Saturday morning dawned bright and clear, the latest in a string of incredible Alaska summer days. Jen beat me to the breakfast punch, and cooked us some sustenance to get us through our individual races, which was a good thing, as we knew that it wouldn’t be until around 11:00 that we’d actually have a chance to eat. Normally, I eat something fairly light the morning of a race, like toast and peanut butter. But in this case, we had some eggs, smoked turkey, fruit, toast, and coffee. Granted, we didn’t eat that much, but it was “heavier” than the norm.
I started warming up about 45 mins before the race start. The cool thing about the Mayor’s Half and 5 Miler was that they both started about a mile from where we live, so there was none of the typical morning hassle of trying to park a car, find a place to stash gear, wait in line for portapotties, etc. So, I was able to get a nice long warmup in without worrying about anything but making it to the line on time. Warming up, I felt good. Better than Friday’s afternoon run home, anyway. I could tell it was going to be a fairly warm day, which wouldn’t affect me so much as half and full runners. Being a bundle of nerves, it was hard to appreciate the insane beauty of the day. Calm winds, blue skies, Cook Inlet, and the Chugach; none of these were able to distract me from the internal chatter that bounced around my noggin with each stride.
That last hill is going to be hard, but can’t worry about it. Will there be mile markers? I haven’t trained at all for these paces, trained faster, trained slower – but nothing at pace is probably going to be a problem. I wonder if there will be any fast guys in the race with me? I hope I can keep it together. I hope I can race strong. I hope I don’t fall apart and have the worst race of my entire life.
I rejoined with Jen at the house, then we both jogged to the start. I talked Jen through her plan for the half – 9:30 pace for the first 6-7 miles, then step it up as much as she can through the finish. She hasn’t been training a ton, so this would be more of a hard training run. But for her first time at the distance, and the longest she’s run in two years, she knew it was going to be a hard one. I told her I would jog back out after my race was over so I could run the last three miles of her race with her, kissed her, and wished her luck, then we went our separate ways at the start. I headed for the front of the pack, a bit worried that I might have a hard time finding a spot at the start since starting area was already packed. But, I found I was able to jump in at the front of the pack with no problem, and with a few minutes to spare, did a couple of drills and strides.
Finally, it was time. I was completely still amidst the noise, if only for a few seconds. Then the gun released us and we were off.
As usual, the first quarter mile I found myself behind the kids and idiots who get a lark out of starting off way too fast and clogging up the starting area. All I wanted to do was settle in and find some cover behind other runners. Surprisingly, within the the first half mile, a lead pack consolidated, and I was in it. All things considered, I’d expected to see at least a couple of faster guys far ahead of me at that point. Instead, I found myself in a comfy pack, everyone else doing the work for me. Granted, the lead pack included, for the first bit anyway, some dude running in full sweats (whom I would later find walking the half course), but I also noticed some of the ladies from the UAA team, and some other guys who looked like contenders. With it being a combined 5.6/13.1 start, it was hard to know who was running the half vs. the five, which I think was why no one was willing to really take a risk that first mile; you could end up chasing someone down, only to find he wasn’t even in your race.
After the first mile, a guy broke away from the pack by a good bit and started gapping us. After a while, I checked my Garmin and made my first mistake of the day – racing by watch instead of by feel. My average pace was looking like mid-5:40s, and I wanted to be low or under, so I decided to make a break. To be honest, the pace to that point felt too easy, like I was getting sucked into a half-marathoner’s race as opposed to my own. So I don’t think the break was a bad idea. Basing it off what my watch said was the poor decision. I pulled clear of the pack and was closing on the leader when we reached the point at which the half and the fiver split courses. I made a hard right at Earthquake Park, while the half-marathoners kept on keeping on. There was an aid station, so I grabbed some water and evidently ran over a chip sensor somewhere in there. At this point, I was in the lead, with some kid on my tail.
We hit the Coastal Trail, and things started getting rough for me. First off, my stomach was unsettled but the water I managed to throw down. The kid passed me, and I just couldn’t seem to pull even, although it was clear to me I was slowing down and his move wasn’t that strong. I guess the only way I can put it, is that I struggled for the next couple of miles. My head can be a pretty dark place, and there wasn’t a lot of positivity happening. To top it off, sometimes I get some weird sinus drainage in races, which ends up triggering dry heaves while I’m running. Super fun, and it kicked in with like a mile and a half to go. The kid gapped me pretty good, and I couldn’t muster enough man to get going.
Then, somewhere after Mile 4, I pulled it together. I’m not sure if it was the familiar terrain, these particular stretches being practically in my back yard; common sense; or divine intervention. But something clicked, and I started getting after it again. I hit the hill at around Mile 5, and I can’t candy-coat it – it was pretty brutal. But after cresting it, I didn’t feel like it took me long to recover. I pushed it pretty hard to cross the finish in 31:55, but I know in my gut I had the additional 30s in me that I needed to grab 1st. They had video at the finish and results:
I was disappointed in my time until I realized that my Garmin lopped .15M off the distance and gave me a bad average pace. 31:55 works out to a 5:41.9 avg mile pace, and put me through 5M just under 28:30. Not bad considering that last
that last hill slowed me down a bit. Also telling was my split at 2+M, which had me averaging 5:29 up until that point.
All this tells me what I expected: my short fitness is better than my long. It also tells me I’m on the cusp of breaking 17 for 5k, which is the summer goal. So all in all, some good news and some areas to work on…
Finishing with Jen was the highlight of my day. After my race, I jogged back out 3M, and waited for Jen. Once she came by I ran the last three with her, and I couldn’t be more proud of how hard she worked the last few miles. To the point of dry heaving I the bushes, which was awesome. She finished in 2:02, a PR and it was just a great run on her part.