Sunday, March 18, 2012

Twas the tale of two races...

One race was hot, one race was cold,
One race was new, one was old,
One race was flat, one race was hilly,
One race had few frills, one was frilly,
One race was costly, one race was free,
It took these two races for me to see. 


Last fall, after the Marine Corps Marathon, I began to look at spring races. Some folks from my Saturday morning training group were planning on running the Georgia Half/Full, and they invited me and my wife to go. Shortly thereafter we signed up and planned to go with them on a race trip to Atlanta.

Soon after I registered, my wife's friends who helped her train for Marine Corps told her about a race they were doing one week earlier here in Greenville. She wanted to do it with them and I can remember saying, "You're going to run a half on two consecutive weekends? Are you sure that's something you want to do?" She assured me that it was and the plan became that she would do both half marathons. In my typical smug, know it all, husbandly, runner expert way I thought...Well, *I* would never put myself through running two consecutive half marathons within 8 days like that.

Never say never.

Fast forward a few months. Christy is battling an Achilles injury that she can't shake, as I battle a warm bed and a streak of laziness that I can't shake each morning. The Georgia Half is nearing, and my goals have been adjusted to the obligatory "I'm just going to have fun".  Which is runner code for, "I've eaten too many Krispy Kremes and put too many weekly "donuts" up on the training log to expect any results."

So on Thursday March 8th, a new local magazine called Pace Running Magazine had a contest on Twitter. The winner would obtain a FREE registration to the GHS Centennial Half Marathon (which was 2 days away). Now how many possible people do you think are sitting around and seriously thinking that they could run a half marathon on TWO DAYS notice? Apparently they weren't expecting ME. I entered...and I won. Now look who is now doing two half marathons within two weeks.  The irony was not lost on my wife.

Race 1-Greenville Hospital System's Centennial Half Marathon
I carpooled with my wife's friends to the GHS half since it was a point to point race, and I started with no expectations. Since the Charleston Full, I had run less than 50 miles...total. Not in a week, but total. I was a lousy excuse for a runner or motivator as I tried to work with my own motivation and PT workouts 2X per week. Race morning was pretty chilly in the mid 30's at the start with about a 10 MPH wind. Temps were supposed to warm to the mid 50's by the end of the race, but the wind would be persistent. I felt really strong at the beginning turning in some pretty quick low 8 minute miles. I didn't know how long I could sustain it but decided that I would just keep it rolling until the wheels fell off. Most of the entire race was held on Greenville's Swamp Rabbit Trail which is a paved trail on what was once old railroad tracks. It has almost no elevation change, and is pretty heavily wooded on both sides for most of the trail outside of the connecting cities. The wind proved not to be much of a factor up until mile 10.5 when we left the trail and started running through downtown Greenville. As the miles clicked off, my new goal was to keep my time under 8:15 pace, and it was working until mile 12 which brought strong headwinds and some well timed hills.

As I neared mile 13, I noticed these two guys talking, and I heard one tell the other to go on. So the other guy went on ahead, leaving his friend. As we continued to run he was making an odd waving movement with his arm as if to say "pass me". I was in no shape at this point to challenge anyone as I was huffing and puffing like the Little Engine that could. When I pulled up beside him he said something to the effect of.."You wanna go?" Not being one to ever turn down a challenge, "we went" matching each other's stride with less than a third of a mile to go. We made the final turn and the finish line was finally in sight. I dug deep and was in an all out sprint and pulled ahead of my new friend. I crossed less than one second ahead of him.

We looked EXACTLY like this. I would be Rocky in this picture. Notice my chiseled biceps?
We high fived each other at the end as we struggled to get our breath. I told him thank you, as I figured that if he wasn't there, I probably would have slogged in slowly...or at least nowhere near as fast as I did. I finished in 1:48:18. I thought that this was a great result, considering my training. I was a happy fella. I ran the race in less than my planned marathon pace of 8:20 so I considered this day a WIN.

The race was very well done, and I was proud of our hometown for hosting such a great event, and a huge shout out to Pace Running Magazine for the free entry. If you're in Greenville pickup a copy at any running/fitness store or buy a subscription and have it delivered!

Race 2-Georgia Half Marathon
Coming off of my high the previous week, I had to temper my expectations of the race in Atlanta. I had already heard all the horror stories "Atlanta is hilly...be prepared." Of course, I prepared myself mentally for the non-stop fun of a rolling hill half, and figured it would be a couple of minutes slower than the GHS race.

That is until mother nature decided to show up. You know its going to be bad when the race director begins sending out DAILY emails during race week to warn people about the heat. I must commend the management of the Georgia Marathon for having us fully prepared for the contingency of oppressive heat and possible thunderstorms. Water would be plentiful on the course, and for that I was thankful.

My running buddies picked me up on Saturday morning. They are both "Streakers"
NO...not this kind of streaking.
That is to say that they have participated in this race every year. So they have a "streak" running this race the past six years in a row.  With this amount of knowledge, they would be great resources to mentally prepare, and I knew I'd have all the tools I needed to succeed. We stayed with one of my friend's sisters and her husband in Atlanta. They fed us and made sure we were well hydrated...and of course made sure that March Madness was on every second we were there!

The expo was great. It was perhaps the most professionally done expo that I've ever been to. (I'm in event marketing, so I have a critic's eye for these things). Publix did an outstanding job of welcoming and hosting the runners, and if you've ever been welcomed into a Publix store by a friendly associate, the experience was the same in Atlanta. Lots of warm friendly greetings and a great corporate experience. I purchased a few things on the floor, and I ate or drank everything anyone was handing out on the floor....well except for Nuun. I'm not a fan of Alka Seltzer. (don't send me hate mail...its just not my thing)

We got back early, ate, watched some hoops and set our alarm clocks for an early morning.

The race started at 7AM, and I was in a corral near the front. I'm not sure how that happened, but I was thankful. Standing in the crowd you could tell just how hot it was going to be; the temperature was the only thing on every runner's mind this morning. We started in the mid 60's on its way to the high 70's/low 80's by the time the full marathoners were done.

Miles 1 and 2 were very quick. I benefited from being with other fast people in corral B, and I ran with them. At mile 2 I was already dousing myself with water to try and cool off. I wasn't acclimated for any half marathon, let alone one this warm. By mile 4 I felt like things were unraveling. I knew I had been going too fast. I had put together three sub-7:45 miles. I was feeling physically ill. I wanted to puke. I have to be honest, it has been a very long time since I've wanted to puke on a run.

I decided that I needed to come back to reality, and run some 8:15 miles on these hills and in this heat.

Each water station brought the same thing. One cup in my mouth, one cup over my head. I started feeling better in mile 5 and felt like I could get back to some more aggressive running, and by mile 9 I was feeling it. I thought that a 1:45 race was within reach. I took another Gu and got ready to average less than 8 minute miles over the next four miles.

A note to all the kids out there. Know your race course. It is hard to plan to hit a certain time when you don't know that the last four miles will be hills...the uphill kind.

I have never been a Georgia Tech fan, but when I saw the students and volunteers out cheering us on at mile 11.5 and handing out water, I think I became a fan. It was the beginning of uphill running that would take us through the finish.

Around mile 12 I saw a young lady slowing to walk in front of me. I encouraged her to keep on running, so she did. She took off back ahead of me, and I thought that perhaps she just needed someone to wake her up. She slowed again and I encouraged her once more and asked her if she'd like to run with me. I told her we could talk to keep our minds off of the pain of finishing. We chatted for a couple of moments, but on one of the uphills she couldn't go anymore and unfortunately she slowed to a walk again.

Soon I saw another guy about my size who was slowing to a walk. I said "Come on man, you got this, you're almost done." He replied, "Ok, I'm going to run with you." We chatted for a few moments, and I could tell he was struggling. I tried to talk about non-running things to keep his mind off of the race. He said his name was Kyle and he lived in Atlanta. When he seemed like he was struggling, I kept encouraging him, letting him know how close we were to the finish. We got to the 13 mile marker, and Kyle hit a burst of adrenaline and took of from me. I tried to chase him down, but on this day I was his Appollo Creed. He finished 2 seconds ahead of me.

I don't know if I actually helped him or not, but I'd like to think I did. One day I'll be out there wanting to walk in the late stages of the race and I'd hope someone would do the same for me. An encouraging word goes a long way when you've got the late race brain fog.

I was ecstatic with my finish time. 1:46:49. My 2nd fastest half marathon EVER. I really couldn't believe it.

In the aftermath, I was trying to reconcile how this was possible. With few purposeful miles, how did I keep up such a pace with these hills and heat? My wife, the wise woman that she is, reminded me...I've been putting in some serious time doing squats, one legged squats, Bosu ball squats, squats with resistance bands, one legged jump squats, and various other core exercises. Could it be that it takes both miles AND core/balance/strength work to be a great runner? Who would have ever thought such a thing?!?!


I think I owe my Physical Therapist a big thank you. "Harmony, if you're reading this I told you that one day I'd thank you for these circuits of torture that you put me through...I didn't know it would show up this soon. Thank you. You'll be happy to know, I'm less sore today than through your last circuit of pain last week. Thanks for doing what you do, teaching me and not letting me off easy."

Hopefully, I'm starting to get it. Running will only take me so far. I must train my core, train my balance and become stronger to get to where I want to be.

Most importantly of all, after these two weekends, I think I've found my mojo again.

Oh, and one more big shout out - Happy Birthday to my sister, Candice!  You are an awesome sister and friend. I'm sure your pep talk as I was walking out the door was the true key to my success! Love ya!   (Sorry for all the torture I put you through as a kid, but just remember how strong it made you.)