Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Run Town Half Marathon Recap

A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 6; 38th Edition 
567 miles raced, 7480 meters swam and 202.3 miles biked in 2011
Race: Run Town Half Marathon 
Place: Greenville, SC
Miles from home:  1971 miles
Weather: 50s; cloudy

I had no idea what to expect for this race. With virtually two weeks off from running with really just one nice tempo run on the Wednesday before the race (with some super speedy new friends in Charlotte) I was out of shape and very worried. My achilles is not injured per se but it is definitely telling me it was getting close. Hence the forced rest.

The course for the Run Town Half Marathon, part of the Spinx Run Fest in Greenville, SC, looked to be, while not super challenging, definitely hilly. Normally hills are where I make my hay but I knew that would definitely not be the case on this day.

However, the previous day I had spent some time talking with Jeff Galloway, who has either mastered the art of faking being one of the genuinely nice people all-around or really is a self-effacing, humble and giving person. I vote for the latter. At the expo, with our book signings right next to each other I was able to ask for some advice on how to solve achilles pain. Given the expo was outside in the gorgeous Fluor Field concourse of the minor league affiliate of the Boston Red Sox, we did not expect that we would have much time to talk. But when a ridiculously cold wind blew in on the day of the exp, the previous day's 85 degree high turned into a bitter cold low 40s during the next day. As such, most people blew right pass both of us in an attempt to get their packet and get back to their car. As such, I was able to talk more with Jeff than I normally would.  Hearing I was doing most of what he suggest already, I was enthused about the next day's run.

I spent the expo speaking at length with the South Carolina Cattlemen's Association and enjoyed sharing grilling stories with many of residents of the Palmetto State who were not quite ready to give up grilling season.

Before long we could see the crowds had thinned and we both knew it was time to grab some dinner.  Even though I had a delicious burger for lunch, I knew it was off to the steak house for me for my pre-race dinner.

Afterward, because of a super-slow connection at my hotel, I was up way too late doing work. Part of that is because I am night owl and part of it was because with this being a half-marathon and me not exactly racing it, I did not feel the pressure to go to sleep. The third part was because I was looking at the clock on my computer which was still on mountain time. When I finally wised up it was 2 AM. That 6:30 AM wake-up call was, as always, going to be unpleasant. In fact, I am sure I could sleep for ten hours and as 6:30 AM wake up call would make me grumble.

What was enjoyable about this half was that it started 30 minutes after the full. This allowed me to get just a little more sleep, still get downtown and watch the marathoners take off.  Marathons have not gotten boring for me but I will readily admit there is something wonderful about doing the 13.1 distance, especially when your physical fitness has taken a hit.

After being asked to share a few words with the crowd, I gave the mic back to running legend Jeff Galloway and joined the rest of the riff-raff ready to take on the half-marathon.  I was eager and nervous, not knowing exactly how my legs were going to handle the race. But the only way to find out was by going and running.  When Ed Hughes, the RD, gave the command, we were off.

First three miles: 6:16, 6:44, 6:38
The first mile of this course started us runners on a downhill. When you are trying to keep your pace in check and love running downhill this is a dangerous combination. Even holding back I still went out way faster than I would have thought possible.  The slight hitch in my giddy-up didn't keep me from being pleased with how the achilles handled the first mile.  Around the beginning of mile 2 we entered the Swamp Rabbit Trail and although I knew that we would be running on a path I was not quite ready for what I saw. Next to the well-laid out bike pavement was a 4 foot wide strip of soft spongy surface which was almost certainly made out of the same stuff that they make track surfaces out of. It was glorious!

At this point I was running right next to two women who were in lockstep with each other.  We shared a few quick jokes and stories and I mentioned that I thought that there was only one woman in front of us. This would come into play in a few miles.

Onto Mile 6: 6:27, 6:51, 6:34

As we continued on the Swamp Rabbit Trail we popped onto a pedestrian walkway in what must be a brand new section of Greenville. Sparkling new buildings were everywhere.  A few fans were already out cheering people on and I was enjoying the morning ever so much. In order to keep myself in check a little but, I had brought a camera with me and was snapping pictures left and right.  There was so much to snap that I hoped I wasn't annoying anyone around me. We continued down the path and on our left was a small river and on our right the Falls Park on the Reedy. A man-made waterfall came out of the side of one building and I quickly grabbed a shot of it.
The irony of this beautiful man-made waterfalls was that is was far and away overshadowed by a natural waterfall just a quarter of a mile away.  I had already dropped my camera back into my zipper pocket and was fumbling with it to get it back out in time. I was finally able to get it ready and took a few shots.  Half were blurry and some were obscured by runners who just happened to pass in front of me right as I shot the picture. Nevertheless here is what we got to see that morning (below).

After a series of up and down hills, including a couple of steep ones here and there, the course settled down flat for a few miles. With a small out and back section I was able to see not only the leaders but a pack of six high school runners who I had briefly talked with near the beginning of the race. They were out just for a "morning run our coached forced us to do" but were obviously going to beat the pants off of most of us. At one point they had sped off in the distance but around the fourth mile had missed a turn and went the wrong direction.  Unfortunately, the lead woman and the cyclist designated to lead her on the course followed suit. When they all passed us again around mile five I was a little confused but realized that the turn most of us had almost missed was one they HAD missed.

Now to be clear, the turn was clearly marked but given its right angle nature we simply were willing in our brains to ignore it. I felt bad as it was obvious the lead woman (whose name is Gail)  had lost at least a minute of time but now that she was back in the lead, I was hoping it would pull her to the finish.We could hear the lead cyclist apologizing profusely and Gail just waved it off with her hand. Total class act.

Recently, I wrote an article about Runners and Volunteers and this interaction reminded me of that and an instance I had heard about in an ultra a few weeks ago. In the Heartland 100 apparently one of the runners berated volunteers and seemed like a raving lunatic to other runners. Apparently one small thing had not gone this petulant runner's way and he lost his gourd. Karma has a way of paying back the idiots of the world though and a DNF not even two/thirds of the way through the race seemed to be his comeuppance. Here, however, was the lead runner in the race, with much more at stake and she handled it with grace. That is the difference between good people and ridiculously insipid and childish ones. But I digress.

To mile 10: 6:48, 6:35, 6:52, 6:49
The blue hat guy made more nonsensical wrong turns than you can possibly imagine.

Back to the race, we were running through absolutely gorgeous park sections and I was loving it. I have never fared very well on courses that involve a lot of winding twists and turns and this was one of those races.  I am unsure why the little bumps and turns throw me off but I tend to like long straightaways.  Nevertheless, the scenery here was just fantastic.  The weather had warmed a bit from the previous day and the overcast sky was provided an ideal running morning.

Macy on the left;Gail on the right.
My miles felt great and I was more than pleased with how the achilles felt.  I had to back off of every hill in order not to stress it too much but that as a small price to pay for being able to enjoy the day. Around the 8th mile, one of the two women (Macy) who had been running beside one another pulled up next to me. We ran for about half of a mile together through neighborhoods and twists and turns.  Gail, the women's leader, who had built a lead again after taking the wrong turn, was coming back into sight. I could tell we were going to have a tight finish. Macy pulled by me right before mile 10 and I grabbed the opportunity to take a picture. 

Heather beginning her push at 10.5.
I honestly thought Macy might have made her move a little too soon with a full 5k to go, but I knew I was going to do my best to stay right with them to see how it all turned out.  Soon thereafter, the other woman (Heather) pulled up next to me and we chatted for a bit. I said to not waste any energy speaking with me and to go make this a race. She definitely obliged. I loved how in this race, while I was obviously trying to see how hard I could push my achilles, I got to have this front row seat to an developing drama. Who was going to win? Could Gail hold out and not let the fact that she had run .2 longer than the other girls not hurt her mentally? Did Macy move to quickly? Did Heather have enough in the tank to close the gap? Only the last 5k would tell me.

Onward toward the finish: 6:40, 6:47, 6:30, :42

I was no longer feeling all that tired or looking at the scenery.  Well, ok, yes I was tired but I was so focused on what was happening in front of me that it was a fun tired. (Is there such a thing?)  By now Macy had taken the lead and I could see Heather was closing in on Gail. Not long after mile 11 I could see Heather overtake Gail and I was about to do the same. When I approached Gail I told her I was really sorry that she had made a wrong turn. She said that she should have known the course and that as each woman passed her they had given their condolences as well. That is what is wonderful about the good people in this sport, and there are many. They want to beat you, very badly, but only when you are on your best day.  Besting someone who is having an off-day is of no enjoyment. I wanted to stay with Gail but the other two girls were pulling away. If I was going to watch how their battle would unfold I would have to stay in step, So I picked up my pace a bit (even though my achilles protested) and tried to keep up with them.

Without a doubt the last few miles of the course were the hardest.  It was essential an uphill run from mile 8 on and it wasn't getting any easier here. I vacillated between trying to stay with the girls and trying to hold my own advice not to push the achilles. Fortunately, with about 3/4 of a mile to go, we were given a slight downhill and I was able to open up just a little bit. I could see that Heather had reeled Macy in and was doing her best to make this a photo finish.  As I followed them down the street, around Fluor Field and into the stadium for the last quarter mile of running I could tell it would be close. Macy, however, had left just enough in the tank to take first place overall, just edging out Heather by three seconds. (1:26:53 to 1:26:56)

Unfortunately, as we entered the stadium there were a few 5k people about to finish their race.  The final bit of each of our races was run on the warning track around the baseball diamond. While I had slowed to enjoy the awesome finish, I was still running much faster than most of the people in front of me. Unfortunately, that track is not very wide and some of the 5k walkers were doing the ole three abreast thing. While some impeded me on my way to the finish, I hoped the same had not kept the two lead women from battling it out. In a race supremely well-run this is possibly the only real flaw I saw. Having a rope down the middle of the track with the 5kers on one side and everyone else on the other would have been ideal in this situation. As it were, right before we crossed the finish, with me yelling "On your left!" a gentleman slipped pass me riding the wake of cleared bodies I had created.  It didn't really matter because he would have beat me by chip time nonetheless, but if we had been racing it could have been a bummer for one of us.

All told, I was able to finish 20th overall in a time of 1:27:28 good enough for 3rd in my age. I honestly thought that I would run a 1:35 if I was lucky on this day. And what a day it was for all involved.  Gail put on a valiant push at the end to place just one position behind me and take 3rd female overall in a time 1:27:33.  I spoke with her at length afterward and she continued to show the same grace about being misled earlier in the race. Stellar job on her part for being such a great sport.

This race has quickly vaulted into one of my favorites.  From the scenery to the organization to the personal touch, it was top notch all the way around.  The RD I mentioned earlier was actually on the course around mile 10, dressed as Elvis and cheering people on.  I am sure he was in the middle of many other duties as well but having been an RD myself, I know that once the race starts, most of the things involved with the race are out of the RDs control.  It was wonderful to see Ed trying to enjoy what he and his staff had undoubtedly spent many sleepless nights putting together.

I would highly suggest you take advantage of this great race in a beautiful part of the US. I spent a great deal of time tooling around the are and really got a feel of what living here must be like.  When it is not the heat and humid summer season, I can see why so many people call this area home.

Even better, I get to work with the South Carolina Beef Council again in just a few weeks when I am the featured dinner speak for the Kiawah Island Marathon weekend.  This will mark the second time I will be doing this at Kiawah and I cannot wait to be back there again.

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