Friday, March 25, 2011

Georgia Half Marathon Recap

A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 6; 8th Edition 
157.2 miles raced in 2011
Race: Georgia Half-Marathon
Place: Atlanta, GA       
Miles from home: 1890 miles
Weather: 60 degrees; Slightly humid.

I decided that for this race I was going to be minimalist.  No lubricant, no breakfast food, no drinking of any liquids before the race. I would eschew deodorant and say never-you-mind to even thinking about showering before the race. Now, why would I do all this?  Am I suddenly the most eco-friendly runner in the world?  Nope.  So when did I decide to do all of this?

Well, when I woke up at 6:50 AM.  For a 7:00 AM race.

After yest another wonderful weekend of making new friends and meeting old ones at the expo, I was not sure exactly what I was going to try and run.  Having decided two weeks prior that I was going to change from the marathon to the half as I try to work on my shorter distance speeds, I had run a fairly decent 1:23 in Sarasota last weekend and was faced with a quandary. What to do with the rather hilly course here in Georgia?  No matter how hard I pushed, chances are the time on the clock would not be to my liking.  Plus, just one week after running my second fastest half ever, I felt a slight step down would be nice.  But what time? 1:27? 1:25?

Speaking to my friend Bobby Overton who works for the company SpiBelt, I found out he was shooting to run sub-1:30.  I asked him if he would want some company and when he agreed I now had my goal. We planned to meet in Corral A where we were both would be seeded and give it a go.

Then I forgot to wake up.

I do not like much time prior to a race to get ready.  I do not like standing around.  I do not like to warm-up (at least for these longer distances) and I mostly prefer to wake up and go.  But not in this fashion.

As I sprinted out of my hotel and to the start, I thought I would be OK to get to the corral before the gun fired. Somehow while dressing in the dark, I was able to put on the right model of shoe for each foot (out of the mass of K-Swiss shoes I had brought with me) and put my shirt and shorts on the right way out.  I jolted out of my hotel room and down the hall, grabbing the elevator as it was just about to close.  I was out of my hotel less than five minutes after I woke up. Unfortunately, while I was only one block away from the start, the system of gates and fences for the race kept me from simply heading to the start.  So I had to run around a park, through throngs of people and onto a heavily crowded sidewalk.  Then the gun went off with me nowhere near my starting position.

Side-stepping weary-eyed spectators and last minute straggling runners, I tried to get as close to the start as possible before I got into my corral.  However, as I got to the entrance of the corral, it was clogged with lots of people who were obviously not supposed to be in that corral. Apparently they felt that as the gun had fired it was OK for them to simply throw away the whole seeding system designed to make things run smoothly. So, I ran a little further ahead and began to climb the police barricade to get into my corral. One spectator saw the “Corral A” on my bib number and asked me if I was trying to get into this area. I turned to look at who spoke to me with my own barely-awake eyes and saw one of the biggest human beings I have ever seen in my life.  I nodded in the affirmative and he reached out with what can only be described as paws and effortlessly tossed me (6’1’’ 180 lbs, mind you) over the fence.

Landing on my feet amongst some stunned runners who thought I dropped from the heavens, I barely had enough time to gather my wits before the masses moved me forward and across the timing mat.

Now I could start.

First 6 miles: 6:27, 6:21, 14:38, 6:43, 7:11

I knew I was relatively close to the lead runners, but how far behind them, and Bobby who I said I would help in the race, I was not sure.  As such, I put down my head (figuratively, of course) and simply began running.  I have little recollection of the first three miles other than trying to warmly acknowledge the hello of someone who I passed but could not turn to recognize lest I run up the back of another person in front of me.  If my times were a bit slower than what they are now, I would try to get faster to simply get out of these masses of humanity, if for no other reason. It is great to be amongst the company of other runners but not when they all have different paces, agendas, earphone usage and ideas of running etiquette.  It is maddening to say the least.

I soon passed the 1:45 pace group. I noticed there were far more women in this group than men.  No comment on speed here, just something I noticed.  Then a half-mile later I was able to catch the 1:40 group consisting of more men than women.  I expected to catch 1:35 group soon thereafter but they were not to be found. I figured I had missed them.  Finally around the third mile of the race I saw a mass of people slightly more clustered than the other masses in the streets.  When I finally did pass them, I realized they the 1:35 group and they were way ahead of pace.  There were also more women in this group than men.  Now, I am a curious chap and even when my mind is preoccupied with many other thoughts I immediately tried to figure out the different gender groupings for these respective pace groups. When non-runners ask me what I think about when I am running I often think “What don’t I think about?” before asking them what they think about when they are not running. Regardless, I was a little disappointed to see how off the pace group was from the intended goal.  I always get like this when I run in a race with pacers. It takes more than the ability to get to the finish in a certain time to be an effective pacer for those who need it most.  Perhaps they were doing something I was not aware of with their mile splits but they were definitely not even.  But I digress.

Nearly a mile later, I was able to finally get up to the 1:30 group.  Someone would later tell me they went out at a 6:11 for the first mile (needing to average a 6:52.)  I don’t know if this is true or not but I know they too were ahead of where they needed to be for even-pacing, that was for sure.

When I did not see Bobby amongst this group I surged ahead a little bit and tried to spy him on a long straightaway on Edgewood Ave.  He was not to be found. Darn it. Upon realizing that perhaps he was having a banner day and crushing the course (in spite of its relative difficulty and hilliness) I more or less gave up the idea of trying to run him down. Because my delay in getting to the starting line and trying to make up time, I was already running around a 1:26 pace or so. As such, I decided to ease off the throttle and take care of some business that I did not have time to do that morning.  Hello, Mr. Porta Potty.  As my one friend Christine, who ended up taking third overall in the marathon (!) said: “I looked all over for you at the start and thought you were tall enough to see. That (my late start) explains it! I saw you briefly at mile 4 as you jutted to a port-o-john. Great run!”

I came out feeling very refreshed and was quickly overtaken by the 1:35 group.  I thought this was a sign that today was going to be a much slower day than planned until I remembered they were way off pace.  Right on cue one of the pacers said something akin to how they were now going to back off the pace a little and get back into a groove. I sped forward.

Deciding to have a good time with the rest of the race I began to exhort the crowds who had lined the streets on this chilly morning.  The only cool day of the entire week, the race was also completely overcast providing runners with fairly optimal weather. A slight amount of humidity hung in the air but it was far from the torrential downpour in Los Angeles (which had been one of the potential races I was going to run this weekend! Lucked out there!)   At one point I saw two labs on the street and pulled up quickly to pet both of them.  I only stopped for maybe ten seconds but it did my heart good.

I love dogs.

Heading home: 6:29, 6:35, 6:28, 6:57, 6:31, 6:37, 6:40, :41

In spite of no attempt on my own to run fast miles, I was quite pleased with each split I hit over the next three.  I was running both up and down hills, with no thoughts about passing runners or pushing the pace but somehow my miles weren’t all that bad.  I knew the mile between nine and ten was the biggest hill of the remainder of the course. So after splitting from the full marathoners after mile seven, I began to ready myself to summit the hill. I did that by high-fiving spectators, cheering on other runners around me and trying to enjoy myself as much as possible.  This has quickly become my motto for 2011 and even in a race like this it is easy to see the blessings one has and enjoy them mid-race.  Before I knew it I was entering the beginning of mile nine right after we slipped through Piedmont Park, a beautiful little area that I can imagine attracts tons of runners each day.

When I did not break seven minutes for this uphill mile even after my merry-making, I decided that if I ran somewhere around 6:30 for the last three miles I would have a chance of running a 1:27.  Given everything that had transpired up until this point, which was quite surprising.

As I began passing runner after runner, one in particular would not allow me to get by him.  Looking like he was from a different era, with horn-rimmed glasses, a beard and shorts that looked about 20 years old (I began to call him “Amby” in my head for his resemblance to Amby Burfoot) he answered every little surge I threw at him.  Granted, unless he had started as far back as I had in the pack, my chip time would be faster than his, I still wanted to push him to the limit on the course and see who got to the finish first.  I rarely get to enjoy this type of racing with so many runners around me.  My speeds have me in a weird no-man’s land.  I am not fast enough to be elite but I am just fast enough to often be operating alone, out on my own, running against just myself and the clock.  Occasionally I end up running with one of the fastest women which is how I am so often able to lend a hand in helping them win a race here or there.  But for the most part, I find that I am more often than not the target for some other runner about three minutes behind me, unwittingly setting the pace for others. As such, when I am in the midst of a few other racers, it is enjoyable to actually race them, give your all on that day and then immediately after you finish, turn and shake their hand. Which is what I assumed would happen between me and Amby.

Together we were taking down loads of people and as we began the last hill of the course, around mile 11, we passed the 1:30 pace group. At this point, racing was in my blood and I simply wanted to see how many more people we could take down.     As we turned onto Marietta Street around mile twelve and closed in on the finish, a stiff breeze stood some of the runners up.  I began to weave in and out, using each runner in front of me as a windbreak for about three seconds before passing them and moving on.  “Amby” essentially did the same but on the other side of the street. It had been a while since I had been in front of him and with all the runners he was passing I assumed he thought he had dropped me as well.  Au contraire, moi frère.   In a few steps, I was right behind him.   I slipped into his stream and I could sense he knew exactly who I was. I decided with half of a mile left, it was time to make my move and make it hurt.

I made a quick and loud step to the right, watched his body instinctively step in front of me and then I whipped around to the left.  I accelerated past him in a flash, ala Bannister passing Landy in the Miracle Mile. I no sooner had made this move then I looked to my right and saw someone I forgot I had been looking for these past 12.5 miles.

“Oh hi, Bobby.” 

There was Bobby running along by himself, battling the wind and chugging along.  He smiled big but wearily. As he did I immediately slowed my sprint to match his pace, almost in mid-stride.  Amby looked at me as if to say “What in the heck is going on?  Aren’t we racing?” and pulled ahead. Bobby asked how long I had been tracking him down and I said I had seen him for about nine nanoseconds before I spoke to him.  He told me he was feeling a little tired.  I mentioned he still had a sub-1:30 if he simply stayed with me.  As Amby disappeared in the distance, I hopped in front of Bobby and told him to allow me to block the wind.  Whether he needed it or not, I wanted to help.  As we powered through this last section we could see the final turn ahead.  Bobby evened himself alongside me and we began the last 100 meters to the finish.  Right before crossing we exchanged a nice little high-five. 

My 1:28:19 was good enough for 98th place overall out of just shy of 11,000 finishers.
One David Scholl had the exact same time as me but given his gun time was faster I think they gave him the edge.  Son of a gun.  Bobby’s time of 1:29:08 was well under what he was hoping to run.

After crossing the line, Bobby and I turned to greet the runners who had finished right behind us and shared a few seconds with one of the top female finishers, who was so full of joy and happiness we found ourselves laughing at how cheerful she was in spite of ourselves.

All told, this was yet another fine race was put on by the people of US Road Sports.  This was the third such race of theirs I had done in the past fourteen days and they continue to impress.  I highly recommend their races and think that you will not be disappointed with the course, the excitement, the medals and all the other things that this group strives to do right.

For me, there is no rest for the weary as I head to the Oakland Running Festival Half-Marathon this weekend.  I might set two alarms.


...... said...

I agree. The race was set up brillantly. I love the hills and the crowds, and the volunteers.

Cyndi said...

Sounds like a great run and so glad you found your friend and finished with him.

RoseRunner said...

What a wonderful narrative. I can't imagine the panic of waking up 10 minutes before a race...

I think your pacing observations are interesting -- both the gender aspect, and the going-out-too-fast aspect. A good pacer should be steady the whole time, but maybe they went out fast knowing they would lose some time on the hills?

Tim Wilson said...

Nice writeup! I am impressed at how fast you made it to the start given the 10 minute wake up and get ready. Nice race, and nice pace!

It was a pleasure finally meeting you in person at the Expo!

Unknown said...

I'm really glad you found me there in that final mile (actually i had slowed up to wait for you... wink, wink) Thanks again for the pull into the finish, it really made a difference.

Bobby O.