Monday, November 7, 2011

Indianapolis Monumental Half Marathon Recap

A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 6; 39th Edition 
580.3 miles raced, 7480 meters swam and 202.3 miles biked in 2011
Race: Indianapolis Monumental Half Marathon 
Place: Indianapolis, IN
Miles from home:  1520 miles
Weather: 30s; sunny

2009's running.
Two years ago I had the distinct pleasure to take part in the Indianapolis Monumental Marathon. Just like I find it hard to believe that it is already the beginning of November, I find it hard to believe that race was two years ago. However, I was glad to be back in town. As logic and the lack of a working DeLorean time machine would reveal, if you run one race on a day, that makes it impossible to run another somewhere else on that day.  As such, given the vast amount of races in the nation, I try hard not to repeat too many races as it keeps me from experiencing the rest of the races out there.  So while I was back in Indy for this race on this weekend, I was changing it up a little by running the 13.1 mile distance instead of the 26.2.

I had made the decision to do this even prior to having recently experienced some trouble with both an achy left foot and an equally whiny right Achilles tendon. Therefore, I felt no pangs of remorse about needing to shuffle my plans around race-wise. Instead, I got to enjoy the weekend as I worked with the Indiana Beef Council to talk about healthy living through eating lean beef.

In a recent post on Facebook, someone who espoused themselves as vegan took offense to a rather innocuous and obvious tongue-in-cheek statement I made about the tragedy of thousands of vegetables die every day. Later on, with niceties off (I find it takes about two similarly innocuous comments to make most people drop their false pretenses of wishing to have an intelligent discussion about any topic) I was told when I speak about eating beef publicly on Facebook or twitter or anyone that chances are I am offending some of my readers. My response was that with 3500 Facebook friends, if I worried too much about writing anything that may offend someone, I wouldn’t write anything at all. However, what I found quite telling was that I was in no way try to push any beef “agenda” on anyone. In fact, I was simply stating that like many things, eating preferences are a personal choice and my choice, based on science, health-care professionals and my own personal experiences, has led me to find that eating lean beef works very well for me. What I have been finding is that the same holds true for many other very fit, very competitive, very compassionate athletes. I add the last adjectives because the implication that those who eat meat do not care about the well-being of animals is false, misleading and in my specific case, without any evidence whatsoever.
Have enjoyed a steak with Bill on many occasions.

It is quite obvious that in order to eat an animal it must die. What I find smirk-worthy is how so many people who refuse to eat beef based on animal rights beliefs have zero problem eating fish. Really?  Is it perfectly acceptable to catch fish by the thousands, let them drown in air on the deck of the ship, flopping around in a net with their gills desperately hoping to pass water through them while decrying the cattle industry? This is ridiculous hypocrisy. I have seen with my own two eyes the humane way in which cattle are raised, cared for and the eventually, yes killed, in order to become part of my meal. I honestly think it is far more humane than anything the fishing industry does and, to be clear, I am not putting down the fishing industry.

So, if it is off-putting to you to read that I am the first official SpokesRunner for the National Cattleman’s Beef Association, I am afraid you will be off-put. I am not deliberately trying to upset anyone but it is something I am proud of.  I honestly believe that beef is one of the reasons why I have been able to do what I have done in the past, continue to do in the present and will be doing in the future- pushing my own limits.

If you are OK with Lance Armstrong touting Michelob Ultra, given the end result of what consuming alcohol can do, then you should be more than OK with me enjoying a nice t-bone. If you are not, well, that is unfortunate for you.
Race Day

After surprising myself with a much faster than expected time at the Run Town Half Marathon last weekend in Greenville, SC I can admit I was hoping for more than the same here in Indy. My Achilles had rebounded quickly from being one solid block of ouchie two weeks ago but was definitely still something to be concerned about.  As I have said on many occasions – you don’t mess around with an Achilles. So with one part of my mind thinking about bettering my time from last week and perhaps making a push at getting a half-marathon PR by the end of the year to equal the plethora of other PRs my aching old body was able to get this year, another part of my mind was thinking of the long-haul. As we lined up to run around Zoom City (I just made up that nickname, I think) the two sides continued to battle.

Given the briskness of the morning, I opted to not line up until nearly the time the gun fired. This unfortunately kept me from many of the people I had met the previous day to wish them good luck.  As the marathon and half ran the exact same route for the first 7 miles I knew I would see at least of a few of those runners. One in particular, Michael Shirrell, had run with me for the vast majority of the marathon I did here two years ago, finishing in a time of 3:05.  Last year he had run a 2:57 and his goal was to run 2:50 for this race.  A fantastic jump indeed if he was able to do it but he told me he was feeling good when we had a chance to talk at the expo.  Unfortunately, I never did see Michael during the day and had to find out later that he had nailed his goal running a 2:50:48. Pretty stellar indeed!

With a pair of throwaway gloves on from the Ragged Mountain Running shop which I got 5 years ago and have sworn I would toss in some race eventually (and obviously haven’t), billowy clouds of steam rose from my breath. The sun was just beginning to peak through some of the downtown buildings giving barely a lick of warmth to the sub-40 degree temperatures. I tested my legs, which felt quite good and decided I might just shoot for a 1:25.

 First 3 miles: 6:29, 6:34, 6:32

I was more than surprised with each one of the first three miles.  I often given the advice to start slow in races but rarely am able to follow it myself, at least for the first mile.  I felt no different today and thought for sure I would be right around 6 minutes at the conclusion of mile 1. Seeing I was nearly half of a minute slower was disconcerting. When neither of the next two miles evened out what I thought might simply be a slightly misplaced mile marker I thought perhaps I felt much better than I thought I should because I was running much slower. Now, I don’t put much stock in the 100% accuracy of GPS watches, given the variables which go into how distance is calculated, how a course is run by each runner, but when every single person wearing one around you has their watch beeping to click off another mile and you are nowhere near close to the markers, you worry a bit. 

No problem, I thought, if the markers are off.  It only matters that the final distance is 13.1 miles at the end. I was here to enjoy the day and the race. My best friend Alli was in town to support me and it was awesome to see her after such a long time. She braved the frigid temps and wind to snap few pictures of me on the course. When the sun popped up here and there and I resisted running way off course and out of the shadows of the buildings to feel its warmth on my skin. The very recognizable State Soldiers' and Sailors' Monument loomed in front of and bore reminder that the next time we were in its shadow we would be finishing the race.

To mile 6: 6:32, 6:53, 6:23

While the race makes more than few twists and turns in these first miles, the volunteers were impeccable in their ability to direct us all in the right direction. More so, even though a section or two of town might have not been the “nicest” to run through, there were oodles of signage out cheering runners on.  Also on more than one occasion there would be a solo performer, with a guitar and an amp or some other small group of performers, rocking out. I am unsure if they were commissioned by the race itself or were simply out to provide moral support but seeing them stand all by their lonesome, entertaining runners who often are too focused to even given a nod of recognition was very touching. I did my best to make eye contact with at least one member of the band and given them my thanks. I had forgotten to grab my camera for this race like I had in Greenville last weekend and severely regretted it.

What I did notice were there were many, and I mean, many people in front of me. Even though I was hardly tearing up the course (and I decided by the 5th or 6th mile that this course was going to be one of those which is just flat-out long) I knew I was running strong.  To see so many people in front of me had the opposite effect than one would think. For me, it is almost one of pride, as if to say “look at all these other really fast people out here, handing me my ass.” I was curious how many of them were in the marathon and how many in the half.  I assumed that when the split happened at mile 7, most of them would hang a louie with me and head back to town, very happy to not be tacking on another 13 miles.

As we left Pennsylvania Ave and ran alongside the Fall Creek a runner came up behind me and ran stride by stride with me for a few meters. Right then, the sun hit the fall colors of the trees and the water’s shimmering edge at the same time. I said “What an absolutely gorgeous day for a race” and the other runner began laughing halfway through my sentence. “I was having the exact same thought the exact same second you said that!” he chuckled.  We talked about how running a fall marathon like this, after training all summer long in sweltering heat makes you feel like you can run forever.  “Or at least 7 more miles” I said as I looked down at his bib.  Noticing it had the color of the full I exclaimed “Or 20! You’re doing the full at this clip?!” He said, “Hopefully!” I grabbed his name and told him I would look him up later to see how he did.

Onward to mile 10: 6:37, 6:55, 6:54, 6:45

Finishing the 7th mile, the split was up ahead and I was more than a little shocked when half of the runners in front of me did not make the turn but instead kept running on to the marathon course. There were going to be fast times today if people held up at this pace.

I barely went half of a mile after leaving when two other runners saddled up next to me.  Chad and Jen were their names, with Chad someday contemplating running a marathon and Jen using this race as a tune-up for Philly in two weeks. They two both commented on both the course seeming a tad long as well as their own shock at seeing how many runners had continued on to run the full marathon. While the half marathon course does not get to see the most beautiful houses of Indianapolis (a touch I find quite nice actually as more often than not a marathon course gets the shaft when it comes to the best part of a race course) we ran through many little neighborhoods. Again, there were a few people out in the cold cheering us on but signs were everywhere.

We made one more right turn heading north and could see some sunshine ahead of us.  The tall trees and homes had provided a lot of shade for runners which would be appreciated on a much warmer day. However, today a little extra warmth would have been nice.  I say this, of course, knowing that at mile two when I removed my visor to readjust it I felt sweat drip down my head.  I apparently can sweat profusely in any temperature.

One of the volunteers, who usually tell you to turn left or right or water ahead simply pointed at the sun about 100 feet ahead and said “Get your warmth here, people! Get your warmth here!” We all had a good laugh.

One final time we were treated to a four piece band populated by kids who could have been no older than 14.  And then were crushing it! I twice had to look back to see if they weren’t just faking it and doing whatever is the instrument equivalent of lip-synching. Meanwhile, in spite of my efforts to pick up the pace, and passing more than a few runners in the process, I did not seem to be able to actually go any faster. I will admit it was a tad frustrating.

Heading Home: 7:18, 6:45, 6:40, :36

Ok, something is definitely off here. As I separated myself from a few runners who had been hanging onto my theoretical running-equivalent of coattails with a surge, utilizing just about the only downhill on this almost pancake flat course, I looked at my watch. 7:18. No way in hell. Almost on cue my Achilles protested the last surge and I figured that there was absolutely no reason to push any more. The long stretch of Meridian Street which I remember from two years ago being the place I had valiantly tried to get a 3:02 marathon but instead settled for a 3:04, opened before us. The homes we ran by were quite spectacular.

For some reason, twists and turns and corners always seem to slow me down.  Long stretches appeal to me as I can see my combatants, the course and what lie ahead.  This allows me to focus on a distance building or tree or whatever and zero out on everything else. In this case I could see the Monument. The unfortunate thing was that I had already made the decision to jog the last two miles and there would be no pushing.

When the 12th mile passed and I saw that what was a relatively easy effort equated a 6:45 I knew something was definitely askew with either the course or the miles.  But with the sun on my face, spectators cheering us on in much larger groups now and the joy of simply being able to run, I was not honestly bothered by it too much. 

Another fast “easy” mile had me within just a few more steps of the finish. My time of 1:27:54 was one I would not be normally happy with but upon mapping the course online and seeing that it was probably about .5 of a mile long, I knew that I could have easily taken three minutes off of that time to get what time I had run at 13.1 miles. I finished 85th overall.  I had had more than a few conversations with runners asking me why I was “Fueled By Beef” as my shirt said and got to enjoy more for my money by running a course that was longer than it should have been. That’s a pretty good day.
Still have the gloves.

Without a doubt, in spite of a course that seemed lengthy, this is a race to run.  There are just enough little rises in the course to give your legs some break throughout the race, the temperature has been quite ideal for four straight years and the aid station and volunteers are quite notch. I would highly recommend you come run this race. I am sure Michael Shirrel does!

As the days get shorter and winter starts to set in around the country, I get to try and delay it a little by heading to Fort Lauderdale next weekend to work with the Florida Beef Council at the 13.1 Fort Lauderdale. I will be working with the Run For Something Better program to help promote exercise and healthy living as a pair and heading to elementary schools all throughout the greater Fort Lauderdale/Miami area.  As weary as travel and racing and standing for hours at an expo can be, I count my lucky stars that I get to participate in programs like this. I am able to reach out to children when they are impressionable and do what I can to show them what staying fit and eating well can do for you in the long run. It is going to be a good weekend. Hope to see you there!

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