Nashville record. If I had to guess, I think a 2:03 (9:23/mile pace) or 2:04 seem about where I could finish. My plan is to stay in the 9:15/mile range the first ten miles, and then swallow some more gels and go. I was on a 9:00/mile pace the first 10 miles in Virginia, but the calves started failing me. I think I can hold the 9:15 pace and then just see. I'm certainly more mentally tough now as a racer than I was two years ago.

Of course, I will employ my Jedi mind tricks - like "you only have 10 minutes left in the race, that's how long it takes to eat lunch." May the force be with me.

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