Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Gupton Jeep Tom King Classic Half Marathon Recap

A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 9; 5th Edition 
32,9 miles run in 2014 races
Race: Gupton Jeep Tom King Classic Half Marathon
Place: Nashville, TN
Miles from home: 2346
Weather: 50s; bright sun

Running when you are not in the best of shape is, by definition, what we do most of the time. It is, however, that subset of running efficiency, running when we are far below our best which is not very fun. Speed is relative but every runner understands how not fun it can be to try and race when they are a shadow of their best.

Two years ago I was in a bike crash.  Prominent injuries were tended to. However, it appears that less prominent ones have shaped my running since then. My legs have hurt, somewhere, somehow since that bike crash.  I assumed it was because, well, my legs hurt. Now, I have found out that chances are strong they hurt because of something that happened to my body during that bike crash.

Two years ago I met a wonderful gentleman by the name of Peter Pressman.  Peter is the president of the Nashville Striders running club. He mentioned that he was interested in potentially bringing me in to speak for the Striders signature event, The Tom King Classic. A mutual friend, Joe Henderson, had graciously given me a good review which piqued Peter’s interest. I was more than happy to consider the request but given that many people approach me for events which never pan out, filed it away into my mind.

I did, however, do my research and found out that not only were the Striders a very well-received running club but the Tom King race was known to be extremely fast, reward runners very well before during and after the race and the entire endeavor would be enjoyable one.  Then I promptly forgot about it.

You can then imagine my surprise and pleasure when Peter contacted me and we solidified this gig. Given 2014 was supposed to be my year of getting faster at the shorter distances again, I saw the Tom King Classic as one of the races at which I would test my fitness level. Then a painful calf problem cropped up right after I set a record for the fastest known time running a marathon on a cruise ship. I don’t correlate the two any more than their proximity in time, but that’s when it happened.

The week prior to the race had me experimenting with my leg. I had, 7 days prior, run a completely pain free run and thought perhaps the problem was gone. But then on four consecutive days it got worse. I ran the exact same course in an attempt to ascertain from where the pain was coming from but simply could not. I finally decided that I would run, not race Tom King and then probably shut it down.

Presenting at the dinner before the race, I was happy to have an engaged and excited crowd. I love speaking to any organization or group of people and given my varied background can relate to pretty much anyone.  But speaking with runners is like telling inside jokes. And as I relayed my issues with my legs I told them I have always said the hardest run a person does is their first one. The second hardest is every run afterward that they don’t run when they want to. I got a lot of knowing nods.

Race Morning:

After snow and storms had struck the region earlier in the week, the day before the race and the day of were just about as nice as you could ask for. This was, to me, just basically another dagger in my side.  Great course, great organization, great weather; gimpy Dane. Prior to the race my friend Candice had mentioned she was also on the PUP (Physically Unable to Perform) list  and would be taking it out relatively slow. I said it would be good to hang together for as long as we could and enjoy our pain together.  We lined up in the back of the pack which is hard to do for two reasons. First, it is admitting you are already not racing. Second, and to this day I cannot understand why people do this, without a doubt there are hundreds of people who place themselves WAY far ahead of where they should be. We figured it would just feel good to pass all these people as we work out our kinks.

First 3 miles: 7:07, 7:07, 7:06

The first quarter basically had me hobbling along with a peg leg.  But then, as usual, the leg felt better and I could ambulate with minor amounts of Captain Ahab-ness. This portion of the course had us starting outside of the Tennessee Titans stadium and heading out along some wide city streets. Candice and I had to part a little as we calmly picked our way through the throngs.  We then joined back up and started running side by side. She had a hip issue bothering her and was trying to do her best to run controlled.  When I saw our first few miles I felt bad. I felt bad for me because I wanted them to be faster. I felt bad for her because I know she wanted to run closer to 7:15s.  I figured something would give eventually for both of us.

We encountered the only hill to mention of the entire race right along the second mile. For those who run in Nashville, to find a long stretch of flat running is almost impossible. Tom King, however, manages to have virtually every mile of its 13.1 do just that. Not too shabby.

To the Midway Point: 

The race has to cap its participants at 1500 for one main reason: the bike trail.  For roughly 9 miles runners head out and back along a bicycle trail along the Cumberland River. Perfectly fine as bike trails go, once runners are coming and going, there is not enough room for lots of people. So the Stirders wisely cap it.  They also cannot close it to outside traffic which, for the most part, was not a problem. We did, however, get a big kick out of the woman on her bike out for a leisurely stroll who tried to weave her way through all of us staring around mile 4.

I was beginning to feel human and picking up the pace right around the time she went by.  So basically, I spent the next half mile right behind her as she dainty asked runners to move over to let her pass.  I wonder what I would do if I tried to go for a bike ride and 2000 people (including the 5k) were in my way.  I am pretty sure I would pick a different path. But that’s me. I’m considerate.

Before much longer the leaders were coming back at us. They were flying.  Candice’s husband, a 2:26 marathoner seemed to have a lock on third place and would come in with a 1:10 half. Dang.  Even more dang was the women’s overall winner, one Lanni Marchant, who set a new Canadian women’s record finishing also in 1:10.

Around 5.5 miles, I felt Candice begin to fall back a bit just as I was beginning to feel better.  I had a feeling we were parting ways. As the turn-around neared, I began counting people in front of me that I felt like I could still pass. I stopped when it got to 30.

Onto Mile 10:

I told Candice good luck as we passed in opposite directions and began to set my invisible lasso on the next group of runners in front of me.  My just over 7 minute miles began to dip into 6:50 and 6:40 miles. I would grab one group of three or four and soon leave them behind.  My leg felt, for all intensive purposes (thank you, Mike Tyson) pain-free. The best part of this portion of the course were seeing all the runners I had met at the dinner the night before and waving at those who shouted my name as I passed who I had no idea who they were. You have to shout before I pass you so I can find your face!

There was a group of three runners, one woman and two men, who were about 20 yards in front of me that were running virtually the exact same pace. As such, they were chewing up and spitting out runners in front of them as well.  I always wonder when I see someone running so akin to what I am running, what their plan was for the race.  Did they intend to negative split and took it easy? Were they battling injuries that mysteriously disappeared for most of race? Why is it we are both so far back in the pack but now running the same pace that the ones we are passing can’t seem to hold on anymore?  This, non-runners, is just a small sampling of what I think about when running. What the hell do you think about when you aren’t?

A small looped portion that we did not run on the way out allowed for a slight deviation from the original out and back. It was a nice diversion that took runners over an extremely quaint, if not hazardously twisty footbridge. Running solo as I was, I could plot an exact straight line to not deal with a single right angle, as long as I kept my elbow unnaturally high for about 30 yards. Also, by running virtually with no one by my side, I could hit every curve in the inside. Even running the same speed I would, by physics, catch some of those in front of me.  And I did.

A friend I had known for seven years, but whom had never actually met, was on the sideline cheering runners on. Trent and I would later break bread two more times over the weekend but getting cheered by someone you knew but didn’t know was a nice treat. Now it was down to the nitty gritty.

Heading Home:

When I am not in racing form and am way off my PR speed it is never how much longer time wise that a race will take me to complete that gets in my craw.  Rather it is the distance left to travel when I hit my PR that rankles me so. In this instance, when I hit the 11th mile, I knew that if I had been running at mile half-marathon PR pace, I would have been done. To think I was 2 miles behind my own self, set just last fall when I was hardly in 13.1 PR shape, was rather disheartening. Alas.

In a race designed like this, there is not a great deal that the volunteers can do to mess things up out on the race course itself, especially at the aid stations.  I designed the revamped Drake Well Marathon course (now apparently scrapped by the new race committee) partially for the same reason. One portion contained an out and back on a bicycle trail which meant that aid stations doubled up.  Less volunteers needed, less aid stations which needed to be set up and manned. That said, people can still go above and beyond the call of duty and that is what these volunteers were doing.

As we went through what would be the last aid station I reached out to grab just a sip of liquid. The sunny weather was perfect for the race organizers and a welcome respite for the runners.  But it was a tad warm out for yours truly.  As such, I had already grabbed drinks twice before by comparison (in the Heart Breaker Half a few weeks ago I ran the entire 13.1 with nary a sip) but needed one last drink. My pace had quickened to a 6:38 mile and I was desperately trying to reel in as many runners as I could.  I knew after the slight downhill we had gone up earlier that we would have a virtual flat plane the rest of the way. For whatever reason I don’t run fast on flats.  Haven’t figured it out yet but I am exceedingly better at something with a slight grade in it.  So, needless to say I was doing all I could to push hard and getting that drink was necessary.  Of course, I then proceeded to drop the cup from the last aid station volunteer. Bollocks.

As I tried to deal with this small setback, I pushed forward. I heard brisk footsteps and figured one of my competitors had read my body language and knew this was the time to take advantage of me. Suddenly a hand appeared almost over my shoulder holding a water cup.

“Here,” said the volunteer whose cup I had missed. I was dumbstruck.  He had taken the time to grab another glass and then sprint after me to catch up just because I had messed up and missed the hand off. I thanked him profusely which I am sure came out as “Fankewe berry dunch” in my dry mouth, running hard phase. Just wonderful stuff though.

Here, however, even with the surge from liquid in my throat, I found my leg not responding for the first time.  More accurately, it was the first time I called upon it to surge forward and it plain and simply would not do so. I was still gaining or passing a runner here and there but one I had been tracking down for quite some time no longer was getting any closer.

We neared the stadium where we started but I knew we finished inside of it. I wasn’t 100% sure how we got inside the stadium or what we did once we were in there but I knew we still had about a mile left of running. That being said, and knowing this, it is still hard to run all the way around a stadium, and as I learned once we exited the tunnel the Tennessee Titans exit for game, that we had to run all the way around the field as well.

We could see the finishers ahead of us crossing the finish line on the gigantic screen above the field. This was great for the spectators but not all that helpful per se for runners. That doesn’t matter as we should be focusing on the road in front of us. One last turn at the end zone and around mid-field the finish awaited.  I suddnelly felt a presence and saw a shadow.  A person was trying to pass me.

I have almost never allowed someone to outkick me in a race.  As the runner approached and got to my shoulder, I realized today was going to be one of those times. I knew two things for certain
1.    Given his speed and acceleration and my leg not working, I could not match him.
2.    He had been way far ahead of me at the start so losing by a second meant absolutely nothing here.

As it ends up I finished 77th overall in a time of 1:31:11.  Not too shabby given all the circumstances but definitely a little disheartening.  I waited after the race with Ben, Candice’s husband, and a few other new friends to cheer Candice in. Her time was not what she was hoping for either but given her own injury I hope she realizes it was solid.

After the race, runners were treated to an amazing smorgasbord of breakfast food in the warm confines of the club levels of the stadium itself. If that weather had been inclement in any way, I can see how people might have never left this comfortable area. All told, the Tom King Classic (named after one of the founders of the Nashville Striders who is not only still alive but a wonderful gentleman in his own right) is a race that is a must-do. It is definitely know by people far and wide but not nearly as far, nor wide, as it should be.

Here’s hoping this recap helps remedy that as soon as possible.

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