Friday, October 19, 2012

Prairie Fire Wichita Half Marathon Recap

A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 7; 15th Edition 
307 miles run; 1.75 mile swam; 59 miles biked in 2012 races
Race: Prairie Fire Wichita Half Marathon
Place: Wichita, KS
Miles from home: 1762 miles
Weather: 50- 60s; windy and sunny

 I had the great fortune of being in Wichita two years ago when the old and dusty Wichita Marathon got a facelift. Becoming the Prairie Fire Marathon, it had new management, a new course and a whole new attitude.  To say it has been a success in revamping its old image would be an understatement. While I was not able to make it back last year, returning this year was a must.

As the speaker at the event the first year, I also had the opportunity to speaker to a group of middle school cross-country runners.  This year my schedule allowed me to talk at Wichita East where the Blue Aces only can count as one of their alumni one of the most famous of all high school runners ever, Jim Ryun.

After the speech, the Aces took me out for a run and presented me with the coveted 400 Mile Ace t-shirt.  Given to runners who run 400 miles over the summer, they said I had more than earned it.  I was beyond flattered.

When I ran the Prairie Fire Marathon in 2010 it was my first marathon ever in Kansas and my 119th marathon overall. This year, as I am trying to experience as many different races in my life as possible, even when I go to the same city more than once, I chose to take on the 13.1 distance. While my half marathons have out-numbered my marathons since the start of 2010 (41-34) I am still way behind in the total number of halfs run (142-56 coming into the race.)  As such, although this may seem a bit difficult to believe, I am still learning how to run the half-distance. My body is conditioned to run in the green zone for long periods of time.  It is not used to run very hard for short distances.  Part of what I am trying to do is condition myself to say it is OK to hurt.

So many of my friends are graduating to ultramarathons and cross-country runs where I am trying to do the opposite. I still have the occasional challenge planned over the next few years but as I mentioned in this posting on my blog, I want to try and put some fire into these legs. That plan was put on hold with a bike crash in May and some setbacks that followed but it appears I am finally beginning to get back some spark. I was not expecting a super fast time in Wichita but was hoping to continue the quickening trend of late, in spite of all my travel and work obligations.
Race morning:

If you have read my reviews for the  Allstate Life InsuranceSM 13.1 Marathon® Series for Atlanta or Dallas races you will know one of the things I have really enjoyed about the layout of the races is how they start and finish in the same area. Prairie Fire Marathon does the exact same thing with its revamped course. On top of that, there are more than a few hotels within quick walking distance of the start. I stayed at the Hyatt which allowed me to actually look out over the hosting area for pre-race activities. The race starts at 8 a.m. for both the full and the half which may be a tad late for the marathon if the weather trends warm.  However, for a half marathon (and a person who despised getting up early) the later start and the super-close hotel was beyond divine. I actually didn’t even leave my hotel until 12 minutes before the race started. Pure bliss.

My goal for the race was to run close to 90 minutes.  If the first few miles said I could run faster, then so be it. Otherwise, I just wanted to enjoy the beautiful sunny day.

First five miles: 6:42, 6:46, 6:49, 6:42, 6:39

I had met a few runners the day before the race who said they may wish to run about the same time as me.  I welcomed them to join me and we would run together.  I know that often this does not work because people have such different running strategies.  For the most part, my energy ebbs and flows so much during each mile that while the splits may be the same every 5,280 feet, there will be massive changes through the mile.  True to form, after a mile or so together, many of us split up.  Some were in front of me and some behind.

As the race got full underway after about three miles, you could tell that a ton of people were primed to run really fast, or at least thought they were going to be doing so. I found myself about ten feet behind the in-shape derriere of a girl who was just crushing the competition.  Slowly picking apart people who seemed to have gone out too fast, she was moving up person by person. I tucked in a little behind her and used her great pacing strategy for myself.

When we were just about to hit the split that would send marathoners out and about to the eastern suburbs of Wichita, and half-marathoners back the way we came, I wondered how many people would go each direction.  Much to my surprise, the woman in front of me went the way of the marathon.  At this point we were on pace for a 1:27 half, or if she could hold it (highly unlikely for most people) a 2:54 marathon. I was in awe.  I was also bummed that my running partner for the day was gone. (When I waited around after my half was finished, cheering on runners, I saw that this runner probably did not have the day she was hoping for as she came across in a time around 3:25.)

Throughout these first five miles I found I was pushing to keep the pace I was running. Each mile I hoped it was closer to 6:30 than it was and each mile I realized today was not going to be a fast day. So I settled into a groove.

Next 6 miles: 20:46, 7:08, 7:23, 7:07

Leaving the marathoners behind is always a good feeling when you split off in a dual race like this.  You always feel particularly happy you are not running twice the distance you currently are running.  I have told many people who feel they could not run further than they already have that you always feel like the race you are running is as far as you can go. Then you go further. However, as we saw many runners heading off to complete their 26.2 mile journey, 13.1 was as far as I wanted to go today.

I missed both the 6th and 7th mile markers but I knew I was slowing down. Skirting through some neighborhoods with gentle twists and turns, I normally would hit the jets in these areas and love the feeling of running freely through suburban streets with no fear of motor vehicles. But I simply did not have it in my legs to do so.

When we popped out of the neighborhood area and hit the main drag in Wichita on Douglas Street runners at mile 7, runners four miles behind us were just about to do their own neighborhood jaunt. This long super straight stretch was something I normally would love. Yet today I was just going through the motions.

“You knew it was a hard training run today, so treat it like one," is what I told myself. Approaching the 8th mile I noticed a nice sections of business with large storefront windows.  They could have called this the Mirrored Mile (I am trademarking that as soon as I finish writing this, Prairie Fire people) because on both sides for hundreds of yards, runners could easily look at their form to see how they were faring.  Here, I felt a twinge in my calf that told me I needed to fare slightly slower.  So I listened.

At the 9th mile, a collection of spectators had gathered to cheer the runners on and when we turned north a brisk wind greeted us.  The temperature had been fair at race start (around 59 degrees) but within a mile I had already drenched myself in sweat from the bright sunshine above. Here the wind stood me up a bit but I enjoyed how it wicked away some of the sweat.  I didn’t enjoyed how it slowed me down for probably the 4th straight mile, though. During this stretch, about 5 runners passed me and I simply had to let them go.

Letting them go though, only lasted a few yards as, even though I didn’t feel like I was picking it up at all, the next mile reversed the slowing trend and I actually added a little pep in my step. Well, might as well test the calf muscle again and push these last two miles, I thought.

Final two-point- one: 6:46, 6:44, :42

Besides the pancake flat four miles in the middle, the nice neighborhoods to run through and the all-in-one place start/finish, one of the very nice things about the Prairie Fire Marathon is the awesome bridge and statue that runners get to pass right before mile 12. Called the Keeper of the Plains, this 44 foot statue can be seen from far away and is one of the most recognizable features of Wichita.  It also marks the time where you should pin back your ears and run as hard as you can as there is only one mile left.

I was hardly running as hard as I could but when I hit the 12th mile and had injected some speed back into my legs (as well as passing a few runners in the process) I felt like I was pushing. I simply wanted to maintain the exact speed and wherever I ended up I would be happy.

Of course, I say that thinking I was nowhere close to run a sub-90 minute time. With half of a mile to go I looked at my watch and noticed it was within reach. Digging deep I started to see what my legs had in store for me. After a few yards of this, I realized it was lunacy.  Let’s just say I did not get a 1:29:xx.  That is ten minutes slower than my half personal best.  I am no where near the shape I need to be in to run fast.  This is indeed a training run and I honestly had no reason whatsoever to pass the remaining runners I had caught in this last half of a mile.

So thinking better of everything, I eased back the throttle, and took in yet another cool bridge in Wichita.  This time the Lewis Street Bridge, one of two 300' long bridges which feature project feature 65' high, stainless steel light towers, would be the sight to take in.  But even better than the Keeper of the Plains, this bridge means you have about 40 seconds of running left until you can bring it on home. And that is exactly what I did.

Crossing the line in 1:30:16, and a surprising 3rd in my age group, I knocked off my 57th half marathon ever.  With my hotel so close, I was back into my room, showered and back down to cheer on the rest of the finishers before the two hour mark had elapsed.  I then spent the next 3 hours shaking hands of runners I had met the previous day, seeing old friends, randomly jumping in to help with blow-up finish arch malfunctions and generally enjoying the beautiful day. As the temperatures climbed into the 70s, I could not have been more happy that my running day had ended at 9:30 a.m.

Yet I was happy it happened in Wichita, one of the nicest towns you can spend a weekend running in.


2 Slow 4 Boston said...

It was good to see you at my hometown marathon for the 2nd time in three years. Sorry we didn't get a chance to meet.

The wind affected us all that day.

Mitchell said...

Dane, It was a pleasure to meet you at the 2012 Prairie Fire 1/2 Marathon. It would have been nice to have been able to run with you, but our planned paces didn't quite match up. After having looked at your early pace, it would have been a real challenge to keep up. Maybe next time?
Take care.
PS Love your book !