Thursday, June 7, 2007

Ocean City Half Marathon Recap

A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 2; 5th Edition
109.5 miles raced in 2007
Race: Ocean City Half Marathon
Place: Ocean City, MD
Miles from home: 150
Course Difficulty: 2.5 out of 10
Course Enjoyability: 4 out of 10
Weather: 20-30s; gusting wind, snow
Finishers' Medal: 4 out of 10

Someone does not want this to be easy for me.

For the third consecutive weekend my goal was to get an automatic qualifying time for the NYC Marathon. Again, I am not even sure if I want to run the damn thing. I just want to be automatically qualified to do so if the desire strikes me. The way things lie, if properly rested, I know the qualifying standards (1:23 for a half or 2:55 for a full) would be easily obtained by me. That is not arrogance but rather a statement of my present running level and the relative ease of those standards. If you read my recaps you know I am not properly rested. Ideally, I would like to rest more. However, with a May 1st deadline to get these times, I don't have much time to waste.

If you read my recaps you know about the distance measurement snafu at National Half Marathon (where an amended time did give me a 1:22:50; I know I ran faster and I also know I don't want an amended time in order to get in. I want a "pure" time); and my loss of energy at the Martian Marathon in Detroit last weekend. While proud of both, the races left me lacking what I wanted.

So I geared up for the Ocean City Half Marathon in Maryland. I knew I would not be in peak condition given this would be my second half marathon (with a full marathon thrown in the middle) in 14 days.. But given the flatness of the course, I felt I would be in for a good race. If the weather cooperated, that is. The weather, most assuredly, did not.

The Course:
The half marathon and the full all start at the same place: a parking lot near the Ocean City Boardwalk. Runners then cross a small bridge to the mainland, do a few twists and turns through some neighborhoods, hit the highway to run on the side of the road, go through some back roads, hit the highway again, cross the bridge to Assateague and *BLAM*, that's the course. Those two bridges I mentioned are the ONLY whiff you ever receive of any elevation change. The last bridge has a short steep incline followed by a longer decline to take you to the last straight run before turning into a parking lot to finish.

You can see why I felt this was as good a shot as any to set a crushing personal best. For those who need it, there is little-to-no fan support (which I blame partially on the weather but also I recall it being sparse last year). A few water stations, but not as many as one would hope, (then again it is only a half marathon) are manned by cheerful volunteers. On a nice day, the run, while on a highway, can be very pretty with some old tree-lined roads to traverse. The final bridge is quite pretty as well as the water surges underneath you.

My race: 1st 3 miles
A failed air horn that sounded like the last dying breath of a cat signaled the start. Too bad we all only moved about 3 inches waiting for anyone to tell us it was ok to go. A second, nearly as weak, blast told us to take off and after a little shuffle and lots of beeping of watches we started the race (I was still fiddling with my own watch after the horn because the start took me by surprise. I had been speaking with one runner who recognized me from Delaware last year when another friend, Czan, grabbed me from behind. I had seen Czan running at least three separate times last year so this was quite a surprise. However, our talk was short lived as we were called to attention by Garfield's meow for lasagna and had to start running). With a loop through the parking lot before hitting the boardwalk, I had already seen a few other friends, and told them my plan for the day which would explain why I might not be so chatty. Unfortunately, my voice was lost to winds gusting over 30 mph off of the ocean and right into our face.

I arrived the evening before this race and the weather had been perfect. No wind, blue skies and a temperature about 50 degrees greeted me. With calls for snow (snow!!) the next morning, I could not see how this was possible. Unfortunately, it was. Barely half a mile into the race, the snowflakes, big and fluffy, clung to my gorgeous eyelashes (I am only partially kidding; they are so pretty) like sailors thrown overboard in a storm. As we hit the boardwalk, the wind blew fistfuls of sand at our faces and I felt like I was in a head-to-toe exfoliating machine. Glad this sandblast only lasted a few seconds. I assumed that once we crossed the bridge and hit the mainland, this wind would die down as well.

Unfortunately, crossing the bridge itself turned out to be more than I bargained for. Wind blowing me side to side, I crossed over one of the grated parts of the bridge and, like Marilyn Monroe, had my shirt blown straight up. If I had better abs I would not have minded but I like my shirt on. I was actually fearful the wind would rip my bib number off of my shirt (thankfully I went with long sleeves. On my ride back to the start, I saw the female leader was wearing nothing but a sports bar. MY lord!).

I missed both the first two mile markers but felt that was not a problem. I looked ahead and saw fellow DC runner Mike Wardian (who had just qualified for the Olympic Trials in the marathon) not too far in front of me and figured I could not have been doing too bad if he was in sight.

However, I assumed the wind might have slowed me some and my goal pace of 6:05 per mile might be a little off. As the third mile marker appeared, I was flabbergasted to see a reading of 20 minutes on my watch. I was already 105 seconds off my pace!!! I almost stopped right there. I had no idea if the miles were right or what but I decided to pray they were and move on. I wasn't sure how I was going to make up nearly two minutes of times, especially since I felt I was pushing it already.

Miles 4-10:
The wind died a little bit for half of these miles and I settled into what I thought was a brisk pace. Two young guys (one 19 and the other 15; yep FIFTEEN) were in front of me but I assumed they would not last for long. Around mile 6 another guy saddled up to me. I found out he was 51. What in the heck is going on here with the random ages?! For the next mile or so, 15, 19, 30, and 51 year olds played a chess game of seeing who was stronger or who wanted to battle the wind (which was swirling at this point). Soon, it played out in reverse age order as the 51 year old began to pull away, I settled in behind him and the 19 year old and 15 year old followed suit. Slowly the 51 y/o inched closer to what appeared to be 1st and 2nd place runners in the half. I pulled away from the two behind me and felt I was gaining on the three ahead of me as well.

Putting forth a tremendous amount of effort I cannot tell you how frustrated I was to continually see myself running 6:23s or 6:27s. Heck, I had barely run much slower than that in my full marathon just 6 days before! (Of course, that may be part of the problem). I was trying to do math in my head but it seemed like I had no chance in hell to get a sub 1:23. It looked like a 1:25 would be a blessing.

Miles 11-12:
I began picking up every second I could. Running on the innermost part of the lane where the cones were, making sure my arms were properly aligned, breathing fully in and out, and everything else I could think of to try and gain some time (as well as some ground on the three guys in front of me). It seemed to work on the mile leading up to 11 so I simply put my head down (figuratively) and plowed forward. I all of a sudden realized that after a year of running marathons, it is hard for me to run all-out at mile 11. My body won't let me. It thinks I have 15 miles to go, not just two. But I tried to over ride my senses and go with all I could. Talk about having your body over-riding your mind!

Up the bridge to Assateague Island I surged. I knew I was finally running fast. For once, the wind was at my back and I could feel it. I took the hill as hard as I could while leaving just enough in the tank for the final surge. Down the hill, I flew with a photographer at the bottom snapping away. I have a feeling the pictures will show me airborne.

I then hit a lonely stretch off the bridge which would lead to the finish. I knew the end was around somewhere but where exactly I could not tell. This unknown was hindering me as I did not know how hard to push it or when I could unleash everything I had left. As I ran on, heading back the opposite direction was Mike Wardian. I would soon find out that the race organizers were going to cancel the full marathon because of the conditions but Mike had run through the half-way point before a decision had been made. So, they decided to let it go on. I gave him a quick shout and tried again to push forward.

Snow whipping around me, my shorts, shirt and gloves soaked, I turned one last time into a parking lot. I still could not see the finish line but knew it had to be around the bend. I looked down at my watch. 1:22:55. Unless the finish line appeared in front of me magically, I was toast. Much to my chagrin it did not.

Around another bend, and finally the clock and finish line appeared. I turned it into high gear and crossed the line in 1:23:52. Somehow I had run the last 2.1 miles in about 12:38 (or 6:01 pace). (View video here thanks to Anne braving the weather: Click HERE!!!). Good enough for fourth overall but not good enough for me, I only kept from swearing knowing Anne was filming. Barely out of breath when I finished, I can only wish I had turned on the jets earlier and more often.

Later on, we collected my trophy and I took the time to speak to one of the race directors. One of the more friendly RDs I have stayed in touch with since Fiddy2 started, I wanted to at least thank him before I departed. I told him that he can't control the weather and I think everyone had a great time regardless.

As it ended up, the 19 year old did indeed finish 5th, albeit a few minutes behind me. First, second and third place stayed in a tight cluster. I could never put on the wheels to catch them and they finished about a minute in front of me all just barely breaking 1:23.
I guess it was not my day. But, as my mother later said to me, in spite of the close calls I had during Fiddy2, I never had a race cancelled and always got through them without the worst of conditions (although I had some nasty ones that is for sure). I guess it was time for things to not go my way for a few races.

So one more chance for me to qualify looms in three weeks when I travel to Seoul, Korea as part of the representative team of the 50 States Marathon Club. A 2:55:00 or less gets me in; anything else means I will have to enter the lottery like everyone else. Sure wish I had knew about these qualifying times sooner.

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